Discovering a Classic

This post is about art and aesthetics. Magic, music and movies. …or maybe I don’t know what I am really writing about. There is this kernel of an idea that’s been niggling at me for the last few days; so here I am, typing away, trying to stitch together a tapestry of random occurrences over time. Maybe towards the end, we’ll discover together what I was trying pin down all along.

Let me begin where it began for me..

As a good ’90s grunge-child, Smashing Pumpkins was a band I adored. Siamese Dreams was mind-bending, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness took the trip further. One song in particular, “Tonight, Tonight” captured my imagination – mostly because of its fantastical video. I loved everything about it: the idea, the flickering-faded-vintage vibe, surreal settings within a distinctly steampunkish faery tale atmosphere. I often say that while it is nearly impossible for me to respond to what my favourite song is, it is easy to name my favourite music video – Tonight, Tonight.

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The genre of steampunk mixed with fantasy and sci-fi grew on me to a large extent because of Tonight, Tonight. A few steampunk paintings and art projects of mine find root in this adoration. Boxes of gears, watch faces, goggles, stamps and moulds always lie at home, waiting to be made into something to befittingly steampunk-cool. Books are borrowed from the library to dig deep into this genre. It may well be my never ending love story.

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Watching Hugo for the first time about six months back, I saw faded, sepia visuals spookily similar to those of my favorite video. The feel was that of steampunk on speed. Things I had first seen in a 1996 music video now popped-out from a 2011 movie – a movie that was a period drama depicting the 1930s.  And so, even before the film was through, I was researching it and this led me to Georges Méliès and his iconic A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage Dans la Lune).

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Le Voyage Dans la Lune (1902) is a classic black & white and color (hand painted) silent film by the french director Georges Méliès. Méliès, and hundreds of his films long lay erased from public memory ravaged by the brutality that is rapidly changing times (and generations.) Fittingly, this temporary memory lapse was cured by time too. Today Méliès is revered, is considered a genius, and this 16-minute film of his is widely regarded as one of the most important works of film history.

Based loosely on two popular novels of the time: Jules Verne’s ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ and H. G. Wells ‘The First Men In The Moon’, Le Voyage Dans la Lune was the first to use science fiction as its theme even as it incorporated special effects that were state-of-the-art at the turn of the 19th century. Considered groundbreaking by many a student of cinema, this surreal work is absurd, dreamy and magical. It is poetry in the guise of science fiction and it reveals Méliès’ innovative work not just in its special effects but also in hand-tinting, backdrops and costumes.

The color version, considered lost for several decades, was found in 1993 in Spain, albeit in a desperate condition. In 2B4Qyd-YIEAEUUF5.jpg-large010, a complete restoration was launched, so that a new set of audience could experience its charms. And so it remains..the moment when the capsule lands in the Moon’s eye has become one of the most iconic and frequently referenced images in the history of cinema.

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In all of this, what struck me most is how profoundly Méliès and his piece of art has inspired (and continues to inspire) the creative mind. I’m sure there are many, many more instances, but here are the ones I came across even while I wasn’t seeking them out actively..

  • There is Hugo, Martin Scorsese’s homage to Méliès.
  • The video Tonight, Tonight which ends with a poignant “S.S. Méliès” written on a steamboat.
  • My paintings, some of which occupy homes other than mine, all unknowingly inspired by Méliès!
  • Then there is the french band AIR (another one of my favourites) that put a contemporary spin on the classic movie by composing an original, modern soundtrack for it. The soundtrack made its debut at the Cannes festival 2011 no less, playing alongside the newly restored, colored print of the movie on show for the first time.
  • Spurred on by their work on this short movie, AIR decided to develop the project into a full album. AIR’s Nicolas Godin explained of their new album, A Trip to the Moon, released in 2012: “It is undoubtedly more organic than most of our past projects. We wanted it to sound ‘handmade,’ knocked together’, a bit like Méliès’ special effects. Everything is played live … like Méliès’ film, our soundtrack is nourished by living art.”
  • tttmAnd then just last week I saw this ad while leafing through the New York Times. It’s an ad for the auction of “The Copy of the First Animated Film Poster”, a poster of A Trip to the Moon and its auction was expected to earn between $225,000-$275,000.

I guess at the centre of this labyrinth… the thing I’ve been trying to pin down… is that great art is one thing, and one thing only

                                            …Great Art is Great Inspiration.

The Sea, Inside and Out

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It keeps eternal whisperings around
Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell
Gluts twice ten thousand Caverns, till the spell
Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.

Often ’tis in such gentle temper found,
That scarcely will the very smallest shell
Be moved for days from where it sometime fell,
When last the winds of Heaven were unbound.

Oh, ye! who have your eyeballs vexed and tired,
Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea;
Oh ye! whose ears are dinned with uproar rude,
Or fed too much with cloying melody—
Sit ye near some old Cavern’s Mouth and brood,
Until ye start, as if the sea nymphs quired!

~ John Keats

I grew up by the sea. Weekends were spent on the beach building sea castles, chasing crabs and the odd jelly fish, collecting shells, swimming and sampling delicious street foods and drinks. Many a crashing wave has been privy to conversations between my friends and I on overcast days when we’d bunk college to feel the breeze in our hair and the surf on our feet.

Waves of disquiet inside were often quietened by the waves outside.

I don’t live by the sea anymore, but I run to it whenever I can. I paint it when I can – like  the painting above made on request for a new home. It’s an abstract mixed media done with moulding paste, acrylics and gold leaf. Peace out!

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Shakti, my way

IMG_0481She lost her mother a little too early in life. I was a management trainee then..doing the rounds of a factory in Punjab when I received her call. She was strong and collected – well as much as she could have been under the circumstances – and heartbroken as I was, I couldn’t have been prouder.

So when she moved into her swanky new sea-facing home and asked me to paint something for her bare walls, what else could I paint but Ma….Shakti…..that primordial female cosmic energy blessing her everyday, keeping her strong, vibrant and crazy as ever.

This is my house-warming gift to her. This is my love for aunty, one of the sweetest, kindest souls I’ve had the privilege of knowing .

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Painting details: Mixed Media on Canvas – acrylics, modeling paste, stamps, metal and glass.

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Impressionism and Manet

Impressionist paintings are my favourite and I tend to spend most time at any museum with Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro et al. So this post on painters labeled Impressionists has been long time coming. Originally, Impressionism was a moniker coined by an unfriendly art critic, Louis Leroy after viewing Monet’s Impression: Sunrise (1872). The term however was taken up quickly by more sympathetic critics, who used it in an alternative sense to mean the impression left on the senses by a visual experience that is rapid and transitory. Most impressionist painters chose to paint outdoors (en plein air), capturing the changing light and atmosphere. High-key palettes and a variety of brushstrokes were used to interpret the character and texture of an object in nature and the impact that light had on it.

In this post, let’s look at a painting of Manet, an artist whose later compositions I find particularly bold and striking.

Édouard Manet (1832-83) can be called the precursor of Impressionism although he himself sought success in a more a conventional way than most Impressionists.  Born to a wealthy Parisian family, he trained in the traditional manner. His paintings The Spanish Singer (1861), and a portrait he had made of his parents were even showcased at the prestigious and very mainstream Paris Salon.

Manet however soon revealed first streaks of his revolutionary nature when he painted Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass), an oil on canvas painting in 1862-63.

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The Luncheon on the Grass

What I particularly love about this painting is its bold composition and the play of light and dark that works this composition to the hilt. The model is Victorine Meurent, Manet’s favourite model and the two gentlemen, Manet’s brother and brother-in-law. It is said that the woman’s torso is modeled on Manet’s more full-bodied wife Suzanne Leenhoff. There is another female figure at the back bathing in a pond. It is important to note that there are nearly no observable shadows, while the woman in the foreground almost seems illuminated. In fact, this painting does not display the later Impressionist preoccupation with depicting “real” light-effects because here, although striking, the light seems unreal.

Inevitably this painting was rejected by the prim folks of the Salon in 1863 and it caused a great scandal and controversy with both the public and critics alike. The juxtaposition of a beautiful nude woman sitting causally at a picnic looking the viewer boldly in the eye, accompanied by two fully dressed men engaged in a conversation of their own was considered indecent. This, despite the fact that similar paintings had been made in the seventeenth century. I suppose what was considered inappropriate (as often happens with art) was a modern interpretation of the classics.

Some of the more progressive critics also dismissed this composition as ‘absurd’. Only in passing were its impeccable qualities of light and color in landscape and the very life-like modelling of the woman’s anatomy mentioned. However, the younger set of artists that came to be known as the Impressionists around 1870s regarded the spirited Manet as a figurehead and leader.  Just goes to show what is considered obscene and worthy of scorn at one time can become a classic…rather quickly 🙂

(Ref: Essential Impressionists by Antonia Cunningham)

Grappling with Nudity in Indian Art

2I started this blog few years ago, on a day that saw M.F. Husain’s paintings being taken off India Art Summit. Outraged and anguished, I ended up writing a few lines..mostly to vent I suppose.

Husain had painted some paintings of Hindu Goddesses in the nude and *that* became his crime. That some intellectual illiterates with no understanding of art and more importantly Hinduism, a religion I was born into, a religion I am attuned to and a religion I hold close to my heart were decrying and debasing works of a prolific Indian artist seemed akin to a personal attack and affront. Interestingly, that gut reaction occurred when I hadn’t studied art, had never taken even half a course  in it, busy as I was managing brands at an MNC. However upon moving to NYC, a city that breathes all things artsy, few things seemed destined…and studying Art History at Columbia University, a university renowned for this discipline felt as organic as listening to Moonlight Sonata whilst staring at the river and twinkling city lights out my apartment window.

An entire circle of sorts was completed when I found myself  reading  Tapati Guha Thakurta’s Art History and the Nude: On Art, Obscenity, and Sexuality in Contemporary India, a chapter from her book Monuments, Objects, Histories: Institutions of Art in Colonial and Postcolonial India. It’s a book I can’t recommend enough for anyone even remotely interested in art history and archeology as disciplines in contemporary  India. No surprises then that I chose to write a review of that chapter as a part of my coursework.

Few things happened while writing the review: one, I could now comprehend better the reasons for my anger at the India Art Fair occurrence   and two, I could understand why the people of India remained largely mum at the Husain fiasco. The confusion that exists in the mind of an average Indian (with little or no understanding of his country’s artistic tradition) is obvious to see. We have an overtly sexual artistic heritage straddling the spiritual and erotic with equal ease. This is witnessed in the full breasted, thin waisted, and broad hipped yakshis gracing the Sanchi stupa dating to the second century B.C or the unabashed sexual imagery covering the medieval temples of Khajuraho. What were these images doing on temples and stupas? Why did our rich miniature painting tradition blatantly show loving couples, kissing and copulating?

What is quite clear is that with the arrival of Islam in India and thereafter the British with their Victorian sensibilities, this very artistic heritage quickly became an embarrassment. That is the soft spot that the ‘Hindu’ right stabbed and shamed by targeting a maverick ‘Muslim’ painter. Husain made for an easy and soft target, given the bigoted rhetoric that was at play, a rhetoric with absolutely NO backing of the religion it was ostensibly ‘protecting’. India has just elected a right wing party into power. Yes, my heart did sink for many a reason, not the least of which is this kind of obvious, insufferable gundaism that the right subscribes to.

In any case, understanding the Indian nude, its passage through time and the place it occupies in the social framework of India today makes for an absolutely riveting and fascinating study.

Here is my review of Tapati’s work. It’s the shortest paper I’ve written so hopefully won’t make for a difficult read. Do glance through, if only to get  sense of where we were and where we are; to get a sense of what Hinduism was, and what it’s now claimed to be.

(There may be some formatting errors since I am copying and pasting this, so do excuse those.)

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Having grown up in what is referred to as modern India, I can say with some confidence that ‘uncomfortable’ is a good word to describe an average Indian’s feeling towards the nudity in art. In Art History and the Nude: On Art, Obscenity, and Sexuality in Contemporary India,Tapati Guha Thakurta tries to answer some pertinent albeit tricky questions about when and how nudity or semi-nudity of female figures became a problem in Indian art history. She exposes the tangle of religious and aesthetic meanings as both competing and corresponding frameworks of artistic interpretation, and probes deeper anxieties centering around the female nude, a figure imbued in contemporary India with concerns of tradition, religion, morality, and national identity.To set stage, she cleverly juxtaposes two recent occurrences, a spotlight tinged with national pride that shines on the sexually charged imagery of Khajuraho temples and an unfortunate controversy around the prolific Indian painter Maqbool Fida Husain. Both these occurrences revolve around the Indian nude in art; one celebrates it while the other condemns it, and between them they cover an entire range of emotions and attitudes to the nude.

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A painful episode unfolded for liberal Indians in the 1990s with the alarming and embarrassing witch-hunt of the flamboyant M.F. Husain. Husain’s crime was that he, a Muslim, had painted nudes of Hindu Goddesses. That he had a huge body of work of which these constituted but a small part was completely overlooked by the right wing. Wanting to score brownie points with their vote-banks in the aftermath of the Babari Masjid demolition controversy, the right wing shaped this ‘issue’ astutely into a controversy and attacked Husain. His work, they propounded, was an insult and an offense to Hindu sensibilities. Several paintings of Husain’s were removed from galleries and some were even vandalized and burned. There were violent demonstrations and he was banned from entering the city of Ahmedabad. The saddest part of this tragic tale was that the harassment reached such bizarre heights that the nonagenarian was forced to leave India in the last years of his life. And to bring the absurdity of all that happened into focus, at the center of this was a painting of a bony and taut Saraswati, lacking any tactile simulation of female flesh, where the iconographic attributes of the Goddess, though present, are never foregrounded1.

To defend and contextualize Husain’s work, art historians tried drawing attention to the Indian tradition of full bodied, unclothed female sculpted figures, medieval temple complexes like Khajuraho and Konaraka replete with nude imagery or the ritual and religious validity of nudity in Indian iconographic traditions such as the depictions of a nude Goddess Kali or even more extremely, Lajja Gauri, the female icon of fertility in the Deccan. What these arguments were saying was that a bare female body was an inalienable feature of the iconography of Hindu art, indeed even Goddesses, and that such depictions were fully within the realm of the aesthetic. Despite all arguments, the general mood remained strongly anti–Husain. Husain further went on to make a movie called Gajagamini and a series of overtly sexually charged paintings of his muse Madhuri Dixit, an Indian actress. While he did like to push boundaries, it would be fair to argue, as Guha Thakurta does, that it was a part of his creative prerogative. He ought not to be bracketed by, or answerable to, any age-old Indian tradition.

Another critically astute observation made by Guha Thakurta in this regard is that the Husain controversy could not have gained the traction it did, as quickly as it, in the absence of a fertile ground for the seeds of mistrust and intolerance to grow.It becomes rather obvious that once the genteel veneer of India is scratched, unresolved tensions, prejudices and a basic illiteracy in, and ignorance of art and art history come to the fore.The nude in India has been a continual source of both enigma and unease given the blurred boundaries between art, religion and morality in past tradition. This controversy therefore exposes a wide rift that exists between the nude as an entrenched symbol of high art and the nude as a target of popular, public disapproval, pitting the aesthetic and the moral as two opposing modes of encounter2.

Interestingly, when recovered as an object of art, the nude is accorded full religious sanction of Hinduism. This development too however, took a long time coming in postcolonial India. To start with, the explicitly erotic content of several temple sculptures gave rise to more questions than answers. British officers and scholars of the early nineteenth century caught up in their Victorian sensibilities, found these sculptures embarrassing and shameful. Even early Indian art historians were at a loss to explain the abundance of erotic imagery. What were these figures doing in temples of all places!

Embracing of the erotic came to be over decades and Guha Thakurta gives a good summary of how it came about. Post a classification of monuments in the late nineteenth century, most of Indian painting and sculpture came into its own at the start of the twentieth century after breaking away from Eurocentric biases and misconceptions. Between 1920s-1930s in a new line of scholarship by the likes of Stella Kramrisch, V.S. Agrawala and Coomaraswamy, ‘style’ came to be regarded as a prime pivot for the dating and periodization of sculpture as well as for understanding meanings of forms and motifs. Throughout these scholarly pursuits it was imperative to resist the conflation of various nude, seminude voluptuous female bodies on display with Mithuna and Maithuna (loving) couples so as to be able to consider them (female nudes) within their own references. As was wont to happen, over time and genres the feminine body came to be endowed with several meanings – from primeval associations with nature and fertility toan external guise for the hidden spiritual physiognomy of the sculpted figure3.By the 1940s, equal weightage was accorded to both the simplistic purity of Buddhist sculptures and the overtly ornamented and eroticized medieval ones. In a stunning reversal, the sensual was anointed an innate attribute of the Indian art tradition. And finally, as a natural progression to this, eroticism ‘arrived’ by the 1960s-1970s marking the large body of sensual images guilt-free and available for true appreciation.

This was also a time when the Indian nude was valorized as an integral feature of Hindu religion and aesthetics, devoid as it now was of the prudishness and revulsion that had shadowed it in face of India’s colonial past. Much was done to forge a new identity of the nude and to distinguish it from its western counterpart. In this context says Guha Thakurta, the popular sensual/spiritual distinction was deployed by contrasting the idealized and stylized concept of the Indian body with the naturalistic, western one. Furthermore, it was also argued by several scholars that the Indian nude in all its seductive charm was never completely nude. It was invariable the body adorned, as Vidya Dehejia states in her book of the same name. Alankara (ornament) always includes clothing, as indeed does shringara, a word that means “adornment” in addition to being the term for erotic rasa4.

 

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Similar meaning and spiritual symbolism was employed by art historians to explain the stunning temple site of Khajuraho with its enthralling, erotic imagery. Routinely referred to in epithets as clichéd as “Temples of Love” or “Divine Ecstasy”, these temples are well known in both popular and scholarly realms. Information generated by scholarly circles on the symbolism, iconography and dates of these temples is readily lapped up by tourist guides, coffee table books, pamphlets and fed back to the public in increasingly marketing savvy ways. There are only sixteen panels concentrated in three large temples (of total temple complex of twenty-two) that show sexually explicit imagery. Clearly then, these panels form a small part of a larger architectural and sculptural temple plan, a plan that goes unnoticed in light of the disproportionate attention lavished on panels displaying erotic content.

Sometime in the 1960s, with scholars stressing on interpretations beyond the literal, Khajuraho became an emblem for celebrating the sexual, given the more philosophical, spiritual and abstruse levels of meaning assigned to it with the help of textual, mythological, and ritual references. Several scholars, most prolific of who is Devangana Desai, have tried to understand and explain the erotic objects at Khajuraho. According to her, the best way to read these temples was to move beyond literal ‘tantric’ interpretations to more complex symbolism between the meaning these sculptures might carry and the textual imagery of religious vocabulary of the time these were constructed. Shobita Punia is another scholar who reads into these sculptures the legend of the divine marriage of Shiva and Parvati and its consummation. Attempts were therefore being made repeatedly to embrace Indian art for what it was, spiritual and symbolic. Thus, just as the voluptuous yakshis proliferating ancient Indian monuments were decoded as motifs of fertility, sexual depictions on the walls of the Khajuraho temples became emblematic of the consummation of the divine marriage of Shiva and Paravati and, more abstractly, of the removal of duality and merger of the opposing cosmic principles of Shiva and Shakti, Purusha and Prakriti5. One finds spiritual and metaphysical interpretations providing religious and aesthetic sanction to erotic Indian art almost everywhere and it was these interpretations that brought Khajuraho into the folds of Indian art history triumphantly, squashing all stigma, making it proud of its erotic heritage.

In all of this what is evident is that despite all its modernity, artists, their works and movements in India somehow need to be anchored in the lineage of Indian art tradition, in the nation’s past for to be authenticated, accepted and embraced. Maybe this need is an unavoidable outcome of a five thousand year old heritage but it does sometimes seem to be just that, unavoidable. In the case of Husain, whose modernistic artworks were based on a select coding of national themes, motifs and “a complex structure of citations” drawn from Indian mythology6, the modern, traditional and national boundaries conflated and combusted.

In conclusion, to get a sense of where and how the Indian nude is currently placed and the journey it has travelled in contemporary India, this piece by Guha Thakurta is a must-read. By skillfully contrasting the Khajuraho case study (with its pride in the Indian nude) with the Husain example (showcasing an innate discomfort with the nude), she highlights the sharply divided space the Indian nude occupies. While a little long drawn, the piece is thoroughly interesting; especially its ruthlessly incisive conclusions. Guha Thakurta exhibits a splendid strength of conviction by outing the fine line that divides the erotic from the obscene, the aesthetic from the pornographic7. From the continued proliferation of Khajuraho’s sexual imagery into public forums in posters, hotel lobbies and souvenirs to Husain’s self-indulgent voyeurism apparent in his overtly sexualized caricaturing of the ideal Indian woman in Gajagamini, she states that both sexual allure and titillation find authentication in the name of tradition7. In the wider context of a religiously, politically, nationalistically and culturally charged India, art historical resolutions tread an uncertain ground as the line between the sacred, secular, moral, immoral, art or crass become impossible to fix. On the eve of the possibility of an impending right wing government coming into power in India, it becomes imperative to watch these lines and keep an eye out for where and how the Indian nude will move next.

Notes:

  1. Guha-Thakurta, Tapati. Monuments, objects, histories: institutions of art in colonial and postcolonial India. Columbia University Press, 2004. PP. 248
  2. Guha-Thakurta, Tapati. Monuments, objects, histories: institutions of art in colonial and postcolonial India. Columbia University Press, 2004. PP. 247
  3. Guha-Thakurta, Tapati. Monuments, objects, histories: institutions of art in colonial and postcolonial India. Columbia University Press, 2004. PP. 255-256
  4. Dehejia, Vidya. The Body Adorned: Sacred and Profane in Indian Art. Columbia University Press, 2013. PP. 24
  5. Guha-Thakurta, Tapati. Monuments, objects, histories: institutions of art in colonial and postcolonial India. Columbia University Press, 2004. PP. 244
  6. Guha-Thakurta, Tapati. Monuments, objects, histories: institutions of art in colonial and postcolonial India. Columbia University Press, 2004. PP. 253
  7. Guha-Thakurta, Tapati. Monuments, objects, histories: institutions of art in colonial and postcolonial India. Columbia University Press, 2004. PP. 266

References:

  1. Guha-Thakurta, Tapati. Monuments, objects, histories: institutions of art in colonial and postcolonial India. Columbia University Press, 2004
  2. Dehejia, Vidya. The Body Adorned: Sacred and Profane in Indian Art. Columbia University Press, 2013.

 

Arundhati Roy: The Only Dream Worth Having

I don’t aways agree with what Arundhati Roy has to say. Her analyses sometimes seem rabid and her world-view biased. I don’t partake in her philosophy, at least not the way she would want me to.

But, I admire her, a lot.

I admire her guts because it takes courage to take a stand and then stand by it – especially when it falls in the wholly unpopular realm. I admire her intellect, her moral strength and her tenacity. I admire the fact that she questions status quo, that she is an outlier in the best sense of the word. More than anything, I love her way with words, her imagery. I love her writing.

Here is an excerpt I picked from an interview she did with Democracy Now! when she visited New York recently to speak about her new book ‘Capitalism: A Ghost Story’. I do not agree with her reading of the ‘Capitalist’ situation, well not entirely anyway, because I believe that Capitalism packs in itself the power to do good. It creates much more than it decimates or desecrates. But yes, decimate, desecrate and debase it does (also). However, the reason for this post is not an analysis of the interview. It is these few lines she reads from a time, when fresh in the throes of all the adulation that followed ‘The God of Small Things’, her friend made an observation…

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, it was—it was really the first—in a way, the first political essay I wrote anyway, after The God of Small Things, and it was an essay called ‘The End of Imagination’ when the Indian government conducted a series of nuclear tests in 1998. In early May (before the bomb), I left home for three weeks. I thought I would return. I had every intention of returning. Of course, things haven’t worked out quite the way I planned.

Of course, by which I meant that India just wasn’t the same anymore. While I was away, I met a friend of mine whom I have always loved for, among other things, her ability to combine deep affection with a frankness that borders on savagery. “I’ve been thinking about you,” she said, “about The God of Small Things — what’s in it, what’s over it, under it, around it, above it…” She fell silent for a while. I was uneasy and not at all sure that I wanted to hear the rest of what she had to say. She, however, was sure that she was going to say it. “In this last year,” she said, “less than a year actually—you’ve had too much of everything—fame, money, prizes, adulation, criticism, condemnation, ridicule, love, hate, anger, envy, generosity—everything. In some ways it’s a perfect story. Perfectly baroque in its excess. The trouble is that it has, or can have, only one perfect ending.”

Her eyes were on me, bright with a slanting, probing brilliance. She knew that I knew what she was going to say. She was insane. She was going to say that nothing that happened to me in the future could ever match the buzz of this. That the whole of the rest of my life was going to be vaguely unsatisfying. And, therefore, the only perfect ending to the story would be death. My death. The thought had occurred to me too. Of course it had.

The fact that all this, this global dazzle—these lights in my eyes, the applause, the flowers, the photographers, the journalists feigning a deep interest in my life (yet struggling to get a single fact straight), the men in suits fawning over me, the shiny hotel bathrooms with endless towels—none of it was likely to happen again. Would I miss it? Had I grown to need it? Was I a fame-junkie? Would I have withdrawal symptoms?

I told my friend there was no such thing as a perfect story. I said in any case hers was an external view of things, this assumption that the trajectory of a person’s happiness, or let’s say fulfillment, had peaked (and now must trough) because she had accidentally stumbled upon ‘success.’ It was premised on the unimaginative belief that wealth and fame were the mandatory stuff of everybody’s dreams.

“You’ve lived too long in New York” I told her. “There are other worlds. Other kinds of dreams. Dreams in which failure is feasible. Honorable. And sometimes even worth striving for. Worlds in which recognition is not the only barometer of brilliance or human worth. There are plenty of warriors that I know and love, people far more valuable than myself, who go to war each day, knowing in advance that they will fail. True, they are less ‘successful’ in the most vulgar sense of the word, but by no means less fulfilled.” “The only dream worth having,” I told her, “is to dream that you will live while you’re alive and die only when you’re dead.” “Which means exactly what?” I tried to explain, but didn’t do a very good job of it.

Sometimes I need to write to think. So I wrote it down for her on a paper napkin. And this is what I wrote: To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

A Little Bit Of Hokusai In My Life

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I’m a big fan of Far Eastern prints and watercolors, especially those of Japanese or Chinese origin. So imagine my delight when my  brother gifted me this massive book on the fabulous Japanese artist Hokusai ! The book, whose picture you see below, is more like a really big album featuring this artist’s life-works. I’ve photographed it with a regular sized novel to give you an idea of how impressive these works of art look when I view them in such a larger format.

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Hokusai’s most recognisable painting is The Great Wave of Kanagawa – also depicted on the cover of this book. Many think this depicts a tsunami…but the jury’s out on that one. In the background of this painting stands Mount Fuji, which served as Hokusai’s muse long and strong.

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What intrigues me most however is Hokusai’s Shunga collection. Shunga, which literally means Spring, is an erotic art genre typical to Japan. While erotic imagery is certainly not uncommon in art, some of Hokusai’s works, such as the woodblock print of The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife do startle and engage the viewer with their stunning conception and depiction.

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Hokusai’s influence on the larger world of art cannot be ignored. Motifs common in modern Japanese animation and manga since the late 20th century can trace their roots back to Hokusai’s work. More well-known artists of the western world like Auguste Rodin and Pablo Picasso also found inspiration in Hokusai. In fact, Picasso painted his own version of The Fisherman’s Wife in 1903 which has subsequently been displayed at museums alongside the original.

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One day – some day, I hope to get to Japan and see Hokusai’s original works…..but until then, I paint my own versions of his art, like the painting you see right at the top 🙂 [Also, I learn just how difficult painting miniatures is].

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This is a painting of a woman wearing a beautiful kimono, holding an insect case. I’ve used watercolors and felt-pens on Vellum paper for this. The original work is a painting on silk (546 X 863 mm) now on display at Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo.