Friday 3 February 2023

A friend to so many of us - Remembering B.V Doshi

In remembering Balakrishna Vithaldas Doshi today, I think it is only fitting that we do so without the trappings of grief, because that would be the antithesis of what this iconic man would desire from us. Four decades ago I was introduced to B.V Doshi by common friends Chester & Davy Herwitz and M.F Husain - I was in my twenties and he was in his fifties. I cannot quite remember exactly what the occasion was, but as was the practice of those days, some event had been organised that brought old and new friends together in Ahmedabad, to meet and exchange ideas over endless cups of chaiand nashta. From the very first time I met with him, I was struck by his ability to connect with different people, finding commonalities with them where he would both listen and share. A conversation with him was always animated and lively – and he had this unique ability of making all those whom he connected with feel extremely special. Never one to be condescending nor belittling of the endeavours of others, he chose instead to illuminate his own world with positivity. He wanted to feel the joy of living, and above all, to acknowledge the joy of creativity both for himself as well as in the world around him. 


Doshi has been an architect, an urban planner and an educator, shaping the discourse of architecture in India for nearly seven decades. His architecture today no longer needs any introduction.  They are edifices that stand impressively within the landscapes they have been worked into. These buildings resonate his imaginative thinking that focuses on community awareness, ecological needs, sustainability and his understanding of cultural histories and social traditions –all factors that he believed were crucial to the requirements of what modern Indian architecture should embody. His primary focus was that living spaces were to be created to contain and enhance the people who would inhabit it. It was the ordinary everyday person that he saw India reflected within. His attempt was to create a holistic approach to designing buildings that therefore always kept the human spirit at the core, and where the use of natural elements like light and breeze brought an openness within the building – creating pockets for resting and silence to be realised within them. His desire was for a building to transform into a habitat that welcomes and nurtures the human presence - rather than to overpower people with grandeur and pomp. He wanted the brick and mortar to be fuelled by the dynamics of those living and using the buildings he made –making them into living organisms that adapt to the changing needs of the people. Despite being an internationally renowned architect, Doshi was never one to call attention to himself or to his achievements. Instead he always expressed that he was a product of the many influences he had encountered. Throughout his life he always credited his guru Le Corbusier for being the person who taught him the value of questioning how to approach the making of a building. His humility was not an external trope that he wore, but genuinely ingrained into his psyche. He valued simplicity and defined his life without the clutter of extravagance.


But above and beyond being one of the greatest modern architects of his time, the real the hallmark of Doshi’s greatness was the grace with which he conducted his life. A family man to the core, he was the proud father of three daughters, and deeply invested in all the relationships within the entire family –infusing each of them with the enthusiasm to be curious and independent people. To the world B.V Doshi will be remembered as one of the all time greats of modern architecture – but for him perhaps what he believed he left as his greatest legacy, was being a husband, a father, an in-law and a grandfather– embracing these roles with commitment and deep love and insight – to leave the imprint of his imaginative self in that circle of intimacy that mattered most to him.


Wednesday 5 August 2020

I lost a dear friend.....

I lost a dear friend. We had been together the same evening that a fatal stroke brought Jyotsna Bhatt's life to an abrupt end, without the slightest warning to allow me time to be more emotionally prepared. She has been my teacher - attempting through her grace and patience to make the clumsy attempts of my enthusiasm as a young student, find coherent shape and form in the clay that she had such personal skill over. Her perceptive insight however allowed students like myself the joy to discover, however ineptly, the confidence to believe that we could create - and to build our skills not in the shadows of her prowess but in the reality of our abilities.

You had merely to meet her gaze to understand her strength of character. Born into a privileged family where she did not need to define her economic independence, Jyotsnaben chose instead to be an artist, training in sculpture and then finding her niche as a renowned ceramicist- carving her identity and life as she determined it for herself. Even within this space of alternative belonging, she completely shunned the world of big and elaborate statements as an artist, and created intimate ceramic works that contributes to the data-base of feminist endeavours by her unapologetic engagement with a world of feminine sensibilities.

I first met Jyotsnaben in the summer of 1976, when I enrolled as seventeen year old undergraduate student to study painting at the faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda. The college climate was one that was steeped in heightened post colonial discourses that were fashioning alternative theoretical enquiries and formulating new narratives into the contemporary history of Indian art . In hindsight one can recognise that the art practice of an artist like Jyotsna Bhatt got eclipsed within this intellectual milieu simply because she chose not to prescribe to prevailing trends to fit in. Today in retrospect one realises the folly of such blinkered  perspectives that did not include these feminist histories as significant in those days of recording contemporary art history.  However this was absolutely no deterrent to Jyotsna's own artistic journey of enquiry. She was least concerned about conforming nor seeking sanctioned belonging as an artist. From the folk traditions of Kutch and Saurashtra or from the Japanese and Korean traditions of pottery, she  amassed an eclectic premise of personal belonging within histories that she found empathy with.  She cared little for focus or attention and preferred instead to absorb herself in hours of work at her potters wheel or at her work table, letting her fingers create the vocabulary of discourse with the world.

We were bonded through an empathy as women whose choices in life held quiet resistance and nonconformity. Her dignified presence infused me as a student to hold my courage at all times. I will deeply miss you Jyotsnaben  - your passing away leaves a void in my life that will not be easy to fill my love. 

Saturday 20 June 2020

Tick-tock, who listens to the clock....

The pandemic brought with it something many people of privilege found difficult to cope with - isolation, and the investment of spending time with oneself. I remember growing up on airforce bases with little or no contact with children of my own age, and as I was home schooled till I was seven, I was thrown into the exploration of finding an imaginative world to engage with. This perhaps led me to find methods of discoveries in my life, and most importantly the value of curiosity.

Reading and other frameworks of learning have of course taught me to be receptive to knowing the world, but the key for me in negotiating my reality has been the  process of recognising how to expand a thought process and make it into a larger window of perceptions. 

To commune with oneself is vital. Today unfortunately we have become way too reliant on the press-the-button culture that takes us to an immediate destination of presumed gratification. Knowledge through quick internet information sourcing has erased the process of substantiated learning in many instances. It has taken away for too many people, the real world of experiences and instead implanted a virtual space from where we quick-fix who we want to be perceived as. To find ones own identity requires concentrated focus where we hold ourselves still for personal self scrutiny - where we  attempt to harness the true potential of our energies within a space of deliberate consideration. 

I negotiate the world in many ways (as we all do),  but perhaps it is through painting where I am most alert in holding my deliberation of consciousness. I don't believe we need a buildup of time to find those frameworks of consciousness either. I scuttle around like a chipmunk some days - and have fractured time on many occasions in my studio (where it can even be as little as 15 minutes in-between supervising repair work in my home or attending to pressing office work) - where I pick up my brush and I am immediately stilled. Everyone can find such moments of mediation - however it can be sought only through the desire to acquaint oneself with who we are, without props, camouflage or pretence. Such paring away of oneself does not always present us with the image of ourselves we may be comfortable with  - or of the world as we would expect it to be. But this process of exploration allows one to guide our consciousness to those areas of personal expectation by the endeavour of pursuit.

As I sit late into the night with the silence of the city that engulfs me as I paint in my studio the 9th floor everyday, I gather around me those I want to engage with - those writers and film makers and those nameless women of courage around the world, all drop by to infuse their strength and resonance of philosophy into my mediative space. These amazing interludes with myself have allowed me to live a more comprehended life than if I were to only want answers alone. Time in solitude is not irksome if one has the patience to engage with oneself without fear.

Monday 15 June 2020

In-between spaces are not necessarily gaps....!

My last blog post was a long while back - May 2017 to be precise, and since then so much has happened in my life. I didn't plan to take a hiatus from writing - it just happened that my studio work and other management areas took over my time, leaving me with very little spill over to fit in anything "extra". I was sleeping only between two to four hours every night during this time - and in-between all of this was also supervising the building and completion of a new residence that we had purchased. I turned sixty in 2018 and we decided to reinvent our lives to suit the next 25 year span - so we moved out of our bungalow and into a large single level flat - which though bigger in square foot area to our older bungalow - allows me to zip about at mad max speeds within my multitasking world of choices. June makes six months since we have moved into 901 Raama Palacio in Gotri Vadodara, and though we are well settled, there still remain a few teething problems that occur from time to time.

I received a number of queries from well wishers asking me to resume my writing and was deeply touched that my "conversations" with the outside world had held areas of connection and value for others. Thank you, those of you who have so faithfully followed my blog over the years, for the embrace of belief.

It seems too obvious to talk about COVID19 and the strange new reality it has bequeathed us. But there is no escape. That it is an experience that connects the entire global population within a single time frame is what perhaps makes it so unique.  What is the greatest pain and sorrow in all of this has been (and continues to be) how the helpless and less fortunate are being mistreated through this surreal phenomenon we are facing. As politicians argue  and put up smoke screens to fudge the truth- the economically less fortunate  are stripped of their livelihood and their dignity, as each day passes. Today as cities like Vadodara attempt to limp back to new semblances of normalcy, our labour force that really is the heart of our survival are uncertain of whether to trust their lives back within our safekeeping any longer. When they needed our help the most, too many of us sadly looked the other way. Today, for many, the safety of their small patches of land and their existences in their quiet villages are more comforting despite the hardships they face, in comparison to the horror of abandonment and disregard that their city employment offered them.

I now live on the 9th floor. Our flat has large glass panels in every room from where I can look out. It is located in a posh part of the city. However that is really only the snobbery of a postal code mapping. In reality hungry street dogs scavenge from the garbage piles along the road side. I watch people drive along this quiet road in very expensive cars, who slow down and callously throw out their garbage and drive on. Who cares? Not many. We are the Indian's whose mantra is "tolerance"! So whether we throw putrefying trash out or drag the corpses of the dead like meat in a slaughter house - we are supposed to practice that Indian mantra of "tolerance". I don't know about you but my threshold is near breaking point these days. I voted  as a responsible citizen for an elected governance at both the state and the centre. Can all the politicians stop playing blame games and take accountability. Wake up! Its time to put actions into play. Placating public speeches are like bad bedtime stories - they don't hold the imagination that allows us to achieve betterment or provide us a landscape of believable probability. It is after all  crisis that allows true leadership to be seen - so far there are no real heroes from any spaces of elected office providing us the answers we need.

Monday 29 May 2017

My friend Divya….

I have been very fortunate to have friends in my life that make special seem an ordinary word. How these friendships grow are perhaps those areas of magic we hold in our lives that do not get explained by logical  means because perhaps they defy norms. One such person whom I hold close to my heart is my friend Divya. Only twenty-eight years old and previously a student of mine, she could be called the antithesis of what people imagine me to be - but in fact we have many similarities that we share.

Our delight of travel has taken us as partners in crime to cities and counties which have given both of us the scope to imbibe and learn about the world outside of what is familiar to us. But perhaps it is our love of similar literature that underlines the feminist space of our belonging which has infused our conversations with enquiries of common concern and connected us to the world with a shared map of hope and belief. 

There is a story Divya shared with me that I carry as the spirit of what determines her journey to know herself. When she first came to Baroda and applied for her admission to the painting department, she did not get the seat.  Instead of calling it quits or being influenced into taking another stream available in the fine arts college (which was offered to her),  she chose to stay on and worked through that year and got in the painting department the following year. But hang on….that's just to contextualise the story I wish to share. Staying in the university hostel was a nightmare yet she decided to just dig her heels in and not complain about it. And when she would speak to her family they never knew that she was silently crying through those conversations with them on many occasions  Around the end of that first year her mobile phone packed up and so she took it to get it repaired. When she went to collect it they informed her that salt water had seeped into the machine so deeply and completely destroyed the mechanism within.

To me this story epitomises my friend Divya. Stoic and quietly determined, she makes her own journey in the image of what she comprehends is meaningful for her. Today she is an artist whose work holds the attention of her audience through the meticulous details she embellishes her art work with. Both Surendran and I have always valued her natural ability to paint which appears as though effortless. She takes from her everyday world and transforms the most mundane to give to you parables of personal insight and reinvented fables from the realities of her urban existence.

What marks our friendship are those silly things that only perhaps matter to the two of us. We both have the tendency to have tears stream down our face when we laugh uncontrollably, both love to cook, both love to eat, both pay the price of loving to eat with having to keep an eye on the weighing-scales, both love saris, both love dancing, both love tattoos, both enjoy soppy films that are tear jerkers, both hate the heat, both love turkish delight, both think Begum our cat wears a bigger attitude crown than our dog Miss Lily, both roll our eyes over Surendran's bad malayali puns and even more painful P.J's, both love solitaire diamond rings….and both enjoy beating the other in ludo! 

Divya has lived with us in Suaparnika and been a permanent resident of The Collective Studio for many years. We are in the exciting phase of helping her in her search to purchase a flat for herself. As we trudge in the heat from one building site to another we chatter like old ladies looking at things within the premises with a checklist that sometimes goes crazily out of the budget….yet undeterred  we march on with this wish-list because it once again defines the individual Divya desires to be, where she sets her own agendas and finds a way to make it part of her life.

No one can ever be sure of how life pans out and where circumstances and situations place us. But I know for sure that the delight of this friendship is precious to both of us and will be fiercely protected for longevity. From my end I have selfish reasons for always wanting my Divya in my life….Oh didn't I tell you why? ….Ok I will keep you in suspense no more.  Whenever I am low I get what I call my "Divya hug"….It is warm and encompassing and lets all your hurt and sorrow drain away. It is an embrace where in an instant you feel whole and complete again…. and she doesn't say a word at all when holding you close in her arms. She just hugs you and lets you know you are loved. She has it patented I think because its not replicable anywhere. So  Divya's friendship is something I will always hold close to my heart and cherish  forever, and will go knock on her door wherever she lives to get my comfort hug whenever I need it. 

Saturday 27 May 2017

Who's that knocking on our door….?

The dining table in our home has always  been the central place at which the most interesting discussions take place.  Lunch and dinner are meals where everyone sits together and conversations flow. Sometimes from a simple comment or an observation, what unfolds becomes pertinent areas that require contemplation and self reflection - to be chewed upon or reassessed. All in all these interludes are always impactful and keep us all alert and intellectually sharp each waking moment. 

I find it stifling without the inputs of  intellectual stimulus. It has been a conscious choice to create platforms of informal engagement within The Collective Studio Baroda to host different interactive events, and this insistence to bring other worlds to view more closely,  makes one more vigilant to be open to learn.

As artists who are predominantly engaged with figuration perhaps what has delighted Surendran and myself the most is the engagement with other artists whose language choices are different from those that we work with. Two years ago Ankush Safaya, a young artist who had earlier trained and worked as an electronics and communication engineer, came to reside as a permanent resident at The Collective Studio Baroda. Coming from the bustling ethos of Delhi where art events are jam packed into the schedules of artists who life there,  we were initially a little apprehensive of whether Baroda and the quiet studio practices that is the hall mark of this city's artist's community would be the best environment for Ankush to shift to, and discussed this at length with him. He was however very certain that this shift was crucial for his self growth as an individual and more importantly as an artist. It soon became evident that the discipline of studio practice, the everyday communication about art that occurs in our home and the intellectual rigours of TCSB provided him a space of creative nurturing; and today, two years since his shift to Baroda, this young artist has a body of work under his belt  that showcases a maturity of  language and a distinctive individuality that both Surendran and I are most impressed by.

Learning really does come from the decision to take control of what you can do with opportunities. We often confuse learning with mouthing what we have read or have heard ….not realising that we must internalise knowledge for it to become significant for oneself  and this is that crucial process that creates  the depth/substance of who we are. There are periods of gestation each individual may need- where we sort out and rearrange or look at things we know with more deliberate consciousness - in order to feel/know it's truth again. To merely fret for the "dream existence" without that quiet endeavour to know ourselves  will perhaps leave one with a compass that has no needle, and therefore lost forever unknowingly.

Artist's do not conform usually to the normative notions of societal expectations. So therefore the road one travels may take longer to that destination we desire to arrive at….and this becomes what often scares young artists into opting for more prescriptive and conservative ways of living their lives. I have taken many a plunge into an abyss of "not knowing" what an outcome to a decision or choice being made by me maybe. But I held a wish-list very close to my heart and knew which check boxes were crucial for me to tick. No other influence would lure me, nor would my lack of financial security scare me away from living my life with those principles that mattered, and the ideology that I chose to shape my personal  politics. 

So it is special when one encounters a young artist who knows why they turn away from the prescriptive and opt for something that holds difference for themselves,  and feel energised  and committed to the experience that may hold more uncertainties despite the rewards of discoveries. Hats off to you Ankush…. both Surendran and I are delighted to be part of this journey of yours where we too grow in the bloom of your knowledge.

* Ankush Safaya and myself in conversation at the dining table with Surendran Nair

Thursday 25 May 2017

It's good to wear your heart on your sleeve….

I have chosen to always be open as a person. To understand the difference between privacy and secrecy, and to above all nurture relationships with friends and loved ones that encourage sharing without second-guessing what the out come maybe for me. Many people believe that cultivating an openness that allows others to share your life is easy. Be rest assured that is not true. It takes more courage to allow people to know you without camouflaging masks to hide behind. I  decided never to blink in the face of adversity  but meet all factors of life head on. I am an advocate of the belief that if one can cope with reality then life can get lived more meaningfully.

Shutting down, switching off or living in a bubble of make-belief merely holds off the process of encountering truth for oneself. Having opened our doors to so many people over the years who have lived in our home I have witnessed the struggles many young people have with owning up to who they are. Art in itself has this system where doors are kept shut (quite literally!) in the process of self-discoveries in ones art practice, inside the hermitage that ones studio often can be. But this should not lead us to  believe that life too can be lived with such "shut" doors. I wonder what we fear in wearing our heart on our sleeve? 

The pressures that we place on ourselves to be the way we imagine others would like us to be becomes the biggest pitfall  that derails the journey of testing out who we really are. We muzzle ourselves without realising that this can lead  to us becoming dysfunctional in the space of communication and sharing. Or on the other hand we adopt the path of communicating that holds typicality. The other day a young mother accidentally let slip the remark  to her little boy saying..."don't cry like a little girl". When I pointed out  that it was inappropriate she changed it to "don't cry like a pansy"….! These structures of language that perpetuate certain histories of gender stereo-typing are yet another space where we disallow the uniqueness of an individual to become nurtured; instead straight-jacketing emotional transactional spaces to become labelled and to conform to societal dictates  to at all times -even if unintended - which perhaps is even more insidious and dangerous. 

The modern woman is wise but too often shy's away from celebrating her wisdom because of the norms that would need to be tweaked by her to do so. So what happens is the head-space becomes the easy territory where she reviews her scope for freedom and liberty, instead of making it a practice within her life. Therefore when life starts throwing the curved ball then these scripted spaces of empowerment (inspiring as they may be), get enshrined like the postcards of a once-in-a life-time trip - to be taken out and lingered over, but never to be revisited ever. 

I watch young women in particular struggling to comprehend what liberty and freedom really  means. What part family love plays and where charting roads of self-travel formed from feminist engagement needs to take them. They need to read the road map of personal journeys that seek the ideals of gender equality with the desire to imbibe it as a lived practice and not merely as a theoretical playground alone. Where self-dignity is realised by the battle to fight to endorse the truth of what you want your life to display as the game plan you have devised solely for yourself. The challenge therefore is to develop an intellectual clarity that would formulate/establish the methodology of how to wean oneself away from influences that are cast from the modules of conservative mindsets.  However when we allow for the smoke-screen of our own sentimentality to cloud our perception on family matters that endorse conservative gender typecasting, then we will never see things as they really are, but how we wish to pretty them into becoming something acceptable for us.

I struggle everyday of my life to stay on that chosen tightrope of mine where I do not wish to be toppled from. If it means I have to point out the transgressions of loved ones that impinge upon my freedom and liberty even by the smallest of gestures, body language of in areas of jest, I am unapologetic in the rigour of my protest towards it -  because this space of equality and the place of my freedom and liberty must be always visible and transparently on view for all to observe as the choice in my life - and therefore,   and most importantly,  be lived by me each day with the conviction and credibility that makes it real and meaningful.