How are you? I have been remembering you off late quite often. In my home state, Kerala, a famous actor was arrested last month and was sent in remand to jail for allegedly conspiring the abduction of an actress around six months ago. I am nobody to say whether he is a culprit or not, exactly the way I have not been able to say whether you had involved in something that I do not want even to name. As we all know what it is all about let me proceed without making it obvious and let me ask you once again, how are you?
There is a reason why I write this mail to you, which perhaps only your closest friends would see and I would be happy if you come to know about the existence of such a letter in the public domain. I have always been keen to know about your days in incarceration though after the initial spate of anecdotes they got completely dried up in due course of time. Recently I came to know that you were given art materials so that you could make paintings and also could conduct workshop for the mates there. Even the jail warden spoke to the press expressing his intention to auction your works. I am really happy if you are doing paintings in there and I am sure it would keep you out of any kind of depression.
The immediate provocation to write you this mail, as you know, is nothing but my urge to ‘write’. Almost ten years back when I started my blog and was pretty much prolific in the output, you apparently commented that ‘blogging’ had become a part of Johny ML’s morning ablutions. Yes, it remains to be so even though the prolific nature of my writing has now mellowed a bit and I write after much deliberation. The other day I was reading ‘Waiting for the Mahatma’ by R.K.Narayan. It tells the story of an innocent enthusiast, Sriram becoming a nationalist (not the kind that we see these days) by coming into contact with Gandhiji through Sriram’s love interest, Bharti. Led by love, not really by nationalist feelings, Sriram does one act of bravery after another against the British police and finally he gets incarcerated indefinitely. As I was reading the prison part, I just thought of you, in fact I thought of you only.
True, you are not a nationalist of the contemporary complexion. The last act of defiance that you did against the contemporary nationalists was all about supporting a young artist who had made a ‘cow balloon’ in the Jaipur Art Summit of 2015. You went to the police station, almost courting arrest for the ‘freedom of expression’ and it is ironical that you had to surrender your freedom for an allegation that remains unproved. I feel a sense of injustice happening to him even when I say that if you had done it, you deserve punishment. But something tells me from the core of my heart that you wouldn’t do it. Hatching a long term plan to eliminate somebody wouldn’t have occurred to you that easily and you wouldn’t have plotted so intricately to get a job done neatly.
As far as I know you, you have been a slow schemer. During the days of familial troubles that only a few people knew to the worst details, you held your court literally moving to Delhi and starting a life afresh. You travelled and did some interesting performances, site specific art installations and so on. I could see them only in the social media because by that time you had been surrounded by a different kind of crowd in Delhi and elsewhere to which I found myself absolutely a misfit. Moreover as you know I too was going through what you were going through then. Unlike me you enjoyed fame and all what came with it. By that time I had become a Gandhian ready to detach from all what I thought was mine. So somehow my weaning away from the familiar(l) world was smoother than expected but you had a few things to settle. That is always the problem that gets attached with material possessions.
You know why I believe you wouldn’t have schemed such an atrocious act because as much as I know you remained a small town boy, pure at heart despite all your effort to equate yourself with the Bollywood celebrities. I could always see that insecure small town boy struggling with language, personality and creativity in you. What surprised me was the way you could manage to hide that insecurity. Perhaps a few cards that assures materialistic security, a slowly recognizable face, the brazenness with which you pushed your art practice, the contacts, the overt and covert deals with art dealers and collectors, the newspaper articles about you, contact with powerful people, the media glare that you unapologetically enjoyed and all could help you in overcoming your insecurities. Confidence is something that comes either with talent or with money. Getting these two combined is a virtue; you had the former and you gained the latter and smartly combined them together.
Why I believe that you wouldn’t do such a crime is because the small town boy in you always went back to the village you came from. Partapur was the place; a small village in Rajasthan. You had your family routes therefore you could start Sandharbh there. In a few years time you could make it stand on its own and could claim a space in the international residency circuit. You could literally identify and promote a few talents using that platform. You did not stop there. You went ahead and started a living museum in an abandoned village building. It was perhaps a very novel concept in India and perhaps it remains inimitable even today. Instead of gunning for rural tourism, you kept it within the idea of art experimentations. Had it been for touristic pleasure you could have started it in Jaipur itself. But you did not do that. When you did Tetua Daba Do (Strangle Her), you chose to do it in Jaipur because you wanted the authorities to take note. Perhaps, you were the first male artist to deal with the issue of rampant female foeticide in India in general and in Rajasthan in particular. You promoted the idea of ‘piracy’ by highlighting the copy left movement. When I see some invitation cards with a line ‘copyright with the gallery’ I think about you who tried to liberate ideas in zones of no copyrights. Also you were a pioneer in funding one of the first cinematic take on social media, ‘Kya Tum Ho’ directed by Aneesh Ahluwalia. But along the way you had collected deadwoods too; on a second thought I believe all of us commit that folly not because we are indiscreet but we are too caring to land a kick.
Dear friend, my mind says this you would come out soon and once you come out you will be a changed man. When you come out, you would have learnt the lessons of detachment. You would not attach any value to what you are doing today or done earlier or would do hence. But you would do your work. Whether you read Bhagavad Gita there or not, if you have contemplated enough in those lonely moments you would have learned the greatest lessons in life. I am sure your second beginning is from Sandharbh. Life is not a Bollywood movie where you could come out and prove your materialist worth once again. You have been travelling the world in search of fame. Tomorrow, when you are out from there, dear friend the world would come to you in the village provided you have detached from all what you thought worthwhile.
I can see the universe conspiring with all its elements to get you out. When, I don’t know but I could say it is soon. How, I do not know because I am no oracle. But I feel, feel deeply that a person like you need not be inside for long for whatever reason. So be cheerful. Keep yourself out of depression. Ask for a copy of Talks on Gita by Vinoba Bhave. Read that every day. By the time you finish reading it twice, you will be out in the free world.
JohnyML / Aksharananda