Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Story of Two Boys who Became Successful Artists
On that particular spot, where the mango trees challenged the summer(-ized) strength of sun with their violet-green canopy, they used to gather every day with the fermenting manna of coconut trees.
This was a make-shift co-operative society of toddy-tappers. There they pooled in their daily collection of toddy and sold it to the retailers and thirsty customers.
Boys from the neighborhood used to hang around there, inviting the sour smell of toddy that sent the able bodied men into wobbling masses and swaggering asses into their curious nostrils.
Out of them, one boy used to watch their steely backs shining in the slanting rays of sun that escaped the hood of leafy sentries. He liked to watch the beads of sweat rolling down through the channel of spine and disappearing into their dirty loin clothes.
One day the Police came because toddy tapping and selling were illegal acts. The men in Khaki chased all of them away. Many ran away and some dragged their bodies into safety while stumbling upon dried twigs and abandoned rubbles.
Once the team of Police left the place, it looked like a battle field. Broken clay pots reminded the boy of the fallen helmets of the dead soldiers. The spilled toddy was the white blood that attracted armies of ants.
The boy examined the battlefield with a pair of curious eyes, which is peculiar to children. Then to his surprise, he found one coin, then another. He picked them up. Village kids are very wise, especially when their provision of pocket money is always next to nil.
He followed the trail of those brave men who ran away into ditches and kitchens of their own homes. He found more coins. The more he found them, the merrier he became.
For him a coin meant three salted gooseberries.
But he did not know, the action of police spurred on a labor struggle by the toddy tappers, which became one of the landmarks in the political history of Kerala.
For him a coin meant three salted gooseberries that resembled small little globes.
That was one way of entering into the history; through three salted gooseberries.
His father showed him some scars that lined his calves horizontally from the back of the knee to the ankles.
“This is how my teacher punished me long ago when I was a primary student,” father told him.
The boy felt very bad. He never thought of someone strong enough to punish his father. It is like that. No child thinks about anyone else who is mightier than their parents.
The thought of an evil incarnate teacher caning his father pained him immensely.
“I could recite Sanskrit verses without any flaw. The teacher wanted me to make mistakes. This was his way of rewarding me for my ability to understand Sanskrit,” father smiled.
That was when the boy entered into a discourse that left permanent scars of those hapless kids who showed their proficiency to understand God’s language.
Many years later, our boy met another boy in a college where they studied fine arts. They became close pals before they realized they could excel their teachers in drawing.
One more thing they realized; they shared a common history.
During the lunch break, at the dining table, the students sat in silence and opened the lids of their lunch boxes. Each boy took a great care not to show the contents of his lunch to anyone else.
One day, our protagonists decided to see what each of them ate.
Most of them were pretending that there was food in their lunch boxes.
Once they realized that they imagined a feast out of left over morsels of last night dinner, they together entered into the history of hunger.
Both of them, our boys, walked ahead of a team of street theatre activists who were carrying wooden crosses across their shoulders.
They were shedding fake blood. But the sweat and pain of carrying cross were real.
Our boys were performing the role of messengers. They heralded the arrival of a procession of crucified creative people all over the world, metaphorically.
After three pre-decided points, these messengers were arrested along with the crucified actors.
Three days in the lock up. On the fourth day, the boys came out of custody as a few intellectuals got them bail.
That was when they entered the discourse on the freedom of expression.
After spending five years in the Fine Arts College, both of them left for Santiniketan. They were planning to spend another five years to pursue a better degree in fine arts.
Friends came around as well as some good Samaritans. They collected money for their travel and admission fee.
One of them got admission and the other boy decided to stay back and learn English.
The boy who looked at the world through gooseberry, went to a club where he painted landscapes for its members and got some money for living. The other boy helped senior artists to make some works.
Next year, the other boy also got admission. Both of them finished their education successfully in Santiniketan.
A well meaning art history professor called both of them to his room and said, “It is the time to leave. Go to Bombay or Delhi and pursue a career in art.”
Again with no money in hand, they left Santiniketan.
It was their encounter with something called economics.
One of them got admission in Kanoria Art Centre in Ahmedabad, first as a scholar, then as a teacher and administrator.
The other one wandered from cities to cities, doing odd jobs in advertising agencies.
The first boy, now a young man, once he got administrative powers, got back all his wandering friends to Kanoria centre and gave them scholarships.
That way they entered into a permanent bonding of faith and trust.
Years passed and they got settled in their lives. They became very successful artists in Indian contemporary art.
They decided not to talk about their struggling days to anyone. It was a conscious decision as the notion of struggling became a farce when the market boom divested them of the right to remember and recount.
There is a danger in remembrance.
But one day, the boy who wanted to eat gooseberries sat in a hotel room and recounted the stories for me.
His eyes became red. I realized why there are hazy lines in both these artists’ works. There is a deliberation in these blurring strokes.
“I never wanted to tell you these things,” said my friend. “But how can you detach completely from something that moulded you into what you are today?”
I remembered the Jain Nun and the blind Baul singer in William Dalrymple’s book, ‘Nine Lives’. In total renunciation, you leave one gap for tears even if you know that tears are not allowed here.
This is how they negotiate the present.
You may have made some guessing on the real identities of these artists.
But that is not so important because in each successful artist’s present life of renunciation and detachment with past, there remains a gap for accommodating silent tears.
That’s how the success stories of others become the stories of every man.