Monday, July 25, 2011

From Sardar to Sidharth: Life and Times of Sidharth 2

(Jeth 2- From Barah Masa series by Sidharth)

(Sidharth at his studio)

From Punjab to Mc Leodganj the distance is not too much. But seen from the perspective of a rural boy, anything that lay beyond his village looked so far and away. Sidharth never thought of leaving his village at any cost. He had already made up his mind to become a fresco maker and a signboard painter; if not what else he could have done in that given situation? I could have become a Gurbaani singer like my father, Sidharth ruminates. However, he knew the pangs that accompanied such a life full of devotion and selflessness. You sing and sing. Your life becomes a prayer. Like a flame that goes up while consuming the base you burn out. That is the life of a pure devotee. You could see the problems including those in your family but you are not able to do anything as your connections are with the higher spirit. This comes from a sort of helplessness. How could a gruhasti (a household man) become so reclusive and aloof from his family? How could he be separated from the worldly ties? How could he find solace in his verses and singing?

The questions were abundant as Sidharth kept his father’s example before him. Gurbaani singers of that time were extremely poor. They were given pittance as remuneration though the singers never thought that they sang to eke out a living. My father was always cheerful despite all his problems. He emanated a sort of serenity and it was visible in his eyes. While sitting before him I felt a sort of calmness, I experienced the feeling of being transported to another realm of existence. This was the same experience I had when I was standing before the Madonna sculpture at the St.Bergita Church in Sweden. My mother, never complained about the financial status of my family and she never questioned why my father devoted all his time to sing Gurbaani or study religious versus. She too was like Madonna; she could carry all of us in her hand and look serenely into our eyes and her gaze could console us beyond description, says Sidharth.

Years later when Sidharth stood before the mike in a recording studio set up by himself along with a team of musicians in Delhi, he felt the touch of the generation of Gurbaani singers in his soul and his father sang through him and he sang....”Oh great soul what are you striving for?” The Japanese drummer who came to visit the musicians in Delhi was surprised to see the energy of the singer, who was not looking like a singer at all. The Japanese drummer was at the drums and he could not resist his hands picking up the sticks and playing along. The team that plays with Dr.Palash Sen, one of the pop singers in India was handling the orchestra and Sidharth jammed, words and verses came out breaking all the prescribed notions of music. It was Gurbaani at one level, it was a blues at another, it was Buddhist chanting at certain stage and in some moments it got the force and energy of the hip hoppers. Sidharth was breaking all rules and his life itself goes on without any rules.

What reigns is the rule of nature, the laws of nature, says Sidharth. How can you control mountains and clouds? How can you control the flower from blooming? You would be able to generate some chemical changes. But ultimately you change nothing. The characters could be transcended not changed. Transcending and changing are different things. In change you suppress your inner nature and you become another personality altogether. If you were a cat and became a beautiful woman and got married to a handsome man, you are a changed personality. But then if you see a mouse in front of you and you tend to jump on it and eat it, then your change is superficial because inside you remain a cat. While transcendence is something substantial as it allows your basic nature to bloom itself and take a new shape; it allows your rawness to become tender and soft. It adds fragrance and colour to your life.

Transcendence happens often with awareness while changes happen deliberately. You get adjusted to a new system, that is change. Transcendence is all about awareness and the beauty of it is that awareness does not make you aware that you are having that awareness. It is pure bliss and in that pure bliss you could do anything. You could take decisions without doubt because you are like a child and you are ignorant about your awareness. Awareness masquerading as ignorance is the pure thing in life; you become a child, you are aware of things but you are not yet aware that you are aware. People call you innocent and ignorant. But they differ considerably. Like a child you are divinely aware of things. Sidharth was divinely aware of his ignorance as a child and he could smile at it. He did smile at it while drew pictures on the walls while helping Tara Mistry to do his frescoes. He did smile at the letters that he painted on the signboards and he did not know a thing about his life and the turns and twists that were about to take place soon.

All the kids need not necessarily be aware their divine ignorance. There are always hooligan types amongst the children. Some of them from Sidharth’s village got into trouble with the wrong side of the law. Police came searching for them and some of them told the police that Sidharth was a friend of those guys who created problems. They would not have done anything to a young boy like Sidharth. But the mother was so scared of the strong and long hands of state. She had seen the atrocities of the Indo-Pakistan division. She had experienced the gore and pogroms that ensued while the state stood still. She had seen things going wrong with people who had taken offence with the state. Police was a bad force for her. They never protected the people. They crushed them with hard and fast rules. Sidharth’s mother was really frightened when his name was uttered along with the miscreants. She wanted Sidharth to go away from the village and find his life elsewhere.

Sidharth was blissfully unaware of the things happening around him. He knew that there was a talk at home to send him away but he did not know where to. There was a vast world out there and he had not even imagined what lied beyond the boundaries of the village. He had heard the names like Chandigarh, Amritsar, Delhi and so on. But it never occurred to him that one day he had to go all these places for good or bad reasons. This time it was bad and good together. The bad news was that he was forced to be out of the village to prevent from being picked up by the police. The good news was that they were planning to send him to Shobha Singh, the legendary Sikh painter who was living in Andreatta at that time.

Sobha Singh to the Sikhs, according to Sidharth is what Raja Ravi Varma to Hindu religion. Ravi Varma had given faces and distinctive physical characteristics to the Hindu gods and goddesses. Shobha Singh did the same to the Sikh Gurus. Singh gave them faces with unique characteristics. He made portraits of the Sikh Gurus and that laid the benchmark and parameters for other Sikh painters to paint the portraits of the Gurus. Singh was revered highly by the Sikh community all over the world. And the prints of his paintings were in all the Sikh households. Sidharth knew these portraits and had heard a lot about him from Tara Mistry. But he had never particularly thought that he should ever learn the techniques of portrait paintings.

Someone advised Sidharth’s mother to send him to Andreatta to do apprenticeship under Shobha Singh. The offer was very lucrative for the family. It was a great thing that a painter like Shobha Singh showed the willingness to take the young Sidharth under his care. The other thing was that once having studied the techniques of portraiture from the master, Sidharth would be able to eke out a decent living in any part of the world as portrait was something always in demand amongst the middle class and higher class. Mother was really happy and his father sang verses from Guru Granth Sahib. Sidharth was neither happy nor sad. He was anxious about leaving his mother back at home and equally anxious of meeting with different people in a different world outside his village.

Under the young badam tree at the courtyard, Sidharth’s mother stood with her eyes filled with tears that mixed the tastes of gloom and joy. His son was going to face the world. Her ten year old gem was going to become an artist, that made her happy. At the same time he was escaping the bad law of the state manifested by the local police and it was a great relief for her. But her Harjinder was leaving now. Harjinder Singh, he was going to become Harjinder Singh, the painter of portraits, her mind was telling her. Her son was going to become one of the famous painters in the Sikh community. He was going to be revered like Shobha Singh all over the world. Her joy knew no bounds. Now she was really shedding tears of happiness. Young Harjinder knew that his mother was happy but he did not want to leave. Her eyes followed him till the end of the plot where their house was located. She wanted to walk behind him and see him till the bank of the river where the white birds came to roost throughout the year. But she did not want to do so as she did not like the sight of her Harjinder flying away like a white bird.

Come back soon, she called out. Harjinder looked back and said, Mother, soon. I will come back soon. He was crying. Sitting comfortably in a sofa as if the sofa was made to cradle him like a mother’s womb, Sidharth, when he says this, sheds silent tears. Behind the glasses you don’t discern the tears but you could feel the deep silence descending on him and later slowly engulfing the whole studio. Even the boys in the other rooms who prepare colours and someone who works in the kitchen are affected by this silence. They come before you with a tray filled with jugs of green tea, clean white porcelain cups, small little spoons to scoop out sugar, bowls filled with almonds, dried grapes, samosas, burfis and an endless array of eatables. The boy who carries the tray walks in slow motion. The guy who pours the green tea for me does it in slow motion. It is like a movie, a crucial scene intensified by the deliberate slowing down of motion. Time pushed us into a different zone.

Harjinder Singh, with the taste of a samosa I try to taste the name in my mouth. I say it again and again. It tastes differently. I call him Harjinder, slowly, calmly and with the knowledge that I would shock him out of his world if I called him loudly. Sidharth does not respond. He keeps looking at the red painting before him at the easel with the badam tree in the middle and his parents on the either sides of it. Harjinder Singh no longer responds to this name. He has ceased to become Harjinder Singh long back, perhaps exactly on that day when his mother bade him good bye from under the badam tree. Yes, Harjinder died that day and I was carrying the corpse of that Harjinder to Andreatta, says Sidharth. And the painful fact is that that was the last picture of his mother ever had in Sidharth’s mind. She standing under the badam tree, waving her hands and later drying her cheeks and eyes with the long and colourful duppatta that she wore around her head.

Sidharth never saw him again. Life took him to a different path for a different journey. In the meanwhile things changed drastically not only in his life but also back in his village. For the time being let us leave the village back there and walk along with Sidharth to his journey to Andreatta.

It took Sidharth two days to reach Andreatta. He had the letter of introduction from some people from the village. He went and met Shobha Singh, the veteran painter who looked at the young boy with cursory eyes and as if he were scanning the mind of the boy standing before him, nodded his head twice. Sidharth could not say whether he liked the artist or not. But it was not an instant relationship. It was natural for him to rebel at that tender age of eleven. He had just left his old father and mother back in the village and it was pretty much difficult to replace his parents with someone who was more patriarchical and royal. He feared Shobha Singh than he revered him. As days passed, Sidharth started learning the techniques of academic portraiture and stylized portraiture. He enjoyed them a bit and more than that he enjoyed the cool and calm ambience of Andreatta. He was still carrying a lot of memories and a corpse called Harjinder on his shoulders.

Mc Leodganj was a few kilometres away from Andreatta. Shobha Singh was a popular personality there. As a deeply religious man Singh used to invite religious scholars from different walks of life to his studio. The Dorji from the Tibetan Buddhist Monastery was a close friend of Shobha Singh and he visited the studio every week without failure. Sidharth used to hang around when the two elders spoke. He did errands for them and he liked doing it because he could linger on there to listen to the topics they discussed. They discussed religion, peace, art, music and so many things that made lighter and beautiful. Sidharth started liking the Dorji and started getting this feeling that he was more inclined to the Dorji than his mentor, Shobha Singh. Somehow, Sidharth was getting impatient. He did not know the reason for being so. The portrait training was not satisfying him. He does not remember whether it was the training or the trainer who strained him more. He wanted to break out free to a different and unknown world.

Sitting silent on the ledge of a window, Sidharth looked at the pathway that led to a world different from Andreatta. It could not be that different, he reasoned with himself. He thought that as Andreatta was calm and cool enough there could not be a drastic change in the climate a few minutes away from there. Sidharth has now already learnt the techniques of understanding the world and the ticks that it played on people. From the other end of the pathway, he spotted a bald figure, more like a bundle of deep brown clothe moving. Sidharth’s heart started beating fast. He was coming, apparently he thought he was his redeemer for he had asked during his last visit whether the young boy knew about Buddha. Sidharth had told him that he knew Buddha as a name and knew him as a person like Dorji. Dorji gave him a smile and asked then why don’t you, young boy, why don’t you try to know him more closely?

Sidharth did not know how the past six days went by. He was always anxious and his mind was churning like an ocean. The winds from the hills caught him and shook him up as if he were a shoot of bamboo. He shivered as the cold water touched his soles when he walked by the small stream. The cold penetrated unto his bones even when he was adequately covered with woollen clothes. Slowly he realized that it was time for him to go from Andreatta to the path of the eternal seeker, the Buddha, whom he did not know anything about at that point of time. Hence the sight of the Dorji ambling in from the other end of the path excited him. Sidharth was going to make one of the crucial decisions in his life. He was going to take, for the first time in his life, a decision all by himself. He was going to be directed by his own conscience. None was there to force him out of his dwelling or to pin him down to where he belonged for the time being. The redeemer was out there in his vicinity. He was walking in, first like a deep brown shadow and later like a sun blazing in his full glory. It was the Dorji.

The Dorji smiled at the boy who was sitting at the ledge and wistfully looking into the nothingness that lied beyond the garden. Sidharth had seen the Dorji walking in but he had missed him coming close by and he was woken up by a shake by the warm touch of the Dorji. So son, are you prepared to go to your path of Buddha? Asked the Dorji. Sidharth could not say anything. He nodded as if he were saying ‘yes’. The Dorji took him to Shobha Singh. It was six months before Sidharth had stood before this great painter. Today he was standing once again for his audience. The older men smiled at each other while bowing and later shaking hands. They exchanged some pleasantries. Sidharth stood there as if his life were to be decided by these two elderly gentlemen who were at that moment seen completely unaware of his presence.

Time stood frozen, so felt Sidharth. The men were talking and he did not understand a thing from their talks. Had he gone deaf? Thought Sidharth. The men laughed heartily. The dumb charade that was taking place before him became an absolute mockery of his existence, Sidharth felt. He felt like crying out and loudly calling out for his mother. But he stood firm, trembling. After a few minutes, Shobha Singh looked at him amiably and said, So you have decided to start a new life? Yes sir, said Sidharth. Son, wherever you are, be happy and be good, said the master. Sidharth bowed his head before him. The Dorji was smiling. Sidharth took his box of things and walked silently behind the Dorji. He felt light despite the heavy box he was carrying. He had already left his memories and the corpse of his own previous self there at Andreatta.

Harjinder Singh was on his way to become ‘Sidharth’.

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