Life lessons by two paintings of a small-town artist.

I had been walking up and down Kumara Krupa Road searching for a painting that suits my lesser than modest pockets. The budget was ₹12,000 and there was hardly anything that “touched my heart” within that budget. It had been two hours since I had descended on that crowd. Thousands of pairs of legs had descended too, most of them to just look at those pictures and some or few of them to actually purchase something big.

Chitrasanthe is an annual art fair held by Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat. The road on which the premier art institute is located, is shut down for vehicular traffic. Artists from all over the state (and some beyond the state) arrive on that one day hoping to sell their works from the past year. Some come there for the exposure, some for a living. Art lovers visit the place to take a stroll along the road as well as within the institute’s campus to see, adore and, may be, purchase a few pieces of artwork. I have been going to that place now and then in the last five years. I used to go there to get a few photographs of faces lost in the crowd. I could never afford to buy any of those mesmerizing works, I didn’t earn that much.

But, this January, I made up my mind to buy something. At least make a start. Till when will I complain that purchasing art is a luxury I can’t afford. Why can’t I shell out a few thousands, some figure that I’d have spent booze and food in a month or two, to buy something that can adore the walls of my (parents’) house. ₹12,000 was what I could afford at that point in time.

So, as I was strolling up and down with my friends, the painting of an old abandoned Mahindra jeep caught my eye. I walked down to the makeshift stall and stared at the painting for a while. It was nice, but a bit asymmetric. The dimensions of the scene didn’t seem very accurate. It was flawed. Still, I took a liking to it. It’d cost me ₹2.5k. “Too much for a 1.5ft painting” I thought. But, I own the modern version of a jeep. I found it amusing to hang something like that on my wall.

I returned to the counter after taking a walk till the end of the road. I had made up my mind to buy it. Even as I was waiting for the artist to come down, another painting drew my attention. This too featured an automobile, a wrecked automobile. It was an Ambassador, abandoned next to a small stream. This one was mature, perfect dimensions and a lot of depth. I fell in love with it.

The artist came down, introduced himself to me and requested me to buy both the paintings. I agreed and his friends started packing the paintings for me. I asked him to bring down the price. But then, an inner voice shouted at me. It asked me not to bargain. “Here’s an artist who’s come here from a small town 600kms away from Bangalore. You don’t know how much he earns. Even if he earns a lot, he’s an artist. You too were. It’s not ethical to negotiate a price for art.” I asked him to drop my request and paid him the amount. I had done my first art purchase.

Intrigued by the unconventional theme of the two paintings I had just bought, I asked Yathiraj from Bidar to explain how he came up with these, what inspired him and what his thoughts were. “I’m a student doing my masters and I pick up a theme and explore that theme in-depth. The theme that I was exploring last year, when I painted these, was how things that were once in fashion can quickly go out of fashion, be abandoned and forgotten.” I was floored. I had learnt a new lesson in appreciation of art.

Mahindra Jeep’s many models and Hindustan Motor’s Ambassadors are legendary vehicles. They once ruled Indian roads. The jeeps – Major, Commander, MM540 were movie hero favourites. Almost every Hindi movie featured a jeep, either as a police vehicle in its soft top form or as the singing hero’s preferred vehicle for driving in the mountains chasing the train in which the heroine is travelling. He’d sing and she’d blush. The jeep’s off-roading capabilities made it a must-have vehicle in the various mountainous regions in India – from Himalayas to the Western Ghats.

Ambassador, on the other hand, was a status symbol in the 1980s. Owning an Ambassador meant you had just crossed-over from the Middle Class side of the society to the the Upper Middle Class side. It meant something. The car was also a favorite of the political class. Its battle tank like structure assured the politicians that they’d survive even the worst of accidents.

Both these vehicles are now out of production. You can spot a jeep here and there in the rural areas, mostly in bad shape. Kolkata is the only place where you can find Ambassadors in abundance, thanks to the yellow taxis there. Most of them, again, in bad shape. When Maruti came up with its 800 in 1984, it became the default car for the middle-class buyers. Globalization of 1991 brought many varieties of cars to India. Colorful, small hatchbacks and sedans featuring advanced and powerful engines. The jeep models and the Ambassador couldn’t keep up with these changes despite their best efforts. Today, not many remember them. Not many know that they were once regarded as greats.

Life’s like that! The reality of life remains that you’ll stay relevant as long as you’re relevant. If you can’t keep up with the pace with which the world’s changing, you’ll be left behind. It reminds me what my first manager in the software industry Prasant Burdhan had told a few interns “This is Accenture. This company runs fast. If you don’t run, you’ll be left behind.” That’s the truth. Modern society, economics and the technological advances are so dynamic that those who cannot adopt are left behind.

How cool is that, though? I look at my parents and realize all’s not hunky-dory. They’re finding it tough to adapt to the modern world. People are becoming more rational than ever. Devices have changed their form factors, become sleek and smart. Some devices they grew up with don’t even exist today. While they have made their efforts, they have been able to adapt to only a few of these changes. Some changes, like the ones linked to faith, beliefs and religion, are things that are beyond their comprehension. As a result, they have isolated themselves in most aspects of social life.

These paintings also remind me of all those aged people who have been abandoned on the streets of metropolitan cities like Bangalore. Or in old-age homes. People who were abandoned by their own children who found no use in having them at their home. People who couldn’t handle the expensive maintenance of these aged engines and rusting chassis. People who treated, and continue to, treat people like vehicles and vehicles like people.

I feel sad that I couldn’t keep in touch with Yathiraj – a master who spread a life message through colours, a lesson that’ll stay with me always.


Read about Art Originals – my project to collect artwork.

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