The Tragedy of Art

I am the consequence of an inspiration; I now intend to be the source of an inspiration.

True art always attempts to dig at the core of life and to unravel the deeper truths of life.

The Indian landscape has always been fertile ground for the fostering of creativity. With the rich diversity in its terrain and in its people, ours has been a land that has always nurtured the creative spirit. In a land that retained its contrasts, it is not surprising that the artist was never short of raw material for his art. Our artists thus dug into poverty, disease, conservatism, oppression, illiteracy, labour and the entire struggle that characterizes human life, and discovered the treasures that lay hidden in these stories of struggle. And thus, our art stood for the resilience of our souls…

Our rich souls.

 

That was the golden era of our art. The beautiful stories of our lives engraved onto paintings, sculptures, dance forms, literature, films and literally every medium of art.
Our works of art set standards not just for art or the artist, but for society. These works of art were all inspired by real life- by the deep philosophy of life. The artist gave it form, using his medium of expression, and as a result, they touched a deep chord in our minds.

Art not only inspired masses in terms of life, but also trained them to recognize true art. Art that possessed a soul. A soul that retained something of the essence of life- something that gleamed and glittered even when bared of its external enhancements.

A true artist is a sensitive observer of life. He is a thinker, and elements of real life pass through his emotional core, and are acted upon by his cognition, to be expressed in his medium of art.
He attempts to reach out to the emotional intellect of the masses, triggering their thought processes effectively.
True art thus lingers- in our hearts, in our minds, and inspires endlessly.

Somewhere along the line, as struggle and deprivation faded away from the common man’s life, society took on more superficial values, devoid of inner meaning. Life, on an average, turned superficial and dwelled upon idle entertainment and the pleasure principle. These superficial values were extrapolated onto art, and ironically, they turned out to be a huge success. The masses, particularly the common man and the inexperienced youth, welcomed such a transformation with tremendous zeal.
Since ‘market’ was the final word, authentic art was effortlessly replaced by superficial, meaningless art that offered idle entertainment and no fodder for thought.

Also, art is often confused with skill. Art must pass through the emotional core of the human mind. Only then can it possess a soul.

When a painter paints a sunset, and reproduces the picture in perfection, it is skill. It is imitation. It is only when the sunset has spoken to him, and he captures in his art this spoken emotion that his work qualifies for art. Such a picture speaks to you.

Skill can imitate, and it can bring in perfectionism. Art is raw and does not demand perfectionism. Art has to do with creativity.

 

One often wonders:

Should art set standards for real life, or vice-versa?

In any case, such meaningless art seems to have set the standards for society, which as a result, has stooped to levels beyond hope and rescue.

I despair at the films and music of modern times. In the past, we lived the experience of a film. Today, it ceases to be an experience.

And to make it worse, we have all those reality shows on television- the masses watching themselves perform on the screen. They are the performers, they are the viewers. And they bypass the mind of the artist. The true artist has been pushed to an inconspicuous corner, and he withers away.

Reality shows are certainly identifying young ‘talents’. These young talents will be tomorrow’s voice, tomorrow’s skill. I am not sure if they will be tomorrow’s art, but they will definitely set the standards for tomorrow’s art.

And art might just step a pedestal down, and we may not even realize it.

 
Some people talk about the generation factor in defence. They feel it is the generation gap. The inability to accept change and the clichéd statement of having seen better times in our days. Yes, I feel I had seen more meaningful days when I was younger. My parents say the same about their younger days. Perhaps every generation says that. And maybe they are right! We haven’t lived their lives, and therefore, do not know.

I remember my friend Ravi who enlightened me on the value of traditional art forms. To quote him-

Traditional art forms necessarily require a lengthy period of apprenticeship. This deeper level of commitment enables, sometimes ensures, the artist brings more if not all of the self to the art form.

He also added a note on the influence of technology on art:

Maybe the ease of duplication and imitation has even altered what creation is all about! One needs to wade through the sludge of technicians to locate the artist. The technical ease of production itself becomes a veil that few care to get behind. Technology itself props up barriers that come in the way of a deeper engagement.

This is the story of the deterioration of art. Can we revive true art? Where do we begin?


 

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A bonfire

On the horizon, the sun was setting.

And in my own life, a chapter was coming to a close.

I took a rickshaw to the adjacent block, where I was to meet Rohan. Rohan was getting married in two weeks time, and I felt relaxed, contrary to all the times we had met before. I was early and as I waited for him, I thought back to all those times we had spent together. That was such a long time ago.

And yet, as the darkness blurred my present, those moments felt so near I could almost touch them.

Life has its ironies. Sometimes, love blossoms in the most improbable circumstances. We had spent a good part of our relationship, oblivious to the nature of our relationship. Our relationship was about the conversations we indulged in, and the mails we wrote to each other. We never attempted to define our relationship. It was free flowing.

And yet, at some point, love just crept in.

We felt something- something that was so hard to define. Something had changed in the course of our relationship. I had finally begun to take notice of our conversations. Anxiety crept into my mind for no obvious reason and I found myself constantly interpreting our conversations and interactions. I found myself all worked up if I didn’t hear from him. I realized then that he had found his way into my heart.

I was both excited and nervous.

On an evening when black clouds filled the sky, we were seated on the stone bench, and I was crying.

I feel very strongly for you. And yet, I feel that we are incompatible in some ways’, he was saying.

I looked at him through my tears. His eyes softened. I put my hand past him to grab the tissues to wipe my tears, and found myself in a tight embrace.

I was reaching out for the tissues’, I found myself saying, almost in a whisper.

My tears stopped, and I just stayed in his embrace, resting my head against his chest. I didn’t want to move, partly because I was too shocked by his gesture to move, and partly because it felt so good to be there. I found my chin being lifted and I felt his lips on mine. I resigned to that kiss with my lips trembling.

He suddenly drew himself away and looked at me. I had stopped crying.

I am sorry’, he said.

That evening, I had driven back home in the rain, listening to Cascades. That evening, my mother saw in my eyes a glow she had never seen before. She might have sensed the reason.

I was in love. For the first time in my life.

Time thereafter was studded with memories- some happy and some painful. We had never really fought.

But we were incompatible.

Sometimes I don’t even know what that means.

I suddenly became aware of his familiar figure walking towards me and came back to the present. Habitually, I felt butterflies in my tummy. He stood in front of me, 6 foot tall, and smiled at me. The butterflies disappeared, as if by magic. I felt very relaxed and smiled back. He led the way and we booked a table at the restaurant. Sitting opposite each other, I was bewildered by the peculiar mix of emotions I felt. I guess I was expecting a transformed Rohan. In two weeks time, he was getting married. I was perhaps expecting him to talk excitedly about his fiancé, about his dreams and hopes, about his wedding, and about all that was part of being the prospective groom.

But what was it I read in his eyes? He looked at me just as he had looked at me all those years ago, when I was a part of his world-

When I was his world.

 
I talked more than he did. I talked about my life. Never once did I touch upon his marriage. Not that it hurt, but since he refused to touch upon it, I didn’t want to.

When we were done with dinner, I wanted to leave. I had loved this evening- loved his presence, loved the ease with which conversation came, loved this togetherness.

I wanted to leave because I didn’t want to give myself the opportunity to long for more.

My mind was at peace with his marriage, and I didn’t want to break that peace. And yet, when he insisted on a stroll, I found myself complying. We walked in silence, lost in distant memories. The cool night air embraced us in its freshness and fragrance. He stopped abruptly and looked at me. I looked up at him.

I want to take you home’, he said.

Won’t I get late?’, I felt obliged to ask.

I will drop you home’, he said.

I nodded.

To walk with him by my side, and to go home together, was a part of my dreams a long time ago.

When we reached his house, I became tight-lipped for some strange reason. We sat opposite each other, and he leaned against the couch, while I fumbled with a cushion, and looked away. The silence felt eerie. I looked at him once or twice and then looked away. He said nothing, and continued to fix his gaze on me. Eventually, he walked up to me and took my hands in his. I stood up, unsure of what was coming. He took me in his arms and hugged me. I felt calm and relaxed as I rested my head against his chest. He held me very close to him, ran his fingers over my hair and then kissed me on my head. I felt like a baby, and behaved like one. I rattled on at random, unsure of what I really wanted to say, until I got fascinated by a crease on his T-shirt. He watched me meddle with it, and when I looked up at him, I saw the fondness in his eyes. He sat down and he made me sit on his lap.

I continued to talk, and he smiled the smile of someone who listens fondly, absorbing all the emotion, excitement and expression, but failing to have grasped a word of what was being said.

At length, I paused, and he kissed me yet again on my head. Then he kissed me on my cheek. And then he traced my lips with his fingers, brought me close and kissed me on my lips so very softly. I was dazed, but I responded. After a long kiss that seemed to have flooded life into my very soul, we drew our faces apart and looked into each others’ eyes.

Why can’t I understand you? Why are we like this?’ he asked.

I wondered if it mattered any more. He then lifted me and carried me in his arms to the bedroom. He had promised me that a long time ago- that he would carry me to bed every night and tuck me in. He placed me on the bed and kissed me.

Are you happy?’ I found myself asking him.

I don’t know’, he said.

That’s what you always say’, I said.

And that is the truth. I don’t seem to understand the ways of the world. Nor do I understand myself’, he said.

As he kissed me, tears rolled down my face.

Does my marriage hurt you?’ he asked.

No’, I said.

And I meant it.

He doesn’t know what he wants. And I don’t want him when he doesn’t really know.

That night, we slept in each others’ embrace. At some point, I woke up to find that he had encircled his arm around me, and my head rested beneath his chin. I moved a little, and he drew me back, his eyes still closed, and kissed me on my head.

Next morning, when we said goodbye, I felt a strange peace.

Perhaps I had lived my lifetime in a day.

Rohan never called me after that. I wasn’t around for his wedding. Two years after his wedding, I met him. As we sat across each other at the café, I found in those eyes something opaque and cold. They had stopped talking.

It was as if a dream had died in those eyes, as if a flame had been extinguished.

When we said goodbye, he kissed me on my cheek. It felt cold.

I withdrew, said goodbye and walked out into the night.

 

Insanity Quotes

I generally like to keep myself away from tag games. Largely because what I enjoy the most is spontaneity. This is also the reason I like to keep myself away from blogging communities and the contests that come with them. The joy of free-flowing creativity without the need to conform to a subject frame or time frame is something I cherish.

However, I decided to continue this quotes challenge thread only because of the regard I have for my friend Sunith, who has enriched my blogging experience. I thank him for all the support and encouragement he has provided.

Considering that I have always been fascinated by the intricacies of the human mind and by the phenomenon of mental illness, I would like to post a few of my favourite quotes on insanity here.

The distance between insanity and genius is only measured by success. – Bruce Feirstein

 

No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness. -Aristotle

 

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music. -Friedrich Nietzsche

 

I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. -Edgar Allan Poe

 

Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. It is not the empath who is broken, it is society that has become dysfunctional and emotionally disabled. There is no shame in expressing your authentic feelings. Those who are at times described as being a ‘hot mess’ or having ‘too many issues’ are the very fabric of what keeps the dream alive for a more caring, humane world. -Anthon St. Maarten

 

Digressions, objections, delight in mockery, carefree mistrust are signs of health; everything unconditional belongs in pathology. – Friedrich Nietzsche

 

I feel so intensely the delights of shutting oneself up in a little world of one’s own, with pictures and music and everything beautiful. -Virginia Woolf

 

One must remember that mental illness represents the coping mechanism of a sensitive and fragile mind in response to trauma. We often forget how human the phenomenon of mental illness is; we strip off the human component from it and reduce it to a label. This is what we must refrain from.

After all, mental illness is an illness of the mind and can therefore afflict only those who possess a mind!

P.S. I am sorry that I have nobody to tag.

Cabuliwallah – A Masterpiece from Tagore

Revisiting Kabuliwala….

Perceptions

Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel prize for li... Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel prize for literature. It is the first Nobel prize won by Asia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Cabuliwallah 

~ Rabindranath Tagore 

Note: I am sure most of us would have read this, at some point in life, but a second reading after we have understood parenthood, is really worth it. Hope you agree after reading this work from the great Tagore of yore….. This post is for my global readers, who may have missed reading this….Sunith

The Cabuliwallah in Rabindranath Tagore’s unmistakable style.

My five-year-old daughter Mini cannot live without chattering. I really believe that in all her life she has not wasted a minute in silence. Her mother is often vexed at this, and would like to stop her prattle, but I would not. For Mini to be quiet is unnatural, and I cannot bear it long. And so my own talk with her is…

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The Lost Child

The Indian novelist Mulk Raj Anand was arguably the greatest exponent of Indian writing in English, whose literary output was infused with a political commitment that conveyed the lives of India’s poor in a realistic and sympathetic manner. Anand was pivotal to internationalising the experience of Indian writers to the outside world and he helped to bring an international dimension to the progressive writers’ movement in India. He is brilliant at satirising the bigotries and orthodoxies of his times, but his novels also celebrate the spirit of human rebellion which embodies all his central characters. His works were inspired and informed by the lives of real people in unglamorous situations. In addition his writings demonstrate a keen desire for political change and social transformation that remained with him throughout his life.

Perceptions

A good one from a great author – Mulk Raj Anand

The Lost Child  (Mulk Raj Anand)
It was the festival of spring. From the wintry shades of narrow lanes and alleys emerged a gaily clad humanity. Some walked, some rode on horses, others sat, being carried in bamboo and bullock carts. One little boy ran between his father’s legs, brimming over with life and laughter. “Come, child, come,” called his parents, as he lagged behind, fascinated by the toys in the shops that lined the way.

He hurried towards his parents, his feet obedient to their call, his eyes still lingering on the receding toys. As he came to where they had stopped to wait for him, he could not suppress the desire of his heart, even though he well knew the old, cold stare of refusal in their eyes. “I want that toy,” he pleaded. His father looked…

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Beggars: Living Corpses?

It is afternoon, and I walk along an old segment of town that houses educational institutions and a few offices. Rows of banyan trees fringe the road here, their branches arching across the road, shielding it from the rage of the afternoon sun.

Life on these streets has slowed down.

A fruit vendor parks his cart by the pavement, and leans against the trunk of a banyan tree. From across the road, a cobbler looks on lazily from his makeshift shop. A man sleeps under the shade of a tree while not far off, a dog sleeps too, his eyes and ears awakening intermittently to the slightest sound that interrupts the oppressive silence of this afternoon. A few crows splash about in little puddles of water that have collected on the pavement from leaks in the corporation pipes.

Under the shade of an ageing banyan tree, its branches sagging under their weight, sits an old man, his figure sagging under the burden of life he wears over him. He is self-absorbed; his eyes look inward, as if dwelling on his predicament. His is a life that hangs on the edge; he is one among those millions of people who live at the interface of life and death.

His is a world that thrives on the very peripheries of the ‘living’ world.

He is clad in rags. A grey beard, long neglected, descends generously from his chin, and gives character to his face. Like weeds that joyously erupt in a long-neglected garden, abandoned and deserted. A lifetime is carved onto his face; his face is of no one in particular- it is a face that speaks of the stories of that world as a whole- the world that thrives at the interface of life and death. It is an antique face that would perhaps have fetched him a place in a museum.

 

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A faded rag is spread out in front of him, and on it, are coins- 25p, 50p, and occasional Re1 coins that seem to mock at his life-

Static reminders of a life that hangs on the edge.

 

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Starvation, ailments, loneliness and deprivation stare from the battered soul within the frail body, and he carries the image of a man who has no spirit left in him. The last vestige of hope has deserted his soul.

I trace his life back in time, in the realms of my mind, and faces from memory reveal themselves.

Faces of young men and women who flank the municipal tanks and pumps in the early hours of the morning, with the day ahead seeing them in a new form, a new role every day. On some days, they beg. On other days, they sell cheap wares- beaded necklaces, colored threads and safety pins. There are days when they even pick pockets and snatch chains.

Yes! We have all seen this old man’s youth.

I go further back in time, and I remember sooty faces of children- on the platforms of railway stations and bus terminals. You must have seen them walk into the compartments of trains, entertaining passengers with songs and music from their mouth organ or harmonium. On other occasions, you would have seen them sitting on the platform, sharing a miserable looking bun.

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Abandoned and deprived. Shunned and outcast. This is the story of their lives.

At night, you can see them sleeping on the pavements adjoining shops or the platforms of railway stations and bus terminals. That little piece of hard, harsh earth on which they sleep, is all they claim for themselves. Their bodies are draped in worn-out sheets that cover them from head to toe.

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Like rows of corpses, ironically reflecting the malady of their lives, they hold on to the piece of earth that is their bed. Or should I say grave?

Outside the fortress gates

Madam, the doctor is around today. You can come for a consultation now’.

It was Fousiya. She had told me she would inform me when the dentist arrived. I needed a consultation.

I packed my bag and walked towards the dental college. I was in for a shock.

The little trail that led to the dental college was fringed by shady trees. They were only a few years old, but they were healthy and well looked after. Some were fruit trees. The spaces on either side had been converted into gardens. Gardens with traditional plants-

A few flowers here and there, but largely green.

Some were medicinal plants. The succulent leaves of the aloe vera plant were a treat to the eyes.

There were a few stone benches where one could sit in peace and escape into a solitary world. Or perhaps hold an intimate conversation with people. Or even have a quiet lunch. It was the perfect place to read or even write.

I feel nothing can replace the ambience created by trees and gardens. The trees set up a cover- the feeling of an enclosure within the realms of an open space. It reminded me of the Buddhist monastery I had visited. It reminded me of the concept of ‘Parks for reflection and study’. Perhaps such spaces are what our students in the modern world need to awaken their dormant instincts. Such spaces define luxury in modern times.

 

I was overcome by the desire to sit on one of these benches. The place reminded me of old Indian college campuses where trees and gardens set the mood. There was the sudden feeling of a slow liberation within me. The knots in my mind were loosening up and the emptiness was giving way to delight and exhilaration. Though this segment formed only a tiny part of the campus, it instilled hope-

It was the oasis in the desert.

The trail ended and the dental college stared at me, set in a small campus of its own. A campus far more luxuriant than ours. For it was full of trees. The cars were parked in the shade of these trees and I thought about my car roasting in the sun.

I couldn’t understand why the dental college was so green and the medical college so devoid of life.

I went in and Fousiya appeared. She took me to the dentist and following the consultation, she took me to her own department in the basement. I was thrilled by the colourful wall decors that transformed the dull grey walls into a fantasy world. The faculty had handcrafted paper tulips and leaves and pasted them on the wall. I thought of the walls in my department. The only adornment they bore were grim notices staring forbiddingly. Something had to be done about it. Students would certainly take to the idea of breathing in some life into those walls. It was important to make them think of the department as their space, and such involvement was also crucial in removing their phobia of the department and of academics. Sadly, the authorities do not take to such ideas. They always demonstrate an affinity for the grim.

I suppose they fail to understand the distinction between seriousness and sadism.

Meanwhile, Fousiya took me to the backyard. The place was wild- the way it had always been. The landscape here had not been manipulated and it merged into the surrounding landscape. There was a soft wind and the leaves rustled.

This is where I always come when I am disturbed. I am so glad this space is accessible from my department. When I stand here, beneath the sky, amidst these trees and stare at the little hills yonder, all my troubles vanish’ she said.

I needed no explanation on that. Anne Frank had spoken the same words. Perhaps all our work spaces desperately need a reconnect with nature. Not the plush gardens and lawns of our corporate offices, but the wilderness that is calming to the senses. It heals.

It is time we broke the walls and fences of our fortresses.

We stood there for a while, breathing in the air fragrant with the scent of herbs and berries. Nature always finds its own ways to reward those who are loyal to it.

I finally bid goodbye to her and walked back to the medical college campus. On my way, I passed the gardens. They belonged there. And I belonged here, with them. I had struck a bonding with these trees and gardens. The feeling was akin to a new friendship.

I had to go the bank. I decided to walk. It was only a 10-minutes walk. Besides, I wanted to walk today. The trees I had discovered today in the course of my walk to the dental college, urged me to take a walk.

I love walking. Not across narrow, congested streets. But across rural terrain. It is a treat to the senses. I love climbing hills. I love walking across the ridges that partition the fields. I love walking aimlessly across groves and orchards. I love walking on the banks of rivers. It is when you walk that the world comes to you. Walking transforms you into a little child, eager to explore the world. It is when you walk that you take notice of the touch-me-not that recoils at your touch, the pebbles that entice you to pick them up, the pretty wild flowers that hide beneath the carpet of weeds and the bees and butterflies that speak of an enchanting world. It is only when you walk that you hear the delightful din of the birds and insects that breaks the silence of this wilderness. It is only when you walk that you feel the caress of the wind that brings with it the fragrance of moist tropical earth. Only walking allows you this necessary engagement with nature to make you feel a part of it.

I stepped out of the college gate and was delighted to find the idavazhi that led to the houses in the neighbourhood. The branch of a cashew tree arched over the alley and cast a shadow on it. I love such alleys. They merge into the natural geography of the landscape without disrupting its integrity. With muddy walls that rise high on either side, they have always been paths where I lose myself into reveries. I go back in time. It is always a déjà vu feeling for me.

I love landscapes that are detached from the chaos of human life. Landscapes that stretch out infinitely with only the fields, livestock and coconut palm/arecanut plantations speaking of human life. It was unbelievable to have retained this kind of an environment in the premises adjoining a medical college. Truly a luxury in modern times. A few cars passed by occasionally. Not a soul walked on the street. A stork landed on the paddy fields that lay on one side of the road. Narrow mud trails wound across the wilderness like serpents in the monsoons…

The kind of paths that our ancestors walked on dark nights, waving flame torches as they walked.

The memories I hold closest to my heart are painted on a canvas of raw earth. Raw earth that feeds the forests, gardens and fields. Raw earth that takes the shape of mud trails that wind across wild orchards like serpents in the monsoons. Raw earth that takes the shape of ridges that partition the fields. The hills and the plains. The fields and deserts. Raw earth that speaks of man’s toil. Of his fruits of labour. Of his tears. Of his deep rooted association with nature.
It is the landscape that remains most vivid in my perception. It thus forms the backdrop for all my memories. It sets the tone for all my memories. People animate against this backdrop. And so, as these landscapes disappear in real life, my memories are robbed of their tone. And what are memories without their tone?

 

I finished my work at the bank and walked back. The off roads beckoned to me, but today was not the day. I needed to come back with my camera. The college bus passed by. The driver slowed down, but I signaled that I wanted to walk. The bus speeded off and I resumed walking. A car honked and I moved aside. But the car stopped by my side. It was Lakshmanettan. Much as I tried explaining that I had opted to walk, he refused to let me walk.

You can sit on the side and enjoy nature while I drive’, he said to me.

I did not wish to belittle his feelings and so, I decided to sit in the car.

This place hasn’t changed at all. I hope it remains this way forever!’ I remarked as we drove past the orchards and fields.

I won’t speak to you. You make me sad with your decision of staying single’ he said to me.

I smiled.

Don’t worry, Lakshmanetta. God helps those who help themselves’ I replied.

He grimaced.

Lakshmanettan is one of the few people whom I love dearly despite the fact that he cannot relate to my perspective of life. That is because he genuinely cares. He is so full of warmth and sincerity that nothing else matters.

He dropped me at the reception and I took the stairs to the clinic. I met Venugopal sir and we resumed our discussion on the saga of social transformation.

When I got back to the department, there was a student waiting for me. I taught her a few concepts in Physiology.

It was a beautiful day. In the evening, I drove without pushing myself to overtake and compete.

I drove in synchrony with the songs I played. In synchrony with nature that accompanied me all through the journey. In synchrony with the song in my heart.

I am learning.