(Shibu Natesan and Anil Janardanan in early 1980s)
There are some friends who ‘come’ informed or uninformed. There are other friends who just happen, as if they were just appearing from nowhere despite the fact that you have been expecting him or her to be there with you at any point of time. That ‘happening’ has a beauty of its own. Even if you know that this person is going to be looking like this, wearing this dress and behaving in a particular way, you look at him or her as if you were seeing him/her for the first time. That is the flair of such friends; when you think of it, such friends do not cling on to you. They do not demand anything from you. They come like a breeze and goes like a breeze, leaving that good feeling of having been touched and caressed. There are other friends who come like breeze and go like a storm totally destroying you. You should be wary of such friends. Anil Janardanan, artist and story teller belongs to the former set of friends who just happen and also come and go like a gentle breeze. It is not fair that I qualify Anil Janardanan just as an artist, a friend and a story teller. He is much more than that. He is one of those rare friends who keep a safe distance between their action and the result of it. That detachment makes them pass through everyone like a breeze with fragrance. That does not mean that they are completely devoid of the life’s passions and desires. They do have it but they have this sense distance always which gives them a buffer zone to keep themselves out of the emotional collisions. Anil is one such friend and our friendship became a bit deeper without saying much to each other about it, in the recent visit Thiruvannamalai.
Anil Janardanan goes to Thiruvannamalai at least thrice in a year. With his white dhoti and kurta, dread locks and absolutely weightless figure, in Thiruvannamalai Anil is a familiar presence. Living in Kodaikkanal for more than a decade now, Anil could travel to Thiruvannamalai by bus anytime he wants. The choice of Kodaikkanal as his permanent dwelling place was a joint decision made by Simona, the Italian lady who is married to Anil and Kalki, their son. Simona came to Anil’s life in one of those wanderings and they got along very well. One good thing about the foreign women married to Indian artists is this that after certain point they let the artists go and do whatever they want. The enormous freedom, initially at the cost of a lot of emotions and silent heart burns that these artists gain in their post-marriage life is worth noticing when compared to the limited lives that many of the Indian artist friends lead in their marriages with Indian ladies. There is a difference in perception about marriage when it comes to the Indian ladies and foreign ladies. I do not want to propagate the idea that Indian male artists should marry foreign woman in order to enjoy the post-marriage freedom. Indian ladies who limit their husbands by holding a lot of control in the family life do that mostly because of cultural as well as social reasons. I do not say that it is a rule either. There are exceptions and I appreciate those exceptional lives that the artists lead. Anil however does not talk much about his family in Italy though he visits them once in a while and his son who grew up in the wilderness of Kodaikkanal is now a grown up young man doing a lot of football like other European boys these days.
(Anil Janardanan and JohnyML)
The story of Anil as an artist and as story teller is fascinating. I met Anil for the first time when I was in my high school. Anil was a different Anil then. He had come to my home with Shibu Natesan. Shibu met Anil in Varkala and Anil instantly became a close friend of Shibu. Anil did not have a clear direction in life then. As a young man with a lot of fat in his body and long curly hairs and innocent laughter emanating from his face, he used to catch the attention of all the people. Art ran in the blood of Anil’s family. Anil’s mother was a music teacher and father was interested in Art. Anil had both the talents but he never thought of developing any. Even if he was exceptionally fat, he did not carry any weight in his mind. Anil was a free floater, making stories about people and incidents around him and was leading a happy life. It was then he met Shibu who was a fine arts college student then. They immediately hit it out as both of them had a lot of eccentricities to share. The next week, when Anil came back to Shibu, he was wearing totally different kinds of clothes. He had changed his wardrobe overnight to suit to the trend of the fine arts students. He started wearing loose shirts and he kept the seams of the trousers rolled up above the ankles. He was quite a scene to look at. It was in one of those days that Shibu brought Anil to my home. We too became friends. But as a school boy, my mobility was curtailed and I envied their freedom to move around. I met Anil off and on and then as my life started catching up with its own trials and tribulations, I literally forgot Anil.
(Anil Janardanan at Adi Annamalai)
The art scene was booming. As my friend Anand Jyoti who lives in Brazil now with his Brazilian wife and children, succinctly expressed the changes in the Indian art scene when he met me sometime in 2005 in Delhi. “I go to Mattancherry, where I used to hang out with all these artists, Anoop and Dorry (the founders of Kashi Art Café). We used to conduct tree festival and so on. We had a wonderful time then. Now I came back and went to Kochi. None was talking to me. Everyone looked different. Above all everyone was talking only in English. To my shock, I found that they insisted taking appointments before meeting them. My own friends! Johny, I did not know that India had changed this much.” The same year, when I was still trying to figure out to do with this changing art scene in India, I got a call from Kochi. I was with some journalist friends and could not understand who the caller was. Then the caller laughed. He said, “I am Anil, Johny, Anil Janaradanan.” I had heard this name and had this vague idea that it must be Anil whom I knew when I was a high school student. In the days of boom, all the Malayali artists as a part of entering into the pan-Indian (before getting into the international scene) art scene had expanded their initials into full fledged names because the art market players were from North India and they had the habit of calling people by surnames than the first names. So Shibu N had become Shibu Natesan and K.Bose had become Krishnamachari Bose and so on. I think T.V.Santhosh is the only artist who remained T.V.Santhosh. But facebook came to give one and all a surname and in there T.V.Santhosh also got exapanded to Theyyarapparambil Velappakkutty Santhosh; exactly the way JohnyML became Johny Mulluvilakom Lakshmanan.
(JohnyML and Anil Janardanan at Thiruvannamalai)
I was happy to hear the voice of Anil after a long time. In my mind Anil was the same old fat guy so I imagined speaking to the same guy. It was a pleasant experience. I felt some sense of elation for I thought this guy called me after so many years. In fact, Anil, like many other artists who had settled elsewhere thinking that life would never lead them back to India, was in Italy when the art market boomed in India. Anil was painting and conducting small exhibitions there too. But with a market boom in India, Anil too came back like many others. Anil’s paintings were different. They used a peculiar blue and green to portray the sylvan landscapes filled with bamboo like figures. There was some pristine oriental character in his works. The Kashi Art Café, which used to function as the hub and coordination point for the North India driven market in Kerala, had exhibited Anil’s work and soon Anil’s name was everywhere. Anil shifted to Mumbai and rented an apartment in Borivili West and started living with so many other Malayali artists who were living in and around the IC Colony in Borivili West. It was where I met Anil for the first time after a couple of decades. I was shocked to see Anil. He was a changed man. He had lost all his body weight and looked taller than before. He had turned salt and pepper in his hairs and the beautiful curly hairs had gone matted and an imposing dread locks had grown. He looked impressive. But the two decades between us had not reduced an iota of warmth. He received me with happiness and I too was happy. I was happy for the success that he gained as an artist in the Indian art market for Anil was one of those artists who were self taught and never had a strong studio practice to pursue.
(Anil Janardanan at Yogi Ram Surat Kumar Ashram, Thiruvannamalai)
Anil’s journey as an artist starts with Shibu Natesan. When Shibu came to know about Anil’s ability to draw and more than anything else his enthusiasm to look like an artist in looks and behavior (remember he had changed his dress code within a week after meeting Shibu for the first time), he suggested that Anil should go to Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal and get trained there as Anil couldn’t have got admission in any of the fine arts colleges for his illustrious track record in school education. Anil packed the bag on the very next day and went to Bharat Bhavan. He was lucky to have J.Swaminathan as his mentor for some time. Swaminathan liked a little rebel coming all the way from Kerala to become an artist. And Anil learnt the ropes of art while staying in Bharat Bhavan. At the same time wander bug had bitten him very badly there. Anil started travelling to the northern parts of India and went to Himalayas. He stayed with some Babas there and became quite spiritually inclined. But the total change was yet to happen. After the Bharat Bhavan sojourn Anil came to Baroda where Shibu was a student in the Graphics Department. Once again Shibu directed him to join the Kanoria Art Centre in Ahmadabad. Anil went there and became quite famous for some of his interesting rebellious deeds. He became an overnight sensation thanks to some of his anarchic acts and history is silent for some time about Anil since then. Many years later we see Anil again, he is a changed guy. He is destined to become an artist and quite successful at it.
The Mumbai life as an artist was not that easy for Anil. Despite all his flamboyant ways and success in art, something had been gnawing him internally. He knew that there was no point in taking his works in the same direction that had brought him market success. Besides, he saw how some of the friends turning slowly foes. Some of them were developing some ego clashes with him. For them Anil was still an outsider without a University Degree and some of them thought that Anil was too impressive in crowds than themselves. Anil had a way with friends and acquaintances. As he did not carry much of emotional baggage with him, he could mix up with both the genders easily. And soon Anil’s presence in the Mumbai art scene created some scandals which interestingly were generated by his own friends who for the time being played the role of moral police. Anil was a dejected man. He withdrew into himself for some time and kept on working for a solo show at the Palette Art Gallery in Delhi. He did the works exceptionally different from what he had been doing as a successful artist. Contrary to the expectation of the art scene, Anil had come with a set of works in his latest solo show that expressed the dark recesses of not only his mind but also of the collective mind of the society. Anil had gone into the collective memories, rituals, abandoned spaces and so on in order to create the body of works that made into the solo show. The exhibition did not make much of an impact because people were expecting beautiful and soothing paintings from Anil. Soon the collectors moved away from the dark phase of Anil. There must have been some under currents too of which none is quite sure about. Then Anil wound up his stay in Mumbai and went back to Italy.
(Anil Janardanan with a friend)
That’s what I thought. But Anil had not gone anywhere. He was very much there in India, but retreating to a different zone. He went to Kodaikkanal with Simona and their young son, Kalki. They had stayed there years back when they were wanderers of sort. This time they wanted to build their own home. Anil and Simona bought a land in Vattakkanal, a couple of kilometers away from the main town of Kodaikkanal and built a house which is simple a large hall with a veranda opening to the great valley of Kodaikkanal. Far away from the maddening pace of the world, Anil now lives there alone. He has made another cottage which he gives out for rent to the travelers whom he likes. He sits there in his home with an attic where at least fifty people could spend a night comfortably, does his paintings and plays his music. At times a few Bison come there and stand still outside his home. Sometime the vast blanket of dews and fog cover the house and blocking everything from the view. Slowly as the sun rises, the scenes down there become clear through the clearing of the fog. It is a sylvan experience to sit and watch the day goes by. Anil says that he could make this life possible because at some stage he realized that he does not belong to the cities. He also wants to live without any baggage. He wants to travel from one hill to another where the gods reside. He is of the opinion that even a relationship with a woman that lasts for more than three years could prove to be a burden. That does not mean that Anil is a ruthless person who moves from people to people. He is very concerned about his fellow beings. When in Thiruvannamalai, he receives the untimely death of a young boy in his neighborhood in Vattakkanal. That day Anil remains disturbed, often telling us about the goodness of that boy who was a friend of his own son.
When I met him at Kodaikkanal last year, the scene was absolutely different. We were waiting for him to come and pick us up to his home which is beyond all vehicular access. We could not go directly there because we did not know where to park the car. Besides, then Kodaikkanal was going through a bad time. A lot of drug abuse was reported from there. It was rumored that there were movements of the unwanted elements in that area. Each tourist, each couple and each of the merry makers was watched in suspicion by the police. New comers to the town were checked thoroughly. Especially there are some home stays near Vattakkanal, the home owners were alerted of this and were even made informers. As a home owner in the locality Anil is quite connected not only with the other home owners but also with the police personals. It is a cold and when he comes he has covered himself with a blanket like Shawl in the Baba fashion. He has worn vibhuti on his forehead and everybody wishes him. Two police men have been watching us and the moment they see that we have come to meet Anil the whole thing change. They exchange niceties and we go into a restaurant to have some refreshments. As we sit Anil says ‘Om Namashivay Narayana.” He is a pacifist, it seems. He does not want to take sides. He is a Shaivite and Vaishnavite at once.
(Shibu Natesan and Anil Janardanan in Thiruvannamalai)
Anil is a great story teller. He could turn any incident into a beautiful and interesting story. As we lie down on our beds in the two corners in the attic, Anil stands in between and recounts some childhood incidents. In his neighborhood, when he was a young boy, there was a man whose name was Madhava Vilasom. By profession he was a caterer and also was a local chieftain with a very strange attitude towards life. He had a peacock blue Landmaster car, which in the morning was used as a proper car and by afternoon it was a pick up van. When the whole narration comes through Anil’s embellishment, Madhava vilasom becomes a very memorable character. Madhava Vilasom is also one person who had made his own bust and placed in front of his house and started lighting lamps all by himself! Anil stands in the middle of the attic, looking at us. We are tired after a long journey. We are desperate to sleep. When he sees one of us has fallen asleep he moves towards the next corner where he hopes the other person is awake. His laughter fills in the attic. My sleep flies away as I enjoy his stories. But sleep overpowers me. And in my fading wakefulness I could see Anil, a little bit frustrated for the lack of audience, and a lot amused by his own stories telling, climbing down the stairs to his kingdom down there. For a long time I could faintly listen to the laughter that Anil could not control thinking of Madhava Vilasom.
This time in Thiruvannamalai Anil happens and I feel that a fresh whiff of air has touched me. Anil kept my company throughout our stay and our visit to Adi Annamalai is great. He has a memory attached to anything and everything. I have never seen Anil reading anything. But he seems to have the innate capacity to grasp things by listening to others or simply by observing. When it comes to technical things, there too Anil has a few inputs to make and to my surprise I find all those technical inputs are perfect to the core. In the evening, we sit at the Ramana Ashram court yard. People of different kinds and traits walk in front of us. We keep watching them. Anil has a story to attach with every person. One gentleman walks politely behind his beautiful wife. Anil has a story about that couple: “He wanted more dowry. But at the same time he was happy with her beauty. At times he wants to remind her of the dowry. But thinking of his father in law’s face, he remains quiet.” Anil says with so much of conviction that it sounds real and I cannot help laughing out. Anil points at some fresh visitors there in the Ashram. “Look at them. Next year they all would look like emaciated and lost everything in life. They supposedly come here for happiness but all of them turn sad and they act out a lot of happiness on their face within a year.” Each night when we say good bye to each other, Anil looks for his TVS Moped, which he knows that he has parked here or there. Finally we find it in some corner as if it were an object fallen from an alien flying saucer. Anil rides back to his room and the laughter he has left behind lingers on in me for a long time.