Monday, October 10, 2011
Makers of Indian Contemporary Art 1- Story of Prasad in Trissur
Behind every successful man there is a woman, so say the maxims. Let me add, behind every successful man there is a woman and a few other women whom this woman hates.
Cynics amongst you might think that I am writing someone’s biography in a single line. You are free to read blurbs even when the book is yours.
Behind every successful artist there must be a few silent people. They remain silent because they want to see their friends flying high in their life and career. They remain silent also because their circumstances make them to be grounded. They are like banyan trees, rooted deep into the soil but send their branches and leaves to explore the world of infinity that expands itself in the vastness of sky. Those successful artists are the leaves and branches.
If you could define silence as that sublime gravity accumulated at the innards of all seven seas, Prasad has that silence in him. Let me introduce you to Prasad, an artist based in Trissur. One of the most silent persons with a faint smile on his lips, Prasad is a presence in the cultural scene of Trissur. He is a singer, an avid reader of literature and theories. And perhaps, he is one artist who could say, with a lot of conviction that he does not paint because he cannot cheat his own self.
You may wonder why someone says so, especially when Prasad is a friend of all those well established artists who live in Kerala and elsewhere. Before I venture further into the life and times of Prasad I would say that silent and observant people like Prasad are very rare but they are there in everyone’s life. You don’t call them ‘mentors’, you don’t call them ‘patrons’. You just call them ‘friends’ because you love them and you don’t with which measuring pan you could gage your love for them.
I call them the ‘makers’ of Indian contemporary art. Through self exclusion from the mainstream, they have opted for a life of ‘being there for you’. Their absence is not often ‘framed’ by the presences under arc lamps or sharpened spot lights. But their friends remember them with fondness and they feel that their tired wings could take rest on the branches of these huge banyan trees.
Prasad hails from Peringottukara, Trissur. He has always been interested in painting and drawing. His parents were government servants and their job took him to several places in the northern part of central Kerala and his schooling was mostly done in different schools. After pre-degree he joined Trissur Fine Arts College.
“We were very active kind of people. We were ready to do anything for a progressive culture. We offended the then government by showcasing a controversial street play on Jesus Christ. And all of us got arrested,” after much prodding Prasad opens up.
The activism of early 1980s was not just for the sake of activism. The students were led by the feeling of camaraderie. They all dreamt a common dream; a dream to a happy future where each one would teach one and one shall stand for all and all shall stand for one. “So we stayed most of the times in the campus though our homes were a few kilometers away from the college. When we did not go home for several days our mothers came in search of us. They did not understand why we spent our time inside college when we could comfortably stay at home and work. It was a different time,” Prasad says.
Prasad was a rebel from the very beginning. Today when you look at his face you don’t see those traces of rebellion, instead you see the deep calmness of a person who has understood life in its entirety. “Prasad came to college on a cycle which did not have any mud guards or bell or brake. As he was tall he could manage it without brakes,” remembers Murali Cheeroth, artist and close friend of Prasad from the college days. “And he use to leave that cycle anywhere in the small campus. If someone wanted it they could use it. But none except Prasad could handle that crazy two wheeler,” Murali laughs.
Any rebellion cannot be without a cause. “Mine was against students like T.V.Santhosh,, Murali Cheeroth and many others,” Prasad cuts in with a smile. “These guys came with those clothe bags and put a lot of air of intellectualism around them. So as a couple of years junior to them I thought of responding to their intellectual garbs in my own way. I started wearing a dhoti printed all ‘Narayana Narayana’ and I brought my books and other stuff in a cloth bag which was used for packing some spice.”
None could have avoided this young student’s daring and during the discussions and programs Prasad’s comments used to be quite acerbic and critical. “This used to throw us in a very tough situation,” T.V.Santhosh, artist and a very close friend of Prasad says. “Prasad was tall so he had an imposing presence. And his words were very slow but were sharp. And later to our shock we realized that it was this junior student who really managed funds for our ‘intellectual’ programs and discussions,” T.V.Santhosh smiles.
T.V.Santhosh and Prasad look like brothers. They speak in very low tones. To hear them one has to train his ears very close. Prasad’s ‘silent speak and silent singing’ has now become a contemporary folklore amongst his friends. Prasad sings well but he is one of the most reluctant singers in the world, one could say. Friends used to insist him to sing. So he would tune himself up. But this tuning would go on for quite some time till someone would pitch into say that enough of tuning, now some songs.
When Prasad sings something explodes in you. Prasad also believes in this explosion of emotions inside. “Sometimes something snaps inside me. My eyes well up. It happens when I listen to good music, listen to good friends and at times when people bless other people,” Prasad says.
Prasad was a crazy painter as his friends put it. He would take a big canvas and paint a small image in some corner. Then he would ask his friends, ‘how’s that’ not with the scream natural to the cricket bowlers but with the nod of a classical singer familiar to the accompanying Tabalist. Their communications happen in smiles and nods.
After education friends like Murali and Santhosh went to Santiniketan to pursue further studies. Prasad was in love. He was already doing photography and he wanted to learn more. So he went to Bangalore to do some course and find a part time job. “It was like getting up one fine morning and deciding to go,” says Prasad. Nothing was planned. Bangalore was not so kind to Prasad.
“Within a few days I was afflicted by cholera. Death lingered around me. Fifty bottles of glucose was dripped into me. Then my father came and took me back. It was some kind of a shattering experience,” remembers Prasad.
He does not attribute it to fate. But he cannot help wonder what prevented him from taking off again along with his friends. “I came back. I activated this printing, copying and advertising firm, Panorama in Trissur. It was one establishment that worked twenty four hours a day. I was there all the time. I introduced very sophisticated kind of screen printing. So I started getting offers from other states too. Money was coming in and going out.”
If you ask why Prasad did not paint even when he had financial freedom he would say that he did not have time to do painting as he was doing other works. And he does not regret it.
Because friends were pouring in. This 24 X 7 establishment was a adda of all the artists and cultural activists. Prasad became shelter and refuge for most of them. Theatre activists used to come in the middle of night after their performance and crash down on the floors of his office. Artists from all over Kerala who came to Trissur came with one assurance that the doors of Panorama would not be closed anytime. Prasad was a sort of ATM for many.
Prasad did not pick up his brush and canvas even during the boom years. Many were infatuated by the kind of materialistic success their friends were reaping in then. “Boom did not have any effect on me. Many of my friends became very rich and famous. But great thing happened to me was that I did not lose them. They all remain my friends and they all come to me first before they even go their own homes,” says Prasad.
Murali remembers how motivating Prasad has always been. “When we were struggling, we used to get letters from Prasad asking for the images of our works or our humble catalogues. This gave us a lot of energy. We thought a few people back home were at least waiting to see what we had been doing.”
Prasad is a traveler. He has traveled all those places where a normal tourist would not go when he is in Kerala. Prasad knows the small alleys and lanes of Kerala where there are small temples, churches, mosques, special kinds of plants. He knows about the festivals and the myths behind them. Perhaps, he compensates his life with these travels.
Still you could go back to your canvas, why not? I tell him. “No, painting and music are two things where you cannot tell lie, or at least I believe so. My paintings happen in my mind and I happy by seeing the works of all my friends.”
Prasad likes to travel early in the morning and come back to his home by evening. “Both times you travel between slanting sunlight. It is a dream scape through which you pass. I like to go through this dream all the times. It is the most fascinating thing about art.”
When you say good bye to Prasad, you take a away a bit of love from him and that explodes in your mind and your eyes too well up.