I am bit confused as to start from which angle about this painting. The thought of this painting was lurking in mind since 2009. First I had thought of making it in digital but as the days went on I doubted whether digital creation would really do justice to this painting; so I finally decided to work upon it in oil colors and was sure that this medium would justify the theme of the painting.
I am more enthusiastic to share my experiences while I was developing this painting thought. Mumbai 1992- During initial stages I and my friend would seldom visit Colaba- Mohammed Ali road in Mumbai where you get delicious non- vegetarian food. We would go there during dinner time and order for boneless- chicken, bheja fry, kaleji fry etc. (I am deliberately using Indian names of dishes). The thought would cross my mind that may be we had ordered same separation of bones and flesh during Ram mandir- Babri mosque issue. The whole threatening issue was cooked up by separating bones and meat. Bones and flesh are bonded to each other right from the time living being starts existing in nucleus. I myself don’t know why I am giving an elaborate explanation of this painting when I am myself of the opinion that a painting does not need words. Now-a-days even ‘abstract art’ which does not need any general interpretation and every observer should have individual perception; has volumes of books explaining it and also ‘speaking talk series’ are held to discuss it. So I think I can write at least one or two pages on this painting.
I am still trying to know the reasoning behind this painting, why did it dawn on me? A thought struck me just like the bong of Mill labourers’ that would fill the air of Mumbai before mills were locked forever.
That was the time when Mumbai was bustling with mill- labourers’ crowd. The character of mill- worker was so influential that even the motion media especially films were based on life of a mill worker and heroes prefer to play the character of hard working, faithful mill-worker. It created a lot of good impression about actor and gained him popularity and fame. There was a competition to portray the best mill- worker. I think my ‘Boneless’ is based on bones of by-gone mill- workers which are separated from the meat and served in McDonald as ‘boneless chicken’ in ‘Phoneix Mills’ which was the only source of earning for mill- workers! Ironically, the delicacy is sold at Rs. 50 with free Coke! Are these the mill-workers who are completely wiped out from Mumbai’s scenario? If you happen to go to Phoneix Mills Compund just look at the chimney of the mill which stands high as the memory of the makers of Mumbai city or the people who gave identity to professional existence of Mumbai. You will have an illusion of it still ringing. And this would happen only if you have not yet tried to separate bone from flesh.
Now that area is residence of upper-class society and that chimney maybe the status symbol for them just like in earlier times the royal families would hand the hay filled dead wild animal’s face on wall as the pride of showing their hunting skills. Whatever it is, surely it is one of the ways to remember past. I thought like this one day there might be ‘a boneless mill’ as well, which would be addressed as Hutatma Mill.
I had not completed the painting in one go. There was a long break of a year when I did not work upon it; nothing instigated me to be drawn towards it. While I started painting it again, I meet Parbhakar Kolte Sir. Sir said something very funny yet critical. He said, “Now-a-days paintings are made like jalebis .The batter is prepared and kept overnight for fermentation and in the morning fresh and hot jalebis are fried. In evening the jalebis which become stale and not sold are thrown away. In this way today’s artists ‘prepare’ paintings and if not sold simply discard them.” And currently jalebis are sold on large scale in Delhi!
I related the above dialogue to my own paintings and thought that I have made en number of paintings in last 15 years but I have not yet thrown them away because for me they are still ‘fresh’ not yet ‘stale’ like leftover jalebis in evening. People have wrong notion,: ‘that which sells is the best.’
I have the word ‘steel’ in the tittle of this painting. I deliberated on it thinking of Subodh Gupta’s creation. It has steel utensils; symbol of kitchen ware’ food and hunger. Yes, his steel has severe hunger; hunger for Art! To rise higher, the highest It reminds of advertisement with tag line, “Have you made it large”. I am excited to see his creations. There is no much relation of my painting with his works; only for me steel represents hunger.Busy with routine life, one day suddenly world got the news of M.F’s death. M.F. passed away from this planet. At that very moment the bones in my painting seemed to be of M.F.; now calm and static! M.F.Hussain lived long innings keeping his bones fit. Maybe bones are resting in body in London. People opposing him might be waiting for his bones. There is no one who must have not thought of separating bones and flesh. This is traditionally followed and prevails even today.
Bones in my painting are surely of M.F., because he was separated from his homeland like meat and bones as soon as ‘boneless’ was ordered with his reference. I feel the paintings which proved controversial were not at all ‘image spoiling’ The opposers of Hussain must have curbed sex drive for many years, so whatever they saw they conceived nudity in it. But our history proves to much modern in outlook than today.
Few months before Akbar Padamsee said,”I am Muslim but did not paint any Hindu God nude.” But Akbar does nude photography even at this age! It is one and the same thing whether you paint Goddess or a woman nude. Thankfully in my painting there is no flesh but just bones.It is not like I do not paint nude paintings; I do. But after painting this painting I realized that nudity lies in our thoughts and not the body of flesh that we see. Briefly, Hussain had to leave his country. I would stop here as the topic might get diverted from my painting and take another route.
The painting is still a mystery for me. Is there really ‘hunger’ in this painting? Once while painting this, it was mid night and mosquitoes were troubling me. While working I killed so many of them with ‘Chinese bat’ which chaars mosquitoes even at the slightest touch. It reminded me of a film ‘Seven years in Tibet’. I felt the same atrocity of China over Tibet in which en numbers of Buddhist monks were killed. Even I was cruel with mosquitoes. At the very thought I stopped killing them. At the very moment I saw an ant coming towards dead mosquitoes followed by many other ants racing towards their prey. Then I realized that ‘mosquitoes’ were their dinner party for night. Did ants desire to have mosquitoes for dinner? But were they helpless because it was not possible for them to catch live mosquitoes. Was it a special treat for their ‘hunger?’ Thinking this I did not feel much bad about my act as I thought that I had become a mediator in providing them their desired food. But ‘Tibetian monks for dinner’ was for whom? The answer is still unknown. The ants might have thanked me for the dinner and future generation of mosquitoes must have sweared to suck my blood. This is ‘the hunger’ in my steel tiffin box.
Then a final phase came when it was an apex of relating my painting to frightful reality.Once I was traveling in Mumbai local train. It was crowded and I was seating on the third seat. A family entered with wife carrying a child followed by her husband. People were making loud noise, fighting over trivial matters and like every day playing with words, when just my eyes goes on child, that child The face of a child was completely hidden and I wanted to see the face. But the face was fully covered and as it happens that we are more enthusiastic to know about the undisclosed secrets; so even I wanted t see the child’s face. Train started and suddenly there was cry of child.
The man sitting next to that mother had seen the child’s face and instantly closed his eyes. He was quiet frightened. I sensed something wrong. Another man in the compartment told to fed the crying child to which father said, he was not crying because of hunger. That child did not have eyes and ears and his bones had stopped growing. His body was not growing at all. But whenever he cried, he cried aloud. He gives proper signals when he is hungry. Hmm, so the hunger is involuntary even if the bones don’t grow. So this is the drive that everyone has. The painting has and it is the ultimate desire for which everyone lives. I did not dare to see the child after that but I salute the mother who was feeding the handicapped child. How did she dare to grow a child whose growth had stopped? The lifeless life only that breathe and hunger! Her hunger for motherhood!
Everyone has hunger. An ant hungry to have mosquitoes, China for Tibetian land, Hussain’s hunger to return to birth land, hunger of Babri Masjid to go back to Ram Mandir and Mill turning to Mall; all hunger in different ways of subject and name of nominee.
It is hard to separate bones from flesh; when both are born together, stick till end, they are inseparable. So also if Ram mandir is erected on ruins of Babri Masjid, then people will say, “This is the same Ram mandir which is stands on land of Babri Masjid.”
All these are the reasons for the creation of ‘Boneless dream of hunger steel.’
- Tathi Premchand ( Art and Deal - 2012)
- Tathi Premchand ( Art and Deal - 2012)