Monday, 26 October 2009

This is what dreams are made of!

I now know for sure that I should have been born in the era when nobility ruled, and I of course would have been a queen (!) of some erstwhile province, living in a rambling palace and painting with a view of the landscape seen from an arched window which would have been crafted with exquisite reliefs and had stained glass panes through which the sun rays could have danced patterns at my feet!

Well these profound thoughts come from my recent wanderings! On the day after Diwali I got the itch to travel and so Surendran and I went off impromptu to Udaipur, with computers and favourite books in tow, to seep ourselves with some "time away togetherness" and visual stimulus. We were fortunate to get a great deal at the Lalit Laxmi Vilas Palace where you are transported to the old world charm and the nicest hospitality that is warm and embracing without being in your face or intrusive.

A room with a view took on a whole new meaning as we gazed across the lake at the city as it seduced us in its various avatars whilst the sun played with the landscape only to finally hid away; so that the lights of the city appeared like glow worm and fire-flies speckling the horizon with their magic!

We walked through the memories of the dead at the site of the cenotaphs known to the locals as Ahar, that held such peace that I could have sat there under the cupolas all day and some more! As the over grown grass swayed in the breeze and I sat on the cool of the marble steps with an unflattering hat on my head, I wondered whether the spirit of the departed knew that even in death their presence was felt so strongly by those who came to visit their city.

The City Palace Museum boasts of some glorious miniature paintings which held me captive in stunned silence whilst the flow of Indian tourists babbled about me cameras flashing, and the newly weds held hands boldly as the mehendi on the girl's hands signified the authenticity of her status to all.

We discovered the delights of Savage Garden (!), a retreat for foreigners dying to eat non-Indian food and desis like us with a need to have non-oily or overly spiced Indian khanna that weighs you down in the heat of a Rajasthan afternoon. The local are lovely people who exude a charm and regality that is refreshingly different from the loudness one seems to expect from street life in India.

Images of Udaipur crowd my head as I sit back in Baroda and I have begun, as we all do, to sort out "the favourites" and list them in my memories data-base ! The lady dressed in pink at the haveli, the largest cenotaph with the rising cupola, the tiger-hunt miniature painting, the riot of colour in the bazaar, the landscape of the city, the view from the lawns of the hotel....gosh I feel like an excited kid with pretty postcards from which I must pick only one!

Go visit this beautiful city and if you have then I am sure that it's magic beckons you back. I know I will revisit again someday, and till then I go back there in my dreams, only in my dreams I am of course a Queen !

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Oh Happy Day!

I had a great day of painting yesterday. The type of day that leaves you feeling replete, like after a sumptuous meal that can go no further for the moment yet where you linger at the table purely because the comfort of pleasure holds you there! I often play with the lighting at the close of day in my studio and watch the painting change itself as the lights dim or intensify! Silly games but what occurs is that one's imagination takes flight too as the painting "speaks" out differently in each of these varying moments.

The bright red upon which a yellow tiger leaps and the ocher land strips and vivid green trees that dot the space around, all fight to be seen as the chemistry of colours between them play off and against one other, like a choir group in harmony. At these moments of viewing I automatically get placed as the outsider to the painting, and it is only when I physically paint that I can step into it's territory and "live" inside it once again! Strange but that's the way it is for me!

At the stage at which the work is right now, the excitement of meeting up with the work each morning is like those early days of courtship, where energies are taut with anticipation to see your lover again. So I am going to leave you now to go to my studio and paint. The yellow tiger will be stroked with more yellow paint today!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Saturday Surprise!

Each day can bring surprises into your life that can shock you into disbelief and Saturday evening was one such occasion! It's a good thing that I have conditioned myself to carry an overdose of composure in my survival kit, because the story I am going to share with you is so bizarre that it really puts to test the faith of friendships to it's ultimate! But hey, let me not keep you in suspense any longer, and let me begin the story of what most certainly could become a C grade bollywood flick that would bomb in it's first week of release, because the villain got the plot all wrong!

This story is in continuation with what I had shared with you in my blog space earlier, of how family friends were point blank refusing to pay a pending bill to an electrical agency that they contracted via our reference. This agency has worked on all the properties we own and is contracted too by well known industrialists in Baroda from over the last twenty five years, and has an impeccable record of work ethics and known for the reliability of his work. Two years have lapsed and this poor gentleman is still waiting to receive his complete payment.

Over the last six months he has been requesting the mustachioed gent from Rajkot to cough up the owing money, but to no avail. Today, tomorrow, next week and the month after saw no change in the situation. Repeated phone calls and visits had no effect. Finally the aggrieved party requested Surendran and me to intervene with the hope of resolving the impasse and get the payment addressed. Imagining that my personal friendship of thirty four years would amount to something (stupid sentimental me!), I tried to appeal to the decency of the defaulting party, even offering that at a later stage I would gift him a work as a gesture of goodwill for his co-operation, as I felt implicated in this matter purely because : a) the agency had accepted to do the work on my insistence, and b) both parties were old associations that I valued and I wanted to clear the legitimate payment owing, but allow my defaulting friend to save face too.

But guess what?!! I was made to dance about to try to convene a meeting (suggested by the defaulting party to analyse the bills) , and finally told over the phone that I could very well lump it because Mr. Muscle Man stated that he had no intention of paying up! Wow! Knock me down with a feather! Blistering barnacles the pirate ship from Rajkot had hoisted the black flag and was sailing the waters to boldly plunder and loot!!!

I was aghast. I blustered and spluttered like a fat fish in a shallow tank into the phone and then thought it was getting out of hand . Surendran and I felt it was time to meet him and ask for the charade to stop, and for him to behave with a decency that our common social standing and education demanded, which I naively believed our friendship could expect despite all this murkiness that had set in from his side. But on visiting his office he was out. Rather wearied by this saga, both Surendran and I decided to draft a letter that conveyed our feelings of disappointment, and to express that we no longer were wishing to further this matter any longer as his position to default on the pending payment was now established. We planned to send this letter after the weekend and to put this unfortunate matter aside as we were out of depth in this con game and could clearly comprehend that this payment was not forthcoming through our intervention. It was also my father's death anniversary the next day and I did not want to shadow the event with this episode any longer.

But the Rajkot man was all pumped up! Tally ho! Let's go for the kill!!! So off he went and registered a complaint against us at a police station (!) stating that we were threatening his life (!!) and that he feared we would damage his property (!!!) and that (yes this is the cherry on the icing!) we were extorting money from him (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). Arre bhai ! How low does one stoop to wiggle out of paying a legitimate bill to a working class person who has completed their work for you and how can one fabricate stories that are transparently ridiculous?!!!

When we went to meet the police they immediately recognised the situation for what it was! We were accorded the utmost respect by all the police officers who lamented over the fact that a friend could have behaved in such an unscrupulous way, as all the pending bills of the agency spelt out the real story in an instant. We were told by the police that this was a common practice with people who want to avoid paying up their debts. Well the shoe is now on the other foot and the farce has been exposed for what it is!

But that aside. The travesty in all this is that the wife of this gentleman has been my dearest and closest friend for over a decade! We have always stood up to such injustices together and abhorred those who lack the courage to be accountable in life. We hang out together, and have depended on each other for so many things that defy description! To me the tragedy in all this is her folly to not act upon what she knows to be the truth, because knowing her as I do, she could not have been party to this atrocious behaviour, where the breakdown of common decency has occurred in a way that is unforgivable and completely bizarre! Our friends are outraged and up in arms at the viciousness of her husband trying to have us arrested! I think we should understand that there must be limits to acting out on anger and rage, whatever the situation maybe. Overstep the precincts of decency and people will know your game for what it is, because to vilify the reputation of someone is truly criminal. I still have faith that his wife will be guided by her wisdom and put an end to this uncalled for mess that has only boomeranged in their face. Call me naive, but I still choose to want to believe that true friendships should be valued!

Saturday, 10 October 2009

I'm crossing my fingers for you....

Often things that are completely unrelated bring about connections that set your mind thinking. The other day a friend asked me what is it that I could say which beckons me to want to look at a work of art. And my immediate reply was that, "the faith that it would hold the potential to offer me something to engage with."

Yesterday when the breaking news of Barack Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize occurred, my reactions through the day were to question if he in fact really had done anything that deserved this award, and I even voiced this concern with friends over dinner. But later in my green-tea meditative space of nocturnal reflections (!), I revisited my response to my friends' question about what beckons one to look at something, and I understood the significance of why Barack Obama had been chosen as the recipient of this award.

Putting aside whether one personally believes in such awards being of relevance, and seeing it instead as a symbol that has global readability for the representation of peace, one can then understand that in bestowing this upon him suggests that Barack Obama offers the faith to hold the potential to engage with change, that may deliver hope for peace.
I think I would stand by that and applaud. Because we need in today's times more than ever before tangible larger than life symbols to connect to, that shift the sands of old patterns and create the resolve to readdress systems that have failed to work for peaceful human co-existence.

I think the world needs to help Barack Obama bring those changes to the table that he has promised repeatedly during his election campaign, so let's work with him to remind him that we are waiting. The more we hold him accountable for the ideals of change he won his election mandate on, the more pressurized he will be to deliver to the global world on his domestic and foreign policies that he endorses that can evidence those changes, and showcase the peace process in war torn countries where America can broker peace. So let's be on the parade with him for this award, so that he understands that he must make good on his promises.

Right now I am on his side, waiting and watching and believing! However the clock is ticking....

Thursday, 8 October 2009

When Trust is Betrayed....

Some days you encounter directly or indirectly, aspects of human behaviour that leaves you frustrated and angered. Yesterday was one such day. My friend's aunt who is suffering from cancer is once again in the hospital as a consequence of a situation that has occurred as a post-operative consequence. Since her surgeon has just left for a workshop to America, my friend is obliged to consult another doctor who is a urologist, advised to her by the core team who are treating the patient. This story till now should sound as though there is no problem, but unfortunately there is! This new doctor in question is openly sexually suggestive through body language and gesture with my friend, is verbally obnoxious and continuously attempts at all times to be overly personal by asking intimate questions related to subjects that lie no where within the realm of any connection to the issue of treating the patient. He chooses to visit the patient at strange hours like 11.30 pm (!) and if requested to inform when he will next visit, tells my friend to sit from morning and wait till whenever he decides he will drop by. Believe me there is no humor intended, but every intention to intimidate and sexually harass.

When it was reported to the hospital management it was brushed aside with the statement that this doctor who was misbehaving was "Rajput" and therefore was "used to behaving" in such a manner!!!!! The absurdity and outrageousness of this statement (which by assumption appears to brand all Rajputs to be behaving in inappropriate ways?!!!) clearly highlights that sexual misconduct is too often excused and, in this case, apparently permitted!

For a hospital in Baroda of such repute that has been established by an erstwhile industrialist whose contribution to the city is legendary, it is indeed sad that this attitude to whitewash gender misconduct is occurring. Instead of the hospital co-ordinator taking immediate action he choose instead appease my friend. That my friend is amply capable of taking care of herself is another issue, but does that mean then that it is therefore excusable that she is subjected to such humiliation and disrespect? My friend intends to take the matter up with higher authorities till this doctor is reprimanded.

I too have had my fair share of experiences where my trust in doctors have been betrayed by their ignoble attitudes and cheap intentions. I know of countries like America where there are hospitals and polyclinics that are completely staffed only by female doctors and nurses, and that this has originated precisely because of such occurrences where medical ethics has broken down, and predation in health care has therefore becomes a systemic disorder.

So anyone who violates you even in the slightest way in a hospital, where your body is exposed and needs to be viewed with clinical objectivity, do not tolerate it. Even an inappropriate gaze by a medical official is a huge breach of ethics. Report it immediately . And if like we are facing the situation is played down, insist that you inform as many people in authority as possible or write about it till it is out in the open and public, and something gets done about it.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The God's for all things!

I had an interesting conversation about religious iconography and the use of it within art works a few days ago, where a friend of mine who is an animator, questioned whether it was appropriate to use religious iconography in ways that transpose meaning, and suggested that in doing so one tampers with what is considered the sacred. What struck me within this debate as being problematic was that to use religious references automatically inferred irreverence and would immediately be considered as suspect!
It would seem that the right wing conservative and fundamentalists forces in our country, whose belief is that art is meant only to be "beautiful and pleasing", are finally succeeding with their agenda to repress creative liberal articulation, if the climate has grown to evidence such opinions that immediately presume that the sacred is being vilified the moment religious iconography is employed in art! I would imagine that problematising/provoking/responding to conservative dictates through subversive or direct means of expression would be seen as an intellectual instrument to question or comment within any rational society, and that a democracy such as India should in fact find such attitudes valid methods of communication and not type caste it to be violating of religious sentiments.

However the rhetoric of opposition to such ideas questions the legitimacy of purpose within such expression which presupposes that any altering of meaning (playful or otherwise) to religious symbology, automatically brings disrespect that is equated to blasphemy. This is the Chandan Mitra BJP speak that is played like a warped record again and again and again (!) with little change to the refrain of emphatic insistence that art must toe the line of state approval and be censored in the name of protecting public sentiments, and the integrity of true Indian culture! My fear is that if liberal thinkers too chant the same slogan, then we are fast sailing into a deep dark whirlpool of disaster, where indeed art will become sweet and cloying images of unassuming nothingness!
Transposed meanings can occur only when things are altered and tweaked (sometimes ever so slightly and at other times in an in your face manner), creating shifts within perceptions that can provoke and challenge established orders. Art is one such territory that has always employed strategies of interplay with language and hybridity of visual devices through the years, that offer a commentary on issues that are topical or being censured through oppressive tactics, or where the marginalised needs focus or the conscience of the people needs to be awakened.

The stories and anecdotes from religious mythology and folklore creates a visual vocabulary that is familiar to a massive audience, and therefore become a suitable currency to use as an artist in many instances. Like all collective things, these images do not belong to any one person or community, but are for all who choose to engage with them. Artists are responsible and know the ethics within which to operate as communicators. We have driven M.F Husain away from India with these attitudes of suspicion. Let us not start an exodus where artists choose to leave this country because they are hounded and questioned and suspected of being anti-national at the drop of a hat. Grow up people and let's start showing a maturity and confidence as a nation.

Monday, 5 October 2009

In different tongues!

I am on the third painting from the set of five works titled Pukkar billi billi that I am working on, and spent my entire Sunday struggling to conceive a yellow leaping tiger on the right panel of a diptych! Conversations on art occur often with a young painter friend of mine as we travel on our daily ride to the gym each evening and she spoke the other day of her own conflicts with "taking her language to another level", and the frustration of often desiring something but not finding the means to arrive at it in a painting.

For me my language as a painter always has some door open. What I am implying is that my language does not become a straight jacket that confines me to become rooted within mannerism that yield no meaning. I continuously imagine ways to rethink the ideas that come to me and the images of deliverance. I suggested to my young friend that sometimes we need to look at language in painting (since both of us are painters) not unlike the way we treat a spoken language; where we equate the tongue as the medium and know therefore that to articulate something different requires that we must twist our tongues in ways that are not always familiar, and only then we may "find" the appropriate sound within that word.

The infliction of difference is often subtle within works of art and the joy of such discoveries come from the intimate dialogues one establishes through viewing an artists work with consistency. The other day a gentleman who is a civil engineer and not a greatly exposed man to urban cultural practices, commented whilst he was visiting me in my studio for some other work, that he observed that these paintings from the Pukkar billi billi set were different than the works I had done for Rekha @ fifty!!!

That the Baroda art college languishes with little that is exciting coming from it's students proposes to me that the necessary interventions to make magic from ideas and to position arguments that bring flux to a system just doesn't happen out there. I have a young student from the undergraduate program at this college working under my guidance since a few months, and I am amazed at how little she has been challenged by her teachers. Small changes in the way we approach a work can open up flood gates of discovery. If at 50 I still want to reinvent with my pictorial language and recognise that an idea is only good if it translates itself to hold its meaning without cliches and mannerisms, then I do hope that younger artists and students know that it is imperative to be stringently vigilant to complacency setting in.