118 years of Trust THE TRIBUNE

Sunday, November 1, 1998
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Bollywood Bhelpuri


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Alleys in the jungle of life

I would rather eat the dust in the tree-shrouded jungles than be somebody else’s stepping stone on the beaten path, says Rooma Mehra

‘Clamour for the throne’THE alleys in the jungle of life that run off the beaten track may be strewn with thorns, obstacles and the like, but any day give me one of those. I would rather eat the dust in the tree-shrouded jungles than be somebody else’s stepping stone on the beaten path that burns under the frenzied pressure of one fleet-footed rat-racer after another.

In reaching out to the wrong goal, I once strayed on to the traffic-ridden beaten track, and realised to my utter horror, just how ill-equipped I was to run in the face of dust from the nail-studded shoes of seasoned rat-racers. Building up my killer-instinct was the answer.

However, a stubborn streak in my temperament that refuses to compromise with any sort of injustice, forbids me from launching this mammoth task. I refuse to build up my killer instinct. The compromise would involve a major metamorphosis, and the casualties would kill the purpose of the whole exercise.

I remember the experience with an art gallery that brought in its wake such wisdom.

The gallery was yet a seedling under the soil, a gleam in the eye of an amiable acquaintance with a great love, albeit, on his own admission, very little knowledge of the arts.

I remember personally driving nails into the newly appointed gallery wall-space with his then secretary, to whom he finally handed over the reins when the dream sped to a trot and then galloped. There was much laughter and bonhomie while I simultaneously explained the basics of visual appeal and balance to her.

The walls were finally ready to accommodate my paintings lent to the gallery out of sheer goodwill for its first "purely experimental" exhibition.

Out team was happy to admire the fruit of relentless work that claimed the lives of one of my favourite sculptures on the grounds of nervous handling and a few pounds of my weight on account of missed breakfasts and lunches.

Within seemingly no time the gallery had moved on so far up the ladder of success that my heart burst with some justifiable pride for my initial contribution.

I was confronted by the sad truth that I had been put a humble stepping stone of its teething days, when, while trying to get in touch with the head of the gallery on a purely professional matter, I found that he was now quite beyond my reach.

The ex-secretary (now in charge of all art-related matters, and operating under the designation of art manager), stood like the erstwhile Wall of Berlin between the director and the stepping stone!

My heart did a quick somersault in the pause that I was kept holding the phone to see "if the director was there" as I had posted that very morning, an exhibition-enquiry for my seventh solo exhibition after a gap of four years.

As expected, two months yielded no reply. The first week after the telephone call having already found me a sponsor, I appointed a hitherto unthought-of goal, for my probably perplexed mind and senses — namely to get my material back from the gallery I had been so closely associated with.

Upon contacting the erstwhile secretary, I was informed that it had been misplaced by a pregnant employee who was now quite beyond my reach in hospital.

Another two months and several telephone calls later, I received my parcel yesterday — unopened — with the scotch tape still intact on the envelope containing the covering letter to the director, the photo-album and the sheaf of press clips!

The puzzle suddenly clinched as I looked at the unread covering letter and the rest of the material. The moral of the story — never do a good deed in your own professional field. Money-makers do not respect voluntary work.

One of my paintings pins my drifting gaze midway and screams at me.

The anger is justified.

What connection could a painting expressing my innermost feelings, made in the closeted sanctity of my studio, have with the path I had just trodden? With this brown, business-like envelope, prepared, perhaps, solely to check out past gratitudes?

Ashamed, I quickly skip off the beaten track into my familiar unreachable jungles, before inspecting with shaded eyes that no unbecoming goals wink at me through the chinks in the sun-kissed leaves of the trees.. just the sun.

I would return to the art jungle at the time of the exhibition. Till then I needed the elusive peace of my own jungle, my studio, that gave me space to shape uncompromised offerings towards the fuel of further mental peace.... so essential to my reaching out to like-minded people.Back


The innovative genius of Des Raj is amply reflected in these hookah smokersCommitted to clay

Des Raj’s commitment and deep involvement with clay, especially red clay, had never allowed him to sit pretty on his laurels, and always kept him busy with experimentation, contends Suraj Saraf


A REMARKABLY animated rural ambience has been created by a master art potter of Jammu, Des Raj Kapur, in his studio. Known for his innovative nature that is ever in quest of new art forms in clay, Des Raj Kapur has transported village life in all its variety and emotive tones to his studio in powerfully realistic clay works, both figurative and marginally abstract. No figure sits idle, and there is a lively reflection of diverse activities by his figures in pastoral life.

Des Raj is among the earliest art potters in India and media and connoisseurs had started taking notice of red clay art pieces created by him since the early sixties when he was selected with a few others by the All-India Handicrafts Board for training with renowned West German expert Wilhelm Moesch, who came to India under a Ford Foundation grant to help develop low temperature glazes. Des Raj was the only one who remained with him at all the three places — Delhi, Khurja and Calcutta — where Wilhelm Moesch conducted training. The All-India Handicrafts Board had also selected him for training in the Delhi Blue Art Pottery in 1963, where the same year he did a short stint of service. Des Raj drew his first blood as early as 1965 when the board selected three of his studio pottery pieces for an exhibition by it in England. His pieces were also selected by the board for its exhibition at Bangalore in 1964 and at Patiala in 1972.

When the All-India Fine Arts and Crafts Society started annually showcasing studio pottery pieces by Indian artistes in 1984, Des Raj’s pieces were selected every year in those exhibitions. But these shows of Indian art pottery are being re-started from the current year and Des Raj has also been invited to participate.

Hindustan Times, New Delhi, in a special feature on his art pottery in August, 1962, hailed them as "original". The feature lauding his dedication to pottery said. "He talks animatedly about glazes, colours and forms".

Commenting on the first studio pottery exhibition by the society, famous art critic Krishna Chaitanya remarked: "Considerable inventiveness is needed to create forms that are not derived from archetypal shapes in ceramics. But Des Raj’s bottle recalled Bocconi’s brilliant futuristic sculpture — ‘bottle developing in space’. In the fourth studio pottery show by the society in 1987, Krishna Chaitanya again remarked: "Because pottery is the most ancient of crafts and its nexus with utility is close than in the case of other crafts, the repertory of basic forms is complete and innovations can only be marginal... interesting still were Des Raj Kapoor’s plates in the form of leaf of fish..."

Indeed, Des Raj had developed a genuine sensitivity for clay while working with it for so long which strongly excites his artistic sensitivities, taking his art forms to innovative daring heights. His latest works, reflecting his creative expressions in clay show full-fledged round models that authentically catch the rural milieu in its widely varying aspects with striking effects.

Here village folk smoke their hookahs, men and women can be seen in the family ambience, a bevy of belles draw water from a well, or carry it home, women perform various household chores like fondling children, spinning, gossiping, dancing and celebrating. One wonders at Des Raj’s dexterity in bringing alive thriving village life to his studio in several postures of various characters in a nail-biting realistic, life-like manner.

Most of these clay creations, imbuing art pottery with fresh imaginative dimensions, show how clay becomes a living medium in his hands.

Des Raj had taken to the pottery profession from a very early age working in different pottery factories in Sialkot (now in Pakistan) and Jammu. Being a ‘swaran’ Hindu, his taking to pottery work was scoffed at by his relatives and friends. Interesting, even potters themselves also resented his taking up the job, dubbing him an intruder in their line. He took to art pottery in the late fifties and never looked back despite poor returns, though there was praise in abundance. What a biographer of world-famous sculptor Henry Moore had said about him (Moore) fits squarely with Des Raj. "True artistes are consumed by an endless curiosity concerning the possibilities of their materials, curiosity concering the nature of life. That type of mind most necessarily explores a number of blind alleys. The matter for wonder in this case is the consistency of his course, the gathering power, the increasing clarity of his intentions. The life of an original artiste of any kind is hard and only an unfailing integrity of purpose can carry him through those years of financial failures or public neglect or derision, which are his inevitable lot. All, but a few, are compelled to compromise."

His commitment and deep involvement with clay, especially red clay, had never allowed him to sit pretty on his laurels and always kept him busy with experimentation, be it glazes, surface decoration or form.

And in that eagerness to evolve novel motifs, Des Raj had started on his working with ‘village series’ of stunning realism. They are certainly aesthetic pieces of a great breadth of vision.


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