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....)