Goings-On at the Academy

Academy of Fine Arts, Calcutta: March 28th 1994


The Academy is up in flames.
Gautam Bhaumik is at the centre of it, standing in lightning
as birds’ necks angle, a goat scrams, a bull shiver-charges
and a cat’s eyes kill. And the human is divine
in a wounded angel’s medley of glowing wing-tresses
or a woman in light at a grave . . .
and God the rough human is in the rich-net fisherman,
or a cellist grappling with wood to conjure sunshine,
or a faceless beggar-woman, Madonna with child.
A lugubrious clown peers behind all these structures.
And Ganesh with human feet and hands has a begging-bowl –
so much for Prosperity!
A stone glitters, cold, hot, yet it is not a stone
but something bound with ropes, knotted
by invisible force, a jewel, a prisoner,
The Order of the Day.
The fire has started.


Turn right: the crazy ten are in uproar
squabbling, joking, laugh-shouting over walls
and from the floor. And in each steady moment of light,
what peace. Light-red terracotta harmonies of Pradip Sur,
in a line with Somnath Chakraborty’s strength of epic
in fibre-glass the colour of mud. And 41 pictures garrulous
with faces, forms and flowers; moon, mask, magic,
mere meaning. The red glow of Arun Jana’s cinema-frames,
his haunting deep-eyed close-ups. And Mohi Paul’s night-shades
of sensual lake and mountain . . . and Parvati in day
and gladness. Swapan Denra’s trees
encircling nothingness and lost man
and woman with a flower, and sea night space
and the soul. Dipak Ghosh is jazzy,
his women hard with womanhood, as here as here is here –
yet dancing, how-do-you-do, light-at-ease.
Then green-flickering sombre
shapes of boy, or being, by Subimal Mandal,
all unaware of red patches and brightness-strips.
Can he know them? Can I, can anyone know what colours
catch at? Dipankar Mukherjee’s mysteries,
duets in yellow and brown of stage performers
After the Curtain, are tired, knowledgeable, quizzing,
satisfied, sad and achieved – as each mind’s moment.
The fire of these rooms now seems to burn in earnest.
Bikas Mukherjee plays with water, with trains,
sunflowers and snakes and a golden mango – and Woman.
She is supreme over houses and fruits,
equal to Nature’s scribbled patterns.
Now comical and rich,
so warm, the fire is a feast of the Earth’s kindness.
Uday Shankar Hajra paints Magic Moments.
Nothing more trivial and nothing more wonderful. The sun
is out – ridiculous – both at work and at play.


That was ten men: these are four women.
On the left the blaze is startling: then contained.
Tatini Sengupta is lurid, to-the-point: bike, tube-well and drums,
faces lifted, a yellow-and-red throbbing
at the heart of life. And then the sun is transmuted,
understood in quieter tones. Kusumita Bhattacharyya’s
limpid vulnerabilities of colour are no less burning,
her moments of quiet and gossip and speaking flowers
alight with what’s fine.
Who has lived at the sea
if not Arpita Basu? That dominant wall, that lunge,
that twilit deepness. A light red tinge, by black trees,
has my ankles cold and wet. Then Uma Bardhan
plays mental games in romantic deep-felt form.
Sitala sits, a goddess on an ass –
and the shadow-silk ass is more goddess; the water too.
An ornate staircase becomes the nineteenth century.
A girl and a boy see a vision of birds.
All that stirs in us is the fire’s . . . and here
(before all else) its grace and suddenness.


Now at the back Nature itself is breathing
a pure thought-flame. Rabindranath is speaking:
his poems in Samar Bhowmik’s practised art
inspire the frames to tell the non-stop current.
It does not end with death, not start or end,
it is; so an Academy-occasion
shines on for ever. Vertical in the frame
the poem, and painting round.
They Fought Evils,
Jesus, Bhishma, Hussein, the universe
split but not split in half; The Lonely Being
shipwrecked under the moon; Fishermen
in miniature red and black bulked in the sea;
Tagore himself in Nature. Here is spirit,
the song inside; and outside stillness, rest.
Life in its wholeness has the fire. Now a boy
almost balances the sun on his head – what a trick! –
a ballad-singer’s soundless tune flows by,
a scene from the Land of Cards – a Tagore play –
has our jammed-card-like conflict. Under the moon
each comes to Nature’s closeness. So the artist
has seen the poet and painted out of joy.


The present quickens: it has not before
with such a sense of flowering light. To see
Bengali art in 1994
has quenched the arid Westerner in me.
The bell goes: I depart the Academy.

But four rooms roar.

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