Harbinger of joy
Nonika Singh

One moment he appears to be the showman of the art world, delighting one and all with his wisecracks, mesmerising them with his artistic prowess, bowling them over with his large-hearted gestures. And the very next he turns into a Bhikshu, the seeker en route an eternal quest. Either way, Sidharth the renowned artist whose journey is as fascinating as his art, is an exceptionally delightful man.

SidharthBut then art for this versatile artist is not meant to dwell on the miseries and pains of life but to spread joy. So, even when he brings alive sombre concerns like India’s hypocritical stance towards holy cows, the imagery is breathtaking and beatific.

So, what provoked the cow series? Well, actually it was a simple query of a foreign student who, after seeing cows on the road, enquired — whose cows are these — that set him thinking. As he pondered over the fact that we worship cows yet let them roam on the streets and eat garbage, images gushed forth in a torrent.

The same had happened earlier when he read Baba Nanak’s elucidation of seasons and created one image after another, 700 in all, of 12 months. He quips, "No other civilisation has such an interesting understanding of seasons as we do." Of course, when he began painting seasons, capturing its beauty in myriad ways, he was dissuaded by friends who told him —Sidharth this is not a contemporary subject. Scoffs he, "What is happening today is contemporary, irrespective of whether I do it in an ancient style or modern." So, to the students of his alma mater Government College of Art, Chandigarh, whose diamond jubilee celebrations brought him to City Beautiful, he advises, "What matters is not how experimental you are but whether you have a holistic approach to art. If you have, the new media will present itself of its own volition."

New media, anyway, he feels doesn’t make you contemporary. Neither does art with shock value, nor the one dripping with overt sentimentality? What’s wrong with being emotional? "Nothing except it can lead one to unscientific reasoning." So, in his next water series he is collaborating with a scientist. But, at the same time, he is also reminded of Guru Nanak Dev and interprets one of the legends associated with him to arrive at a rational explanation of how the great Sikh Guru underlined the significance of water. Imagination and reality, world vision and his deep roots curling down to centuries of his understanding of Sikhism, Buddhism, co-exist in his works.

Has he who spent years with Lama Guru to master the art of Tankha converted to Buddhism? All he would say is, "I understood Buddhism through the eyes of Sikhism". Born as Harjinder Singh into a family of Sikh bani singers, Gurbani has certainly shaped his artistic process. "But my religion," he insists, "is art, I pray through my art." And his prayer has manifested by way of over 10,000 works. Many of which have already been exhibited at prestigious museums around the world, sold for staggering amounts at Sotheby’s and Christies. And a good 5,000 of his works will be displayed at a museum in Ghaziabad named after him. So, how does it feel to be immortalised in one’s own lifetime? He smiles, "Certainly I like it." Yet he has also learnt to detach himself. Each time plaudits come his way he wonders — Who are they talking about? Seriously, in this materialistic world, how difficult it is to be Sidharth, the man without a care, the one for whom silence is the key, as vital as reaching out? He smiles, "It’s very easy."

So, while on the one hand he has no hesitation in burning cashew nuts to create charcoal, on the other hand, he is happy with his two pairs of trousers, for "I don’t want to waste resources." Dividing his earnings between taking care of his family, his material and colours that thes alchemist in him produces himself, he also finds enough money to sponsor budding talent. And his paintings might sell for lakhs, for a cause he willing to part with these for a paltry amount, One of the richest artists in the country he will always remain poor "for my wish list is long." As his dream in Dehradun, a sprawling studio where he can grow trees, wheat, make his own paper and even have a kiln has already begun to take shape, he also goes around helping other realise theirs. But then Sidharth the crown prince of the art world isn’t this or that. A painter, a singer, who sings Sammi and the poetry of Amarjit Chandan, a filmmaker who has made over 15 films on Indian temples, art and architecture — he is all of this. And much more who may surface in the visual biography he is creating. Any which way, he will remain the harbinger of happiness.