Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Few Good Things about Marriage and Divorce

Behind every successful man… there is a disturbance.

And behind every disturbance…there is a woman.

Hold on. Before you judge me, let me complete my statement.

Behind every successful woman…there is a huge disturbance.

And behind every huge disturbance…there is a man.

I am not here to cook up aphorisms for the future use. Still I can’t help doing it.

Marriage is a mixture of guns and roses, wrapped well and passed off for a gift.

Divorce is the same gift packet, opened up rashly for public scrutiny.

People divorce and get on with their sad or happy lives depending on their future choices.

Celebrities divorce and journalists make scandal out of it.

Divorce is a solution when problem is diagnosed, analyzed and treated.

Divorce is a problem when solution is sought in improbable demands.

Marital disharmony is a way to strengthen the bonding between spouses.

But when disharmony persists, all those bonds weaken and fall apart.

When you sign a marriage deed, you also sign an invisible divorce deed.

Why most of the people don’t look at this invisible deed because people are trained to eat bitter pills in silence from the very beginning.

Economics helps marriage function.

When marriage fails to function, economics becomes the biggest hurdle.

Love marriages fail when love between the partners become a bad habit.

Love marriages fail when the partners realize that there are better people in the world.

Love marriages fail when one of the partners become Holier than the other.

And also the less holier fails to prove, thanks to too much of evidence against him/her, his holiness.

Arranged marriages fail because anything arranged is temporal.

But arranged marriages often don’t fail because the society makes the partners a bit more responsible than they actually are.

In the case of love marriages, the partners become proverbial blinds. They lead each other into disaster.

Divorce is postponed when the spouses have two bedrooms to spare.

Or one of them becomes less egoistic and agrees to use the drawing room sofa for nights.

Divorce is postponed, when property division takes too much of time.

Amicable settlement is a euphemism for division of spoil (mostly by one of the parties).

Amicable settlement is when both the spouses have someone ready out there to go with.

Divorce is postponed (again) when both the parties agrees to visit home in shifts.

Blood pressure is directly proportionate to marital harmony and disharmony.

Chat rooms are the new counsel centers. Mostly, the counselor will end up in starting an affair with the affected.

Marital discords reflect in workplace. It does not reduce the work results. But it increases the time spent on internet.

Marital discord decreases the speed of jogging. But it increases the speed of flirting.

People review their marriages when their children are grown up.

People review their marriages when they reach somewhere near forty.

Once the review is done, suddenly they find their partners quite boring.

People ready with advices for troubled couples, in fact are troubled people.

Their advice comes from experience.

To keep familial harmony in tune, the bloggers often tell their partners that they have blogged something of this effect, before their friends send a text message to them regarding the blog.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bose says Yes to NO

(Malini Gulrajani, Sudarshan Shetty, Bose Krishnamachari, JohnyML and Shankar Natrajan in front of 1 x 1 Gallery, Dubai)

Bose Krishnamachari compresses his aesthetic ideas into one single word; that has been his hallmark style for quite sometime. Whether they are his curatorial projects or solo exhibitions, Bose comes up with certain titles that provide some clues to the viewer for developing intellectual engagements with the works. His latest solo show, which is currently on at 1x 1 Art Gallery, Dubai has a thought provoking title-‘NO’.

A few months back, when Bose was preparing this show, I had a brief discussion with him. He had told me that the title of the show would be ‘NO’. To quench my curiosity, Bose had explained it in the following terms: “The word ‘NO’ encapsulates the artistic authority. It is the artist’s right to negate certain demands made upon him. An artist is not a victim of his circumstances. On the contrary, he holds considerable authority to negotiate, manipulate and interpret the circumstances that he finds himself to be in.”

(Love- Tamaso ma, jyotir gamaya)

When the show is on, Bose has worked well on the notion of ‘NO’. From it being a simple artistic/authorial authority/right, he has pushed the limits of this notion to include deeper philosophical issues pertaining to life. Hence, ‘NO’ for him, now is a sort of positive negation as we see in the Upanishads. ‘It is not this, It is not this’ is the crux of the Indian spiritual thoughts. Linguistically speaking, the sign is not something that signifies only one signified. It has multiple roles in the process of signification. So the artistic need is to ‘negate’ the given, dispute the authorial interpretation and allow the play of multiple signification processes.

Through this philosophical negation what Bose attempts to convey is an idea about contemporaenity. The ‘idea of contemporary’ is not about of celebrating the spectacular, but it also paves way for the critique of the given social spectacles. Using his trademark style Bose displays a set of works that debate this idea of contemporary in terms of war, global power playing, love and the production of visual cultures in the public and private spaces.

(Minus + Minus = Plus)

Those people who have been following Bose’s works for the last one decade know it for sure that he uses certain unconventional mediums and styles in his works. During the 90s Bose had done a set of works, predominantly using the Braille paper as his pictorial surface. Here in ‘NO’, he extracts certain notations/alphabets from the Braille language and uses them for his purpose. For example, he makes a sculptural relief that reads ‘Love’ in Braille language. There is another wall painting, which creates some sort of illusionism, where he writes NO+NO= Yes, using the Braille codes. In yet another sculptural relief fitted on the wall, Bose says, ‘Minus + Minus = Plus’.

The viewer is invited to experience a sort of virtual blindness, which is antithetical to the spectacularity of the contemporary world. What do the social spectacles do to a citizen with all its glitter and glamour? Bose seems to say that the people are rendered blind when they are bombarded with the visuals. Over saturation of visuals is a way to blindness. Once we are blinded, we would be forced to use our other faculties understand the world and our sense of touch is intensified in the process.

Hence, we have these works, which demand our touch. But Bose plays from within the ambiguous space between vision and touch. Even if these works are made out of sculpted Braille codes, it is received by the people through their ‘eyes’. While the eyes do not comprehend the intended ‘meaning’ of it, the viewers are forced to touch them. But as they are ‘displayed’ works and the norm is against touching a work of art, they shy away from touching it. So the negotiation with these works becomes an active but embarrassing process, which the artist wants to evoke amongst the viewers. He would like to tell the people that this is how the social spectacles reduce the participating and observing people into miserable entities.


This is where the artistic intention becomes clear and the message becomes direct. Bose asks his viewers to ‘negate’ what is seen and accept what is intended with a sense of critique and celebration. He repeatedly says that ‘Love’ is the singular human feeling, which is going to save the world. The Braille codes, the intentional blinding of the viewer, tell the viewer to accept the artistic intentionality. Bose tries to collapse the conventional by saying that adding up two minuses can create a plus and a two nos can create a ‘Yes’, which is mathematically impossible otherwise.

(Stretched Bodies 360 degrees)

In this show too, Bose continues with his fascination for the stretched bodies paintings, which are popularly known as the ‘Stretched Bodies Series’. Each revisit reassures the convictions of the artist who believes that a line or a form could be taken to the infinity by repeating the act of drawing or building a form using maximum colors, maximum forms, maximum textures, maximum freshness and maximum accidents. Apparentlly, the brushstrokes in these paintings appear as dexterous sweeping of a hand that holds the brush. But the artist envisions a world of infinity in these strokes by repeatedly moving the brush and allowing them to compress the colors at symphonic intervals in order to capture the immensity of the universe in a single squiggling stroke. The artist reads and re-reads Mondrian’s vision through these works. When he alters the shape of the canvas into geometrical shapes (here predominantly circles) he captures the infinity of the world conceptually in a three sixty degree movement. Bose calls himself a chromo-maniac who uses maximum abstraction to achieve minimum figurative ideas as well as maximum figuration to reach to the minimum/minimal abstract qualities.

(Roots +Maps = Mondrianity)

‘NO’ is also about search for the roots. In ‘Roots+Map= Mondrianity’ Bose creates a map that resembles a tree; here is a tree that evokes the feelings of a cloud (a Duchampian one); here is a cloud that makes you image an exotically designed shelf; here is a shelf that leads you to the anatomy of a human body; here is a human body that reflects the whiteness of Piet Mondrian; here is a Piet Modrian leading to Kasimir Malevich. This is a journey of an artist in search of the ‘roots’ and extremities of existence. The classificatory mode of mapping and grid creation puts events, imagination and rumination into a system of global knowledge, which the artist would love to deal with again and again in his works (as seen in much celebrated LaVA).

(White Builders and Red Carpet)

‘NO’ could be about saying ‘No’ to the imperialist forces also. Bose re-presents a work from the show titled ‘Everywhere is War’. Titled, ‘White Builders and Red Carpet’, this work is about the speeches of negation; here negation of the human rights by the imperialist powers. Speech is a performance enacted consciously for communicating the presumed intention and its desired effect. With the absence of performers, evidently the ideological bigwigs, their seats of power that grow as skyscrapers become emblematic of their threatening presence. Mythological allusions to the tragic outcome of a final meeting (as in the Last Supper), the ultimate performance of trust, betrayal and revelation, make ‘White Builders and the Red Carpet’ more poignant than celebratory.

(Long Live....Andy Warhol and Mahatma Gandhi)

Appropriation of a grand narrative and the critique of it through the positing of the artistic self within such narrative is a technique that the artist has been using for a long time. In ‘Re-locating the White Cube’ and the series of paintings that followed it, Bose had critiqued the grand narratives within the aesthetic discourse. While positing the self image within the recognizable and popular icons of Andy Warhol (to emphasize Radical Aesthetics) and Mahatma Gandhi (to position nation, nationalism, narration and the supreme forms of conceptual performative politics), the artist deliberately creates a sub/inter-textual reality where the societal grand narratives are appropriated for temporal gains by the political leaders (as in the hoardings erected by local politicians with the grand pictures of their leaders in order to publicize their allegiance to power).

Grey is the tone of the backdrop against which Bose places his discourse on NO. In his creative schemes colors play a great role. However, when it comes to the presentation of their outcomes, he chooses to place them against the gradations of grey. Here we witness an artist who does not want to see through the eyes of judgment. The extremities of social life as well as philosophical life (even the spiritual life) are such that it cannot be seen against the backdrop of white that accentuates the given. Bose virtually does away with the white color and creates various tones of grey in order to intensify the modes of perception and even comparison.

Monday, March 29, 2010

When it Comes to Economics, Gods too Relent

When it comes to Indian economics and social dynamics, God plays a great role. Most of the Indian business people are god fearing. This category of business people includes artists and gallerists too. I don’t call the former ‘business people’, but I say that they too understand business well these days.

We, a senior artist friend and I, were talking about God and economics. He said, God need not necessarily be helping all the people all the time. I said, it was quite true. But when God becomes a threat to the person and property of people, they don’t mind doing away with such gods, he said. Quite true, I agreed.

The conversation should have ended there. But my friend wanted to tell me a story; a story about how some person in a village in Kerala had done away with a God when He was about to take away his land through his mediums (read other people who found that God out).

My friend was a school boy when the incident happened. A laborer was digging earth as his landlord had asked him to do so. While digging his shovel hit something and got stuck. With great effort he pulled the shovel out and found that its edge had bent considerably. Curiosity made him to explore the earth more and he found an idol embedded in the soil.

As usual, the laborers always come from lower castes and the psychological make up of a society is such that lower caste people feel themselves threatened and frightened by the presence of gods. They believe that their touch would pollute an idol.

Hence, without fail he fainted. The landlord (obviously from a higher caste) came to the scene, sprinkled some water on the man, brought him back to consciousness and enquired what had gone wrong with him. With beads of sweat embroidering his skinny contours and the shiver in his body twinkling them beyond control, he pointed at the pit where the idol was buried.

Anything that evokes fear naturally attracts people’s attention in no time. It is true as we know that the most bizarre narratives and pictures have the greatest number of audience. So, people from the neighborhood left their work behind and thronged around the idol. They consulted a priest who said that it was the deity of that village and he needed to be consecrated at the earliest.

Now it was the time to take the God out of the pit. But the priest said only a person from the topmost caste (that is Brahmin) can touch the idol and pull it out. Everyone in the village went into a virtual blood test and came out with such a dismal result that none was from that ‘blue blood’ caste. Further enquiries led the crowd to the doorsteps of my artist friend because his father was a Brahmin.

Hence as a semi-Brahmin boy (for his father married his mother, who was from the warrior caste), the task of lifting the idol fell on my friend’s weak shoulders. He could not have done it alone. But priests have got solutions for anything. A rope was arranged and a noose was made out of it and thrown around the idol. My friend was asked to touch the stone and the rest of the people pulled the idol out. It was dragged along the earth while my friend remained firmly at the stone with his hands touching it. Once they reached under the shade of a huge jack fruit tree, the priest ordered the people to stop and he declared that it was the place for building a temple.

The village went into a celebratory mode as they got their own God back from the earth. A make-shift hut was built around it. Posters were pasted all over the village coaxing people to contribute towards the construction of a permanent temple. Cultural programs were arranged to raise funds.

Slowly the construction started. But one person in the village was not happy about it. You can imagine who this person was. He was the owner of that considerably big piece of land where they decided to have the temple, without consulting him even once.

But it is all about God. Had he shown any grudge, he would have been ostracized. Hence he kept quite, ate bitterness and shed silent tears. The land was so dear to him and now the God was snatching it away from him. The village revelers never gave any damn to this man’s unsaid woes.

The temple was in its finishing stage. The village was ecstatic. In a few days’ time the folks were going to get a temple for themselves. Now they could settle scores with the neighboring villages. Now they could collect money in the name of cultural programs. Now they could invent their own rituals. Now they could spend their idle times around the temple. Now they had some God in the vicinity to alleviate them from their sins.

My friend was playing with other kids in a field. Someone came running and screamed, ‘the God has disappeared.’

Kids are like grown up people, when it is about attending things which they are not expected to. So they ran along the field and reached the spot where the temple was coming up.

My friend made his way through the frightened and sweating people and reached before the Sanctum Sanctorum. The God had gone. He was gone, tying people into a web of rumor, speculation and fear.

People sent glances of doubt at the owner of the land where the temple was built. He stood unchallenged. It became a scandal for sometime. Then people forgot about it. They went back to their daily routines.

Some youngsters, who were always skeptical about things (like the youngsters of any time and any place) went around looking for the lost God. They thought that it was impossible to take away a granite piece just like that as it had been proven so heavy while hauling it to the site of temple. They dived into a near pond, searched in the bushes and applied their intelligence completely to unravel the mystery, but in vain.
So what happened to the idol, finally? I asked my friend. He shrugged his shoulders and said, it is all about God and economics. Everyone knew who did it. They did not know how he did it. But they knew why he did it. His land was going to Gods. His line of sustenance was getting severed. What could have one done at that time? Simply take out the God and hide it forever.

We sat in silence for sometime. We sipped our Corona together. I lit a cigarette. Didn’t God punish him? Was there any poetic justice done to the whole story? I asked.

When it comes to economics, I believe everyone understands what to do. I believe God also understands that. Is there any explanation for his disappearance and His no-reprisal? I believe God is the supreme force that understands the economics of human life, my friend smiled.

I couldn’t have thought differently.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Singling out Simplicity in Art

How do we discern a good piece of art? For the beginners, if any work of art that catches your attention for its intrinsic qualities and leaves an indelible mark in your memory even after you move away from its time, location and proximity, then it should be deemed as a good piece of art.

Then you may ask, there are bizarre and grotesque pieces of art that linger on in your mind even after you run away from its time, location and proximity, what would you call that; a good work of art? Good question.

During the modernist period, it was taken for truism that any work of art that did not allow the viewer to have immediate comprehension of its entirety must be an intelligent and good piece of work. Result was nothing but the expulsion of art from the heavens of daily life.

Even today, there are people who believe in such art that dispel people away from it. The more it is complicated the more it looks intelligent and good. This perception still remains a norm as it helps many to get away with their lack of hold on form and articulation.

Yet, people like me, who consider themselves to be moderately intelligent and have a hold on the aesthetic discourse, against the norm and grain believe that art could be intelligent and good despite it being simple in form and articulation. It is here the grotesque and bizarre, vulgar and the popular come demand a level playing field. I don’t argue that all the popular art forms are good art forms. But I do believe that popularity of any kind of art does not divest itself of its authority for being a good piece of art.

Simple and direct articulations often become popular; at times the popularity is regulated extraneously through ideological manipulations and careful social constructions. Hence, we come to face with an irony in which even the most dense and impenetrable work of art become popular. That is why, discourses on art in more than one way just get lost in the maze of these ideological constructions.

Simplicity is what suffers when pitted against the most complex and dense forms of articulation. We still don’t have the guts to call a spade a spade. Complexity is not always translated into brain teasers instead sometimes I see them as brain mockers. Deliberate complexity of a work of art, at least in my case, mocks the viewer. So my advice is, when a piece of visual art makes you to read tomes to understand its grain of nothingness, you better go to a library than to a gallery.

These are the thoughts that rush into my mind when I stand before the small watercolors of the Bangalore based artist, Shivanand Basavanthappa. All his works in the present series are 18” x 24” in size and done on handmade paper (no claim on acid free, archival, museum quality paper. But doing work on that paper is not a crime either).

Shivananda portrays a abandoned vehicles in a Public Works Department premises in his village in Karnataka. There are trucks that are rusting, there are earth movers that are in the process of decay and collapse, there are bulldozers that are like fossilized giant caterpillars from a Jurassic age and there are road rollers that have become artifacts in a museum of public and government apathy.

There is a reason why I like these works. These works touch some cord in your heart because anybody who is brought up in a similar situation as in the case of Shivananda must have seen identical scenes in his/her villages. ‘Decaying vehicles’ is a symbol of our times. They register the gravity of vandalism transferred into a symbological order. I have seen vehicles getting rusted; from their majestic roles they are reduced into scrap, rust and dust.

When caught into a frame, they are like the photographs of our ancestors. In the case of Shivananda, he approaches these decaying vehicles with an attitude of a conservationist or even a fond grandchild who would like to keep the memories of insignificant or significant grandparents alive. According to the artist, these vehicles have participated in the making of a nation, that is India herself. They have taken part in the making of dams, roads, public buildings, irrigation canals etc., which together has contributed a lot to the making of a ‘modern’ India. Now their roles are diminished and are consigned to oblivion.

When I stand before these works, I do perceive their apparent simplicity and it attracts me considerably towards them. And while I am in the gallery, I don’t exactly see them as vehicles in decay, but I see them as picture gallery as in the hall of fame of a major public building. Shivananda creates a hall of fame of/by/for the abandoned. It is a subtle way of telling the apathetic society to open its eyes and see. He does not ask the authorities to preserve these vehicles as he knows for sure that these vehicles don’t come under the vintage category and nobody would like to restore them for the keep sake.

And of course, the artist does not have any authority to tell the public fund managers to invest in all the abandoned vehicles and convert those places into public museums. However, the suggestion is strong, direct and simple. And it makes a lot of sense to the viewer. He paints the hall of fame virtually and a graveyard of unsung heroes apparently. That is the beauty of these works.

Shivananda studied in Gulbarga Fine Arts College and Chitrakala Parishad in Bangalore. His previous series of works was all about human beings engaged in various act of preserving, transporting and conserving food. They are seen in the act of eating also. He refers a lot to the works of N.S.Harsha and engage in the make of scenes where a lot of people are engaged in the same activities like eating and sleeping. Though these works remind one of the works of another contemporary artist, the artist cannot be blamed for plagiarism because the directness and the agility with which he presents them are different and it helps in deflecting negative engagement with his works.

Coming back to my initial statement; a good work of art is something that lingers on in your mind. My agenda was to see the works of highly celebrated artist presented at the National Lalit Kala Akademy Galleries in New Delhi. I saw the show and the moment I left the gallery, I forgot all those work except for the hazy colors and the spectacular-ness of the presentation. Out there in the corridor, I saw the poster of Shivananda with the image of a rusting Jeep on it. I decided to see the show even though I did not know this artist from Adam.

Now, I know him and his art. Even without referring to the picture folders in my computer, I can recount each and every work in his show. I believe he is a good artist, well organized with good works. Any promoters around?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

These Photographs Tell You the Story of a Childhood

(Backwater at Vakkom)

(Ferry at Vakkom- Kaikkara)

(New LPS Vakkom)

(Puthan Nada Siva Temple)

(Mukkaluvattom Devi Temple)

(Vakkom Jamath Building)

Sometimes, some images open the floodgates of memories.

Yesterday I was browsing my FaceBook Home page and found some images posted by a young friend who works in Dubai.

Face Book, in fact clips down the fences created by our physical age. This friend, would never have become my ‘friend’ had it not been mediated by Face Book because when I was already in my high school, this boy was just a toddler.

One early morning, he popped up in my page and started chatting. He took out familiar names and places. Soon I realized that he was my friend’s cousin and I had faint memories of seeing him as a child.

Hence, the photographs posted by him caught my attention. And lo….those were the images of my own village; the places where I spent my childhood days.

I would like to share these pictures with you and some bits of memories around them.

In the first picture, you see a beautiful backwater; a five minutes walk from my home.

As kids, we were not allowed to go near the backwaters. My parents feared that I would drown. Their fear was justified because I was a bulky boy with no interest in sports and games. I used to spend most of my time in reading or day dreaming.

One day, this backwater was flooded. I was five years old then. Our village was connected to the world elsewhere through a two buses; one run by the state transport corporation and the other one a private bus. I am talking about the things forty years back. Now things have changed.

One day, we heard that the private bus fell into the flood waters. I don’t know why, my father allowed me to run with other friends to see this rare sight of ‘our’ only private bus half sunk in water. It reminded me then of an elephant incapacitated by drugs pellets and made to bend on its front knees.

I saw a dog swimming by the side of the bus and a host of water weeds moving indicating the strong current of water towards north.

The second picture is also from the same area, taken from a different angle. It is called ‘Kadathu’ means ferry.

We are seeing this picture from our village side; again a five minutes walk from my home. On the other bank, you see a moderate white building, which was used for the production of coir mats. Coir industry and fishing were the major income sources of my village.

Our village is called Vakkom and the other bank is called ‘Kaikkara’, which means ‘River Bank’. It was in this village the famous 20th century poet and social reformer Kumaran Asan was born.

There is a memorial for the poet in this village. My mother used to take me and my sister every year in April on the full moon day to participate in the poetry writing and recitation competition held by the Asan Memorial organizers. It was on the full moon day in April, Kumaran Asan was born.

During those days, my ambition was to become a poet. I used to win a lot of prizes for poetry writing and recitation. And I did become a poet by the time I entered college. I used to get my poems published in Malayalam magazines. Then somewhere I lost interest in poetry as my medium, though still I write poems and keep it for my sake.

You can see the ferry boat. A small boat driven by an oarsman. In my time there was no TEN Plus TWO system in schools. After tenth we went to college and spent two years as ‘pre-degree’ students. During late 80s the pre-degree system was scrapped and the Plus TWO system was introduced in Kerala.

Hence, as a pre-degree student, I used this ferry every day twice for two years. The students from my village used to take the same boat and cross the backwater, then go to the Asan Memorial building and take a bus to the college, which was in Varkala, where the famous social reformer, Sree Narayana Guru attained ‘Samadhi’, deliverance.

We were not allowed to mingle with girls freely as in these days. We used to send covert glances at girls who are also in the same boat. I can still see a few strands of hair tickling her cheeks as they moved in the cool breeze wafting through the water surface.

When my gaze meets hers, she lowers head. There is nothing like that in the world.

Now, even teenage girls look at you when you are at the steering wheel and once they realize that I am ‘old’, their lips open up in a contemptuous smile. I can hear them saying, ‘ was an uncle!’

In the third picture, you see a small village school. It is New LPS, Vakkom. That means, New Lower Primary School, Vakkom.

We used to call it Writer Villa. I don’t know how this name came; must be a ‘writer’, some one worked in a court used to live in that place.

It is a small school. There were no nursery and kindergarten systems at that time. So after spending five years of pure ‘animal’ life of revelry, the kids used to get enrolled in this school. I spent four years in this school- from 1st to 4th standard.

More than any other thing, I remember the incidents of our mischief, when I look at this picture.

During recess, boys used to pee at the walls. The higher you pee, the better you looked amongst the friends.

When final bell rang, we hugged the girls and they ran helter-skelter in panic. Still I don’t know, what made us to hug girls.

As kids, you always have bruises on your body. When it heals and the scales come over the wounds, there is a unquenchable itch around it. I made a friend to scratch around my wounds, which gave me immense pleasure. My friend too derived some secret pleasure from this act.

My confrontation with the United States of America happened in this school. Most of the kids studied in this school came from poor families. And there was a ‘noon meal’ program. During the lunch recess, they used to serve the kids with some kind of oat meal, which was cooked out of dalda (some vegetable ghee). The tins that carried this ghee had the pictures of American flag.

I used to think that eating this oat meal was demeaning, not because that I was anti-American but because this food was considered to be eaten by poor kids. I was not coming from a poor family and I did not want to acknowledge myself in public that my parents were ‘poor’.

In the fourth and fifth pictures, you see two temples. First one is Puthan Nada and the second one Mukkaluvattom.

In Puthan Nada, we worshipped Lord Siva and it was reputed to be consecrated by Sree Narayana Guru. In Mukkaluvattom, we worshipped Bhagavati (Devi).

I, as a kid, spent a lot of time around these temples. During primary school days, the devotion was intense and real. During the high school days, my devotion was slightly skeptical. During the pre-degree days, the temple premises became places to see the village girls in their most pure selves.

You cannot explain how a girl looks when she stands before the sanctum sanctorum, with her long hairs still dripping water.

In early eighties, both these temple premises became famous for their television kiosks. None of the houses had television sets then. So we went to watch television in these kiosks. We saw black white programs in color television sets.

I took the first lessons of smoking at these temple premises. Smoking made me feel grown up. Mouth freshening mints were not available then. So on the way back home in the semi darkness of alleys, I ate several leaves of unknown plants grown all over the fences. Still my mother caught me everyday for coming home with tobacco stench in my mouth.

In the sixth picture, you see the Jama-ath building, located almost behind my home.

There is a small mosque still there and is called Taikkavu. There are two graves of some Pirs (saints) and I used to run when I needed to cross the alleys before the mosque even in the clear day light. Once I caught an owl from this mosque and kept at home for a few days till it found its way to freedom.

When I was a child there was no Jamath building there. Muslim kids used to go to learn Arabic in a small shed, where now this new building is erected.

We were envious of Muslim kids as they knew how to read Arabic, that too from right to left. They never allowed us to touch their Arabic books. They thought it was too holy for our touch. However, there was no animosity between kids from various religions.

We all explored our bodies and minds while growing, irrespective of our religions.

At that time, the temples never competed the mosques with high power loud speakers throwing devotional songs during the namaz times.

These images flood me with memories. I stand drenched here. I can write volumes about my village. May be in near future…..

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Walking with Gandhi Freaks

(Anubhav Nath and Atul Dodiya at Navsari)

(Vivek Vilasini and Atul Dodiya at Navsari)

(Viswanathan and JohnyML at Karadi)

(JohnyML, Viswanathan, Nadine, Atul Dodiya, Anubhav Nath and Vivek Vilasini at Karadi)

(Viswanathan, Atul Dodiya, JohnyML,Anubhav Nath and Vivek Vilasini at Dandi Memorial)

(Sleeping camel at the Dandi beach)

(Anubhav Nath adding salt to his stories at Dharasana while Viswanathan, Atul Dodiya and Nadine look on)

(Viswanathan and Atul Dodiya at Dharasana Salt Fields)

(JohnyML at Dharasana Salt fields)

(JohnyML posing with the copy of Indian Express dated 13th March 2010, which has a long interview of Atul Dodiya with the IE Journalists. Atul Dodiya clicks and Vivek Vilasini looks on)

On 13th March 2010, once again I and Anubhav Nath were in Ahmedabad. This time we were to travel with three very important artists who had done considerable work on Mahatama Gandhi. Viswanathan, Atul Dodiya and Vivek Vilasini were the artists with us. Viswanathan’s artist wife Nadine also had come with him.

After reading Thomas Weber’s first person narrative on Dandi March, which he had conducted himself, tracing the same path that Gandhiji had taken during the Dandi March, I am always ready with stories pertaining to the Dandi March. This had become handy when we took fifteen contemporary artists with us in February. Then, I was sure that our friends would believe in all the stories, which I would recount for them, with Anubhav to pep them up with additional information.

This time things looked a bit tough. Simple stories wouldn’t have created the desired effect. Both Viswanathan and Atul Dodiya have already traveled between Sabarmati and Dandi many times. Vivek is a first timer in Ahmedabad though he has extensively traveled in India to photograph the sculptural representation of Gandhiji in public places.

Viswanathan had visited Dandi first in 1976 as a part of his Sable/Sand project. He traveled along the sea cost of India (from Porbandar in Gujarat precisely) and collected sand, which resulted in a film and exhibition. In 2009 again, Viswanathan made a revisit to the same places and did a movie titled, ‘MG Road to Dandi’.

At Navsari, we together watched this movie. Interestingly, we found out that both the times (in 1976 and 2009) Viswanthan reached a ‘wrong’ Dandi; a place with the same name and salt fields, located a few kilometers away from the historical Dandi where Gandhiji had gone. “It is my Dandi,” said Viswanathan and this time he is in the ‘right’ Dandi.

Atul Dodiya has painted scenes from Dandi March before. However, at Sabarmati Ashram, (where he makes mandatory visits whenever he is in Ahmedabad), in the picture gallery, he stands still before the paintings by an amateur Gandhian painter, Late Khatri. Khatri has painted scenes from Gandhiji’s life, especially the ones between 1914 and 1930. Atul Dodiya likes Khatri’s ragged way of painting and his efforts to reach to a near realism of the reference photographs.

Vivek Vilasini clicks away the moments throughout the journey. He has already got a special image of Gandhiji (a sculptural representation) whose legs are caught in rubbles and tar. Stuck in tar permanently, Vivek says, and Gandhiji seems to be trying to take his legs out of the quagmire, but with the benevolent smile intact on his lips.

At Dandi beach, more than history what attracts Atul and Vivek is a beach photographer’’s works displayed on a ply board to attract customers. Atul clicks on the images from the image board and the image of Atul clicking those pictures is clicked by Vivek and him clicking Atul is clicked by Anubhav, while I look at a camel taking a nap at the beach, which reminds of a painting by Abanindranath Tagore.

Dharasana, where Dandi Salt Satyagraha ended formally is new to these artists. We are happy at least there is one place in the Gandhian lore, which is not visited by these Gandhi image freaks! The salt fields at Dharasana provide a lot of images for these artists. Atul says, my next solo show started taking shape from here. Anubhav enquires whether Vivek could convert the salt field workers into Kathakali images, to which Vivek returns a solid NO.

The trip was really memorable and almost after two weeks when I write this, each moment from the visit come back to my mind. May be one day the details would reappear in another form in my writings.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Pilgrims

We sat together in silence- an artist and a critic, who are just reduced into mere friends. Paraphernalia falls when silence creeps in between two professionals. Then they become friends. They become pilgrims.

From the windows of a climate controlled car, the Vidhya Mountain ranges looked like different animals.

“Look, that one looks like an elephant and the other one like a lion,” I whispered.

My friend smiled. “Concentrate and look into your heart. I can see several untamed animals there. We are on a pilgrimage, friend. I want to kill the animals around you and the ones inside you,” he said.

It is like that. When a friend tells you that he wants to decimate all the evil forces that curb you in your work and life, suddenly you start believing his words.

“You may not believe in all these. But I want you to come with me,” he had told me month back.

He sounded like a shaman. And he did not know that I always believed in shamans and their powers to heal.

I was wounded and I desperately wanted to be healed.

I had laughed into the phone. “I believe in what you say and I am ready to come with you.”

Once again silence filled inside the car. I looked at my friend’s face. Anxiety had ploughed several channels on his forehead.

“You know something?” he asked. I nodded negatively. “I am afraid of traveling with you in this speeding car,” he said.

Was he taking a risk while saving me from the evil forces? Were my spiritual enemies so strong that they could finish me off at anytime?

“Anytime….” He repeated my word and went back to silence.

I remembered a story that he had told me before we set out for the pilgrimage.

“Look at this watch,” he showed me his wrist watch with a white dial and golden letters. “I have two of them with me now. One day I was visiting a friend at his home. We had dinner and my kids were insisting to go back home. I looked at my watch and told my friend that it was too late and needed to go back. Once again I looked at my wrist and confirmed the time. My friend commented that I had a nice watch.

“I came back home and while getting out of the car looked at the watch again. But the watch was missing. A chill passed through my spine. I couldn’t have lost it on the way because I was always in the car. I asked my kids and driver to search for it. Even the driver told me that it was there at my wrist when I entered the car. But now it was gone! Next morning I went to a mall in the city and bought another watch of the same make. But something was telling me from my inside that the other watch is somewhere.”

I thought he was going to tell me that the watch he bought from the mall turned out to be the same that he had lost a night before.

“No…it was a new one. Absolutely new. I came back home. Next morning, I told my wife that I feel the presence of the other watch somewhere in the house. Together we started searching for it everywhere. Finally….you don’t believe….I found the watch on the top of a shelf in my bedroom. How did it get there? I was wearing it in my hand when I was at my friend’s place.”

I heard it in silence. I thought he would explain the mystery further. But he did not. I too thought of not prodding him on that too much. But the mystery haunted me because I believed in mysteries always.

Car rushed through the darkness. I could not listen to the familiar sounds of early morning birds. But I knew they were somewhere there.

“From here we start our walk,” he said.

I got out of the car. Opened by bag and took out a saffron dhoti, which I had brought along. People were already on their way to the temple, which was almost seven kilometers away from the main road.

Nobody was giving any attention to us. I leaned against the car, removed my jeans and wore dhoti. He too did the same. Later we joined the procession of people.

The temple is well known. People go there by foot and offer coconuts, which the priests would break before a small idol. Each coconut is a symbol of obstacles posed to the devotees’ lives by their enemies. As the priest breaks the coconut by calling out your name, you feel that particular obstacle breaks into pieces, letting you free of its clutches.

I looked at the people carrying coconuts; some of them carried two or three and most of them carried twenty or thirty.

My friend handed over a bag full of coconuts to me. “Hold it with prayers in your heart,” he ordered. I looked at his face. It was shining like molten bronze. I could not recognize my friend there. He was someone else; a shaman.

We walked. I was feeling tired but I treaded along. He walked fast without saying anything to me. The weight of the coconuts was burdening me down. I wanted to sit. The rage in his eyes however made me to drag my feet along. I was like a reluctant child but full fear for his vengeful father.

There in the temple, we joined a long queue of devotees. It was not moving. I sat down there on the floor. I lied down on the earth. I sobbed.

I didn’t have any clue of time. But I was standing before the idol and thousands of people were thronging around me. My friend was mumbling something under his lips. He folded his hands in reverence and his eyes were blood red. He took the coconut bag from me and handed over to the priest.

“For the enemies, for the house, for the welfare of family, for the vehicle, for the…..” the priest chanted while breaking the coconut one by one and calling out my name.

Something broke inside me. A warm fluid started filling in me. I felt empowered. I wanted to hold the hands of my friend. But he was not there!

I looked around and silent screams started ejecting out of my mouth. I could hear myself weeping on the granite floor of the temple. Someone was lifting me up.

“This painting was really troubling me a lot. Now I find it is a resolved painting. It took me three months to finish,” my friend said.

I looked around. I was in his studio. I looked for my soiled clothes. But I was wearing the same jeans, which I had removed behind the car. I looked for the coconuts in vain.

“Tell me something about this painting,” he said. “By the way, before that, I have something for you,” he continued while getting up and walking towards the table on the right corner of his studio.

He pushed a piece of coconut and sandal paste covered in a plantain leaf into my hands. “It is for you. I have been keeping it since I went to that temple with my family.”

“But, I thought you were with me,” I muttered in bewilderment.

“Yes, I too thought so…but that time you were in Ahmedabad. We even had a telephonic chat, don’t you remember?” he smiled.

With shivering hands I put the blessed offerings into my bag and got up to go.

He waved me good bye. I turned back and saw none there.

I was in a car and on my left side the Vindhya Mountain ranges no longer looked like animals. They were just hills covered in greenery.

Friday, March 12, 2010

‘Take’ on Black or ‘Black’ on Take

‘Wherever you come from
As long as you are a black man
You are an African
Don’t mind your nationality
You’ve got the identity of an African’

- Song by Peter Tosh (Jamaican Reggae Singer)

‘Simply Black’- the cover page of ‘Take on Art’ magazine screams. For those who don’t have any idea about this magazine, a little backgrounder here: ‘Take on Art’ magazine, founded and edited by Bhavna Kakkar (director of Latitude 28 Gallery, New Delhi), was formally announced on 18th August 2009 and was formally launched in Delhi on 18th February 2010 along with the opening of Latitude 28 Gallery.

As the title tells you, the first issue of Take on Art has a special theme: BLACK.

Black as color, black as politics, black as identity, black as so many other things. The issue is ‘guest’ edited by Shaheen Merali.

Out of the twenty two artists featured six are Indians and two are Pakistanis. Rest fourteen comes from different countries.

I read the magazine, initially from the last page to the first page, then from the first page to last page.

And…I was left confused. The question I posed to myself was this: why did I read all these twenty two articles, which are no better than any catalogue introductions of the artists discussed in them?

Then came the second question: Why should I know all these artists at all, whether they deal with the ‘black issue’ in their works or not?

Third question: With all due respect for all the artists featured and particularly the six of Indian origin, why does this magazine fail to debate the artists who have made their marks in the Indian contemporary art scene?

Fourth question: Does this magazine pose itself as a magazine from India or a magazine that addresses international art in general?

Fifth question: If it is an international magazine, considering its location of publication, shouldn’t it give some sort of consideration to the art of the place?

Sixth question: What is the ‘intention’ of the guest editor, while lining up all these articles?

Shaheen Merali says in his introductory essay: “TAKE provides a much needed articulation in India of these metaphoric dynamisms in developing its contemporary audience and in bringing awareness to passages of criticality within the imagined, the imaginary and in the production of its sites.”

Did you notice the ‘in India’ part? The guest editor does not say ‘of India’.

Hence, at the outset itself, the guest editor tells the reader that ‘look you are a novice to this discourse of ‘black’, which is very ripe elsewhere and I am going to introduce you to the magnificent world of articulating the black.’

Do you agree with this? Do you believe that you have been excluded from the debate of black till date? And suddenly this editor is going to introduce you to this debate? What have our artists been doing all these years? Have they not contributed anything towards this dialogue?

The guest editor tells us about a post-multicultural scenario. And he very skillfully hides what went before the multicultural debate; the actual uprising of black politics across the western world including the US and the Britain.

Black Politics/ the identitarian politics of blackness was the product of 1980s, especially after the Brixton massacre and the several other massacres in Britain. In the US, it had started with the Montgomery bus incident.

W.B.Dubois, Sojourner Truth, Maya Angelou, bell hooks (all in the US), Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy, Kobena Mercer to David Debosa (in Britain), Franz Fanon (in French Algeria) and so on had already set the tone for the black debate. (I may be wrong in the chronology).

The black music movement from Jazz to Blues to Ska to R and B to Reggae to Rap came along. Track and field sports and games with black power came along. James Brown, Muhammad Ali, Jackson Brothers, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Alfa Blondy, Jimmy Cliff came along. (I am not confused. Muhammad Ali- the boxer is said to have initiated Rap while challenging his opponents in the press conferences). The legacy followed till Tupac Shakur and Biggie to Snoop Dog to 50 Cent to Akon.

In political movement we saw Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Hail Selassy, Patrice Lumumba, Nelson Mandela, Rev.Desmond Tuttu to Barak Obama.

How can we forget Steve Biko, Ben Okri, Chinua Acheba and so on.

What about Spike Lee and the whole lot of Latino film directors including Quentin Tarantino? What about the black movies and blackploitation movies?

By late 1980s the Black Movement was divided. Especially in Britain and the US, the Black people wanted to go on their on to articulate their own views. The Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and the people from the other commonwealth countries had to look for their own platforms.

So we got artists like Rasheed Araeen, Sunil Gupta and so on, also film makers like Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta and Gurindar Chadda, also writers like Haneef Quraishy and Salman Rushdie.

The division was inevitable and the whole discourse of multiculturalism was a by product of this division between the blacks and the browns.

Shaheen Merali is a product of this division.

But very carefully he hides this rupture and tries to see how ‘black’ is articulated elsewhere. Somewhere, I feel that he thinks that the Indians are completely unaware of the black politics.

Listen to me, my friend. In 70s several Indian artists, who migrated to the west were really charged up by the philosophy of Franz Fanon as articulated in the ‘Wretched of the Earth’.

In the contemporary times we have several artists who articulate the black body, all those bodies that are left out of the mainstream discourse of the white. Shibu Natesan is one of the artists who has consistently worked on the black politics. And he is not found any mention in the magazine.

Savi Savarkar may not be the kind of artist you would like to follow. But he has been articulating the Dalit Body in his works for the last two decades. Savarkar is also not seen anywhere.

Probir Gupta is one artist who has worked on the politics of black.

If black is about oil, then we have Vivan Sundaram and Sumedh Rajendran.

If black is about identity we have Subodh Gupta and Surendran Nair.

If black is about international struggle for equal rights and justice we have T.V.Santhosh and Riyas Komu.

If black is about the local set at par with the global, we have Bose Krishnamachari and Sudhir Patwardhan.

If black is about bodies that are ousted from the mainstream, we have Sonia Khurana, Anita Dube, Rekha Rodwittiya and Pushpamala.

If black is about black humor, then we have Atul Dodiya and Manjunath Kamath.

(To all my friends, I have not forgotten your names. But the space does not allow. But you are all there in this black discourse)

I can count any number of Indian artists in this regard. Why doesn’t our guest editor see all these? Why does he feel that the articulation on black should happen via some other artists with whom we all find it extremely difficult to relate.

I am not being xenophobic. But certain knowledge is not necessary for me. Take on Art’s Simply Black edition does not give me any special knowledge on black discourse.
Reason is this: Shaheen Merali does not understand Indian contemporary art. He does not have any clue.

Merali proved it when he curated the show ‘Everywhere is War’. He went by the opinion of the so called ‘elites’ in Indian contemporary art. The only ‘black rookie’ in the show was Prasad Raghavan.

Don’t preach us/me on black politics.

Shaheen Merali may be a jet setting curator with no space in the calendar for small little activities like knowing any art scene in detail. Shaheen’s Indian origin does not give him any ‘natural right’ on Indian contemporary art. He simply does not know anything about Indian contemporary art.

Hence, my request to Shaheen Merali is this- before you take up any assignment like editing a magazine like ‘Take on Art’, take a year long sabbatical from your busy life, come to India, study well.

Start with Anand Coomaraswami, Sivaramamurti, Tagores, K.G.Subramanyan, Prof.Ratan Parimoo, Geeta Kapur, Partha Mitter, Tapati Guha Takurta, R.Sivakumar, Ranjit Hoskote, Nancy Adajania, JohnyML and so on. Read them carefully. Visit thousands of artists’ studios spread across the country. Learn directly from the artist’s lives.

Then tell us about what you think about Black in India. Till then you simply does not make any sense.

India is slowly learning to identify with the international black. The major indication is in the latest movie, ‘My Name is Khan’. Popular narratives tell how a populace thinks or wants to think.

So, Shaheen, we are blacks. Thanks to Macaulay’s conspiracy, a majority still thinks that we are ‘white’. But the creative majority does not think so. We are blacks.

We are all Africans, if we go by Peter Tosh.

About the second half of the magazine, ‘taken care of’ by Bhavna herself- it is good. With Baiju Parthan’s call for ‘Low Brow Art’ (Baiju himself has to think about it), Pushpamala’s take on the public sculptures and a few reviews, it looks good. I have a column there. Read it for yourself. Suruchi Khubchandani’s stock taking is interesting. I felt it like holding a bucket of popcorn and watching a horror movie (a la Mr.Bean).

Before closing, let me recount two small stories:

Malcolm X’s autobiography jointly authored by Malcolm X and Alex Haley relates a story how MX comes across the connotations of the word ‘black’ when he refers to the English dictionary while undergoing a jail term as a street drug peddler. He comes to know black is everything against opposite to white. Black is all dirty. It wakes him up into political awareness.

Spike Lee, when he adopted this book to a bio-pic on Malcolm X, had given emphasis on this anecdote. Denzel Washington gave an amazing performance as Malcolm X.

Story two: Student learnt all about coconut tree by heart, thinking coconut tree would be the topic for examination. But the question in the exam paper was to write about elephant. It did not challenge him. He wrote: “First of all bring an elephant and tie it to a coconut tree. Coconut tree is a tall tree, which gives us coconut and blah blah….”

Take on Art’s Simply Black issue reminds me of this story.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

When Atul Dodiya Speaks….

When Atul Dodiya speaks, trees do not fall. But egos do fall because….

…because his words have a sort of directness that cuts down the core of hypocrisy.

At Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, on 8th March 2010, Atul Dodiya presented an illustrated lecture on his works.

It was a sort of confession by the artist before an interested audience. Perhaps, an auto- introspection, a soliloquy as magnificent as that of great heroes.

Soliloquy involves a lot of self critiquing. It is the poetry of skepticism. But through self-doubts, aphorisms of life are revealed. When life speaks itself, taking incidents (here works of art) as points of reference, there occurs poetry.

And Atul Dodiya believes in poetry and poets. For him ‘poet’ is a generic term, sort of emblematic of all those who ‘create’ fearlessly.

While elucidating the meaning and myth of a series of watercolors, Atul came to one particular work, where a man was seen peeing on the ground, with only a skull as the witness. He called it ‘Poet’.

“Poets are those people who just don’t care about the opinionated people. They pee fearlessly,” he says.

An image of a skull makes a lot of difference to poetry/creative works. Soliloquies generally have skulls as audience; from our own Raja Harischandra to their Hamlet. Our Subodh Gupta to their Damien Hirst.

Ram Kinker Baij made a few maquettes of Mahatma Gandhi (studies for a monumental sculpture, which never took off thanks to the quota/permit system prevailed for obtaining cement during his days!) and Gandhiji was shown stepping on a skull.

Memento Mori- the reminder of death. The transience of life. The philosopher’s smile at life’s vanities.

Atul Dodiya smiles through the skeletal imagery, even before skeleton became an international fad in art. Look at his Man with Chakki and the Sabari Series- what you see are the skeletons of the protagonists.

In the shutter work that shows the image of Goddess Laxmi, you see the three Kanpur girls hanging from the ceiling. Behind the imagined richness of our popular narratives, there hangs death, often a violent one.

Atul Dodiya does not shy away from the imagery of death. The poignant notifications of death comes in the image of his suffering sister, first as a lonely girl in the balcony, then as a hospital bed embellished by carpenter’s tools. Then in the image of his father. He moves from authority to death.

“A spleen disease. A lot of protein rich fluid sucked out of his belly every week,” Atul Dodiya says.

Atul Dodiya links up death with humor. For him both are healers, having shamanic qualities. He forces humor down to the bowels making his protagonists to defecate on the map of a nation.

Poetry becomes infantile and it relates itself with ‘shit’. It is a sort of going back to the primal state of innocence with no linguistic structure. People are thrown out of the linguistic structure and they are destined to grind and shit.

Atul Dodiya confesses his crimes. Yes, he had done a crime as he allowed himself to be polluted by Raja Ravi Varma and his kitschy followers. He also allowed himself to become a victim of Picasso.

Hence, in his works, Atul tries to exorcise the happy ghosts. He secretly loves them and beckons them back once they are chased away.

Atul loves to reiterate the authority of painting through his painterly practice and says that I am a painter.

He says with style and panache; through the images of Gerard Richter painting (remember Krichner’s famous painting of an artist with the brush, the phallic symbol) and through the evocation of Malevich. If phallic symbol is an issue, Richter has a very long one.

Atul does not miss the point because he remembers the man with five penises from Valsad suffering from a running nose by none other than his late friend Sri Bhupen Khakar.

Bhupen Khakar is Sri Prasanna for Atul. He comes again and again both as reference and the very subject itself. So not only we have a series of kitschy icons of Sri Prasanna Khakar (grinning at its best) but also we have a road named after him (by Atul).

And Atul wants many roads to be named after many artists both living and dead. Roads of fame, obviously not to …it.

Atul Dodiya has a lot of signages and billboards in his works. Perfect symbolism of/for our times that too without ever evoking the spirit of Andy Warhol. Hey, Atul’s self-portrait as Bond is not from Warhol, it is from Bhupen. The spoofer of spoofs.

Irreverence- that makes Atul’s work radical. He paints a billboard on a canvas that announces ‘everything’. “Repair Anything’, in My Name is Khan, Shah Rukh Khan raises a board. This painting happened several years before Khan. Atul dedicates this work to all his contemporary artist friends, who want to ‘repair’ everything. Read repair as create.

Joke is pivotal in Atul’s works. Most often he inscribes jokes in his works. Doctor to patient: ‘Uncle, we have to remove your 'gollies’. Patient to Doctor: “When the gun itself is useless, what is the point in keeping the bullets?’

The other end of it we have a poem from a contemporary Marathi poet. He speaks of a man comes to the village with a gun and a smile.

And at the extreme end we have a victim of the guns- Mahatma Gandhi. Atul follows him in every guise, even at times he enters into history as one of the characters with an intention to know Gandhiji from close quarters. I remember the literary technique used by O.V.Vijayan with which he employs himself as a ‘humble historian’ within the myths and history in his meaningfully titled book, ‘My Experiments with Historical Research’ (doesn’t it rhyme with ‘Stories of My Experiments with Truth’ by M.K.Gandhi?)

Cynics would call Atul a Congress man because there is an abundance of Nehru family images in there including Sonia Gandhi. “How does it feel like when people call you a foreigner all the time?” Atul asks pointing at the image of Sonia Gandhi.

In the Shelf installation in one of the Danish museums, Atul has a lot of ‘Congress’ images. He skillfully brings in the project of post-Nehruvian nationalism into the ken of critique through the assemblages.

Then Atul confesses that his installations are not sculptural because he is a painter and he doesn’t intent to make three dimensional works.

Atul is a pleasure to listen and a joy to watch. He asks you to keep your mobiles either switched off or in silent mode, with the politeness and command of an air-host(ess). And your fingers move to the respective switches.

When Atul speaks big trees don’t fall….but big egos do.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Story of Two Boys who Became Successful Artists

On that particular spot, where the mango trees challenged the summer(-ized) strength of sun with their violet-green canopy, they used to gather every day with the fermenting manna of coconut trees.

This was a make-shift co-operative society of toddy-tappers. There they pooled in their daily collection of toddy and sold it to the retailers and thirsty customers.

Boys from the neighborhood used to hang around there, inviting the sour smell of toddy that sent the able bodied men into wobbling masses and swaggering asses into their curious nostrils.

Out of them, one boy used to watch their steely backs shining in the slanting rays of sun that escaped the hood of leafy sentries. He liked to watch the beads of sweat rolling down through the channel of spine and disappearing into their dirty loin clothes.

One day the Police came because toddy tapping and selling were illegal acts. The men in Khaki chased all of them away. Many ran away and some dragged their bodies into safety while stumbling upon dried twigs and abandoned rubbles.

Once the team of Police left the place, it looked like a battle field. Broken clay pots reminded the boy of the fallen helmets of the dead soldiers. The spilled toddy was the white blood that attracted armies of ants.

The boy examined the battlefield with a pair of curious eyes, which is peculiar to children. Then to his surprise, he found one coin, then another. He picked them up. Village kids are very wise, especially when their provision of pocket money is always next to nil.

He followed the trail of those brave men who ran away into ditches and kitchens of their own homes. He found more coins. The more he found them, the merrier he became.

For him a coin meant three salted gooseberries.

But he did not know, the action of police spurred on a labor struggle by the toddy tappers, which became one of the landmarks in the political history of Kerala.

For him a coin meant three salted gooseberries that resembled small little globes.

That was one way of entering into the history; through three salted gooseberries.


His father showed him some scars that lined his calves horizontally from the back of the knee to the ankles.

“This is how my teacher punished me long ago when I was a primary student,” father told him.

The boy felt very bad. He never thought of someone strong enough to punish his father. It is like that. No child thinks about anyone else who is mightier than their parents.

The thought of an evil incarnate teacher caning his father pained him immensely.

“I could recite Sanskrit verses without any flaw. The teacher wanted me to make mistakes. This was his way of rewarding me for my ability to understand Sanskrit,” father smiled.

That was when the boy entered into a discourse that left permanent scars of those hapless kids who showed their proficiency to understand God’s language.


Many years later, our boy met another boy in a college where they studied fine arts. They became close pals before they realized they could excel their teachers in drawing.

One more thing they realized; they shared a common history.

During the lunch break, at the dining table, the students sat in silence and opened the lids of their lunch boxes. Each boy took a great care not to show the contents of his lunch to anyone else.

One day, our protagonists decided to see what each of them ate.

Most of them were pretending that there was food in their lunch boxes.

Once they realized that they imagined a feast out of left over morsels of last night dinner, they together entered into the history of hunger.


Both of them, our boys, walked ahead of a team of street theatre activists who were carrying wooden crosses across their shoulders.

They were shedding fake blood. But the sweat and pain of carrying cross were real.

Our boys were performing the role of messengers. They heralded the arrival of a procession of crucified creative people all over the world, metaphorically.

After three pre-decided points, these messengers were arrested along with the crucified actors.

Three days in the lock up. On the fourth day, the boys came out of custody as a few intellectuals got them bail.

That was when they entered the discourse on the freedom of expression.


After spending five years in the Fine Arts College, both of them left for Santiniketan. They were planning to spend another five years to pursue a better degree in fine arts.

Friends came around as well as some good Samaritans. They collected money for their travel and admission fee.

One of them got admission and the other boy decided to stay back and learn English.

The boy who looked at the world through gooseberry, went to a club where he painted landscapes for its members and got some money for living. The other boy helped senior artists to make some works.

Next year, the other boy also got admission. Both of them finished their education successfully in Santiniketan.

A well meaning art history professor called both of them to his room and said, “It is the time to leave. Go to Bombay or Delhi and pursue a career in art.”

Again with no money in hand, they left Santiniketan.

It was their encounter with something called economics.


One of them got admission in Kanoria Art Centre in Ahmedabad, first as a scholar, then as a teacher and administrator.

The other one wandered from cities to cities, doing odd jobs in advertising agencies.

The first boy, now a young man, once he got administrative powers, got back all his wandering friends to Kanoria centre and gave them scholarships.

That way they entered into a permanent bonding of faith and trust.


Years passed and they got settled in their lives. They became very successful artists in Indian contemporary art.

They decided not to talk about their struggling days to anyone. It was a conscious decision as the notion of struggling became a farce when the market boom divested them of the right to remember and recount.

There is a danger in remembrance.

But one day, the boy who wanted to eat gooseberries sat in a hotel room and recounted the stories for me.

His eyes became red. I realized why there are hazy lines in both these artists’ works. There is a deliberation in these blurring strokes.

“I never wanted to tell you these things,” said my friend. “But how can you detach completely from something that moulded you into what you are today?”

I remembered the Jain Nun and the blind Baul singer in William Dalrymple’s book, ‘Nine Lives’. In total renunciation, you leave one gap for tears even if you know that tears are not allowed here.

This is how they negotiate the present.


You may have made some guessing on the real identities of these artists.

But that is not so important because in each successful artist’s present life of renunciation and detachment with past, there remains a gap for accommodating silent tears.

That’s how the success stories of others become the stories of every man.