Thursday, May 15, 2014


I am most certain, that one day, maybe, these eight years will seem like a drop of time in our vast lives. I am certain that one day I will no longer need to remember this date. All these people, all these years, all these many, too many lessons hammered into your life and mine, these will one day cease to matter. I am certain that eight years will one day be just an old anecdote that we shall laugh over, for these imperfect times, for these imperfect people, the imperfect you and the imperfect me.

For 16.05.2006.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Havoc. Or a Mindgame.

What is that word for when, in your throat, like a ball the size of a hybrid lemon, gets stuck a feeling of immense, frustrating love (or anger, or hatred) and all you want to do is find that word so you can wrench it from your throat and spit it out of your chest and release it into the chaos of the world so that you can breathe again and no longer feel so overwhelmed?

What is that word?

Delhi. 29.04.2014

Friday, May 09, 2014

On Kiran Nadar and Her Museum of Art: In OPEN Magazine this week

An article about someone somewhere led me to Delhi last week to meet with art collector Kiran Nadar. Delhi is a beloved city, for the very special memories I have of it. So it was good being there, for however brief a time. I also went to the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and saw some very good works. That was the best part of the trip.

I spoke with Kiran Nadar about her art collection, her role in trying to bring an art appreciation culture in India and much else. Read it here in OPEN magazine this week here or see below.

(Correction: Nasreen Mohammedi and Manjit Bawa are not among the Moderns, as mentioned in the article. The error is deeply regretted.)

Photo: Ashish Sharma/OPEN magazine


Art collector Kiran Nadar’s museum project aims to break barriers of art appreciation by attracting popular interest

At times, a story insists upon being placed within the contexts of time and ambience; it isn’t enough to merely start where it begins and with whom. That’s why what surrounds the cream sofa on which I sit to speak with art collector and patron, Kiran Nadar, begs to be described. Each work around us is as much a part of her story as what she will tell me over the next hour or so.

A large LN Tallur piece guards the entrance to the section of her plush South Delhi house “where all the art work on display is”. Just opposite that are a series of personal photographs perched on a mantle. An FN Souza, an Amrita Sher-Gil—of elephants in a pond— flank the entrance to her office into which we are ushered. We are a tad early, and I use the few minutes we have while waiting to peer around the room. A painting from Shakti Maira’s Withinseries overlooks a tall standing statue of the Buddha next to a table. In the alcove on the opposite wall is an Anjolie Ela Menon painting, surrounded by books and curios. From Frederick Forsyth’s The Fist of God to tomes on Amrita Sher-Gil annotated by nephew Vivan Sundaram, to catalogues and something on alternative healing, the books are an eclectic mix. The shelves also have family photographs: of holidays, candid shots of a much-younger Kiran Nadar with her husband Shiv Nadar and his mother, a sepia-toned college snapshot of the HCL founder from his Tiruchirappalli days.

Elsewhere in the house is a very large MF Husain, and his horses look ready to spring up and gallop away in the light streaming in from the French windows close by. Ravindra Reddy’s figurative woman braids her hair on the other side of the room, while a work of Shibu Natesan overlooks smaller artefacts and more candid photos of Nadar collapsing with laughter on her husband’s shoulder, and of daughter Roshni with her mother.

That hot Delhi summer afternoon, Kiran Nadar and I sit across from a 30-odd-year-old Rameshwar Broota oil- on-canvas, “one of my earliest collections”, she says, as she explains how she turned art collector. “It was more of an accident. We were building a new home and I bought a few pieces to decorate the house,” she says. Those few pieces soon became a lot of pieces of art, and she found her wall space fast filling up. A ‘collection’ began to take shape, dominated by Indian Modernists who she has always been partial to. Nadar’s treasures include many Husains, FN Souzas, Manjit Bawas, Nasreen Mohammedis and other usual suspects among the Moderns. They grace office walls, her homes and a couple of museum spaces.

Nadar speaks of how she has refined the way she goes about collecting art. “I still buy something I like, but the overall process has changed. I look at gaps in my collection and try to fill them now.” She has a group of people who help her. Among them is Roobina Karode, chief curator at Delhi’s Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), which she set up four years ago.

Nadar remains actively involved at the acquisition stage, though. While she is not unduly concerned about the market value of the piece she is considering, she tries to research the artist and his/her practice. Largely, it’s about the art’s intrinsic appeal. “I am a little more instinctive,” she says. Would an art critic’s opinion of an artist influence her decisions? “I go by what I like,” she says, “Though I read a critic’s opinion, I am not influenced by it.”

The art market in India has been precarious, of late; the one for contemporary art, especially moody. After the slump a few years ago, there has been little recovery, and Nadar wonders briefly if collecting contemporary art through those years might have been a bad idea. “But then, I have never looked at collecting art as an investment. Maybe the contemporary artists I have will appreciate [in value] in the coming years. These days one has to buy intelligently,” she says.

Art hasn’t been an ‘investment’ as such, but is ‘brand worthiness’, the big bucks that some artists command, an important factor? Nadar admits she has a reputation of being a big bidder at auctions, an image she’s been trying to play down. “The work is important, not the money part. It is very stressful being at auctions, but I cannot have anyone else bid for me. They will have to check with me over the phone, and that would be more stressful.”

Not just her private collection, even KNMA’s permanent collection includes ‘senior contemporary artists’ such as Amar Kanwar, Shilpa Gupta, Ranjani Shettar, Jitish Kallat, Bharti Kher and Subodh Gupta. She is picky about the younger lot in her collection. She only wants those she thinks show promise. Artists from beyond the Subcontinent don’t get a look-in either, for that’s another league altogether, Nadar says, though she picked up three Richard Mosse photographs recently. “It was a one-off purchase; I’m not looking to build a collection of works of foreign artists.”

She won’t name her favourite artist, insisting each work and every artist has a special significance. Is her husband an art enthusiast too? She shakes her head and says all he does is monitor her budget; what works she decides to collect is entirely her decision.

The KNMA was started when her walls began to get crowded and she figured it was time to throw her collection open to public viewing. Four years on, drawing people into the museum’s two spaces—on the HCL campus in Noida and the other within a plush mall in Saket—is still her biggest challenge. The art fraternity does come by, with the museum having proven itself an attraction for artists and art buffs, but getting spontaneous drop-ins by people at large is not easy—and it is their appreciation that she’s looking to arouse. We discuss art receptiveness in various metros. “In Kolkata and Mumbai, people go to museums and galleries,” she says, “In Delhi, the nature of the city is such that culture isn’t something people do.”

To change that, the KNMA periodically organises outreach programmes—talks, seminars, courses—apart from retrospectives and performance art shows. “We have programmes for school and college students to inculcate art appreciation in them,” she says.

To widen the museum’s appeal, a bigger independent space is under planning. The Shiv Nadar Foundation, which sponsors the KNMA, is currently in the process of buying land in Delhi to build a new space for it. “We want to build a ‘destination’, like the Bahai temple, where the structure itself is a destination,” says Nadar, “Museums have to be designed differently from other buildings. We will look for a foreign architect with experience in designing a museum.”

That may take three or four years to come up. For now, the KNMA within HCL’s tech park in Noida grants its visitors an intimate acquaintance with art, away from the city lights. The works currently on display here offer a contextual history of Modernism in the country. Graphite-on-paper drawings of Eve, Rain, September reclining/ standing from FN Souza’s sketchbook, vignettes from Husain’s year in Prague, and his Toys, Richard Bartholomew’s study of fellow artists Nasreen Mohammedi, Ram Kumar, Manjit Bawa and VS Gaitonde, and Madan Mahatta’s black-and-white photographs that match the modernist architecture that was shaping a new Delhi, apart from a few works of Nandalal Bose and Benode Behari Mukherjee—all these are on view as part of a show entitled An Unfinished Portrait: Vignettes from the KNMA Collection.

The show at the museum’s Saket wing is bigger. Subodh Gupta’s Line of Control, a mushroom cloud of steel utensils—his signature style—occupies the lobby outside. Inside the museum, a Nalini Malani retrospective is on. Alongside, clubbed as Is it what you think?, a show curated by Roobina Karode has works like Shilpa Gupta’s Someone Else : A Library of 100 Books Written Anonymously or Under Pseudonyms, Idris Khan’s The Devil’s Wall, Zarina Hashmi’s meditative work with paper, and other works by Rumanna Hussain, Himmat Shah, Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, Vivan Sundaram, Atul Dodiya and Shirazeh Houshiary among a total of 16 contemporary well-knowns.

While going through Sheikh’s concertina format books, I am reminded of how my conversation with Kiran Nadar ended the previous day. I had asked if she sees herself in the role of a patron to contemporary artists. Shaking her head, she said that wasn’t so; she’s not a patron of individual artists. “I see myself as a patron of the arts instead.” A regular attendee of biennales across the world, the Basel Art Fair is her next stop. She squeezes time out for many other interests as well. She is a professional bridge player, and a self- confessed sports enthusiast, regularly taking in cricket, golf and tennis. <> During the photo session, I spot a lovely photo of Shiv and Kiran Nadar’s only daughter Roshni with her young son. Does she collect too, I ask just before leaving. “No,” Nadar replies, “She buys art for her house but is not building a collection.” That, I am reminded, was exactly how she’d said she herself had started.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Poornachandra Tejaswi, the Maverick Maestro: In Kindle Magazine This Month

No one familiar with Kannada literature would need an introduction to K P Poornachandra Tejaswi. For the others, this is what I wrote for Kindle magazine this month. Read it here or see below.


“I have seen people who talk about the rain.”

And so on and so on. About the rain. About the birds you can’t hear sing because it rains so hard. About the layer of soil that hurries away in an angry red torrent when it rains so hard. About looking for a flying lizard in thick forests and thinking about existentialism along the way. About a goofy old dog which nearly always falls over its long ears. About people who seem to inhabit his life and to colour the pages he writes, for the sole purpose of exasperating him. They are people on whom he practices his long list of Kannada cuss words; and then he writes about them and about everything – the rain, his dog, those birds and his people. They all sound hilarious. That is what K. P. Poornachandra Tejaswi makes them sound like.

Actually, it’s not just that. Well, in parts, that is what he wrote. One of the best beloved writers in the Kannada language – and one of the most accessible, for the simplicity and wry humour of his words – K. P. Poornachandra Tejaswi (also called PooChanTe) was far more un-lighthearted than what a casual look at his books might imply. The many, too many, layers of what I’ll always think of as this colourful personality is what I write in this introduction to him and his works.

This time is as good as any to introduce him to those outside the limits of the language he wrote in. For, it is seven years this April since his passing. For, in the blistering heat of this summer, his stories of torrential rain in the lush Western Ghats where he made his home, his karma-bhoomi, reminds us of the possibility of that rain arriving here too, hopefully soon, and that thought brings some relief. This is as good a time as any because when it doesn’t rain, or when it rains at the wrong time, it brings to mind what he warned people about all through his life: unless you respect the environment, there isn’t going to be much hope for us humanity.

PooChanTe was the son of poet laureate Kuvempu, he who gave Karnataka its state song. But the son was in some ways more popular than the father; not better, but just a different genius and read by more people.

Environmentalist. Coffee planter. Farmer. Wildlife photographer (never film, because he hated working with other people). Ornithologist. Painter (his self-proclaimed first ‘profession’, though others insisted he was a writer). Translator of the likes of Kenneth Anderson into Kannada. Publisher. Activist. Angry man. Writer. Eccentric, very eccentric. September 8, 1938 – April 5, 2007. Many tags maketh the man.

Though all his life he rejected the attempt to define and box his work within a limiting genre, he is placed somewhere on the cusp, sometimes precariously, between the Navya and the Bandaya literary movements. Navya, ‘the new’, marked a rejection of the romantic and the lyrical and favoured realism, practicality and concise expressions of plots and experiences. Bandaya was a protest against social norms, against convention, against all that was previously accepted or tolerated. Tejaswi straddled the two comfortably. Abachoorina Post Office talks about what a one room post office does to the self-appointed post master and the village while Karvalo follows the writer and a motley group of friends into the forest to find a flying lizard. Novels like Jugari Cross and Chidambara Rahasya and several short stories draw from the village for which he abandoned the city and the people whom he came across. These are people we would all be familiar with – the procrastinator/superstitious Maada, the honey-man, the good-for-nothing, the neighbors, the dog named Kivi (meaning ‘ear’ in Kannada… it was a cocker spaniel, of course), friends we all meet in our lives and grow to live among.

If the father Kuvempu was publically perceived as a stern scholar and serious poet, the son was known as the naughty first born and, in later life, the reluctant genius. The former image was pleasantly dispelled by Tejaswi’s memoirs Annana Nenapu (‘the memory of the father’), which depicts Kuvempu, the family man, passing in and out of the pages along with friends like Kadidalu Shyamanna, he who, for a while, made music by tapping his teeth and the dog they all tried to convert into a pedigree by cutting off its tail – the young boys were told dogs of pedigree did not have tails, since they weren’t allowed to adopt one, the neighbour’s country breed dog was subjected to this attempt at ‘conversion’.

If this book, a personal favourite, endears Tejaswi to the reader, later works like Parisarada Kathe, or ‘the story of environment’, takes the route of subtlety to create awareness about environmental issues. In one of the very few interviews he granted in his lifetime, Tejaswi warned that the survival of humanity was in question, “if you start interpreting forests in terms of money…”.

I like to think of Tejaswi as something of an Arundhati Roy. Like her, he did not write things no one had ever talked about before. Like her, he wrote about critical issues in a language so beautiful, in words so simple, yet so profound, that it reached audiences who wouldn’t otherwise have read ‘environmentalism’ or been inspired enough to do something about it, even if only in their backyards. Like the great classical masters, he did not build a new language by bending words to his will. Instead Tejaswi sits across in your drawing room and chats with you, sometime in exasperation or in anger or in mock resignation, and tells you a story. He practiced what he did not overtly preach, that of his commitment to being aware of the environment, his connection to the land. But, when he told a story, he cleverly inserts a veiled lesson, a point to ponder after you are done laughing.

That is where the freshness of his works remains. In these times of being ‘organic’ = sexy, Tejaswi’s short stories, travelogues and novels couldn’t be more relevant. For those of us who left our farmhouses to live in cities, a dose of him every few years keeps old connections alive. That is what elevates Poornachandra Tejaswi to a great classical master as well.

This piece was inspired by a friend who has a separate shelf lined with Tejaswi’s books.