Sunday, July 31, 2011
Like a Drop of Water on a Lotus Leaf: Life and Times of Sidharth 8
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)