Saturday, February 4, 2012
Finding Friends in Delhi- To My Children Series 25
When you have nothing, you feel that you have a lot to give to others. When you have something you feel that you can keep something and share a part of it with others. When you have too many things, it is often observed that you don’t feel like giving anything to anybody. It is not a rule, exceptions are aplenty. In that case, it is always better to have something so that you can share a part of it with others because you are not too full and that makes you feel that others too need things. When you are too full your visions get blurred. Am I talking about the spiritual side of life or the materialistic side of it? I think I am talking about the materialistic side. That’s the way I feel. That’s how my life in Delhi became possible. And today I can say that I have something, a little bit of things so that I can share with others. But there was a time when I did not have anything. And I thought that I could give the whole to others. That was a dream. Caught between dream and reality, I found friends who had something to share with me; their lives, their passions, their dreams, their money. That was how my life started spreading its roots in the soil of Delhi.
Anil Dayanand was one friend who came first in our life. There were many but Anil stood apart because he was always ready to give anything and everything that he had to anyone who wanted it. He had abundance of love. Anil Dayanand, when I write this is still around and I bump into him once in a while when there are exhibition openings and other social functions in which both of us get invited accidently or we get ourselves self- invited. Anil was then the editorial illustrator of the ‘Business and Political Observer’ Newspaper published from Delhi. We met him at the Lalit Kala Akademy lawns and it was love at first sight. Anil became friendly very quickly followed by cups of tea and cigarettes at the Lalit Kala Akademy canteen. What I noticed in Anil was his ability to talk about art without any hesitation. He had opinion about all what had been going on in the art scene. He could speak English well with an accent which was not affected. And whoever walked into the Lalit Kala Akademy premises knew Anil and whoever knew Anil slowly became our friends too.
After taking BFA in sculpture from the Trivandrum Fine Arts College, Anil came to Delhi to pursue his post graduate studies and he took masters in sculpture from the Delhi College of Art. As a person who could fit into any situation with his conceptual talks, Anil used to hang out at the Delhi College of Art canteen even years after he finished his post graduation. Following the true tradition of the Trivandrum Fine Arts College, where the teachers conduct the day courses and the former pass outs take the evening classes to the students at the canteen, cycle shed and courtyard, Anil took classes for the under graduates in the Delhi College of Art in the canteen and elsewhere and initiated most of them into conceptual thinking. Anil’s day started at his home or any friend’s home where he was drinking and smoking at the previous night and with the first ray of the sun, he reached the college in his blue denims and tucked in striped cotton shirt. By afternoon he reached the Lalit Kala Akademy library and read till evening. After that he left for his office at the Barakhmba Road near Connaught Place and spent a few hours there making graphic illustrations for the editorial page articles. Soon we too became a part of this routine.
Anil used to be known amongst friends as ‘thumbs up’ as he had an extra finger at his right palm. Even when he kept his fist clenched, this finger jutted out addressing the world as if it were an organ with a separate life from that of Anil. Years later, when Anil came back from Botswana, where he had gone on a teaching job, he had loads of charcoal drawings of nude black women whom he had befriended there. But something was missing in him and that was his extra finger. When asked he with his innocent smile responded to us saying that he had got it operated because the finger was inviting a lot of attention. Famous film star Hritik Roshan too has an extra finger at his right palm and it is considered to be lucky for him. We used to joke that Anil’s luck resided in his extra finger. But even after he lost it, Anil remained the same without much luck in the art scene. I would say that Anil is perennially lazy and derives happiness in ideating than executing those ideas into material forms. He gets frustrated when he sees his ideas getting reflected in the works of other artists. I do not say that other artists plagiarize Anil’s ideas but as we are all living in the same time and same urban locales, it is natural to arrive at same kind of ideas. Anil dips his frustration into alcohol and burns his woes in thick curls of smoke.
Before I get on with the story of Anil and his friends who are to become our friends too sooner than later let me tell you the story of our settling down in Delhi. You must be remembering me telling about N.N.Rimzon’s offer to me when I visited him in an art camp sometime in 1994. He had told me to contact him if I happened to be in Delhi. That was the one hope we had when we set out our journey to Delhi. We asked Anil to take us to Rimzon’s place. During those days Rimzon was living in Laxmi Nagar towards the Patpatganj side. Today also struggling artists live in Laxmi Nagar and I had written about it in one of my blogs published a few years back. Noted artists like Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher, Manjunath Kamath and so on all had started their Delhi life in this part of the city. Anil told us how to get there and on the third day of our arrival we went to see Rimzon at his place. I don’t know whether he was expecting us or not. Whatever be the case when he saw us at his doorstep he warmly welcomed us and treated us well. He was patiently listened to our plans and also with a shock he imbibed the fact that we did not have any money. After thinking for a few seconds he said that he could lend us some money so that we could start our life in Delhi. He offered us a princely sum of Rs.3000/- We were really happy.
I should say we were extremely lucky and we did not have anything in our hand except for two bags. But our treasures were increasing and we were getting richer by day through friends and their warmth and love. Anil had taken us to the Delhi College of Art as his prized possessions from Baroda; me, a specimen of anarchic looks and Mrinal, a young thin girl with undefined future with a person like me. There at the college we met Abhimanue V.G, a painter who had also studied in Baroda and then a lecturer at the painting department in the Delhi College. Abhimanue looked like an artist from tip to toe. He had closely cropped hairs and a goatee. He talked with an accent thanks to his peculiar jaw bones. He dressed stylishly and then rode a motor bike.
In his studio cum office room Abhimanue had many canvases and drawings. He painted romantic landscapes as they were derived from the Indian miniatures and there were always women and men looking at each other longingly. Soon I realized that he was a perennial romantic. He greeted us with a smile that soon verged into a guttural laughter. He ordered tea for us and offered me his packet of Gold Flake cigarettes. After enquiring about our days in Baroad and also after talking extensively about his friends and acquaintances and their stories in Baroda, he took us to the head of the department, Mr.Vijayamohanan. He also welcomed us in a friendly manner. He ordered for tea and tea came in porcelain jugs and cups. He made tea for us and asked us what we were planning for our future. Future looked grim and the brightness was seen only in our eyes. I looked at Mrinal and she looked at me. And then we both looked at Abhimanue and Vijayamohan. Then Vijayamohan asked a question that made us feel good and happy.
“Would you like to join as guest lecturers here?” Vijayamohan asked us.
We could not have said anything that faintly sounded negative. So we immediately said that it would be a pleasure and honor if we got chance to teach in the college. He asked us to fill in the application forms then and there and promptly we did so with the help of Abhimanue. And the next day we were appointed as guest lecturers. I was given the foundation course and it was my duty to initiate the new students to art history. Most of the students liked my anarchic looks and they did not realize the fact that the anarchic look came mostly from deprivation. I used to ask myself had I been at home with my mother would I have walked around like that in baggy clothes, disheveled hairs and overgrown beard. My mother would not have approved of my looks. Even if she had the neighbors and the local people would not have allowed me to walk like that because whenever I visited Kerala in that attire people used to ask me whether I was okay and some of them were even audacious to ask my mother whether I was having some mental problem.
I was happy to teach the fresh students because I too was fresh in teaching as far as art history was concerned. I did not have any stage fright when I was on the platform because I had the habit of teaching from a very early age itself. But art history was something different. Mrinal was good at teaching and she made her career in teaching and she is an Assistant Professor at the Art History department in the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. My story with teaching was a short lived one; it lasted only one year. In any institution inside politics is rampant and Delhi College of Art was no exception. Somehow, some people in the college started feeling insecure as the students were gravitating towards us. And as we were in the College, whoever came from Baroda used to drop into say a hello. Art scene was not ridden by glitter and glamour during those days and the art people were much more humane. They took all the pain to come and meet us in the college. Soon this gave the impression that I was trying to create a Baroda lobby in the College. The institutional egos worked against me in a way and I was not invited to teach in the College again. That was the end of my teaching career. Years later when the institutions in this country invite me to give lectures and take semester classes, I accept the offers with a smile and I remember the days of my eviction from the Delhi College of Art.
We had roti (food), kapda (clothes) but makan (home) was not there for us. The life in the Lalit Kala Akademy guest house was not quite appealing after a week and it was urgent to find a place to live. Friends told us that ‘rooms’ were available in some of places and we did not like this idea of ‘room’. We wanted a home where we could live and work. Now with Rs.3000/- in hand given by Rimzon we thought of looking for a house where we could set up our home. It was then Anil came forward and introduced us to Jyothilal T.G and Sabu Joseph, two sculpture students there in the Delhi College of Art. They said they lived in the trans-Yamuna area near Laxmi Nagar and it would be a great idea to look for an accommodation in Laxmi Nagar. We too liked it as we thought we would have known friends like Rimzon and these students there and we would not be lost in a new place. So one evening Jyotilal took us to Laxmi Nagar to hunt for a house in Laxmi Nagar.
Laxmi Nagar is hardly five kilometers from Delhi College of Art and Lalit Kala Akademy. From the famous ITO junction if you take a right turn and cross the Yamuna Bridge along the Vikas Marg you get to Laxmi Nagar. We had gone there to visit Rimzon. So we got into a bus with Jyotilal. Delhi was not like this then. There were terrible traffic jams. And the bus that we got into took a turn to right before the ITO junction to scuttle a traffic jam which ran into a few kilometers. It went to the opposite side and took another bridge that led to the Mayur Vihar area. In a thickly packed bus we were standing, smelling the body odors of the home bound people. The buses were called Blue lines and Red lines. Both the line buses killed people in regular intervals as they were famous for uncouth driving. It took almost an hour to reach Laxmi Nagar and all the while Jyotilal was telling us to brace up and face it. He told us that it was not quite usual. He was cheering us up like a property dealer. In fact he was taking us to a property dealer. Had the property dealer worked for money, Jyothilal cheered us up only because he thought we were frightened and that was the truth.
In Laxmi Nagar, in a dingy room lit with tube lights, a man with scars all over the face shook hands with us. He was a one of the property dealers in the area. He said he could show us the place. We were asked to sit in a cycle rickshaw and that was the first rickshaw ride in my life. I watched the poor man hauling that rickety rickshaw. I felt like vomiting. It was a narrow road with shops scattered on either side and full of people around. The man worked his muscles to accelerate the rusty wheels of the rickshaw. At some point I told Jyothilal that we could get down and walk. But he gave me a seasoned smile and asked me to sit quite. Finally we reached a house with three stories and the property dealer showed us a room on the second floor. There were three rooms with common bathroom and toilet but with two different kitchens. In one of the rooms a small family with a kid lived. And the other one was occupied by the owners of the building and the third one was offered to us. It was not a bad room and the kitchen was good. Only problem was the sharing bathrooms. But within the given budget, the property dealer told us that it was the best choice and we went by his words. The landlords saw us and showed satisfaction. They too were seasoned people, it seemed. They asked us where we worked. We told them that we were lecturers in the Delhi College. I did not know they were convinced by that or not, but they agreed to give us the room. The property dealer took Rs.1000/- from us and promised to come back next week to take the balance amount of Rs.500/-, gave me a vague shake hand and left. Next day we moved in.
Moving in was not a problem. But the moment we moved in the one of the brothers in the landlord family came in and looked inside our room and he found nothing other than two bags. His eye brows went up. He asked why we did not get our stuff. We told him that we were living in Baroda before getting the lecturers’ job and coming to Delhi and our belongings were in still in Baroda. In the coming week, we were supposed to get all the stuff transported from there. The man once again looked at us and walked out. Soon it dawned on us that we could not live in a place like that without kitchen utensils and beddings. The landlord came again and offered us a sofa. May be he thought as a young couple we need something to sit or sleep on. The sofa was a huge one and it could accommodate both of us to do whatever we wanted. In a day or two we went out and got a stove. Kerosene was an issue. We went around and found some local shops selling kerosene. We made friends with the shop guys and they promised us to supply the fuel whenever we wanted.
May be I was not looking quite convincing to others. One day I was standing in front of the shop waiting to buy some kerosene, a tall middle aged man walked up to me and asked who I was. I did not like his question. So I asked him why he wanted to know. He fished out a card from his pocket and told me that he was from the Intelligence Bureau. He wanted to know whether I was a terrorist living under cover. I told him that I was a lecturer at the Delhi College of Art. He was not convinced. I asked him to come to the college and check. He asked the shop person whether he knew me or not. Luckily, the shop guy corroborated my claim and helped me to get out of the situation. Later on as the man walked away, the shop owner told me that Laxmi Nagar had increasingly become a place for the terrorists to hole up. So there were routine checking and questioning of people.
Sajeev Pillai lived nearby our place. He was working with the Pioneer newspaper. Though he was a journalist writing mostly about culture, his mind was in making movies. When he came to know that two people from Baroda came to live near to his place, he paid a visit. He came with a smile and talked at length. Then he invited us to his place. We went there. It was a one room accommodation with several people living in such accommodation around an atrium kind of space. It was dingy, smelly and dark. Sajeev used a plastic cot to sleep and thanks to the weight of his body the plastic had caved in which he balanced with the old issues of Pioneer newspapers. He slept inside the paper as if it were a nest or a cradle. Sajeev gave us insights about Italian movies and the movies that he wanted to make. And while leaving he gave us a few kitchen vessels. Now we had a kitchen with a kerosene stove and a few vessels. We did not have much to do once we got back to home in the evenings so we listened to the sounds outside. Though we did not have many things in Baroda, we had a table fan, which I had brought from Kerala, the first fan in my family which a cousin of mine had painted blue when he did not find anything else to paint. We had a stereo tape recorder which Shibu Natesan had given to me when he bought a new one as he started selling his works quite regularly. We had our books, blankets and cassettes in Baroda.
The property dealer came back on the stipulated day and got his balance amount and left. The landlord came upstairs to claim his rent on the thirtieth day sharp. He craned his neck towards inside the room and asked why we still lived like bachelors. We told him that our stuff got stuck in Baroda and soon it would be coming. This game went on for a couple of months and it was necessary to collect them back. So Mrinal, after we earned enough to travel to Baroda, decided to go and get the stuff from there. She went there and collected things with the help of a friend named Dileep Kumar and got them into a bus and came to Delhi. I went to receive her at the interstate bus station in Old Delhi. It was night and we missed each other in the bus stop. Those were pre-cell phone days and we did not have any ways to contact each other. I was shivering so was she but in two different areas in that huge bus stop. Finally I decided to go back home; so she too decided. We reached home in two different autos, frightened and eyes filled with tears.
Now we had something to show off. We had a table fan and a tape recorder and ample amount of cassettes. Now our vacant evenings were filled with music. We cooked together, fought and made love. We did not have the habit of drinking. Whenever we got some money we spent on good food. Whenever we wanted to watch television we walked a couple of kilometers along Vikas Marg and reached Jyothilal ‘s place where he lived with an pious young man called Narayanan. They cooked rise and sambar for us while we watched a portable black and white television. Occasionally Jyotilal and Sabu Joseph came home. Even Shibu Natesan and his wife Kate once visited us. I still remember when Jyotilal and Sabu Joseph wanted to get their dissertation completed, they coming home and cooking for us and we, working on their dissertations. It was a happy time because we had something to share and we thought it was better to share than keep it for ourselves.
I wrote articles initially by hand and used to visit the newspaper offices in Delhi asking whether they would be interested to publish them. Most of them turned me away and some of them advised me to get them typed. Computer was not in vogue; the newspaper offices had computers running in doors format. Abhiamnue saw me looking at the portable typewriter kept on his table top. He asked me whether I wanted it. I nodded in greed. He happily gave his typewriter to me and I proudly started typing out my articles in that portable machine. Till 1997 when I got my first desk top (by that time we had earned enough to pay for a computer and that was our first investment in Delhi) I was typing out my articles furiously on this typewriter. Years later I returned the machine to Abhimanue.
While living in Laxmi Nagar, we spent most of our time in Lalit Kala Akademy library and Delhi College of Art. In the meanwhile Anil Dayanand introduced us to Cartoonist Unny, the famous cartoonist of the Indian Express. We called him Unniettan (Elder Brother Unny). It became routine for us then to go to his office at the Bahadurshah Safar Marg every noon. He used to treat us with food and used to take us around. At times he took us to his home where he gave us beer and a bed to sleep. Unniettan signed our marriage contract at the Arya Samaj Mandir , Rajendra Nagar, New Delhi in 1996. By that time we had earned enough friends in Delhi. There were Roy Thomas, Eans MJ, Bhagyanathan, Sumedh Rajendran, Gigi Scaria, Josh PS and so on. Gigi Scaria, Sumedh Rajendran and Josh P.S stayed in Laxmi Nagar when they came to study in Jamia and Delhi College of Art. Gigi and Josh drew pictures for some greeting card production units in the Old Delhi and earned some money to support their studies and scrape through the big maze called life. Whenever they got money we could easily make out as they splurged on sweets from the way side sweet shops in Laxmi Nagar and enjoyed a lavish ride by cycle rickshaws. Sumedh as today used to dress impeccably. Slowly, our home at Laxmi Nagar became a place where friends gathered over weekends; Abul Kalam Azad, the photographer, late Asokan Poduval and many were our guests in different times. And they had a lot to share because they too had a little. And they all helped us to survive in Delhi.