Saturday, October 10, 2009

Daman- Udwada, Here We Come

From Mumbai it takes three hours by road to reach Daman. Considering the terrible traffic conditions of Mumbai and also in the beginning of the highway that leads to Ahmedabad, the duration can change from three to five hours.

On 8th October morning, things were not much different on Mumbai roads.

We seven, myself, Prasad Raghavan, Manjunath Kamath, Shafi Quraishi, George Martin, Rupa Paul and K.M.Madhusudhanan had left Delhi by seven in the morning and landed up in Mumbai by 9 am, where Art Home team was ready to receive us.

Gigi Scaria was already in Mumbai. Dharmendra Rathod had taken an early flight and he too was waiting for us at the Mumbai airport.

At the baggage belt we met Babu Eshwar Prasad and Murali Cheeroth from Bangalore.

We got into our three Innova cars. On the way we had to pick up Vidya Kamat from her Borivili residence.

Vidya Kamat came in with her trademark smile and chatter. No journey could be lousy when Vidya is around. She has a special way of kicking up a conversation.

Inside the speeding car the pros and cons of recession and art market were clinically analyzed; interestingly; interestingly, any talk on art or its market ends up in the glaring lacunae in the critical practice and practice of criticism. Neither artists nor the critics are saved because critical practice is not just about writing art criticism, it is about making critical art also.

We were on our way to Udwada.

Udwada is around ten kilometers from Daman, the former Portuguese settlement in South of Gujarat and now a Union Territory of India.

‘Daman is slowly withering away,’ says our car driver. ‘People migrate to major cities as Daman does not have much of its own industries. What we are thriving on is liquor industry,’ he chuckles.

We take a turn towards left from the highway and suddenly the landscape changes. From the din of highway we are transported to a sylvan landscape full with greenery. Coconut trees lined either side of the neat village road. Single storied houses not affected by the contemporary urban designs sit humble amongst thickets and trees. Mango trees spread huge canopy of leaves around giving a feeling of coolness.

People in Daman plant mango trees in their front courtyard as they believe that mango trees bring fertility and prosperity.
Signboards of liquor shops, restaurants, hotels and bars start appearing on either side of the street. Flex boards have replaced the old fashioned tin sheet hoardings. I look for spelling mistakes- luckily they have passed spell tests.

Gujarat being a dry state (where selling of liquor is officially prohibited), people of the state pour into Daman by weekends to dip their weary souls in spirit. From the neighboring state of Maharashtra (though it is a wet one) too people come in as Daman as tax free liquor is available here.

‘The day Gujarat lifts the ban on selling liquor the economy of Daman would collapse,’ says the driver.

Daman lies at the western coast line of India. It has unending stretches of sea shore and each hotel claims that they have sea facing rooms and access to the beach. Later we check that out and find the beaches are dirty and the tourists here are forced to ‘enjoy’ the beach because there is no alternative. The brackish muddy water sings out the permanent woes of a neglected beauty.

Looking at the rows of liquor shops and bars, Dharmendra Rathod remembers a custom in his home state Rajasthan.

A particular community in Rajasthan, during their festival and ceremonial days invite the kith and kin to join non-stop drinking sessions. Folks from other villages come in fully prepared to enjoy the tipplers paradise.

Drums full of liquor fitted with pipes are placed everywhere. Once the session starts, the men and women have to prove their ‘capacity’ to drink for days. And the hitch is that they don’t provide any food.

People drink and sleep. Get and drink again. But this intoxication inducing practice has its own rewards. When you go back, they will give you the amount of food items that you had skipped during the drinking fest. That means, you back home with a few kilos of flour, rice and vegetables. You earn your glory.

‘Sometimes the marriages happen after a few days as both the bride and bridegroom lay wasted in dizziness in their personal attempts to earn for the future,’ Rathod adds.

If such a practice is prevalent in Daman, artists in this camp are going to earn tons of wheat flour, rice, pulses and vegetables, I think.

We are received by Asit Shah of Art Home and Somu Desai, artist, organizer and above all, the man of action.

Warm hugs and cheers; sort of bonding and camaraderie.
We stay at Cidade De Daman, a four star hotel, with sea facing rooms, swimming pool and huge restaurant and bar. It is here we ‘camp’ though Udwada is the theme.

We had tried to find a place to stay in Udwada. But the insular community there does not entertain extended stays in their locality.

From Baroda, Minal Damani, Ganesh and Santana Gohain, Ved Gupta had already come. We all greet each other and try to get settled.

At the ground floor there is a huge hall which is converted into a community studio. Easels, canvases, colors and brushes are neatly arranged at one end.

I look for whips. But there is none.

By afternoon Sudhanshu Sutar and Farhad Hussain arrives from Delhi. Yashwant Deshmukh comes from Mumbai. Alok Bal comes from his home town Bhuvaneshwar. Rajan Krishnan, Zakkir Hussain, Gopi Krishna and Reji Arakkal come from Kerala.

Shweta Brahnbhat puts a tick mark against the names of the artists as they arrive in groups. She is the communication manager of Art Home.

Tired though, all of us go to visit the Daman Fort. Against a darkening sky the fort stands majestically.

It was the fortified settlement of the Portuguese till they left India in 1961.

‘Many of my relatives are in Lisbon,’ says the driver. ‘Whoever born till 1961 carry a dual citizenship.’

That explains why so many houses are lying locked all over Daman.

Now the government offices function from the colonial buildings inside the fort. There are some residences meant for officials. There are some local residents too.

I go to a near by knickknack shop inside the fort and ask for a matchbox. With a cigarette dangling from my lips and my gestures should have made the shop person aware that what I am asking for is just ‘light’.

‘How many?’ a woman sitting on a bench asks me.

‘Give me one,’ suppressing a smile I tell her. I pay one rupee and get one matchbox.

That tells me about the attitude of the shopkeepers here. They mean real business.

Inside the fort there is a huge ruin of a monastery built in 1567. High columns and tall walls stand in isolation. The surfaces carry the lichens and fungi of history.
Vidya claims the place for her performance. Manjunath hugs a pillar and tell the others that it is already copyrighted by him. Rajan Krishnan claims the whole ruin for him.

On the canvas of darkness, twenty nine digital camera flashes perform a monumental opera of registration.

We have come here.

Leaving the fort behind, we come back to Cidade De Daman.

All of us prepare to earn our wheat flour and rice.

We dip our souls into the holy grail of brotherhood and feed each other.

We are baptized by our errors.

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