What is art? As I look up to concentrate on the subject, my eyes catch the attention of the ceiling fan. One physical law called electromagnetic induction has been tricked into performing work. This is technology. This is art as well. But the primitive man without realising that physics was involved, made his water mill to run and lessen the peoples’ burden by taming the running mountain brook, is again technology as well art. Now-a-days cell phones connect us with people possessing similar gadgets irrespective of their positional status. Modern civilisation is crowded with such artistic inventions. These are examples of man’s command over nature of things as also his propensity to share that command with the world at large. Here neither the informed nor the illiterate is in conflict with the creators of such technologies-arts.

Ever listened to the Panchrathna Krithis of Sri Thyagraja? About thirty years ago, I per chance watched the live, spirited rendition by D. K. Jayraman and his disciples. Ever since, I got hooked to listening to these krithis. I don’t understand the language of the krithis. But as the music unfolds its charm, tempting poetry to dance to her tune, the effect is simply mesmerising. Again I had a good fortune of listening to a shabad kirtan courtesy the DD. With utmost devotion Bhai Gopal Singh and his disciples rendered the shabad ‘jim jim barsey amrit dhara’. As I listened, I became privy to an experience, which is still fresh in my memory. I felt as if the nectar of poetry was being milked by the lip movement of the singer. This is art. Same is the case with performing arts-the theatre, dancing, acting-Peter O’ Toole (Night of the Generals), Sir Oliver Lawrence (Khartoum), Rajesh Khanna (Anand), Dev Anand (Guide), Amitab (Sharabi) and so on. No conflict is involved. One gives and a multitude receives.

 And again the art of speaking- Eloquence! I always try to catch at least once every year the live coverage during ten days mourning when the ordeal of Karbala is recalled during Muhharam. I become one with the grieving audience. They weep. I feel a stab in my heart. Tears escape my eyes as well. No religious affinity is involved here. But the cleric maintains his composure. That is art!

Similarly we see butchery refined by surgeons to ease the sufferings of the humanity. They cut and sew up patients, set their bones, remove damaged dispensable organs to make them live. Next we have the art of building, construction-architecture. The world is filled with the architectural treasures. Near home, for example we have the Taj- a king’s expression of love or weakness for his queen. Its beauty lies in the human ingenuity of marrying marble with geometry.—geometry holding shaped blocks of marble (and mortar) in a breath taking eternal hug. No conflict is involved. That is art. On a lesser plane but not unimportant we have the art displayed in sports- Maradona, Pele, Tiger woods, Vishwanathan Anand, Geet Sethi etc. Or the art of cooking- recipes, dressing,- couture, house making- interior decoration and so on. These are all examples of man’s command over nature of things. (Francis Bacon in his very short essay- Sphinx- advances the ideas of nature of things and nature of man to explain the gross and subtle meanings of riddles).

But no sooner does the nature of man display the art- the art of politics or governance the conflict is born.

        Be thine the art/ O Rome, with government to rule the nations/ And to know whom to spare and whom to abate/ And settle the condition of the world. From the Roman republic to Roman empire followed by Islamic conquests, the renaissance and the rise of Europe, the British Imperialism, the rise of America, the socialist revolutions and of course the freedom struggles is one long story of conflict. Conflict is both the source and the sink of art of governance. And democracy- the humbling of arrogance, the nature of man yielding space, sharing power without accepting defeat! The condition of peace is not different from the condition of sharing state power. The state power, ab initio being primitive, savage and predatory, the state has always taken help from fine arts to decorate it with aesthesia. The authority of written words- newspapers, editorials, opinions, magazines, besides informing take sides, divide opinions and are used to mask realities and breed conflicts. In order to attack the prospects of emergence of higher culture, books of middle ages are brought into focus. Kama sutra, it is said stands testimony to our permissive inheritance. Therefore conspicuously revealing pictures should invoke appreciation not contempt. Should the future generations of America claim “Play Boy” magazine as their heritage! And Khajuraho? I stand possessed. It is perhaps an amorous king’s sexual imagery caught in a time warp. I do not consider Khajuraho as our heritage, not even Taj. Both are pieces of real estate which have lost their legal heirs during the long march of history. Both are events of historical importance. It is, say history enjoying a pause, like a pilgrim taking rest under a shady tree, rummaging through his belongings and recalling past ordeals. It is worthwhile to note that both represent an expenditure which could have been put to some better use. On the other hand, the money spent by the Mughals on the banks of the Dal Lake, (Mughal Gardens) in creating a riot of colours, which refreshes itself every summer is money well spent. Similarly the Grand Trunk Road is a piece of art and an institution as well. This road has not only directed the lives of the people but also given direction to the Indian history. Can one imagine the course the history of China would have taken, had the successive kings not paid attention to building the great wall?

The connoisseurs of art need to differentiate between conflicts building art from conflict reducing art. Some latest paintings by Husain have given rise to protests (conflict). Therefore these paintings are simple political statements. Painting nude shapes, exposing primary sexual characters do not confer greatness on a painter per se, “for primary sexual characters in humans are primitive, therefore can’t be regarded beautiful because they have refused to be modified by sexual or natural selection”. Aesthetically speaking they lack beauty. Common sense tells us that primary sexual regions constitute peculiarly vulnerable spots and the need for their protection conflicts with their prominent display. Therefore like in animals, they need to be covered and not exposed. Selective plucking of the Hindu religious symbols from their spiritual settings and treating them on low and permissive cultural level is therefore totally provocative.

On the other hand secondary sexual characters in women can be the subject of a painter’s or sculptor’s imagination. While the body of a man is usually flat and symmetrical, it is with the body of females that nature brought in the element of asymmetry and “broke the monotony”- as the architects call it. This asymmetry is what makes a woman beautiful and attractive. It may be noted here that well developed buttocks make ordeal of child birth comparatively easy while developed breasts are helpful in better rearing of children.

A peace loving society needs to differentiate between a Hussain or the Danish cartoonist who made an offensive cartoon, as an artist, from say Laxman whose one liners invariably extracts a smile, sometimes a hearty laugh from us early in the morning. The other day after our ICBM, in its maiden test flight lost steam midway and fell into the sea, Laxman quipped: “It is not a total failure! We can still use it for peaceful purposes.” This is art!

If painting is a profession, which catered to the needs of kings, generals, aristocrats and the rich in the past and now satisfies the aesthetic appetite of the neo-rich, then what is sacrosanct about painting which was/is denied to the nautch girls? The rich who could afford profligacy and voracious idleness have all through the course of history, been the sole patrons of such arts. Their ostentatious living not only achieved for them psychological domination over the masses, but also created a culture within a culture which fortified their command. In this act they were helped by painters and sculptors. The rich set the rules and the artists obliged. In this demand and supply matrix the artists perhaps failed to capture the beauty of the moment, a pose, a sigh, the beauty of ugliness, tears in the eyes of ecstasy and so on. Whether impressionism helped in addressing the malady, I have no idea.

So painting/sculpting pulsates between pure art and brazen politics. In India art was never under siege. On the other hand it was an element that put human thought in chains by acting as a proxy of the rulers. It was a one sided affair – a culture within a culture. Refusing to mix up like oil and water. Democracy on one hand has weakened the political authority of the rich (which they reimburse to themselves through the tricks of commerce), on the other hand the masses feel empowered. They are now reorienting their lives in the changed circumstances, getting connecting with their forgotten past, recollecting forgotten faiths and dreaming about a future which may or may not be rosy.

Cupidity and profligacy of the rich and the mighty, immortalized in the pieces of art cannot continue unless the right of free expression is denied to masses. The art student Chandra Mohan and the master- Hussain cannot claim immunity from public examination if their art is distasteful to any section of the Indian society. How can the people allow the Indian art to fall in the well of low culture? After all they fell that they have a stake in the wellbeing of modern India now.

End of Chapter 6