Sunday, September 30, 2007

Revealing Van Gogh

‘Lust for Life’ a book by Irving Stone on Vincent Van Gogh changed the way I looked at paintings and creative art. This book came in my life in 1999. Now when I look back to all my trips to France and Netherlands prior to 99, I do feel tinge of regret of not knowing Van Gogh then.

Van Gogh lived for just 37 years and in last ten years he produced 900 paintings and 1110 drawings. But his last two years of work netted him more recognition and fortune than all his life. For anyone who is passionate about Van Gogh and his work, life of his last two years is fascinating aspect of his life. Most of the Van Gogh – as a person behind great masterpieces - got revealed through hundreds of his letters that he wrote to his brother Theo, Sister Wilhem and mother.

A recent public display of his letters to his 15 year junior friend- Émile Bernard- displayed his hitherto unknown facet of his personality along with his penchant and passion for colors. These letters also tells us how much crucial Arles- south of France has been in his life and rues the fact he arrived in Arles- so late in his life. “My God, if only I had known this country at 25, instead of coming here at 35.” He describes train journey from Paris to Arles as a riot of gay color effects of nature composed of green tree, a lilac field, an orange roof, a big blue sky.” His description of his painting of a plantation worker in a field reads “The chrome yellow 1 sky almost as bright as the sun itself, which is chrome yellow 1 with a little white, while the rest of the sky is chrome yellow 1 and 2 mixed, very yellow, then. ... There are many repetitions of yellow in the earth, neutral tones, resulting from the mixing of violet with yellow.” How true it is. Isn’t Mother Nature a bountiful of bright and rich colors? Beating sun, Thick Foliage, Foams on the crest of waves, Coal Mines and burning of coal, Full Moon and Stars under No Moon – all reflect bright and vivid colors. Van Gogh brought them on canvas with his ingenuity. Most painters bring human emotion on canvas associating colors with different moods and expressions of human emotions. His enchantment with aromatic field and star spangling skyline was expressed in one such letter. I realized from Van Gogh the beauty of bright colors – something that we see in India in every spectrum of life. Van Gogh didn’t change colors with human emotions. Color remained his central theme.

With Van Gogh, I understood that In order to understand the painting, one must know painter’s mind. Later when Picasso’s paintings were exhibited in Mumbai, his bizarre paintings could make sense as I had read his biography and his relationship with woman. All these words, ideas, sensations and images are packed into those 20 letters to Émile Bernard. He wrote these over two years just prior to his committing a suicide. These two years were very important phase in the life on Van Gogh. Van Gogh died in 1890. In 1889, he made starry nights and the portrait of Doctor Gatceht who treated his mental illness, in 1988; he cut his ear and drew his self portrait. Same year, he made portrait of postmaster – his new friend. Vase of twelve sunflowers came in April 1988. All these four paintings collectively fetched more than 300Million Dollars – but decades after his death.

These letters accentuates the mercurial personality that was so wonderfully crafted by Irving Stone. Initial letters he dons the role of elder brother, advising Bernard to eat better, to stay away from visits to brothels. Then he becomes a mentor and urges Bernard to study certain painters in order to promote his career. Gradually, as differences arise, he becomes an antagonist, and the correspondence ends. This who know Van’ Gogh’s behavior in his early days at Brussels, Hague, and Nuenen, would feel it consistent. Holland Ottar in New York Times has analyzed these letters under an article ‘Friendship with letters and paint’. VERENA DOBNIK, Associated Press Writer interviewed Jennifer Tonkovich, curator of The Morgan Library & Museum who is exhibiting these letters "Painted with Words: Vincent van Gogh's Letters to Emile Bernard,"

In another letter he writes about paint and color. He says: “I follow no system of brushwork at all; I hit the canvas with irregular strokes, which I leave as they are impastos, uncovered spots of canvas, re-workings, and roughness. I’m inclined to think that the result is sufficiently worrying and annoying not to please people with preconceived ideas about technique.” In one letter, Van Gogh gives a vent to frustration of depicting water and air. What color should he use to demonstrate the reality of these fine elements? But he emphasizes “No blue without yellow and orange.”

‘Lust for Life’ did delve upon Van Gogh’s opinion about contemporary painters but it didn’t touch upon his expression on other stalwarts like Rembrandt. There is one letter that throws light upon about Van Gogh’s impressions of Rembrandt. He says “Rembrandt makes a portrait of himself as an old man, toothless, wrinkled, wearing a cotton cap — first, painting from life in a mirror — he dreams, dreams, and his brush begins his own portrait again, but from memory, and its expression becomes sadder and more saddening; he dreams, dreams on, and why or how I do not know, but just as Socrates had a familiar genie, Rembrandt, behind this old man who bears a resemblance to himself, paints a supernatural angel with a da Vinci smile.” And yet, he concludes, “Rembrandt invented nothing, and that angel and that strange Christ — he knew them, felt them there.”

Another letter delves upon Van Gogh’s image of nature as he sees it “At present am working in the olive trees, seeking different effects of a gray sky against yellow earth, with dark green note of the foliage; another time the earth and foliage all purplish against yellow sky, then red ochre earth and pink and green sky. See, that interests me more than the so-called abstractions. ... My ambition is truly limited to a few clods of earth, some sprouting wheat, an olive grove, a cypress.” Then, in a devastating passage, he brings color and reality together:“You’ll understand that this combination of red ochre, of green saddened with gray, of black lines that define the outlines, this gives rise a little to the feeling of anxiety from which some of my companions in misfortune often suffer, and which is called ‘seeing red.’ ”

These letters also dispels the popular notion of Van Gogh was nothing but a whimsical, crazy, naive genius painter who lived in isolation and got recognized only after his death. These letters show that Van Gogh was a well-read person; and he read everything from the Bible to Zola. Van Gogh also writes about his belief that “too much sexual activity detracts from your work and he felt sexual activity depletes you". Irving Stone had given a detailed account of how Van Gogh had left a woman prostitute he was living with in Holland to devote himself entirely to painting, But when he had the money, van Gogh writes, he tried to visit a brothel about every two weeks. Another facet of Van Gogh – that was not known. In some letters, he talks about finances and about his health - and how to maintain his stamina for work by eating well. There is little direct reference to his mental health, "but you're aware that there's this problem. He talks about calming his head," the Jennifer Tonkovich concludes .

Some of my favorite websites of Van Gogh are and . It has everything about Van Gogh along with manuscripts of many letters that Van Gogh has written. I am sure this site will soon get updated with recent letters of Van Gogh to Bernard.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Pancham's final Journey.

Lee Iacocca in his autobiography mentioned that he was lucky to have been born in USA and also being born at this period of USA. I feel, we all are lucky to have Pancham been born in India but we would have been more fortunate if he were to arrive two decades later - when fruits of digital music and globalization is making Indian talent shine on the world horizon. Pancham with A R Rahman would have ruled music scene globally.

I cant imagine how FM's in India would have commercially survived without Pancham. Today most popular remix are churned out of Pancham's old melodies of 70's and 80's and they co-exist with original songs enchanting almost four generations. His ever presence melodies on FM makes us feel that he is very much part of us. Only when we see the above video, realization hit us that he is no more .

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Ganesha, Ram and India

What would be the three most popular personalities that have been drawn, painted and sculpted in the history of the world? The answer perhaps would be Jesus Christ, Gautama Buddha and Ganesha. But if I were to narrow down the choices, the race could be between Jesus and Ganesha. Religion statistics of Christianity population with 2.1 billion with Hinduism at 900M and Buddhism 375M would make Lord Jesus outscore Ganesha by his presence in billion Christian homes, numerous churches spread throughout Europe and Latin America and also Paintings and sculptures from the Renaissance period. But in recent years, popularity and appeal of Lord Ganesha too has soared and it’s amazing to see his diverse forms being presented in innovative manner by artists’ world over.

Asha Sasi has nicely associated Ganesha’s physical attributes to our social and moral behavior. She says ‘In spite of being an elephant, he is so light that he can travel on a mouse. We all become so heavy, because of our ego, pride, materialism, etc. He, in Maha Ganapathy form is a symmetrical beauty, except his broken tusk. This was in fact broken purposefully, just to make his form a bit lower than the ideal, like the scar in Lord Vishnu’s chest. Huge ears of Ganesha symbolize his Shraddha, i.e. attentiveness, his half closed eyes sees outer world and himself at the same time. We should also be like that. Normally, elephants do not carry ropes and Ankusha themselves, but the mahouts use them on the elephants. Here Ganesha himself carry paasha (rope) and Ankusha, symbolizing that we ourselves should carry the tools to control ourselves. So we shall meditate on our ‘friend and guide’ Ganesha and try to emulate him in our lives as far as we can.’

This was in response to my greetings to all my travel passionate buddies spread across the world on Ganesha Chaturthi. My greeting said: ''Good wishes on b'day of Lord Ganesha -God of Success.'''In Hinduism, Ganesha — the elephant-deity riding a mouse — is The Lord of Success. The son of Shiva and Parvati, Ganesha has an elephantine countenance with a curved trunk and big ears, and a huge pot-bellied body of a human being. He is the Lord of success and destroyer of evils and obstacles. He is also worshipped as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth. In fact, Ganesha is one of the five prime Hindu deities (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Durga being the other four). May you be blessed with all the success through out your life”. My purpose was to make people in my virtual realm aware that there is equally important Indian festival like Deepawali, Holi and Janmashtami.

I was happy to get many responses. One came from Lin; a Belgian friend who stays with her family in one of the island of Spain ‘I went to aarthi in Sai mandir and prayed for Lord Ganesha’ here was another response from Jenn in England ‘We have a picture of the image of Ganesha in our house so we feel we are blessed. The reason we have it is my brother is marrying a Hindu girl, and I guess in time we will get to know a little more of Indian culture’.

Ganesha symbolizes India as much as Krishna. Another figure that always remained in heart but in recent years was brought on Indian street was Lord Ram. Ram has been too idealistic a figure to get charmed by people in 21st century. I too wasn’t enamored by Ramayana as much I did with Mahabharata. Ramayana was like a bland cereal fed to infant .Very clean, sterile, and nutritious but boring. Mahabharata was like spicy dish with Kolhapuri spicy garlic based masala. Ram didn’t stir me except from the Geet Ramayana songs penned by G. D. Madgulkar and Sung by Sudhir Phadke. But Ram and Krishna are the essence of every Indian. One can’t take Ram and Krishna from any Indian. In order to break mythical bridge, to create a canal between India and Sri Lanka, when Archeology Dept of India Govt gave an affidavit saying that there was no evidence that Ram ever existed, I felt that they were foolish bunch of individuals who perhaps sought existence of 5000 BC born Ram through DNA marks but forgot to read a legacy called Ramayana. And their claim is that this legacy is sheer mythology and imagination. If this so, I wonder how the places like Panchwati, Saryu River, Lanka would come into a fiction when they were 1000’s of miles away and this mythology would spread all over south Asia. But I was shocked when Karunanidhi said ‘"Lord Ram is an imaginary character and Ram Sethu is not a man-made bridge. The Centre should not do anything to disturb the Sethusamudram project,” How can a politician make such a blunder? Jaylalitha would be too happy to get her acts together to galvanize her public foray.

Tarun Vijay in passionately wrote ‘Ram defines our nation, our ancestry, our civilization. Denying Ram is denying India. Gandhi stood firmly for Ram Rajya. He died with Ram's name on his lips. His Samadhi in Delhi has only one inscription etched on it, 'Hey Ram'. But Govt of India ask Indians to provide proof of Rama's birthplace and the data of his bridge's construction plans ’

If comments about Lord Ganesha and Indian culture elated me, remarks about Indians by Taiwanese lady Shen who is passionate about India and its culture, hit me hard. What she said is the reality of modern India and can be vouched by many Indian women who use public transport in metro. She says. “A co-worker who stayed in our company before just came back from India. She is single and teaches Chinese in Delhi. This makes me miss India again. If I can, I also would like to do as she is doing now to live there and teach Chinese to earning my living. India is a country that lets me both love and dislike. India - this land is beautiful and I like this land, but most Indians (especially businessmen and auto-rickshaw drivers) make me feel bad. Some men who are walking on street intend to touch your breast by passing you. They don't respect women at all. However, I am missing India so much. I want to go back again as possible as I can”

This year’s Ganesh Chaturthi was Akshta’s first and it must be due to her presence that we managed to get the coveted parking space to visit community Ganesha at Maharashtra Mandal and also the temple. My attempt to make ‘Ukadiche Modak’ wasn’t all that disaster. Positive responses on Ganesha from outside members made me feel nice but doubting the very existence of Ram by the rulers of India made me disturbed and so was the comment by Chinese lady about India. The difference between the two was – One was by the legitimate government arm that doubted legitimacy of India’s very essence and other by a foreigner who is passionate about India but not about Indian – and I am one of them.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Akshta in her 5th month

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Story of Sholay

These days, most movies partner with TV channel and project it as media partner. TV channel in turn is genrous with air time in creating an upbeat mood towards a movie to draw people to movie theater. So far so good ! But recently I see a change in the approcah of different TV channels. Those channels who are not in partner with the project go all out to in projecting this movie as flop and sabotage its chances of survival.

I was surprised to see one channel projecting Ramu Ki Aag movie as an utter trash and to prove that it created special program on 'Making of Sholay'. I didnt like their approach but enjoyed the narrating the trivia that went behind in making one of the meomeorable epic saga in hindi movie history.

Today, one of the pancham bhakt gave this link from BBC Asian Network celebrating Sholay's 30th anniversary. Its enjoyable listening to Ramesh Sippy on making Sholay, Music and Dharmendra's interview. You can click Story Of Sholay

Saturday, September 08, 2007

"Dooba Dooba rehta hoon Ankhon main teri" ... "I am submerged in the depth of your eyes".

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In my teenage years , Guitar was the symbol of liberation and youth and it very much remained till I finished my college. Attractive shapes, colors and variations made this instrument looked sleek to most of other modern instruments. In those days, in commercial orchestra team, Guitar player took a prominent place along with saxophone, accordion and drums. I never got a chance to play around Guitar but always made it a point to touch this instrument whenever I walked in to any music shop. During Mount Mary fair, in the bylanes of Bandra west, I would stop outside the home of christian families when I would hear strings of Guitar. Listening to Brijbhushan Kabra in ‘Call of the valley’ brought the beauty of Guitar as an instrument that can bring finer nuances of Indian classical Raga.

But with growing years, impact of Guitar got diminished with other string instruments like Sitar, Sarod quenching the thirst of musical ears. With Bruce Springsteen and other groups in 80’s, Guitar for me turned into heavy metal instrument that churned out nothing but cacophony accompanied by shrilling noise of a singer.

Silk Route in early 90’s brought back wonderful memories of Guitar. The song ‘ Dooba Dooba… ’ made Silk Route famous and sadly got buried under weight of the success of this album. Where is Silk Route these days ? This song "Dooba Dooba" - debut by this Indian Pop group was one of those initial ventures by Indian Pop youngsters as MTV took over India . The video of this song, shot underwater, was equally creative as guitar chords used in the songs. Y’day, when I heard the MP3 version of this song, I couldn’t resist putting the widget of this song on my blog. I also remember buying a CD of Channel V of its 32 songs, most of them were useless , just to have Dooba Dooba in my collection and also going to Planet M in South Extension, New delhi when the group came to play this song as a part of the promotion for the stores.

When I retire and if I ever start learning or playing Guitar , I would definitely try my hand on Dooba Dooba , with following chords

Dooba dooba rehta hoon aankhon me teri
Deewana ban gaya hoon main chaahat me teri
Am Bm
Ab din guzarte nahin
Am Bm
Ratein kat-ti nahin
Am Bm Am Bm G
Teri tasvir se baat ban-ti nahin... Aa-ja
G, C, Am, G
Koi jaane na
Pehchaane na
Am D
Yeh hua kaise
Tum aagaye kwabon mein aise
Am Bm Am Bm
Bewafa... sun oh bewafa... na jaa

Dooba dooba rehta hoon aankhon me teri
Tum jo mil gaye
Deeye jal gaye
Mere khwabon mein
Ban jao tum mere hamsafar
Bewafa ... sun oh bewafa ... bewafa... na jaa

Dooba dooba rehta hoon aankhon me teri
Deewana ban gaya hoon main chaahat me teri

Ab din guzarte nahin
Raaten kat-ti nahin
Teri tasvir se bat banti nahin... oh aa-ja
Na ja bewafa
Oh bewafa... sun oh bewafa... na jaa


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Yeh Dosti Hum Nahi Todenge( this friendship will not be broken)

Gulf news introduced me to Hanumantha and reading his story, I immediately developed liking and respect towards him.

Today, Hanumantha is sick, in fact very sick. He is 75 and feels he has only few months left to live. He is keen to go back to his country and die. Since 1997, he has been in UAE and been to his home town in Andhra Pradesh just once – that too when UAE Govt. offered amnesty for illegal residents. He came back as domestic helper but since last few years found himself on street after the death of his master. With loss of job, he had to vacate his shared accommodation and soon take solace in public garden. Deteriorating health, lack of food made him go from place to place till he slumped back on a pavement in Sharjah. Seeing him weeping, a passerby stopped. A good Samaritan he must be. He brought Hanumantha to Indian association who with the help of volunteers arranged for necessary money for his journey back. Luckily for Hanumantha, another amnesty scheme is already on and he is lucky to take advantage.

What’s so special about Hanumantha? After all, there are thousands of Indian and Pakistani who spend their entire life staying illegally in Middle East, saving for their family only to end their life ignominiously. Hanumantha too saved money for his wife and remitted part of his earnings to her. He had no children and his only link was his wife. But while in UAE, his wife died and he stopped sending money. He accumulated almost Dh 7,000 but at one instant he spent it on repatriating dead body of his room mate that he shared his accommodation. “ I had to spend, he was kind to me. By making arrangements to repatriate his body home, I have to a certain extent repaid his kindness for providing me shelter when I had none”, Hanumantha said. He has a sister back home and is already as old as him. He hopes she recognize him once he goes back.

Seeing Hanumantha’s story reminded me of an essay Richard Nixon wrote about ‘Extraordinary lives of Ordinary Men’. We all live for our own gains, happiness and only people like Hanumantha rise above the parochial filial affection and commitments. I am sure he will live remaining life in peaceful and contented manner.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

modern feminine version of arjuna

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