Tuesday, August 2, 2011
One for All and All for One: Life and Times of Sidharth 10
My phone rings and I look at its screen. I could identify the number. Caller is Sidharth. My hands shake. I have been writing about him for the last ten days as if I were possessed by a spirit. During all these ten days Sidharth had called only a few times. Once he cried. He just told me that I was making him relive his childhood days. His choked words brought water to my eyes. Whenever I write about a person in fact I write about myself. I try to realize the referred person through me. Or in a way I could say, each effort to write is to live the lives of others; it is like viewing the world through different eyes. While writing I am no longer the same person. The referred person enters into my self and directs my writing. As a writer I should be objective but being objective in writing is also a relative affair. You cannot be completely away from the subject that you deal with and you cannot prevent mutual metamorphosis in the process.
When the phone rings, I am afraid that Sidharth would find fault with some of my observations or statements or even some of the words that I have put into his mouth. I am sure when he was talking it was me who was talking and when I was talking it was he who was talking. One day while chatting, Sidharth even mentioned that it was very difficult to do soliloquies. One cannot speak to oneself for a long time, he said. Any narrative is a mutual narrative created by the speaker and the listener. A picture is completed when the artist gets into a dialogue with his viewer through the work of art. A viewer enters into a zone of engagement with the artist through the very act of looking. This virtual give and take makes a dialogue possible. A story teller could be a repository of stories but if you use the contemporary terms, the listener is the actual DJ who selects and plays out the right stories through the story teller. It is in this act of mutual transference of the selves a story is told, nourished, elaborated and understood.
What about the errors that could have happened in the course of telling? Who could be responsible in this? One of my readers, after reading one of the earlier chapters in this series pointed out that she was desperate to meet the artist who for her was a larger than life figure now. I told her that the artist was just like any one of us, a normal human being. And we are the alchemists. Ordinary people are the real alchemists. When they touch the right chords, when they touch the right substance, it turns into gold. Another reader friend asked me whether such an artist exists in this world or was he just a creation of my imagination. I replied the reader saying that the artist was a real personality and to prove that I had even posted a personal portrait of the artist with each chapter. Still most of them were sceptical because it was very difficult for them to believe that an artist could be so much magical in his life and art. How could it be possible? This question arises from our logical and sceptical minds. We observe the world and we observe the art world too. We know how the artists live. How they represent themselves in the public domain. Especially during the market boom years, artists had grown to the level of superstars from the film world. There was a lot of hypocrisy involved in their lives. Even when we appreciated their works, we could not digest that fact that they were living a life of the superstars.
We were a conditioned people. We thought that the artists should live a Spartan life. They should be parsimonious and pious. They should not be living a five star life. They should be living in studios like hermits and all. But the boom years showed us a different world. However illusory it was, it showed us a possibility and through this possibility we also understood that artists could be as shallow and corrupt as such people from politics or real estate or films. What was then making the artists different? If they too were living a life of the superstars what made them different from the superstars? It was in the difference that we respected and identified people in the art scene. In every zone of production of culture and technology there are respectable people like that. They are superstars in their own terms because they are different. But they don’t fit into the prescribed compartments made for the superstars.
People wanted to know more about Sidharth and they even expressed their scepticism because they could not believe that such a personality is possible during these days when everyone is aspiring to become another superstar. As a writer I always think and feel that each life is a fascinating life (whether it is that of a way side beggar or a movie star) but unfortunately most of the lives are muted lives. Most of the people live a life as if their sound systems are permanently damaged. They live their lives as if they were participating in a dumb charade. They do not speak about their own lives. Perhaps, nobody asks them about their lives. I always take an extra effort to speak to people who do not have anything to do with my profession or life. At times they reveal a totally magical world before you. That’s why I was fascinated by people who climb trees, drive taxi cabs, work in call centres and so on. What could be the world vision of a man who has spent all his life climbing trees? It must be obviously different from that of others. What could be the tired call centre executing thinking while sitting squeezed up in the back cabin of a Qualis and sipping a pet bottle of Coca Cola? It must be different from our thinking. But the problem is that none cares to ask.
I pick up the call. Sidharth tells me a story. Once there was a young man who was a great seeker of knowledge. He was living with his Guru in the plains. How could I see another person who has better knowledge than you? He asked the Guru one day. Guru told him that there was another Guru living in the valley who was better equipped than himself. The young man goes there and meets the Guru. After a few days he asks the same question to the second Guru. He tells him to go to the top of the hill where he could see the third Guru who is most knowledgeable. The young man goes there and becomes the disciple. After a few months the man asks the Guru for a better teacher. He asks him to go to the plain and meet a Guru living there. The young man climbs down the hills and comes to the plain. He goes to the Ashram where the omniscient Guru lived. To his astonishment he sees his own reflection there. He sees a man who looked exactly like him. Now the young man was seeing himself through the eyes of another young man who was he himself.
I get the point and I smile. I am sure that Sidharth could see my smile as I could see his smile before me. He is a man with a difference like every other man is a different man. It is all about articulating the difference through someone or something that is exactly an incarnation of you. In that sense for musician, the instrument that he plays is not just an instrument, but his own extended self or his own self seen in the form of an instrument. For Sidharth I was his reflection throughout his meeting and for me, he was my reflection. While recounting his stories, he was recounting my stories and enabling me to write. I don’t claim it a biography or a monograph. It is a series of chapters on Sidharth that vivify his life and art in a different way; perhaps, through the very art of story-telling itself. To write a biography of an artist, you need to do extensive researches on his birth place or the places that he has travelled. In this case, I have never been to Punjab, not even to Chandigarh. I have never been to Sweden nor been to Dharamsala. But when I was writing about all these places, it was not Sidharth who was passing through these places, but it was me, the writer. I could feel, touch and smell each and everything in rural Punjab. I was living in Andreatta with Shobha Singh. I was living with the Dorji in a monastery and I was there in St.Bergitta Church in Sweden. Not even for a single moment I was out of this narrative because I was telling my story through Sidharth exactly the same way he told his story through me.
Once Sidharth was in Japan with his family, that means wife and daughter, attending a camp along with a few Indian artists. They reached a place called Hakune, a remote village complete with a river and a wooded mountain on the other side. Sidharth sat at the shore and looked at a man who had been sitting still in a boat for a long time. He was angling. Nothing was happening and the whole scene looked like a painted one. After an hour or so, the man in the boat moved. He rowed his boat and came to the shore where Sidharth was sitting. As he knew that these people were tourists, he asked in broken English and sign language whether they were interested to have a boat ride to the other shore. Sidharth and family got into the boat and the boatman took him to the other shore. He unloaded some cans and baskets from the boat and asked Sidharth also to haul them to an ashram kind of place located a few feet above from the shore. Sidharth and family picked up things and went behind him. There in the ashram they found a man who was older than old age itself. He was like a saint that we generally see in the Japanese movies, says Sidharth. The old man smiled at Sidharth. Sidharth did the same. After a long silence he asked what Sidharth did in his life. Sidharth told him that he was an artist. The old man laughed this time. I was really shocked. He was mocking me. And he asked me what kind of art I did. I said I paint. I was sure that this man too was an artist. So I asked him. He said that he paints but he did not know whether he was an artist or not. He kept on smiling. It was an eerie experience but I was thrilled. Something was pulling me towards him and I did not know whether I should snap those invisible threads or not. After a few hours, we left the place and while going back with the boatman, the old man said that I would never come back to him. I told him that it was challenge and I should go back to him.
Sidharth did not go with the team of artists who were going to Tokyo next day. Instead, I went to the river bank again. I did not see anybody there. I waited like someone waiting for something unknown to happen in his life. By noon a boatman appeared with his boat. He was not the same man but he asked me the same question whether I was interested to go with him. I went with him and he took me to the old man’s ashram. He smiled at me and told me that he was sure that I would go back to his place once more. Then he took out a large sheet of paper and a big brush. He spread the paper on a low table and dipped the brush into a colour bottle. He put a blob of colour on the paper and stared it with the brush moving above the paper. And to my shock I found the colour obeying the movement of the brush, which was not touching the paper at all. He smiled at me again. And he told me that every material has a life and each life could be directed by higher forces. I spent time with him and I felt that I was in a different world in a different time. By evening the boatman took me to back to the other shore. I was not the same man who had crossed the river, Sidharth looks at me while saying that word river.
As an artist Sidharth too believes that each material has its own life. Colours and materials are persons, says the artist. You cannot hurt them. You can play with them, you can make them feel belong and finally you can control them with love and affection. But Sidharth is not against those artists who do installations and multimedia art. He observes the works of the young and upcoming artists with the same enthusiasm that he uses to view the works of the classical and modern masters. I am a person who is very keen about the changing technologies. I have a collection of new cameras and state of the art gadgets. I am very keen on editing software. I am familiar with composing music in computer. But it is not necessary that I implement all those I have in my paintings or works. The knowledge of technology need not necessarily be translated into painting. Nor for the mere heck of it, one need not turn to technological art. It all depends on the artistic philosophy, training and mindset of the artist. I enjoy looking at cutting edge art. But at times I feel that it is quite unfortunate that the cutting edge artists do not look at paintings with same sympathetic and enthusiastic eyes. I feel they miss a point in their course, observes Sidharth.
Sidharth is an artist who writes his visual autobiography without ever referring to his personal image. He speaks through other people. I speak through many voices, many bodies and many minds. I am not god. I am just a human being and an artist. But whenever I am with other human beings I feel completed. A world is complete only through oneness. The philosophy is one for all and all for one. But we have forgotten all those simple notions of life. Sidharth also believes that it is through art and culture that one could redeem the world from its woes. When you are creative, you are one with the nature. Once you are one with nature, you are automatically one with everything in the nature. When you are one with everything how can you hurt others? I am not talking about developing super human qualities. On the contrary I always talk about developing human qualities. We cannot permanently lurk in the zone of half evolved creatures. We need to be evolved and complete.
Sidharth has learned a great lesson about sharing profits with the world. He does not believe in charity but he does believe in giving back to the fields from where he has reaped his harvest. When I am in Sweden I make it a point to visit Peter Dahl, one of the well known artists from the Scandinavian region. He is a great friend of mine, Sidharth begins. One day he asked me how I used my profits generated out of selling works of art. I was not ready to give an immediate answer. Instead I asked him how he did it. With a hearty laughter he told me that he made very less profit than the Indian contemporary artists. But he told me that he divided his profit, whatever it may be, into four parts. The first part went to his family upkeep. The second part went to his studio maintenance. Third part went into documentation and writing. And the fourth part went into buy works of art from the young, upcoming and struggling artists. It was a great idea and it literally opened my eyes. Today I too am following that. I have enough properties and money to provide a comfortable life to my family. I use part of my money to keep the studio fully functional. Anybody who visits me in my studio should not go back with empty stomach and a few rounds good tea or drinks. I work with young musicians, film makers, photographers and writers. I use part of my money to support their activities. And part of my money goes into collecting art from the young people. I should say this is one great lesson I ever learned in my life, says Sidharth.
PORN is a pet aesthetic idea that Sidharth has derived from his experience as an artist. According to him, body is the primary site of any artist, whether he is a painter or a performance artist. In that sense any art is a PORN art, says Sidharth. PORN means Personal Open References and Notions, he smiles. Body is the primary personal open reference to the world. Hence, any artist who does any kind of work of art in one or the other manner replicates his or her body in the works. It could be a landscape, it could be a still life, it could be a portrait, still your primary reference is your body. Through the body an artist sees the world and the body is not different from the mind, observes Sidharth.
An artist who knows the existing dualities and polemics in life, through his works of art, strives to achieve a non-dual world without polemics. It would not be a boring world, says Sidharth. The world where polemics are done away with would have a different kind of human engagement that goes beyond the levels of argument. May it is through art that one day we achieve that or through technology. But I am sure that one day we are all going to be in that world where one exists for all and all for one.