Sunday, January 17, 2016

Art and the Art of Walking

(Subodh Gupta's work at the NGMA, New Delhi, at night)

A city is many cities. Depending on where you stand your view of the city is changed. Barbizon School painters and the Impressionists painted rural areas in different hues based on the changing effects of sunlight on things. But cities are the dreams of the Impressionists. It is not just about the light and its various shades. It is not just about the people, streets and the architectures. It is about many things including locations and economics. Even the vehicles that you choose to travel could bring in a new city within the city that you dwell in. A poor man’s view of the city is different from that of a rich man. A person who lives on a high rise would see the city differently unlike the one sees it from a hamlet in a shanty town. City is different for a late night reveler and a pavement dweller. The lonely man or lonely woman in cold city street in the dead of night experiences a totally different city. A walker’s city is different than that of a person in a vehicle.

A walker, not really the flaneur, sees the city differently provided he or she keeps the head high. Some people walk with their head hanging. Those proud people who scan the city with their eyes see so many things that most of us miss out. A walker maintains a different relationship with his city. A regular walker even knows the count of steps that he uses to cover a particular distance. He grows friendly with the street dogs, hawkers, trees and birds. He gets a smile and a few goods words from a bored security man at a rich man’s gate. Perhaps, only a walker experiences the city. In a city like Delhi, a cyclist cannot really focus on the scenes around him.  A biker, for the fear of his life veers through the traffic until he reaches home safe. A man or woman at the wheel distracts himself either with music, idle chat or the FM radio ramblings. The people in the buses are saving their pockets, bodies and souls from others’ incursions. People in the metro are focused keenly on their smart phones. A walker sees everything.

As a walker, you get people asking you for directions. You will be really happy to show them the right direction. Suddenly from nowhere, another walker appears who might have seen you in social media and introduces himself to you. It is good to know a stranger reads all what you write and all what you paint. When you walk you can hum a tune, you can talk to yourself and laugh at the people who are in the vehicles hurrying to some destination. While walking you cannot be really show off your self-importance. You are one of those few people who walk. And you are often seen as either lacking in money to hire an auto or who cannot afford a car or taxi. But you don’t know that a walker, like God sees everything.

Today, while walking in the India Gate circle, I saw this beautiful sight (which is in the picture). It is a steel banyan tree inside the premises of the National Gallery of Modern Art. It is a work of art by Subodh Gupta permanently displayed in the NGMA. I do not know whether anybody notices it while speeding around the India Gate. It is like a full moon on a very dark night. It is lit up from all the sides. It suddenly appears before me not as a work of art that is encountered by an art critic; but as a thing of beauty before an ordinary human being. I have seen this work in different contexts and in a different day light. But today it looked heavenly. I have seen, while walking in Connaught Place, the glimpses of the India’s national flag (the proud tricolor), a huge one fluttering in the night sky, all lit up in LED lights from down. I take it in me not as a patriot but as a thing of beauty and immensity. I don’t feel any nationalist sentiments while looking at the flag paying with the night breeze. I have seen huge and thought provoking public art murals behind the rows of cars and the Pollockian stains of public urinating. One has to walk to see all these. And I wish more and more works of art come in the public space, in the open, lit up in heavenly lights so that people could see and wonder at the beauty of their city. Let’s walk. 

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