‘Are you aware of the syllabus?’ The Dean raised his tired superior eyes.
‘Yes, I do. It is bad.’ Replied the man in mid-thirties.
‘Your view on the quality of the syllabus matters only in the canteen over a cup of tea. Not beyond that.’ Said the Dean.
‘But it matters a lot to the students in the class. Because they have a future to live. And I care for that.’ The young man said in toneless arrogance denying the authority of the Dean.
‘I see! But the trouble is, you are being paid for what we want you to teach. Not what you want to teach. Don’t you think, it is reasonable?’ The dean was growing impatient. He removed his black rimmed spectacle and put it down on the mahogany desk.
‘Well, I take my salary for teaching art, not for following orders.’ The young man looked away indifferently.
‘Then we have a conflict here. I do not think, I can permit you to keep on rambling about things not relevant to the course.’
‘I can understand. Not knowing the language turns even the Bible or Veda into ramble. In this case it is Art. You find me rambling because you are yet to learn the language of art. You should have attended a few classes of mine. But sadly, you missed it forever. Here is my resignation.’ The young man stood up calmly placing the envelope on the desk.
The dean blinked puzzled and angry. The young man left.
Well, that is the story of Sharat Shaw, an artist, who never lived by the syllabus of life as most people do. At the age of three, when most kids played with toy trains or balloons, Sharat Shaw scrapped clay from the riverbed and molded men, women, animals and gods!
When in his teens, he was busy giving life to molds of clay, a cousin told him that he was learning to paint. ‘Is it more interesting?’ He wondered. And soon he found himself scrawling across the white pages of his notebooks.
Simple, it may sound, but the journey had not been easy. Though he had been guided by professional artists of the locality, yet fortune did not smile too fast. He wanted to study art in the government college of art in Kolkata. He appeared for the entrance exam but could not get through. He was rejected.
No way! He resolved to make it to another art college. Government college of art was not the end of the world. He went to Shantiniketan. But luck failed him again. His name did not appear in the list of selected candidates. He applied for graduation in Rabindra Bharati university. Rejection blocked him there too. Finally, he came to terms with the reality that a graduation from the Art college was not happening soon.
But passion cannot be assailed by entrance exams. The young Sharat Shaw went ahead painting and exhibiting his artworks. Soon, his watercolor paintings captured the fancy of art lovers. Publishers approached him for books on how to paint. Series of books got published. Even this day, students across the country refer his books to learn how to draw. The schools and colleges wait for his new publication. Today, he is an esteemed name in the art circle.
But, a vacancy remained. His dream of holding a degree from the Government college of art was not fulfilled. When he hit the middle age, a new course was introduced in the evening for those who wanted to catch up late. And Sharat Shaw appeared as student. The faculties were puzzled. They asked, ‘Why did you enroll?’ He replied, ‘You know what? I can drive faster than most, but I need the damn license!’
The story in the beginning is just a flash to illuminate some aspect of the man and the artist. He tried a few jobs before settling in art as a profession. He was a lecturer in an art college where the authorities wanted him to stick to the syllabus. He did not believe in one. He felt syllabus meant boundary. And creativity lived outside the boundary. He left the job of lecturer.
He worked as art director in Ramoji Film City. There too, his views and ways could not be contained by the strictures of the routine life. He left that too for the hunt of freedom of expression and passion.
He is still painting in a mad frenzy. He is teaching the budding artists about the boundless spirit of art. He is still living life beyond syllabus. For him, life is too big and wild for drawing a border around it.
‘One more tea.’ He waved at the waiter.
The young waiter brought a cup of tea and placed on the table before him. He gazed at the translucent brownish liquid in abstraction.
The pressing hand on his shoulder broke his reverie. “I have a surprise for you. We must celebrate this evening.” Said his friend slumping on a chair across the table.
He was happy to see his friend. They often met at this café after the day’s grind for the hunt of destiny.
He smiled in mischief. ‘I too have a surprise to give. But you go first.’
His friend gazed at him for a long moment for the effect of suspense, ‘The promotional content you created for our company has been a grand hit. They want to sign an annual contract for their entire product range! I had a talk with someone from the advertising section during lunch and came to know.”
‘They liked my work, is it?’ He said with an ironic smile.
‘Yes! Do you realize? You are going to get a huge contract; and a name in the field of industrial advertising.’
He nodded but said nothing. He sipped the lemon tea and sat in silence.
‘What is the matter?’ His friend looked at him with concern.
He shrugged. ‘Nothing serious. By the way, how much will they pay for the assignment?’
‘I do not know, but a good sum, better than the last payout.’ Said his friend.
Suddenly, he seemed to wake up with a broad smile. ‘I shall not do it.’
‘What? Are you in senses? What are you talking?’
He nodded firmly. ‘Yes, I am. I shall not capture photos of those damned machines anymore. All that cut and paste in computer and then thinking up phony phrases for machines looking like dumbos. No. Enough! No more.’
‘What will you do then?’
‘I shall paint.’ He said plainly.
‘Paint what? Buildings, walls, roofs?’
He shook his head slowly, ‘No. Canvas.’
‘You mean you will become an artist?’ His friend almost spilled his tea over the table.
He nodded again. ‘I am going to paint. I shall be an artist. I must respond to my true calling.’ He uttered firmly.
‘And when did you hear this cosmic call?’ His friend now teased.
‘Time does not have to testify true calls. One must respond to it, as soon as it rings.’
Well, that is how one fine evening, Sonjaye Maurya forsook his thriving career of Industrial advertising for the sake of the canvas. Well, it was not true that he never painted before. Painting was his love since childhood. In fact, he graduated from Sir J. J. Institute of Applied Art in Commercial Art and Photography. But eventually, he spent considerable number of years in Industrial advertising until he responded to his true calling.
It was not easy. Fortunately, he found his wife and son beside him when he decided to pick up the brush. Their unstinted support fueled his journey as an artist. How to keep the kitchen running did not fetter his passion.
A journey begins but with a single step. True. But the million steps on the way are no easy either. Sonjaye approached dozens of people with influence in the world of art as he took up painting. But the response was cold, often none at all. But greater was the disappointment, stronger grew his resolve. He decided to carve his own path, if destiny did not offer him one.
And he did that.
Today, he is a respected name in the world of art. Countless accolades came on his way.
His works have a mysterious quality, a magical touch that makes them stand apart from the works of other contemporary artists. Each of his paintings carry a message; may it be Buddha or a landscape.
Perception of human feelings in different realms of life often rules his themes. His vibrant palette of color splashes over the fabric of fantasies and dreams. He says that a painting is a dream that you see on an empty canvas.
He does not restrict himself to any medium. Seamlessly walking through acrylic, pencil, charcoal or water on paper, he feels that a painting decides which medium it wants. Hence, in his view, sticking to a medium is unfair for a painting.
‘Style is slavery! Technique is prison,’ Says Sonjaye Maurya, ‘And art is freedom.’
His paintings explore the nuances of existence and bring forth the spark of joy, sorrow, passion and other realities of life in a manner that provokes the viewer to think.
Sonjaye did alter his profession from being an Industrial photographer to an artist. He found glory and plenty of recognition on the way. But the memory of the struggle of his early days never faded into oblivion. He knows what it means to be a newcomer in the field of art. The ruthlessly unfair treatments kill most spirits right in the beginning. That prompted him to take up another mission in life.
He founded ‘Sonjaye Maurya Art World’ and ‘Creative Art Affairs’; initiatives to appreciate and promote young and upcoming artists. The groups are imbued with Futuristic vision and trend setting goals. His goal is to build a platform for the young talents to display their works for a critical audience.
He quotes from ‘Lust for Life’, the book on Van Gogh’s life. ‘The artist who cannot survive the grind of fate, is not worth saving.’ And then he looks away in abstraction before muttering, ‘This does not mean, we have to join hands with fate and make their lives more difficult.’
‘You are back!’
He was trying to enter home quietly on tiptoe. His father would be busy catching up with the unread articles in the newspaper delivered in the morning. He hoped for an undetected arrival for himself.
But his hope of returning home in secret was shattered at the voice of his father.
He replied mutely, ‘Yes I am back.’
‘Did you check the list?’ Eagerness and optimism resonated in his father’s tone.
He removed the shoes and arranged them neatly lingering at the shoe-rack for a long moment as if it called for the finest sense of aesthetics.
Now his father sounded impatient, ‘I am asking you! Did you check the list?’
He turned to face his father slowly but did not meet his eyes. ‘Yes, I did.’
‘And?’ His father demanded.
‘Well, my name is not there in the list.’ He mumbled.
‘What? You mean you did not even secure a low rank? Ridiculous!’
He remained silent gazing at the tiled floor.
His father shook his head in agony and turned away muttering, ‘You are not even capable of doing a polytechnic in engineering! I do not know how you will sustain yourself when you grow up! Everybody got to earn their bread, you know!’
He waited a while until his father stopped noticing his presence. Then he quietly walked into his room at the corner of the house. He was not sad. His eyes were not holding an impending tear of sorrow. He was relieved; almost jubilant! In fact, he was holding a vague smile too on his lips. Because, finally, the ghost of engineering left his life. In reality, he did not even go to check the list of candidates shortlisted for the course of Engineering Polytechnic. He lied to his father that his name was not there. He did not even know. Neither did he bother.
He knew only one thing for sure. He must learn art. After passing his exams of standard twelfth, he kept appearing for the entrance exams of various art colleges in the city. But as fate had it, he could not crack any of the exams. Finally, he took up bio science for graduation. But still, the catcalls from the world of art never ceased. When he became already a graduate in Bio Science, fortune smiled. And soon he walked into the campus of Rabindra Bharati University for a second graduation but in fine arts.
And then there was no looking back. After graduation, he did his masters from Shantiniketan and emerged in flying colors as one of the top five students. In the Academy of Fine arts, his paintings were exhibited time and again even when he was a student in the art college. Several awards came on his way.
Since then, he had held countless exhibitions across the globe. Even if he could have earned a luxurious living through painting, he chose to stay associated with the film industry. For diversion of spirit and to keep his art disconnected from commercial influence, he attached himself with one of the leading media houses of Mumbai.
He believes in painting the truth overlooked by the people. He does not feel happy painting a flower like a flower as if captured by an expensive DSLR camera. He says it is the job of the camera, not the artist. An artist must paint the fragrance of the flower or the sharpness of its thorns.
Another fascination of him is Nostalgia. An indomitable yearning to return. That is why in his paintings, man-pulled rickshaws and kites come back again and again. He cherishes childhood memories of running through the lanes after a falling kite in red or yellow.
In an international exhibition, an old woman came looking for him. When she met him, she said, ‘Not you! I want to meet the artist.’ He, in his characteristic demure tone, said, ‘I am the artist.’ The old lady took a few steps back to have a good look at him. And then exclaimed, ‘Strange! I saw your paintings in the catalogue and thought that the artist must be an old man! Are you not too young to admire the past?’
He laughed. ‘No. Everyone has a past. Even a toddler.’
His paintings came with spirits of various phases of his life. He says that an entire series painted many years ago was reflection of the sense of loss he endured out of a broken affair.
When Romartika Correspondent spoke to him, he said, ‘You know, people look at my paintings. They appreciate my art and even collect them at good price. But I rarely see them smiling when they stare at the images. They look sad.’
Our correspondent said, ‘Yes. Your paintings are celebration of melancholy.’
He reflected for a moment. ‘I think, even sorrow contains happiness in its womb.’
Our correspondent teased him, ‘Melancholy is a charming element in an intellectual. How about marriage? Are you not going to settle in the arms of someone?’
He smiled, ‘May be. May not be. After all, art chose me. I belong to art. Should I invite another lover in my life?’
Suddenly she was conscious. She lifted the brush off the canvas and dipped it into a bowl of water. The dripping paint dissolved into it quickly resulting in a swelling cloud of red pigment. She turned slowly.
‘How long are you watching me paint?’ She asked smiling.
‘For a lifetime.’ Said the young man to his newly married wife.
‘And you will keep watching like this, standing in silence?’ Said she.
He nodded; his gaze fixed on the canvas.
‘But I shall paint for the entire lifetime!’ She smiled.
‘I want you to.’ He said in abstraction, still looking at the half-done painting on the easel.
She went back to her brush and thought aloud, ‘I have to quickly finish painting this section before the naughty boy wakes up.’
Her husband said nothing.
After a long moment, he said, ‘Your grandma was a good artist. She was a disciple of Abanindrananth Thakur. But…’
Her brush halted. She looked at him, ‘But?’
‘But she could not make it. Right? Her passion was replaced by her professional demand as a matron in the hospital. And that is why you are here today. You came to earth and survived. She sacrificed art for the sake of survival of her bloodline.’
She was taken aback. ‘You are right. But why are you saying this?’
He stared at her squarely. ‘You will not be another victim. You will make it. You will go to the art college and get a formal training in this field.’
She began to laugh. ‘Come on! I am already a science graduate. Isaac Newton and Vincent Van Gogh do not blend well. I do this for pleasure. That is all. Moreover, now, after having a baby who enjoys only nocturnal adventure and sleeps through the day, I can not afford such luxury of going to some college. Who will take care of the household?
‘We shall manage. Life is never easy for an artist. But one must face life head on.’ I shall fill up the form for admission. The sessions will begin soon.
Such was a fragment of Sulagna’s journey as an artist. Even if classical music was her early companion since the age of seven, art occupied the centre stage soon. The eyes of the Goddess Durga captured her fascination and she kept sketching them over and over.
Soon, her creative spirit began to expand and engulfed the whole existence. Beside her studies, she fervently indulged in painting. She treasured the old works of her grandma. Often, she opened a battered file and looked at the crackling yellowed papers.
Her husband’s wish for her to attend the art college proved right. She emerged with flying colours. She secured the top rank in her batch. And then she began her journey as a professional artist. Countless exhibitions stood testimony to her success. Her paintings were highly admired by connoisseurs of the world of art.
Commercial success too followed and put a stamp of approval to her genius.
Ironically, when asked about setbacks, Sulagna finds it difficult to get an answer. After groping for words, she says, ‘Not really. I was once told in the art college that I should have secured 3 out of 10 instead of 8. I never found it paralysing for my spirit. In fact, it injected even more ferocity to my passion to come up with something new. I feel, every rejection, every setback is a step forward.’
Even the rejection of one of her paintings by Bombay society of art did not upset her much. She says it made her reflect further. And such reflection is not to align with what the art society is looking for but to break open a new window in her creative mission.
Well…she is in a hurry. Because she says that life is short. And she has too many paintings to complete. Minor issues and setbacks of life must be put aside. Otherwise, the journey of a creative soul would remain incomplete for no valid reason. In fact, there cannot be any valid reason for creativity to take a backstage.
Over a period, she developed her unique style of painting. Significant part of each of her paintings is composed of her signature. She says that she projects her inner world onto the papers and canvasses. The paintings hold her own reflections. Hence, they carry her signature all over.
After all, in Hindi, the word, Sulagna, means smouldering. Burning slowly without fire. Her paintings are born out of that eternal singing of life. Hence, each of her paintings is a tribute to that unseen fire.
Finally, the following fact describes her the best.
As a mother of a young baby, when she joined the art college in Delhi, her classmates mistook her as the new lecturer. But soon they realized that she was a fellow student. Only they did not know that she was a student for a lifetime, but not for just a few years to secure the certificate. After all, her ravenous hunger for knowledge and wisdom renders one lifetime not enough. Plenty of canvas is waiting. Lot of life is to be lived. There is no looking back for her but moving on and moving on.