Sunday, July 31, 2011

Like a Drop of Water on a Lotus Leaf: Life and Times of Sidharth 8

(Air- from Pancha Tatva Series by Sidharth)

(from Neti Neti series)

(from Bara Masa series)

Rain comes unannounced on a sweltering July afternoon. In Delhi, like its hierarchic social pattern rain too behaves with some sort of partiality. You could see rain clouds forming at the southern sky and white clouds, fearing the onslaught of the darker ones running away to the north over your head while you stand wistfully on your terrace. Phantom peacocks shriek in happiness in the wilderness of your mind and you look at the sky as if a young bride waits for her drunken bridegroom to come into their nuptial chamber and take her into his intoxicated arms and gaze. You close your eyes waiting for the first drop to fall on your eyes, forehead and on the tip of the nose. You expect it to roll down to your quivering lips wetting it with the messages of sea, sun and winds and give you the pleasures that touch to some spot located within you that you failed to understand. You stand for long time and the dark clouds like a lover who mocks you by his presence and never touches you with his fingers stand still there over the south. From the vantage point of your terrace you see a vast semi circle of rain deprived jumbling architectures heaving in heat. You feel hysteria clutching you from inside and shaking you up.

But rain does not come to you. In Delhi you come to know about rain from the newspaper photographs. You see the rich parts of the south Delhi are blessed with rains and the central point of Delhi where the presidential palace is located, where gardens and guards are abundant people playing in rain. You enjoy your rain from the photographs and sigh as if you were a jealous teenager who listens to the revelry of her friends on the previous night at a farmhouse with their boyfriends while she was curling herself up inside a thin blanket, hopelessly reading some pulp romance and unknowingly touching herself to know the sweet sensations hidden in her body. Rain in Delhi maintains the hierarchy of the place. It rains for the rich and when it rains for the poor it makes their lives horrible. The roads are soon potholed, the alleys are now filled with filth, mud and innumerable numbers of rainbows in the dirty puddles. People walk in knee deep water, at times rich and the poor alike are stuck in roads clogged both by water and vehicles. Your life becomes and endless honking of horns and curses mumbled under your breath. Urchins play in dirty water while the rich kids go out for rain dances in farmhouses. Delhi is still hierarchical.

A thick layer of dust like memories gathered for months accumulated on the green leaves just gets washed away by the rain drops. Initially they look spotted as if they were developing some skin irritation with the touch of the raindrops. Then like a reluctant girl cajoled by her boyfriend removing her clothes automatically as well as consciously, slowly one by one for giving a full view of her dreams and secrets, the leaves reveal their real green and they shine and dance with the tapping of the rain drops. If you could imagine a whole bunch of leaves smiling in fresh lush green colour that would be the sight of Delhi when it rains without partiality. Look at those leaves, Sidharth tells me and I look at them. They are dancing and singing. Perhaps, they are singing the verses from the grand text called nature. It is amazing to be one with nature.

The shows of Sidharth organized by certain galleries in Delhi during the mid 1990s were super success. Suddenly I found myself full of money and the people who cared for me including my friends and the family that had adopted me asked me to buy a house for myself and move in there. It would give you a different feel, a total sense of belonging, they said. Sidharth did buy a house and it was his first home and studio in Sukhdev Vihar itself and soon it became an adda, a gathering place of the friends and artists. As a great story teller, Sidharth never lacked friends for his evenings but something was happening within him. It was not the kind of that he wanted to lead. He had earned his life, art, friends and everything. He was not a seeker of fame hence he restricted his social contacts to his limited number of friends. It was a time when everyone was seeking their five minutes of fame in television channels and newspapers but Sidharth was internally moving away from the din of the world.

Just before silence hit Sidharth, the weekly gatherings at his home were really famous amongst the artist-writer-singer friends. The adda was really invigorating. We all were young and one of the gallerists in Delhi who had enjoyed spending time with artists and listening to their stories supported these addas majorly. Her family had a brewery in Uttar Pradesh and she used to send the best of the liquors produced there to our adda and it was a major attraction for the people. Free booze, a variety of food brought in by many people, a lot of stories and a sense of camaraderie held us together. I was enjoying the company of my friends. But slowly it started melting away. The reason was really funny, Sidharth remembers. Our gallerist one day came and told us this heartbreaking news. Her brewery had developed some problems and the family was planning to down the shutters of their brewery business. We could not talk for long time. Our generous supply of spirit was now stopped and we were really sad. Still our adda continued for some more months and with the changes happening in everybody’s life the frequency became less and less.

After Ball of Rags series Sidharth was more inclined to work on paper. He wanted some good paper even if he worked on the best papers available in the market. It was during his search for a good paper he chanced upon this great paper called ‘wasli’ paper. Today wasli paper is a precious surface sought after by many artists but when in 1994 Sidharth tried to get a few sheets it was really difficult. Someone informed him that there was a family in Sanganer, a village in Rajasthan, where a family makes wasli paper. I did not hesitate for another second. In the next train available I went to Jaipur and from there with a friend I went to the Sanganer village and met the family that made wasli papers. I was amazed to see their patience and technique. They were very much involved and devoted to what they did. They were not producing too many sheets as there were very few takers for it.

This family came from Central Asian region during the flourishing of Rajasthan kingdoms. The family was invited to Sanagner to make paper for the Rajasthani miniature artists of the time. As centuries passed the people became natural Rajasthanis. However, the patronage waned off as India entered the 20th century with its loaded socio-political issues. Still the family made paper for a limited number of artists who worked from Rajasthan and it was absolutely non-profitable. Sidharth was appalled to listen to the abysmally lower prices per sheet quoted by the family. He was not there to loot that traditional family. He made a better deal with them. He asked them to make papers as much as they could and all the sheets would be bought by him and to their surprise he offered eighty times more money than they had quoted per sheet. It was a blind offer, Sidharth remembers. I was not having that kind of money to procure all those papers still I thought that a great tradition should not suffer only because the artists do not want those papers. Back in Delhi I cajoled my artist friends to experience wasli paper and they too became very much interested. Today the family makes around thirty thousand sheets per year and all the papers are consumed by artists. Along the way, Sidharth too became one amongst that family and learned the technique of making wasli papers. Every year Sidharth spends time in Rajasthan with that family and makes wasli papers.

Sidharth had got the right kind of paper and he had started working on them but satisfaction was still playing hide and seek with him. I was absolutely dissatisfied. Something was churning in my mind. I wanted to leave everything and go into a sort of nothingness. I had several discussions with some of my close friends and all of them advised me to take a break and travel. From Sweden I had flown to the nest of the world and I looked at myself and saw I was a caged bird. I was now become a victim of habits and slave of routine. I wanted to shirk off all those limitations. I took out the best of cameras and video cameras I had and set out for my journey. I just locked the house and left. I did not know where I was going and it was a journey that lasted for a few months.

Out of the four secured and comfortable walls of his home Sidharth stood in middle of a vast land called India. And he travelled each and every nook and corner of India, mostly visiting villages, shrines, temples, heritage places, churches, mosques, abandoned caves, historical places and so on. For me, I was discovering India and it was an intense experience, says Sidharth. He believes that anybody who even today living with any illusion on name, fame and eternity to should travel all over India to realize that there is nothing in name, fame and eternity. India is simply amazing, says Sidharth. I travelled and stood before the great works of art created by unknown artists and artisans. I documented them without knowing that I was documenting them. I wanted imbibe them and carry them along with me and in my memories. I had these cameras and they were the handy tools to register them. Each time I saw a great work of art whether it was in South of India or North or east or west of it, I told myself, look my God, what is my art and what is this! I could do nothing but suck the spirit of the great artistry seen in those works. When I came back I was a changed man.

The change that occurred in Sidharth after his travels all over India not only reflected in his works but also reflected in his personality. He became more and more recluse and aloof. He reworked on the footages that he shot during his travels and he edited them into several documentaries; documentaries on Indian art not through the point of view of a historian or a scholar but through the point of view of an artist and a seeker. I was not doing these documentaries to show it in festivals or to win awards. It was the only thing I could do after that overwhelming experience. I wanted to live the experience and the documentaries were the results of it. May be it needs a lot of patience for the viewers to see them today as they are lengthy and the narrative is not the traditional linear one. I have my internal logic of editing the ways of seeing India and its tradition. When I am silent, these visuals speak for me.

And Sidharth became silent. He withdrew himself from the world and went deep into knowing things more into their depths. His works that followed stand evidence to his tendency to go deeper and deeper into the subjects that he treats. Neti Neti was a series of painting that Sidharth did after his travels. Wasli paper was with him and the pigments and the vision of a vast land called India and its varieties were before his eyes. He wanted to express the philosophical core of India through a series of visuals. Neti Neti literally means that ‘Not this, Not this’. We all feel that life is this and at the same time we realize that life is not this. There is something more to it. The illusion has something real hidden behind it. And we start peeling it and finally reach the endless nothingness. It is not the nothingness that is important but the journey towards that, the very peeling of things and realizing at each step that not this, not this.

Neti Neti series also provides us with the clues of Sidharth’s changing palette as well as changing style and figuration. In these works one could see a nascent ethereal figure appearing and becoming the focal point of all activities in nature. This figure is neither a woman nor a man; but a being who has realized the meaninglessness of being defined by gender, politics, nationality or anything. This human being is someone who has gone beyond the traits that defines a human being. (S)he has brooding eyes and levitating body. Even when he engages him/herself with other beings in the nature, like the water drops on a lotus leaf he/she is detached but at the same time, the same being has all the capacities to enjoy and celebrate all the glories of nature. Each time, the viewer sees a work from this series, he or she could understand how the artist himself attempts to transcend himself to that position and realizing that this is not the last expression he moves on to the next one until he realizes, as usual, my God, I am done with it.

Three series that followed the Neti Neti series namely Panch Tatva, Lotus and Messengers were a natural progression for Sidharth. People call me a spiritual artist; some people say with a negative accent and some others say it with a positive accent. But I take both opinion with equal calmness, says Sidharth. Those people who accuse me of being spiritual do not look at my way of understanding the material world. Those who praise me for being spiritual do not look at my way of understanding the spiritual world. I am an artist, I do not seek the spiritual world like a person who has denounced the material world. My way of expressing my understanding is my art, my poetry and my songs. Like any other human beings I too am attached to this world. But the artist in you and the art that you create are the mediums of transcendence. They flag out the possibilities towards a better world; a world of pure awareness where no temple will be demolished for a mosque or a mosque for a temple, no womb will be bayoneted to kill the enemy in the womb itself, none will be bombed and none will be confined without giving a fair trial. Is it wrong for an ordinary human being like me to aspire for a better world? Asks Sidharth.

In Panch Tatva (Five Elements) Sidharth analyses the word Bhagvan or God. Bhagavan is a word combined of Bhoomi (earth), Gavya (Water) Vayu (air), Agni (Fire) and Up (sky). Scientifically it has been proved that all the organic beings have these as their constituent element. Hence the concept of God is the concept of worshipping the higher elements in your, the higher spirits in you and the higher principles in you and you are an extract of the nature that too is constituted of the five elements. So what you realize in you is the realization of God and what you realize in God is the realization of you. It is purely scientific and most often people look down upon a person who speaks this language and does not use the scientific jargon. In Panch Tatva, using the consolidated imagery of the ethereal being Sidharth captures these elements and their various plays during the progress of life. References from the former works come in as an artistic ways of understanding his own life in clearer terms as well as a way of repositioning his thought process in a newer context.

When you understand the deeper secrets of nature, it is quite natural to see the embodiments of it visions and apparitions. Sidharth in both the Lotus and Messengers series, attempt to portray the higher spirits embodied in human forms without gender specifications. They float like lotuses in water and they glow like fire in the hearth. Also in these series, one could see the travels that Sidharth had undertaken in India come to play a pivotal role. The innumerable numbers of Gandharvas, kinnaras, apsaras and angels that adore the walls of the temples and churches, reappear in these works as subtle references. Sidharth is conscious about as he believes that there should be mediums to realize nature or God in you. These figures are the mediums and to recognize them is more important than aspiring for the godhead itself.

By the onset of the new millennium Sidharth had become more reclusive and studious. The natural culmination of his series on nature was seen in Barah Masa (Twelve Seasons). India is one country where you could see all the changes in seasons (ritus). Each month has a special presence in this country, especially in the eastern countries. The changing seasons as well as the peculiarities of each month had attracted me ever since I had become a wanderer in the world, says Sidharth. I found the fabulous descriptions about months in Indian traditional, folk and classical literature. Guru Nanak has written extensively on each month and for him it is the journey of a man towards godliness. I was seriously taken in by this thought process and started collecting Barah Masa literature and visual representations from all over the world. I could collect around four hundred Barah Masa literature and art from different countries including Egypt, Turkey and Iran. Then I started my work. It took me almost four years to finish this series.

There was a reason for why Sidharth took this much time to finish a series on changing seasons or calendar months. First of all he went deep into the literature on the topic and secondly, he travelled to different places in India as per the clues in literature to collect flowers, stones and insects to make his pigments. One may find it a bit eccentric. I am always an eccentric, laughs Sidharth. His friend in London addressed him as ‘pagal’ Sidharth when he met the artist after a prolonged gap. It rings true when poet Sachidanandan says, ‘the love of madmen are like rivers/ during full moon nights it over flows.’ If you look at the works of Sidharth you could always perceive a full moon like figure lingering on in the foreground or in the background. And a wink from behind his thick spectacles, Sidharth would say, that’s not a moon but an illuminated ball of rags.

(to be continued)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hopping on the Golden Grid: Life and Times of Sidharth 7

(from Hopscotch series by Sidharth)

(Rag of Balls Installation at Sridharani Gallery by Sidharth)

Do you know how does it feel when you call some people papa and mummy when you know that they are not your real parents? Sidharth throws this question at me and goes back to his silence. I roll this question in my mind. How does it exactly feel? Out of affection we call some people as papa and mummy that too within the domestic situations. But we don’t really consider them as our father or mother. May be we try to derive something closer to the same feeling of being with our parents. Sidharth gets up, goes to his canvas now partly completed and kept at an easel and works on it. I like people around while I work, he smiles. But you have not answered my question to which I give him a smile in return. I don’t know how does it feel because I have never called anybody papa or mummy other than my own parents. I have felt strong bonding with certain men but they have never taken the place of my father. I am comfortable in men’s company but they cannot assume the role of my father. You may be able to call someone papa or mummy but they cannot replace your real parents, I say.

Sidharth smiles again. Wonderful things happen to very ordinary people and I was one of those gifted ordinary people, Sidharth opens another page from the book of his life. After the depressing 1980s Sidharth had decided to go to any city which would have helped him to live the life of an artist. When they think about migrating, in India most of them think about the cities like Bombay and Delhi. Punjabis, generally speaking think about migrating to the countries like Canada, Britain or the USA. Sidharth had already been to Sweden and he did not want to go back to that country soon after his education. He had already gone through the life of a Lama so he did not want to go back to the monastery again. He had been a Catholic, and he did not want to become a Christian again. He has already been a married man, so he did not want to get married and settle soon. He wanted to go out to the world and see the world. And he wanted to live in a city where he could anchor himself and travel all over. But he was having no money in his pocket; what he was left with when he left the college was a lot of paintings and a lot of verses that he had written and sung during the lonely nights at the farm house where he was working as a watchman during the nights.

Someone said Delhi and Sidharth found that a good idea. It was not the friends or the place that attracted him to the word Delhi. It was a place that was closest to Chandigarh and the money in his hand would have allowed him to travel till Delhi. Like many migrants, Sidharth too one day touched the earth of Delhi. The city did not pose any threat to him because a hungry man with creative fire in his mind and real hunger for bread in his stomach could not have been frightened by anything. He would have walked to any man in the street and asked for some money for food. He was a Lama, begging was not an issue and he never felt humiliated by asking for something. But there should have been a strong reason to stretch your hands before someone or something. You had stretched your hands before trees, stones, insects and flowers. You had asked their permission to pluck and powder them to make pigments. But human beings were a different species. When you asked you needed a strong reason.

I met some people and I realised, as the people in my Bus Stop series, I was not the only one. Everyone was a wanderer in certain sense and everyone was an orphan. Each and every person I met in the street showed their urgency to connect with the other people. As the urgency was so much that they feared the power of it. As it was so powerful they wanted to run away from it. And as they wanted to run away from it they looked at their feet and walked. Or they looked through the people who came against them. They felt they were lost people. That’s how a city becomes a place with full of lost people, Sidharth observes.

Sidharth too asked himself whether he wanted to become one of the lost people or he wanted to seize life by its throat and look into its eyes and ask a place for himself. But that imagery itself is a violent one. A former Lama like Sidharth could not have seized life by force. He could have confronted it with his wide opened hands and intense eyes. That was what exactly happened. Within a few days of his arrival in Delhi, he met a builder from Gaziabad. The man who was a flourishing builder was looking for some works of art to decorate the rooms of in a housing project, which was to be inaugurated soon. I did not know I was meeting a builder who was hell bent on squeezing all my paintings out of me or a benevolent person who would become a part of my life, Sidharth ruminates. He was sceptical about the motives of the builder though he took all of his paintings and paid him.

Why don’t you come home? The young builder asked Sidharth. The builder was living in Gaziabad, a suburb of Delhi and a district that belonged to the Uttar Pradesh state. During the end of 1980s and the beginning of 1990s, the reputation of Gaziabad was not so good amongst the people in the national capital region. Gaziabad was famous for its political and social atrocities. But it was also changing thanks to the growth of Delhi into its neighbouring states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Sidharth accepted the man’s invitation and went to his home. The family welcomed him. The young builder and his wife had children several years younger than Sidharth. They all liked him instantly.

To tell you the truth, but still you don’t believe me, the family adopted me, Sidharth says. A family with their own kids and kin adopting a grown up man with no family inheritance to claim of could be a far stretched figment of imagination. I know what you are thinking now, says Sidharth. But you have to believe it. We always look at things with doubt and fear. I too had this problem though I had studied religious texts deeply and had imbibed the essence of the greatest religions like Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. Still I doubted people the way Doubting Thomas doubted Jesus Christ. We are such people when happiness comes we are afraid because we think more about losing it. When sorrow comes we take it with full heart because we believe that it is our fate. Whether we go to temples or churches, we are still people filled with fear and terror.

I too was one and I asked the family why they wanted to adopt me, Sidharth continues working on his canvas. I look at him. From nowhere he looks like having a doubt about himself. He is confident, I tell myself. When a confident man meets another confident man something sparks. In such confrontation either both of them surrender or both of them win over each other. The family was confident because they liked Sidharth and Sidharth too was confident, of course after a few sessions of doubt and self questioning, and they won each other to their sides. I was given a flat in Gaziabad and I asked what I was supposed to do there. You sit and paint, the man said. And what do I give to you, asked Sidharth. You give us your love. Don’t even give your painting to us. You just be with us because we love you, the man said. What do I call you, asked Sidharth. If you don’t mind call us papa and mummy and these kids are your brothers and sisters, said the man.

They are Sidharth’s papa and mummy. And from nobody in life he landed up in a place where a family took the orphan into its fold. He felt like sheltered and the bird has finally found its nest. It was cosy, it was comfortable and it gave you the feeling that you belonged. And how did you feel when you called them papa and mummy for the first time, I ask. I felt, Sidharth turns from his canvas and looks at me. I felt like calling my papa and mummy back to life, back to my life. I could see them, I could feel them and I could speak to them through my new papa and mummy. And in fact, I did not go into analysis. If I had gone into analyzing the blessings being showered on me, I would not have enjoyed it. What I needed was a place to live and work. What I needed was a home and people who loved me and I could love. I got them all. What more could have I asked for?

While sitting at the Gaziabad apartment studio, Sidharth felt that it was time for him to work. But now there was a big question what was there to paint. Sidharth was a man now facing another death. He had to die to his newly found comforts. He had to reborn again as an artist. From the apartment window he looked outside. He saw the dreams of the builders all over; if dreams were made of brick, mortar and iron, then those dreams were there. Expanses of fields were now getting converted into apartments and flats. Most of them were stopped half way thanks to certain reasons as if the builder was woken up from his dream half way. On the dry brown expanses of earth one could see endless convoys of trucks, dilapidated buses, rickety auto rickshaws, impoverished cycle rickshaws, vegetable vendors and so on all enveloped in a thick cover of smog made out of the dust coming out of the fields and roads and the smoke coming out of the factories and breweries in the vicinity.

Sidharth saw a few girls hopping on the ground. They were absolutely happy and at times they quarrelled with each other. A shiver passed through Sidharth’s spine. A whole lot of memories came to him from his childhood. Back in time, in the village, both girls and boys used to play this game; this great game of life, the hopscotch. A new series was taking shape in Sidharth’s mind and he had already named it; Hopscotch.

Hopscotch is a game that the village children play. They make certain grid like lines on the earth and each portion they give a name like ped (tree), pahad (mountain), nadi (river), asman (sky), samundar (ocean). A piece of clay or porcelain is thrown into these grids and the children hop on them without touching the lines that divide or make the grids. And each time they reach the columns they experience the specified space; tree, mountain and so on. There is no winning or losing in this game, says Sidharth. It is all about experience. What could be the best way to know the deeper truths of life than playing this game? They hop on and they experience and learn. When they reach the tree they become monkeys. They have their notions of evolution and progress. It is imparted to them by their elders and the underlying thread is the philosophy of life and it was what exactly Piet Mondrian derived after experiments and named it the ‘golden grid’ which later many architects and urban planners including Le Corbusier made use of.

It clicked to me then and there, says Sidharth, to paint a series on hopscotch. It too like the Mela series started off as a completely figurative style and later went into a mode of abstraction. I wanted to capture the movement and momentum of the children who played the game and more than that I wanted to get the grid right. For me the grids were actually representing various phases of life itself; the evolution of human beings and their movement to higher planes of awareness and enlightenment. When I saw that I could derive the same effects from a simple village game I was really excited. I locked myself up in the studio and kept painting and I did not know what was happening around. I was engrossed with the idea of grid and the idea of life’s progress. I hardly went to Delhi and I was very slow to make friends though I made quite a few of them over a period of time.

For Sidharth, Hopscotch series was just a beginning of his soon to be flourishing creative career as an artist. Even today he pursues a series till he feels that ‘oh good lord, now I feel that I am done with it...that’s it.’ Then he stops it. May be for a viewer the images look repetitive and the idea far stretched. But from the perspective of an artist the scene is totally different. He goes on doing certain things because for him the very act of doing it is a journey and when he feels that he has arrived, he stops working on it. Often the viewer gets to see only selections from the total number of works done, discarded, stashed away and exhibited. When an artist’s particular phase of work is analyzed one has to see them as a part of the continuity where the artist decides to go on and on with certain ideas and forms. Sidharth’s images become repetitive and abstraction becomes familiar because he continues a series to the maximum till he feels that the whole essence of what he wants to say is now out in these paintings.

People say that I have a style and my works are recognizable for their style. I feel it is good and bad at the same time, says Sidharth. I don’t think an artist needs to be a prisoner of his own style and it is not necessary from the viewers’ side also to expect the artist to perform in the same way that they had seen him in his previous works. A work of art is all about evolution and progress. It is about existence and being. It has an organic growth of its own. So you cannot expect a work of art to be the same all the time. But then you as a grown up man do not change your looks every other day. Your looks become the part of your personality. Similarly, an artist’s style too is his part of the personality. If at all I appreciate style as style, I would say style is all about the artistic personality and way of thinking. It is an evolved thing. If you want you can paint like Damien Hirst or create installations like him. But then you are not Damien Hirst. You are not Picasso. You are what you are. You are the style and it is an evolved thing, Sidharth says with a lot of conviction.

Ball of Rags was another series that Sidharth did when he was sitting in the Gaziabad apartment. Though he got new parents and loving people around him, the memories of his mother still haunted him. Perhaps, haunted is not the right word. She used to visit him all the time. She was with him all the time. During the moments of existential thinking, Sidharth used to think about the very reason for his existence. Why why why....What was his life all about? The circle drawn by fire by Buddha had made a strong impression on him and he knew life was all illusion. But he needed a metaphor to express his deep felt concern for this nothingness. After celebrating life and its progress through the Hopscotch series, it was time for him to express the concerns for the other extreme of this celebration; nothingness.

Sidharth’s mother used to make balls out of rags for Sidharth and other kids to play with. More than playing with the rag balls Sidharth liked them as something with certain tactile quality. He fondled them as if he were fondling something cute and cuddly. He wanted to peel off the layers and see what his mother had hidden behind them. He used to destroy a lot of rag balls like that. Several years later sitting at his studio in Gaziabad with its dusty surroundings, Sidharth realized the philosophical dimensions of the rag balls and his act of peeling them off to see what was inside.

When you get a ball of rags in your hands you fondle it and then you get curious to know what had gone inside even if you had witnessed your mother making it. You start to peel it and with each layer coming off you get to see a surprise in the colour of another piece of cloth. It goes on and on and you reach to a point where you are left with only one piece of cloth. And you don’t have anything more to peel. You end up with nothing. Life is all about that. Each layer is exciting and you experience it. The more you go inside the more you realize that there is nothing. You say this is not and you go on and you reach a realm of absolute nothingness.

This was what exactly I wanted to capture in the series ‘Ball of Rags’. I painted the ball of rags to begin with the series as children holding them and playing with them, remembers Sidharth. Then It slowly moved to a realm of abstraction. I was a finding a cosmos of light evolving out of these paintings. I enjoyed doing them. Soon I realized the need for creating something out of the frames. I wanted to do something with the actual rags. I did it. I collected rags from all over the places. Like my mother I painstakingly created the balls of rags and made an installation out of it. I exhibited the works and the installation at the Sridharani Gallery, New Delhi in 1994.

That was when the French lady stepped into the gallery to see Sidharth doing his action paintings on the papers stuck on the gallery walls.
(to be continued....)

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Circle Drawn by Fire: Life and Times of Sidharth 6

(From Mela Series by Sidharth)

You light an incense stick and draw a circle in the air. What do you see there?, asked Buddha one day to one of his disciples. Nothing, said the disciple. Draw it fast, make it go round and round. The disciple did so. And now he could behold a circle of light. He could also see the disappearance of the light circles within moments of their appearance. He looked at Buddha. He smiled; the benevolent smile of the master. Look, world is like a circle written out of fire. It appears before you as if it were real and the next moment it just vanishes, said Buddha. The disciple learned one of the fundamental principles about the world. Nothing remains. Everything is in a flux besides, everything is maya, an illusion. Budhha too had come out of Maya; his mother. But he was real and he was a real one who could recognize the maya of the world.

Sidharth looks at me while sipping green tea from his white porcelain cup. Out there in the garden children and old people have gathered for their evening revelry. Everything appeared quite real out there. Children playing, old people walking, middle aged women sitting at the park benches and sharing their kitchen news and the lazy ones just looking at the people with their not-so-registering gaze.

Buddha was born in the midst of all happiness, Sidharth begins while looking at the dumb charade down there in the park, seen through the glass wall of his studio. He had seen things as we are seeing the children playing down there. His father, as he knew that the boy was going to renounce the world, had kept him away from the worldly woes. Siddhartha was forced to detach himself from the world. He saw everything through the curtain of an illusionary happiness until one day he went out to see the world with his charioteer, Chandan. You must remember that Siddhartha was born to Maya Devi. She had her dreams while conceiving Siddhartha. She had received the greater spirit of the redeemer elephant in her womb. Shuddhodana, the father of Buddha knew that this boy was going to severe all the worldly ties. So he became very cruel to Siddhartha. Cruel in his own way, he kept him under surveillance, gave him all the worldly pleasures and even married him off with Yasodhara at a very early age. It took those many years for Siddharth to realize the world that it was all illusion.

Between illusion and reality, there is a small veil of perception. Or even we could say that there is a concrete wall between the reality and illusion that holds either of these realms separated with vengeance. But a small chink on the wall, things would be different. Happiness could turn into sorrow and vice versa. Through this gap you could see the other side of the world, the other side of the illusion. You suddenly recognize that it was just a circle of fire that you had been taking for an illuminated circle of joy. It is just like accidents opening up a new world of reality before the human beings. They have seen people sitting crushed against the steering wheels while the huge wheels of the truck climbing on the bonnets of their vehicles. They are not dead. They could see the world from their precarious and painful position. The world for them is no longer the same. It is an experience that leads you to the new world.

Sidhartha had the same experience before he became Buddha. Though an orphan Sidharth, our protagonist was in a way happy go lucky during his college years. Emergency had affected his mind but he had fought back with his senses to stay calm and focused. He just wanted to live and work. Life, for a young man like Sidharth was looking very beautiful, inviting and promising. It was then he got the opportunity to exhibit with the elder artists like Prem Singh and other friends who had formed a group in Chandigarh called the ‘Solids’. Participating in the Solid Group show was a boon for Sidharth. He was the only student who was invited to participate with the already established artists. Sidharth, today looking back at those days feels that the Solid group was not like a Progressive group of Bombay or Calcutta. It was just a practical solution for a group of artists operating from Chandigarh who wanted to exhibit their works to the public. They did not have any galleries at their disposal nor did they have any patron to support their creative careers. So they decided to do shows together. It was not ideologically knit.

While travelling with Chanda, the charioteer Sidhartha saw old people, crumpled by age and time, bent by the burden of life; he saw ill people shrunken to their bones, he saw death, poverty and pestilence and the veil of illusion was pulled away from before his eyes. The man who came back to the palace was not the same Sidhartha who had gone out with his charioteer. He was thoughtful and he wanted to find a solution for all these problems of the human beings. It was a great task and he did not know what to do with that. He found everything illogical. There was no logic to the proceedings of life. On the one hand you have all the happiness and on the other you have nothing. One day, I too am going to become like these old and ill people. It is just a question of time. Between this healthy and happy existence and that ill and desperate existence there was only a distance of a lotus thread. It could be snapped at any time. The lack of logic in things confused Sidhartha. He decided to leave the palace.

Imagine this situation, my friend, Sidharth tells me. I am all ears. Imagine this situation; a beautiful evening in some village in Punjab. Let it be my village or any village. The sun behaves like an action painter at the western end of the sky. At the horizon, he has stretched sky as the canvas. He is a mixed media artist. The clouds that come around are his additional materials. The wheat fields are ripe like the wheat fields in Van Gogh’s paintings. Instead of crows, larks and cranes fly around. Sun takes out his rays, dips them in various tones of red and yellow, and paints all what is available around him. The sky, the clouds, the wheat fields and everything is now daubed in different colours. While sun does his painting at the horizon, down here in the village, tired farmers sit on their charpoys to drink, sing and tell stories. Women and children gather around them, listen to them, feed them, love them and above all make them feel that they all belonged to some inexplicable feeling called happiness. The men proudly look at the wheat fields that they have tilled, sowed and nurtured now it is time to reap the fruits of their efforts.

What beautiful scene, right, Sidharth asks me. I nod in agreement. It is quite logical to understand this happiness, continues Sidharth. They have done their work and the earth has yielded their due. But then something happens which you find very difficult to explain with your sense of logic and reason. A few young men, belonging to the same community or Sikhs, complete with their kadas, kripans, kes, kanki and kaccha come by motorbikes. The village folk look at them with astonishment and curiosity. Children wave at them as they don’t see quite often young guys coming around by motorbikes. Suddenly the motorbikes stop there. The young men take out their AK-47 rifles and fire at this unsuspecting villagers. When they leave, they leave behind ten dead and several injured. How do you explain this situation? Sidharth goes into another spell of silence.

This was the beginning of 1980s. Punjab became a spot of attention not for its religious and agricultural flourish but for the separatists who claimed their own land, Khalistan from the mainland of India. The Khalistanis, for modern India, became the byword for ‘Terrorists and Terrorism’. For almost a decade Punjab held the attention of the whole nation for the unmindful killing of innumerable people by the Khalistanis. It eventually led the Indian Military to enter into the ultimate shrine of the Sikhs, the Golden Temple at Amritsar. Titled ‘Operation Blue Star’, it was one of the bold movements of any secular government in India, then led by the late Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi against a religious group took the path of terrorism and eventually took possession of the prime shrine of the Sikhs. They thought that the military would not take any action at a religious structure. But it did with iron hands. Pumping bullets into the temple, the fumed out the terrorists holed up there. The temple was vandalized. It got Indira Gandhi a lot of accolades but it also made her enemy to a lot of sections from the Sikh Community. They were for the wiping out of terrorism but they were not for the army to desecrate their shrine.

Those who know modern Indian political history knows that the Khalistanis were a product of the protectionist Congress mindset. Indira Gandhi wanted to keep the Akalis under check in Punjab using the new grown separatist leaders like Bhindren Walla. To create internal strife, the Congress ruled centre let certain confusions to happen in the religio-socio-political fabric of Punjab. Bhindren Walla was soon to be denounced by those who had brought him up. When the political conspiracy took the form of demanding a separate state from the Indian Union, Indira Gandhi had no other way than denouncing them publicly. With no political leadership than the fanatic demand for a different state, the Khalistanis turned to terrorism to hold the attention of the rulers. Once they were sure that their demands were not going to be granted they resorted to mindless violence along the length and breadth of Punjab, killing innocent people as if to take revenge against all the political parties. They did not think that they were killing their own people.

Those ten years were beyond all kinds of logic, says Sidharth. I was not a political being. I was spiritual and as you know I had gone through Sikhism, Buddhism and Catholicism. I should say even I knew a bit of Marxism in due course of time. My conversion into different isms was a part of my journey that I don’t regret. But somehow I could not understand this atrocities committed by a set of people against their own people to draw the attention of the rulers. What was the logic behind it? I did not understand why they killed the people. I started thinking about my childhood when all the youngsters were considered to be brothers and sisters. We never thought that we would be harmed by any of our brothers or sisters. But suddenly things were different.

Sidharth’s ‘Mela’ series has its roots deeply spread in the realities as well as the illusions of 1980s. Mela used to be the places where people gathered to share their happiness, remembers Sidharth. Melas were and still are the travelling fairs with spectacles, magic, circus, dance, songs and so on. According to seasonal changes different types of Melas used to take place in every village. People went there in groups, with their families, with their friends and with their lovers. They ate, drank, got their photographs taken, took rides in giant wheels, sucked it ice sticks, held balloons, heard singers, saw dancers, confronted death at the ‘well of death’ where daredevil boys drove cars and rode on bikes. People shrieked with happiness when the young man zooming past them on a motorbike extended his hand and took the notes held out to him by the excited spectators. When they walked back to their homes their tongues were full of new tastes, bags were full of new purchases, ears were full of new songs, feet were full of new dance steps and minds were full of new memories.

For me Melas were happening places like that, Sidharth says broodingly. And as a young boy I thought all those happy moments were real and permanent. And now as a young man in Chandigarh with the news of people getting gunned down around me filling in my ears, I started thinking about life itself as a circle drawn out of fire. The happiness was momentary. The mela grounds were just illusions. Mela grounds have now become killing fields. I heard several news items about the terrorists attacking Mela grounds. Also I came to know that the police had declared IPC 144 all over Punjab. This draconian law prevented people from gathering. More than two persons were considered to be a crowed and the police were given full authorities to take action against people. Many innocent people were unreasonably jailed. Melas were banned and the use of loud speakers was curtailed. The whole of Punjab , especially the rural Pujab became one vast gloomy graveyard with living and dead people.

Sidharth was a depressed man during that decade. I started painting my Mela series. Initially, I painted them as happy places; with people holding balloons and the places decorated with paper flags cut in triangle shapes. I have this habit of continuing with one theme for a long time till I feel that I could not do any more images on that theme. It happened the same with the Mela series too. Even without my knowledge the forms were changing. Initially I was giving stress on the people and their expressions. The colours that I used were sober. As I progressed in this series, that means as I was bogged even further down by the depressing news of killing and arson all over the rural Punjab, my palette took a different course. My palette started getting filled up with darker hues of reds, yellows, blues and browns. The people were disappearing from the pictorial surface. A sea of fire was getting prepared with the triangular spangles filling in them.

Mela Series was one of the pivotal series that Sidharth had done during his formative years as an artist. When we reach the matured works in this series, we find distorted human images as well as the predominant image of the loudspeakers with their ends growing like roots or shoots. They create an entangled feeling. And the floors are covered with broken bottles and shards of broken glasses. The triangular shape of glass pieces in a way correspond with triangular shape of the flags that fills up the upper portion of the paintings. So what you see is a medley of abstract forms, taking different tonal densities and imposing their visual presence before the eyes of the viewer.

Sidharth did more than three hundred paintings and drawings on this series. It was like exorcising myself of the negative feelings that had come to roost in my mind thanks to the terrorists activities in Punjab. I was no longer thinking of life as a real thing. It was without any logic or reason. Anything could have changed at any time. You could believe in yourself, your inner voices and you could strive for your truth. Rest was like the circle drawn by a lit incense stick.

(will continue....)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Night Watchman and Art Student in Chandigarh: Life and Times of Sidharth 5

(from the Bus Stop series by Sidharth)

For Sidharth relocating from Sweden to India was like coming back from nature to culture. You may find it surprising when someone says that a western country is more natural than India because we often think that the Indians are more natural and the west is all about culture. There is a strong distinction between natural and the cultural. Theoretically it is said that cultural is something that is made out of the natural. Cultural is therefore an interpolation on the core of what we deem natural. When someone is cultured, or cooked from the raw state, certain fundamental traits are erased from him or her. Being cultural was the necessity of the time as human beings were moving from one state of physical existence to another. It facilitated the changes in the mental status too, By being natural one is not just being raw but one could be closer to the earth, closer to the elements and closer to the inner voices.

In Sweden, unlike his previous phase of life in India, Sidharth had seen the true flourishing of the natural. They live as per the demands of the nature. According to Sidharth, the Swedish people did not violate nature in a big way. Of course, he had seen clear urban places there. But in a country where sun does not set for a prolonged period of time, things have to be different. Even the so called cultured urban life cannot be like anywhere else in the world. During the prolonged white nights, people were completely thrown into the hands of nature. Everything was washed clean by the sunlight. And if you thought about the psychological status of the people living there, it was totally different from a person like Sidharth who had gone there from India. People did not believe in restrictions because they knew that nature had shown them the infinite possibilities of freedom through sending them prolonged days and prolonged nights.

During those white nights, Sidharth remembers, people just hang out in places completely naked. In fact there is no word like naked or nude in Swedish language, says Sidharth. For them, the unclothed state of being is ‘natural’ state. Most of them spent their white nights in the gardens, forest clearings and country sides. They moved around without clothes. They did not look at each other with the eyes of sin. Everyone welcomed everyone else to have a beer or coffee. You could just hop into anybody’s garden and join them to chit chat or to sing or to share some great food and wine. They never looked at people with suspicion. Nature had taken all the doubts away from their minds. During those prolonged nights’ season, if you are on the wayside and don’t have anything else to do, you can just wave a caravan or car down and if there is space you could just travel with them. You are always welcome there.

It comes from the natural state; from a sort of awareness that you cannot fight with nature. You cannot win nature by force. Hence, the best way is to flow with it. Know the throbs of a bird’s chest, listen to the gurgling sound of a spring, hark for the breathing of the trees and give ear to the whisperings of the forest. If you are a keen listener you could even listen to the songs created and sung by the bus tyres. You could extract musical notes from the harshest engines on the roads. You need to be extremely sensitive to know such things. You cannot avoid anything in that natural state. You would listen to a drop of water saying good bye to the tap in the kitchen sink. You would listen to the splashing sound of the drop falling on the hollow steel of the sink. You feel the ventilated holes sucking the wetness of that drop from the surface of it. You cannot escape anything when you are natural. And to become natural you need to be deeply silent from inside and if possible deeply calm from outside also. Sweden was offering all these to Sidharth who was more tuned to a life of silence than anything else.

One fine morning I find myself in Chandrigarh, says Sidharth, It was like getting airdropped from the lonely mountains to the middle of a fair. My parents had been dead and gone for so long. And those people whom I knew from my childhood had gone into different walks of like. I was literally orphan standing in the middle of a city and looking all around to know what to do or what to not to do, where to go or where not to go. You cannot erase all the people from this earth and even in an orphaned state you will find people coming to help you as if they were sent by gods. I had some connection with some friends in Chandigarh. They advised me to join the Chandigarh Art College. Getting admission was not a problem though I was academically qualified to get admitted. Somehow I managed to get admission as the management liked me and they might have obviously felt pity for me as I was a person suddenly landed from an alien planet with none to connect in the new world.

Chandigarh was an inspiration and threat at the same time because Sidharth liked the city for its planned nature and disliked it for the loud nature of the people. The rich and influential in the city were always roaming around in vehicles and they did not know how to make polite conversations. In fact, they are polite people but their way of showing mutual admiration and politeness is different. Punjabis are vey exuberant people. They want to show everything outside. Even their patting is a sort of bulldozing. I hated this din for endless reasons, remembers Sidharth. I wanted to be alone and quiet and at the same time I wanted to connect to people deeply in a different way. I did not know how to do that. I did not have any money and my poverty I wore like a shame. But against my disliking for the loud people in Chandigarb, giving me surprises one after another help came from the very same people.

With so much of fondness Sidharth remembers one incident that happened to him in London. He was in a gala function with lot of rich people around. A burly Sardarji came around and looked at Sidharth for some time and exclaimed, Tusi to woh pagal Sidharth to nahin? (Aren’t you the same mad Sidharth?). With a smile Sidharth got up and hugged the man. Yes, I am the same mad Harjinder, said Sidharth. The Sikh gentleman was extremely happy to see Sidharth in a good shape because when he met him last years before Sidharth was not in a good shape. And it was the same gentleman who helped Sidharth to survive during his art college days in Chandigarh.

I was in a bad shape because I did not have any money to buy food or clothes. I did not even have money to buy art materials, remembers Sidharth with a fair amount of detachment. The Sikh gentleman whom I met in London was also studying n the same college and he came from a very rich background. He really wanted to help me and at the same time like any practical Sikh people, he thought that he should not be giving charity to me. So he asked me one day whether I was ready to work as a night watchman at his farmhouse in the suburbs of Chandigarh. You would get food, art materials, a place to sleep and some money as remuneration, said that friend. There was no need to think twice before my friend stopped his sentence my yes was given then and there. Hence that day onwards, during day time I studied at the college and by evening I cycled to the suburbs, to the farmhouse of my friend and guarded the property.

In fact, when Sidharth looks back he is sure that he did not protect his friend’s property. Instead, he became friendly with the nightly invaders in the property namely monkeys, foxes, mongooses, owls and some snakes. I used to stay awake. The path way that took a left turn from the main road led to this property and there were also other farm houses. But there were no guards to take care of those properties. So when night fell I was like a shipwrecked man marooned in a lonely island with only darkness and the sounds of the night creatures to give me company. Every night I made a fire at the courtyard, made songs and sang them. When I sang, from a distance the jackals and foxes gave me accompaniment. I wrote poems after poems, and most of them were the wailing of a lonely soul searching for the ultimate truth. I could feel my father taking me over and singing through me. I drew pictures, I painted and I cried.

Sidharth friend wanted to know how his college mate doubled up as a night watchman in his farm house. So one day he gave a surprise visit and found that Sidharth had made friends with a lot of creatures around and the nights of Sidharth at the farmhouse were much richer and exciting than those in the pubs and beer bars in the cities. The friend left without a comment after spending a night full of songs and drawings. The next weekend he returned with a car full of friends and the farm house became the next centre of meeting for the young and creative boys in Chandigarh. They all started respecting me a different way. They knew that I was one of them and at the same time I was different from them. My poverty was my difference, my humility was my difference, the shame, the pity, the sorrows, the simplicity, the dreams that I left behind in that white country all were my difference. And my friends knew it. I was not surprised when my friend called me mad when he met me after several years in a foreign shore. I was really mad then and I was mad like an artist, a poet and a singer.

Chandigarh was a not just poetry and revelry for Sidharth. According to him this was an ideal place for an art student in those days. There are two reasons that Sidharth cites to support his views. First of all the city was designed by the famous architect Le Corbusier. It was neat, clean, planned and made you comfortable at any given time. Secondly, the art college did not have any good teachers then and there was no fear of getting polluted by bad education. You had teachers, some of them lenient enough to allow you to go ahead with the kind of works that you liked to do. So you were doubly equipped. You had a nice environment and you did not have any teachers who would breath down on your neck. You could do anything that you wanted.

Sidharth is an artist who never wants to work with synthetic colours or materials. But when you are in an art college you cannot demand natural pigments. Nor do you have the time and scope for hunting materials to make powdered pigments. In that situation Sidharth too was introduced to synthetic colours. I started using pencil for the first time in Chandigarh College of Art. I was introduced to watercolours, oil paints and acrylic paints. I approached them the way I approached the natural colours. I did not feel any contempt for the industrially produced colours. I approached them with a sort of reverence and tried to understand the ways in which the colours behaved because I knew that colours also had their own kind of life.

Sidharth treats materials as people. He believes that they have their own lives and existence. Even the brushes have their own life, he seems to say. This comes from a deeply rooted reverence for the materials from the earth. It was inculcated in him by his mother and the artists in the Buddhist monastery. Sidharth felt comfortable with the materials as he treated them as living organisms. It was not just being spiritual or being naive, says Sidharth. Even today I believe that the colours could lead you to certain forms. Colours could give certain density to figures that you do. They lead you to your metaphor. You can manipulate the colour in some parts and some parts you should allow the colours and materials to lead you on. That’s why when I do water colour or gouache I don’t insist that the result should be like a typical Sidharth canvas. They have a different life. No artist can replicate the effects of a work of art on a second medium or with a second material because the material and medium are also integral part of the metaphor that you have created and it is very unique, believes Sidharth.

In Chandigarh, Sidharth was always looking for something as he was restless. What was he searching for, he did not know? Was he searching for his lost parents? Sidharth did not have an answer. If he was looking out for friends, he had a lot of friends and there was no need to search for them and all of them loved Sidharth despite his financial or social status. For them he was an artist with a lot of experience at a very young age itself. The year was 1976. Political Emergency declared by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was on place. The state machinery was working overtime to make things happen the way the Prime Minister wanted. Many writers, artists and intellectuals were put behind bars. Some of the friends of Sidharth who were involved in a political rebellion were also put into jails and tortured. Sidharth was aloof but the news from his friends disturbed him. He started looking for the real essence of life amongst people who were living in perpetual fear.

The first series of works, considering the oeuvre of Sidharth was happened during those years of political turmoil. This particular series was called the Bus Stop Series. I used to spend a lot of time in the bus stops looking for people who were travelling to one place to another. I did not know from where they were coming and where they were going. But all were on the movie. I started sketching them furiously. Hours after hours I sat in the bus stops and sketched people. Initially I was capturing the likeness of the people using expressionistic lines but later on I lost interest in their likeness. Slowly the people were abstracted into certain forms, which I liked a lot. Also I notice that most of the people in the bus stops stood still. All of them were about to travel but they had been caught in an inexplicable stillness. To my surprise I realised that the abstracted forms of these people were also still with only the images of the children and the dogs imparting some kind of movement to the images within these drawings. I could sense the essence of life through these drawings. People were travelling and yet they were not travelling. They were in an illusion of their own movements. They were caught in a web of circularity and repetition. Only the children and dogs showed the animation of life because they were ignorant and aware at the same time.

In Orhan Pamuk’s early novel ‘The New Life’ (1997) you find a similar situation like this. The protagonist in the novel goes to the bus stops and bus stations to see the people who were in a journey and he joins them in a journey to the unknown places. Without any particular notion about where he was going he changes buses and moves from one city to another, one dingy dark town to another. But he has a specific aim and that is the exploration of a new world where a new life is waiting for him. He also imagines that the entry into the new world or life is possible only through confronting death by accidents, that too bus accidents. So he chooses the dilapidated buses and also opts for those bus companies that have scored a maximum in making accidents and deaths. Was it the same death wish that Sidhath was experiencing through his sketching of the travellers in the bus stops? Or was he trying to externalize his desire to be away from the places known to him and go to the places where he did not know anyone or anything? Was Sidharth looking for another journey that would take him to a realm where he could sing new songs and find new natural colours?

The answers could be negative and affirmative at the same time because Sidharth was going through a tremendous amount of existential angst at that time. He had just left his wife back in Sweden. He had died his spiritual death there in St.Birgitta’s church only to resurrect as a new person. While flying back he thought he was going to a nest that was the embodiment of the whole world. But here he was locked up in Chandigarh, during day time as a student and at night as a watchman in a distant farm house. He wanted his life to be something else and he wanted a metaphor for his life. The immediate thing that he could found out was the bus stop where people moved like ghosts as if they were escaping from their own graves.

This phase of Sidharth cannot be called a pessimistic phase because it was his way of finding the truth of life. Like a true Gurbaani singer, it is through wailing and singing out his sorrows, he realizes his god. Hence, the Bus Stop series could be considered as Sidharth’s first serious effort in his paintings to understand the core of life through the metaphor of people, which could be at a later stage abstracted into forms with movements suggested by the children and dogs.

At the other end of the tunnel, the light was beginning to appear. But before that something hit Punjab and Sidharth too was hit along with that. Sidharth’s art and the artist in Sidharth were taking a different turn; a turn that would take him to the contemporary realities of his homeland, Punjab.

(Will Continue....)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

In the Middle of a White Sea I drowned: Life and Times of Sidharth 4

(Ball of Rags- Installation and display by Sidharth)

From the frozen window of the flight Sidharth looked down. A sea of white clouds opened before his strained eyes. The clouds looked flocks of sheep standing still at the loss of their shepherd. They put their necks on the hunch of the other. They did not push or pull, they were lame in some way. They needed a Buddha to come and retrieve them from their stillness and lead them to another pasture of sunshine and solace.

A streak of early morning sunlight from nowhere suddenly started glazing the upper edges of the clouds. The flight had already started its descending. Sidharth did not know from where the ember like glow came on the upper contours of the white clouds. He thought of a sea of clouds now catching fire or a wood of jacaranda trees suddenly bloomed by the touch of a fairy. Sidharth wanted to touch the clouds and feel them. He had seen white clouds floating low at the valleys in Dharamsala. He had seen them making patterns between the hills beyond the small forests. He had seen them applying various hues on their bodies like truant children doing so after invading their mothers’ make up kits.

Sidharth’s heart beat fast. He looked at Vivienne who was sitting next him without knowing the turmoil that had caught the wings of Sidharth and made him shiver like a flight passing through a turbulent cloud. Her eyes were closed with the same calmness of a regular world trotter who was not affected by the long journeys by air. She had kept her head on the left shoulder of Sidharth and her hand was holding his left hand as if it were a seal of assurance. For a moment while looking at her closed eyes and the slender hands that touched him at the knee, Sidharth felt reassured. I am going to be safe in her hands, he thought.

It was all white, remembers Sidharth. The first impression that he had got about this Scandinavian country called Sweden was this: White. Coming out of the airport with wide eyes that were ready to catch anything and everything and register them in mind for a life time, Sidharth saw only never ending expanses of white; the piercing whiteness of snow. Sidharth’s bones responded to that whiteness by making him aware of the cold that had been cutting through his skin, flesh, blood unto the bone marrows. Sidharth shivered. He shivered not because of the cold alone but because of the life in this country, rest of his life in this country that he imagined for a moment. Things looked real and unreal at the same time.

Everything was white. It was not even the peak of winter. It was just the beginning of it. Still everything was covered in white, Sidharth remembers. A person who had seen various hues and diversified tones of reds, blues, greens and yellows, this whiteness of snow that had embraced anything and everything above the earth and under the sun in Sweden was something a disturbing sight. The trees were white, the buildings were white, the roads were white, the birds, the vehicles and the people who loitered in the streets everything was white. You couldn’t have imagined any other colour in that country. I did not know whether to love it or hate it. I did not know whether to accept my fate or to run away from there. I was going through a great emotional turbulence. And I was just sixteen years old.

Sitting in a cab, Sidharth looked at the whiteness that had blinded him out of all the other colours. He thought he would not be able to see any other colour in his life. Like the warmth of Vivienne’s touch on his right hand, memories of India came to him in hoards. If you talk about nostalgia and homesickness, it was that feeling. You are with your beloved and you know you are safe with her, yet you long to go back. You want to be back to your place where you belong. Whatever may be the troubles and tribulations that you would face once you go back, even if you are an orphan, there is nothing like your own country that gives you the solace that you want, Sidharth says.

I am not a nationalist nor do I have too much strong sentimental attachment to this country. But I am culturally, organically, emotionally, philosophically belong to this place, this country called India. I do travel a lot and every year I spent some time in Sweden. I am comfortable everywhere today. My journeys have made me enough lessons to be in one place and everywhere at the same time and also they have taught me to belong everywhere. You are the son of mother earth. Wherever you go, irrespective of the cultural, religious, regional, linguistic or racial differences, you belong to the earth and you belong to the elements of earth. Now sitting in Sukhdev Vihar in New Delhi, I can talk about all these things but back then as a sixteen year old boy, it was very difficult to think like that. Despite my initiation as a Buddhist Lama, I realized that I had worldly ties. I wanted to belong, says Sidharth.

Nostalgia and homesickness gnawed his existence day by day in Sweden. Vivienne’s house was comfortable where he was a young husband to her. She gave Sidharth all the freedom to do whatever he wanted to. He painted, he walked along the streets and while walking and crossing the people who were huddled to their own souls inside the fur clothes, Sidharth realized that if you had a pair of eyes and a mind to see you could see colours of life even in the midst of this vast sea of whiteness. This was a revelation for him. To see people, understand the colours they have, their skin complexion, the colour of a scarf worn by a woman, even if it is not seen outside because of the heavy fur cap around her head, a little glimpse of that red velvety scarf had made all the difference. The colour of the stockings that was rarely seen in the trams when a girl accidently tripped inside the cabin. The colour of the shell frame of the spectacles that an old woman wore while sitting at a table in the corner of a cafe/ The colour of the nail polish on her ageing fingers. The colour of the tabloid that she was reading. The colour of the coffee that had a whirlwind of white form in the middle. The colour of the steam that came out of the coffee. The aroma of it....

Sidharth slowly realized that it was his cultural fixations that made him perceive the predominant white as the only boring colour that he could ever confront in this country had he lived there for a long time. Now he was seeing other colours through. As a sensitive artist and a genuine singer, each pore in Sidharth’s body and soul was craving to respond to sights and sounds. Sidharth never says whether his marital life in Sweden was good, bad or ugly. But he does reiterate that his life in Sweden helped him to understand people in a different way. They had a different life with a different pace and one had to accept that difference. Once you accept the difference of others the life become worth living and beautiful. In Sweden, after a few months the veil that had fallen over the eyes of Sidharth was lifted by the nature itself. He started liking the life in Sweden.

Visiting museums, art galleries, meeting writers and intellectuals and roaming around alone were the favourite pastimes of Sidharth in Sweden. He made a lot of friends there; ordinary people, artists, writers, singers, actors and the friendships that had begun when he was hardly sixteen years old still endure. And Sidharth is a pretty much known name in Sweden than his name in India. Here I am reluctant to talk to people because they have a tendency to judge people very fast. Even before they know the person or his art properly they form an idea about him and his work. And then they approach you with a certain sense of prejudice. It is very difficult to penetrate the armour of this prejudice. People say, Sidharth is a spiritual artist, so let us forget him. We are more contemporary people and we need a sort of spectacular art, smiles Sidharth. I cannot do anything with those people. They know that I had been to Buddhist monasteries and I paint a lot of figures with Buddha like eyes. So they have concluded that I am a spiritual artist. But in Sweden I am not a victim of this kind of prejudiced approach. They look at me as an artist and even without knowing the complicate life story of mine, they appreciate my works for the pure aesthetic value, Sidharth observes.

Though Sidharth says that he is not so popular in the art scene, people know the artist, Sidharth and more people from the other fields for example like literature, music, dance and so on know him better because he has always been a keen listener, an engaging story teller, a curious student of languages, a researcher of mythologies; all those traits liked by writers, singers and other creative people. Sidharth’s studio in Sukhdev Vihar is always open to the writers who visit Delhi. They all come to visit Sidharth to share their stories and take his stories along. But I am not a person who always looks out for name and fame. I am happy with people who are quite caring, understanding and loving. My friends love me and through the gestures of love I earn my friends and retain my friendship.

Sidharth recounts one incident of such lifelong friendships. It was in 1994. He was doing an exhibition with paintings and a huge installation at the Sridharani Gallery in New Delhi. It was a show which I was sure would never yield money. But I was not looking for money and it was a set of works developed out of my research and studies on the balls made out of rags. It is a long story that I would tell later. Now let me go ahead with the story of a friendship. As it was a totally non-commercial show I had decided to experiment with the whole show. I placed paper along the walls of the gallery and started doing drawings, quite random drawings on them. When the papers were filled I replaced them with a new set. Most of them were done in an inspired fashion and I never thought that anybody was going to take any particular interest to those works. It would have just been passed for the whims of an artist, who just wanted to do something while sitting in a gallery when his show was on.

One afternoon, while Sidharth was drawing almost like Jackson Pollock running up and down, a middle aged white lady came inside the gallery and after seeing the works on display she walked up to Sidharth who was totally involved in his ‘action’ and stood there watching the artist for a long time. Without saying anything, perhaps after exchanging a few polite words and smiles, she left the gallery only to return on the same time next day. That day she sat for a long time. And once Sidharth finished a particular drawing she asked whether she could have it. Sidharth said it was hers and to which she gave a reply that she was a visiting French citizen and she did not have much cash in her purse. Sidharth told her that it was a gift for her. She was reluctant to take it as a gift and Sidharth too was equally adamant about not accepting money whatever big or small amount it was. Finally, on a pleasant note she took the work and thanking the artist she left the gallery. Before exist, she turned back to Sidharth and gave her business card and told him quite warmly that if by any chance he visited France, never forget to give a call to her.

Destiny took Sidharth to France sooner than later. When he was with an Indian artist friend there, Sidharth fished out the business card of that lady and asked his friend to help him to make a call to that lady. The friend took the card from Sidharth’s hands and looked at it and started laughing. Sidharth, you are fooled big time, he said failing to suppress his uproarious laughter. Why, asked Sidharth. This lady, said his friend, this lady who is mentioned in this card, if she is the same one whom I see in the big parties and openings here, is a lady from one of the richest families in Paris and she is a big art collector. She is not going to pick up your call, man. But there is no harm in trying, said Sidharth. Reluctantly while feeling a lot funny the friend made the call and interestingly the lady herself came on line. She was really surprised to listen to Sidharth’s voice as she never thought that the artist she had met in Delhi would land up very soon in Paris. She sent her personal car to pick up Sidharth and his friend and now the friend was not laughing anymore. Ever since, she is one of the major collectors of Sidharth’s works. And that particular work that I gifted to her in Delhi still holds a prime position in her residence display, says Sidharth.

Though he made many friends, Sidharth was not feeling happy inside. Often he used to go the famous mud church of St.Birgitta (St.Briget), one of the patron saints of Europe. Located in a calm and serene atmosphere, this church made of mud and wood had a wooden sculpture of Madonna at the altar along with the icon of St.Birgitta. There was also a huge piano just down the altar. Sidharth, when he was not feeling good used to go inside the church and look at the altar and sit still for a long time. By this time, to become a resident in Sweden Sidharth had become a Catholic. It was a conversion of convenience. I had to marry Vivienne according to the Catholic Christian beliefs and I got converted into Christianity. The nuns in the Church knew me well and they never questioned me why I wandered in even during times of recess.

Before the wooden sculpture of Madonna, Sidharth felt a lot of solace. Madonna was looking compassionately at the dead Christ. Her eyes were full of pity and compassion. She was not crying but she was taking the cries and the woes of the world into her soul. She was holding a person who had died for the world and by holding him tenderly she was holding the sorrow of the world in her hands and she was the only to hold it like that and only she could redeem the people from their sorrows. Sidharth too felt so. He felt the presence of his mother in the statue of Madonna. One day standing in front of the piano, he struck the keys and sung out a verse from the Guru Granth Sahib in Sirkei language (the language of Guru Grandh Sahib). Hearing the piano and a song in a strange language, the priestess rushed to the church only to find a distressed Sidharth standing before the piano and singing. He was singing about his mother; he was singing about all the mothers in the world and their lost sons.

The Nun smiled at Sidharth. She said she liked his voice and though she did not understand a word from the verse, she could feel the lamentation inside her. She asked Sidharth to move aside and she came close to the key board of the piano. She struck the same notes that Sidharth had struck to sing the verses. When he did it the notes where breaking and now when the Nun did they were not breaking. She showed how to hold the key and peddle at a time in order to prolong and give depth to the note that he played. Sidharth learned to play the Church piano with the help of that benevolent nun. And in the process he used to make his own verses and sing them out loudly in the loneliness of that village church.

One day Sidharth was singing and crying. He did not know Vivienne was standing just behind him. She knew that Sidharth used to go to the church and sing. But she never wanted to disturb him in any manner. Today, she did not hold her curiosity back. Standing behind a wailing Sidharth, she knew how he wanted to fly away like a bird who had recognized his nest in a tree in a far away wood. It had got the glimpse of its nest now it was time for the bird to fly to it. Vivienne.... I am dying, holding on to the altar ledge, Sidharth cried out. Vivienne was sensitive and sensible enough to understand the situation. She kept silence for a moment. Mother, I am dying, Sidharth cried out again and today he says that he felt the death in him. Then you die, said Vivienne. Here and now, she added. Sidharth died then and there. The man who collapsed at the feet of the Madonna statue was one Sidharth and the one who resurrected from there was another one. He was born anew from the womb of Madonna and Vivienne was facilitating that death and re-birth.

I felt light, says Sidharth. And I knew my nest out there calling me back. I did not feel any burden then. I was not leaving Vivienne or Sweden. I was just going back to my nest and the world was my nest now.

(will continue....)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Young Lama and Tankha Painter: Life and Times of Sidharth 3

Shadows move on the wall. Evening sets in and the slanting light that seeps in through the huge glass wall that gives a view to the park down there, fills in the studio. The light illuminates both Sidharth and myself now sitting like two wayfarers who have temporarily met at a inn to spend a night. As if the faces around a campfire were illuminated by the crackling fire in their midst, our faces too glow sucking in all the lights submerging the silence in the studio. I think about why during the old times there developed a tradition of story-telling. Now sitting in front of Sidharth and waiting for him to come out of the trance that he has gone into all of a sudden, I understand the reason behind the story telling traditions.

People worn by the tasks of a day gather around a fire made in front of a hut or inside an inn. They are all tired and they want to ease themselves down. They want to take out all the burdens and engage themselves into a sort of game that would take them to a different plane; a plane that takes them away from the mundane realities. That is realm where they live their real lives. One of them may be a cobbler, travelling from his village to a city where he would like to find a suitor for his daughter. The other one may be a thief wandering to find a good treasure so that he could break in and pilfer. One of them may be the king himself disguised as a wandering mendicant just to know what his subjects think about him and his governance. Or they may be simply the village folk who just want to share their stories told to them by their ancestors.

Stories transcend them. They don’t see each others’ face though they could occasionally see the contours of their mates sitting around the fire, accentuated by the dancing flames. A person who joins from outside could see them in full view as if they were a lotus lit up from inside. When they don’t see each other’s face the place itself transforms into a platform or a confession chamber, where you could let out your stories, perhaps your own stories masqueraded as the stories of others. Good story tellers use others as a decoy. They make use of others for their purpose and most of the good stories therefore become allegories about life. Through these allegories they tell the simpler facts that contain the larger truths of life.

That’s why people tell stories. There was a time when there was no electricity, which would have made several other mediums of entertainment possible as that we see today. When there were no possibilities of varied entertainments music, dance and stories were the prime ways of entertaining themselves. So the village folk gather around the fire, which was the source of light and heat, sang, danced and told stories. To supplement the stories, they sang at times, danced once in a while and even they showed pictures drawn crudely by the teller himself and at times even they acted out the stories. Hence, story-telling was a holistic performance; that was ritualistic on the one hand and performative on the other. They could vent their feelings through these stories and they could express the larger truths of life through the stories invented by themselves and their ancestors.

Story telling tradition is strong amongst the villagers. When they look into the darkness at night and sit there for long without thinking anything else than contemplating on the bluish thickness of the darkness that had enveloped all the familiar surroundings into a strange mass of darkness, from inside the layers of that darkness came out stories fantastic than any magical realist could have imagined. Looking at the darkness was pure contemplation. You look at the darkness and nothing is seen. You feel you also have dissolved into it. You grope around to find familiar objects and even you touch yourself to know whether you are really present or not. And darkness makes your senses more alert. You could listen to the ants talking, crickets singing, dews dropping, birds chirping in half sleeps and a dog smiling in his dreams.

And from that darkness stories come to you. The initial commotion while confronting the darkness is turned into a facility of existence. From the darkness weave in stories and weave out dreams. And when your fellows come around you and around the fire that you have kindled, you start telling stories. Your stories trigger other people to take out their stories because in a village setting like that you and I are the same. You and the other do not exist. Everyone lives everyone else’s life too. You are all tied with the thread of the same destiny. Like the beads of sorrows held together by a thread called dream, you all together live in the village to tell a tale. And these tales take you a different life where the beggar in you could be the king of a huge kingdom, the cowardice in you could win several wars and above all you could confess, you could cry, you could lay bare your soul before others because lit up by the fire and glowed by the flames your face becomes just a mask, a mask that an actor wears; you become a metaphor that everyone understands.

Sidharth wakes up from his momentary trance. Perhaps, he was standing once again at the shores of the lake where he bid his last good bye to his village. I smile at him and we could see our faces turning into a pair of masks.

Sidharth tells me a story:

Once there was a thief. He was wandering all over the city waiting for an opportunity to strike at a few rich houses near around the king’s palace. It was a right time to be in the city because the city was mourning the death of their king, who had met with an untimely death but whose body was never recovered.

One night the thief managed to get into a house. He stuffed his sacks with gold coins and precious gems. While jumping out from the roof of the house, he was seen by the night guards in the streets. He was summarily caught and thrashed up by them.

In the absence of the king, the minister was taking care of the country’s affairs. He too was sleepless since the death of the king because it was he who had sent people to kill the king and bury his body. When the commotion was going on there in the street, the minister was sitting awake at his study, thinking about the future plans.

In the meanwhile, when the guards brought the thief under the light of the street lamp they were shocked. The thief was exactly looking like their departed king. They thought the king had gone on disguise and he was fooling the people by declaring that he was dead. They brought the thief before the minister.

The minister looked at the thief and found out the strange resemblance between him and the dead king. Then suddenly something struck in his mind. He immediately thought out a plan. He told the soldiers that the thief was their king and it was time to tell the subjects about the truth that the king had gone out on a disguise and now he was back in town.

People rejoiced on the arrival of the king who in fact was the thief. The minister told the thief about his plan and if he played along the thief also would be benefitted by the game. Otherwise, the minster threatened, he would face the same fate as the king had faced. The thief agreed to play along. Slowly the thief left his character as a thief and developed the traits of a king. He even forgot that he was the product of the minister’s cruel game.

I am the thief, says Sidharth. How, I ask.

I was a thief, who knew only to steal images from the world and reproduce them on papers or walls. I was called by someone and made me a king. But I did not lose the power to paint. I became a king who could paint.

Who is the minister then, I ask, half serious and half joke.

Sidharth looks out and tells me that the minister could be the very nature itself. Or if you call it destiny, then destiny. If you call it the Dorji of the Buddhist monastery in Dharamsala, it is him. The answer could go on like that.

When Siddharth left the residence of Shobah Singh to join the Lamas in the monastery in Dharmasala, he did not know that he was going to become a Buddhist monk. It was sheer chance and pure destiny.

Sitting amongst the young and old Lamas, Sidharth started learning the basics of Buddhism. He started off there at Dharamsala as a Tankha painter. Tankhas are the large format paintings on clothes that mostly depict the life of Buddha and various sub-stories in a peculiar narrative style with a predominant icon of Buddha in the middle of the pictorial surface. It takes several years of intense devotion and training to become a Tankha painter. For the Buddhist monks from Tibet who are settled in India, Tankha painting is not a way to show off their creative talents. They don’t even intend them to be shown in a gallery. Tankha painting is a pure form of devotion using the colours from nature and depicting the life of Buddha.

Sidharth was more than happy to become a Tankha painter. The way Sidhartha, the Buddha severed the ties from his family, Sidharth, the painter too was severing his ties from his former life; his parents were dead by then and he had none to possess as his own. He had nothing left in the village and none was waiting for his coming back.

While discussing his latest series of paintings, ‘The Thousand Hands and Feet’, Sidharth remembers two things. One, I should not say that none was waiting for me in the village. There was one girl senior to me who used to love me a lot. I could not say she loved me the way the lovers did because both of us were very small then. However, she loved me as her best friend. So even when I lost my parents, I had someone to yearn for. But it was not a worldly tie. It was a like a dream that insist to stay. But slowly that dream also faded leaving a small trace, like a wash of gauche on the wasli paper. I saw her again in a foreign country, now well settled with a family. The reunion was really a happy one because we were not tied by any carnal emotions. It was pure earning of the souls. She spoke to me, after almost five decades in the same version of Punjabi that we used to talk in our village. It was a moment of ultimate happiness. Like children we laughed.

The second thing that makes Sidharth to philosophise his latest series is the very concept of it: I want to paint the people who had left strong impressions on me. There are thousands of people like that in my life. They represent the thousand feet and thousand hands. And isn’t it the same thing that we see in the Tankha paintings? Isn’t it the same thing that the Buddhist monks want to depict when they paint the image of Avalokiteswara with thousand hands and thousand feet? Isn’t he the embodiment of the world? Isn’t he the creator of multiplicity and the protector of the unity? I have a feeling that the visual rendition of a Buddha image or in that case, any iconic image comes as the distilled and condensed therefore potent embodiment of a long verbal concept. These ordinary people in my series also, each one of them, present a multitude thereby embodying my life in different ways.

Painting Tankha was like pure form of devotion and focusing for young Sidharth. Years passed by. Sidharth learnt the techniques of making natural colours out of stones, pebbles, leaves and insects. He was reliving what his mother had taught him back in the village. There was a difference between my mother’s teaching and that of the Buddhist monks in Dharmasala. Though my mother did show her devotion and care towards the leaves and stones, trees and insects, she never pronounced it in a ritualistic way. But in the Buddhist monastery, I was taught to ‘beg’ for colours from nature. It was a fantastic feeling and a moment of revelation. You go to pick up a leaf or a piece of soft stone and before you do that you ask the permission to the tree or to the mother earth. Shall I take it? Please give me. Taking colour away from earth was literally begging. Only when we feel that the earth has given us permission to pick it, we do it. When we grind the colours we chant the mantram, Om Mani Padme Hum, which has various interpretations in various languages; however, all interpretations evoke the purest feelings of peace and meditation.

In the meanwhile, the Dorji initiated Sidharth into the religious Buddhism. He tonsured his head and wore the deep brown unstitched clothe around his body. Now our Harjinder Singh wanted a suitable name. With his benevolent smile the Dorji asked Harjinder what name would have he preferred as a Buddhist monk. Sidharth looked at the Dorji, returned the smile, which was cunning in nature than innocent or we could say innocently cunning, and asked for the Dorji’s full name. The Dorji laughed loudly and said Harjinder was asking for a lot. Harjinder closed his eyes for a moment and opened to soon only to demand the name of Gautam Buddha. You are asking not less than the ultimate, the Dorji said. Finally, they settled for a name which was acceptable to everyone in the monastery- Sidharth.

Sidharth was a quick learner and an avid one too. He went deep into the various strands of Buddhism and Tantricism was one amongst them. Tantricism involved different kinds of ritual including worshipping a naked woman, having intercourse with her, taking in Satvik and Tamasik (Pious and Demonic) food and so on. Sidharth learnt it with the diligence of a young student and became one of the few Lamas who had come out of the course without deviating from the eight fold path prescribed paths by Buddha. For Siddharth, learning and practicing Tantric Buddhism was just a part of learning process. It was not going to be his life’s mission, he was sure. That was why he went back to his painting without thinking twice whether he should become a full time practitioner of Tantricism or a Buddhist lama who did Tankha paintings. The latter was his choice.

Life or destiny, you give it any name, it had some plans for Sidharth. It was not going to let Sidharth alone. He had watched this young woman in her early twenties coming and chatting up with the Dorji several times. Sidharth was not interested in women particularly. Many of them, especially the foreigners used to come to Dharmasala as tourists. Many of them came to learn Buddhism, some of them came as social and political activists, and yet another lot came to learn Tankha painting and yet another adventurous group of people was interested in seeking the course of Tantricism. Sidharth had seen them all. His life was moving around the Tankha paintings and his learning of Buddhism. He started studying different languages including Pali, Sanskrit, Persian and so on.

Vivienne was her name. She was young, fair complexioned and had sharp eyes. She showed determination and compassion at the same time. She had been asking the Dorji to teach her Tantric Buddhism. Perhaps, the senior Lama did not want to impart that knowledge to her. So he was finding ways to avoid her, often engaging her in other philosophical discourses. But she was adamant. She told the Dorji that she was not going to go away until he found out a way to teach her. The Dorji was very mischievous. He had a child like way of treating people. It was then I came into the room and the Dorji looked at me and said, Sidharth would teach you. I could not understand what was going on. I looked at the Dorji and Vivienne. She was smiling with real happiness.

The Dorji explained things to me. I was shell shocked. I was not intending to teach anything to anyone, remembers Sidharth. I wanted to wriggle out from the situation. I said I would teach Tantric Buddhism only to that woman who would be my wife. I did not know why I said so. I knew that I wanted to escape. I was aware of my age. I was hardly fifteen or sixteen years old then. And I was also sure that if I had talked about marriage, the white lady would have shied away from her plans. But to my shock I found she saying yes to me and to the Dorji. I was in a real fix. I looked at Dorji. Dorji was questioning this lady called Vivienne. So Vivienne, are you ready to take Sidharth as your man? She immediately said yes. I did not know she even had seen me before that. We were perfect mismatch. But something was happening.

Hence, Sidharth and Vivienne from Sweden became man and woman at that moment. The Dorji declared them man and woman. The documents were signed. And the Dorji was still smiling. Sidharth could feel that there was some trouble behind that ongoing smile. The Dorji called them by his side and said that as they were husband and wife and the monastery was only for the unmarried people it was illegal for Sidharth to stay back. It was time to leave. A few minutes before Sidharth was a happy Lama painting Tankhas and now suddenly he was a Tantric Teacher and a husband, without a roof above his head. He looked at Vivienne. She was full of confidence. She invited him to move in along with her in a comparatively expensive bungalow that she had rented for her stay.

Sidharth taught Vivienne. The course was successfully completed. Sidharth started loving this lady who had become a disciple and wife all of a sudden. Now it was time for her to go back to Sweden. She asked Sidharth to go with her. Sidharth did not have any worldly ties that would have held him back. He decided to go with her. Now as a Lama he was a citizen under the Tibetan government in exile. They made some travel documents for Sidharth, which was a temporary passport of kind made out of some brown papers, he remembers. Sidharth flew to Sweden with Vivienne.

(Will continue)