Wednesday, July 27, 2011
In the Middle of a White Sea I drowned: Life and Times of Sidharth 4
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.