CHAPTER - 4
The car drew up before a wretched old building which could have been a go-down, a coach-house, a workshop or even a tavern. It struck Jitendra as an odd place for an artist to live in. There were too few windows to receive any light in. Quite a dungeon of a place where a herd of swine might have once lived. At one glance Jitendra was able to see to what privations the artist had been reduced and to what straits. Vidyapathi, hearing the sound of some vehicle and sensing some visitor, had already come out. He stood blinking confusedly before Jitendra. He did not know who it was. Just a Sanyasin, that was all he could know. His wife, his daughter, and his two little sons, had shambled out along with him in a hurry to see who it was that had come in such a posh car. The artist still stood bewildered and gaping. He looked like ill and very badly gone to seed.
"Don't you recognize me, Mr.Vidyapathi?"
"No, Swamiji, I don't. In all my life I had never known any Sanyasin personally"
Jitendra laughed, but it was in pain.
"Do you remember a little boy by name Jitendra who took painting lessons with you about fifteen years ago?"
"Yes, I do remember, the son of Mr.Gopilal, a mighty rich man. But I could not continue the lessons for that boy. He was one of the most brilliant pupils I had ever had. Because things turned out very bad for me, I could no longer teach nor could I paint. I had not seen that boy since. Do you happen to be his friend, or by any chance, a relative ?"
"No, Mr.Vidyapathi, I am neither his friend nor his relation. I am myself, that very Jitendra. I was then a little boy, and now I am grown up."
The artist was stunned. He stood with his eyes half closed as if sinking away into remembrances lost, blurred and not easily recoverable. He breathed slowly as if he had practically nothing to say. He felt as if he was face to face with a solemn tragedy and a mighty turn of fate in the garb of a Sanyasin. Who would have ever thought that the son of Gopilal might some day be a Sanyasin !. But he didn't want to talk of that or utter comments. The shock wore off. They settled down to a companionable talk. Jitendra sat on a rope-cot. The artist sat on a stool. Vidyapathi was brimming with grateful sentiments.
"You were a painter of high standing, Mr. Vidyapathi. And painting was your very life. I donít comprehend how you could stop painting ?."
"I have not painted a single canvas for the past ten years. As a painter I think I am finished. In a short period everything crashed, and I was cast out of the field. No effort on my part or the sympathy of friends could retrieve me or prop me up".
He continued after a spell of deeply animated silence and drawing a few quick breaths.
"When one fell on evil times, there could never be any explanations. They all cease. Arguments become absolute nonsense. When Evil comes, it just comes. There is nothing to stop it. I have been thinking all these ten years what it was that caused my ruin. I think and think, but I am only mystified. It was like something terrible and formidable picking me with just a pair of tongs and throwing me on dirt-heap."
"Why don't you tell, Mr.Vidyapathi, what it was that exactly happened. Because even ill-fate works through some facts and circumstances of life. Usually it never takes the blame on itself. It throws the blame on something in us and around us. Isn't it ? ."
"You are too kind indeed, Mr.Jitendra. It was like some darkness settling all of a sudden on my trade. I didn't know whence it came. The buyers of my paintings were of a mixed description and of high circumstances. They were paying my pictures much larger prices than I could ever have expected. They suddenly left me one after another. And in less than six months I was a discredited artist.
"Some said that my paintings had lost their quality and appeal. A few others said they had lost their depth and philosophic content. They also said that if Art was poetry there was nothing of the poetry in my pictures. It was all just a senseless daubing of color, and nothing else. They were superficial and just pretty but they conveyed nothing. Then they said that I was incapable of rousing emotion. But I know that there was not a grain of truth in all these criticisms. There had never been a single painting of mine that did not possess a spiritual import and that did not stir one's feeling. I had even blended the sensual with the spiritual in quite a few of my paintings wherever such blending was possible and made for better effect.
"Perhaps some curse, the curse of some offended god or a godlike soul."
Vidyapathi, as he said this, bit his lips and batted his eyelids. He wanted to speak something more. Then he thought better of it and stifled himself.
"You can confide in me, Mr.Vidyapathi, I am a Sanyasin. Nothing bad will come of it. I will pray for you".
"I don't know how to thank you, Mr.Jitendra, But I have been praying all these ten years. But nothing has happened."
"But, Mr.Vidyapathi, your prayer will reach God only if it is passionate and full of faith. You should pray until you forget yourself and become one with Him in a total surrender. Then He will begin to shine in you and all your affairs. Efface yourself out and out and give place to God in everything. Do you read Bhagavad Gita".
"Do you have a copy?".
"Then bring it to me".
He went in and brought a weather-beaten copy.
"Do you read it regularly?"
"How could I when I am weighed down with so much misery and hardship?"
Jitendra then opened the book and pointed to him the Sloka No. 22 in the chapter under "Raja Vidya Raja Guhya Yoga", And asked him to read it aloud.
"Persons who, meditating Me as Non-Separate, and worship me in all things, and think of nothing else, I take on my hands all their affairs, and look after their happiness, well-being, prosperity and good fortune. All that becomes my responsibility."
Jitendra asked him to read it again, and then again, twice, thrice and a fourth time.
"Does it mean anything to you, Vidyapathi?"
"It means quite a lot to me, Mr.Jitendra. It conveys to me a whole world of meaning. A new hope seems to spring in me. I seem to expand. I see all the darkness dispersing, I see it, I see it. I see it, Mr.Jitendra".
"Now tell me, Mr.Vidyapathi, whose curse is it that you seem to fear so much, and think that it was that which broke you".
"I think, Mr.Jitendra, it should be the saint Adi Shankara".
This gave Jitendra a jolt. But he didn't want to interrupt. "Yes, Mr.Vidyapathi, please go ahead".
"I painted a picture of the saint Adi Shankara. I could remember that the beginning of my misfortune coincided with that. It was a commissioned work. I did it for a sinner, a Chandala. He was an usurious moneylender who had committed sins of no mean magnitude for the sake of money. Only later I learnt it. His life was all sin and reeked of extortion, treachery and even murder. He was a vampire and one of the deadliest characters.".
"Initially I could not get near the canvas at all. Something pushed me back. I would feel sick when I faced the easel. If I tried and managed to get on the canvas with my brush and the colors, the figure wouldn't come at all. It would seem as if it cried at me and commanded me to get back and quit. I would feel sick. Once I tried a whole night and could make no headway. Next day I had fever and unbearable rheumatic pains. Then I thought that since it happened to be the figure of one of the holiest of sages I had to paint, I should have purified myself as ordained in the Shastras and observed the prescribed religious austerities. I should have also first offered worship to the saint and conducted a Puja. I should have done all this before I put the brush on the easel. Then I did all that. Then I commenced my work. But even then, there was no change. I started getting horrible nightmares, it was as if the saint refused to be painted. Holding the brush was like holding a piece of red-hot iron. I felt an ever-growing barrier.
"However the work was finished. The moneylender paid me more than what I had bargained for. But the money didn't stick. Then started all my misfortunes. I could sense very distinctly the anger of the saint and the wrath of the gods. I should have nothing to do with men who believed in Evil and practiced Evil."
Jitendra sat in silence, thinking. How then the picture had come out so well, he wondered. Perhaps there was another destiny that awaited it. That was why it didn't stay with the moneylender and his circles.
"I saw that painting, Mr.Vidyapathi. It is now in the Sanskrit Academy at Benares. But it has come out wonderfully well."
That was good news to Vidyapathi. He felt happy that at last it had reached the right place. He felt like a repentant sinner, Jitendra smiled at the wealth of sentiment the artist betrayed in his speech.
The wife of the artist impressed Jitendra as a very practical, down-to-earth type, quite hardheaded and matter-of-fact and very resilient. Anyway she was not a cynic or pessimist like her husband. She complained that her husband was always bemoaning the adverse turn of his fate. Was there anyone on earth who had enjoyed uninterrupted fortune all their life ? , she asked. One should take good and bad equally in one's stride. Even kings and emperors fell. Jitendra was much satisfied with the woman. Morally a hard make of a female, well-fortified in spirit and capable of weathering the worst storms. Jitendra wished that the artist had learnt to fashion his life on the splendid homespun ethics of his wife.
She brought Jitendra a large mugful of foaming buttermilk. Jitendra didn't want to decline the courtesy. He drank.
In her worn-out Saree and jacket mended in many places, she looked really pitiful. She wore a few lackluster cheap trinkets on her person. She was a spindly woman, rather bony of cheek and jaw, but exuded a strong nervous energy. The daughter puzzled from the beginning could never break into speech. Jitendra wanted to put her at ease and make her talk. But she was too shy, and muttered her replies in monosyllables, and looked away. She was outgrowing her teens. She was taking on a glaze. It was time for her to be a bride. But Jitendra didn't want to talk about it and embarrass all of them. The two boys were going to school.
"Mr.Vidyapathi, you should have some pictures with you. I mean the unsold ones. Can I have a look at them?"
Vidyapathi hated to look at them. They had all somehow become his horrors. His blood would chill if he saw them again. But his wife took Jitendra to the room where they were kept, and threw it open
There were twenty three canvases in all. They had gathered dust over the years. There were many spiders which have made a home of them and seemed to be tenanting on them for years. Rain water had leaked and oozed and had made large stains. Color had peeled off from some. But the damages had not been fatal to the pictures as such, fortunately. They could be cleaned and restored. Now the artist had come and joined his wife and daughter. The two boys also stood by. The artist keenly observed the very learned comments Jitendra made of the pictures and the sophisticated knowledge he possessed. Within minutes Vidyapathi felt that he was in the company of a very great Artist. Jitendra picked out four of the paintings at random.
One was the picture of a thrashing ground beside a cornfield on which there were four women and five men at work. There was a tingling communicative power in it. It brought out the undefiled purity of the countryside, the Arcadian simplicity of the village folks, the verdant pastoral vegetation, and the impeccable quality of the natural elements that composed the scene. One could experience in just an instant down to his bones a whole rustic Paradise. This picture was entitled "THE VILLAGE THRASHING GROUND".
The next one was the picture of a dilapidated hovel with a thatched roof gone skeletal and moldy. It stood alone on this side of a river while on the other side there was in dim outline a hill that looked all sinister and very much like a demon. On the roof of the hovel there were vultures crowding up which looked bloody and predatory. The hovel stood against a black immensity. The hill stained in gore was an image of terror. It was a study in the impenetrability of the forces lying outside the ken of mortal mind. It was a study in the unfathomable mystery of the gods that fashioned the fate of the mortals. It was the composition of a hundred mystic moods. This bore the title, "TERROR KNOWN AND UNKNOWN".
The third one was a canvas in which beggars assemble on the edge of a forsaken road and achieve an unrestrained felicity in their own fashion. It was a sort of beggars' saturnalia. They fall into a spree of singing and dancing around a fire, and feasting and drinking on the surrounding meadows. There were four or five close-knit groups. It was a study in reckless merriment and self-generated ecstasy. Joy and felicity were not the monopoly of the Haves and the well-to-do. Even the penniless wanderers could experience it if they set their minds to it. Mind was its own place. It could make a hell of Heaven or a Heaven of Hell. All the beggars had lovingly communicative and fraternal visages. The picture held a great fund of creative power. This the artist called "THE PENNILESS BLISS".
The last one showed a Hibiscus plant grown to the size of a small tree. It was withering and dying. It carried one great flower and just half a dozen leaves. All of them drying up and shriveled, showing just not more than a bit of green. It was on a hillside near a log-cabin which had tumbled down and there was no occupant. The Hibiscus plant which was perishing and in its terminal stages of extinction is a miserable sight. It had, in its time of prosperity, had yielded flowers in basketfuls. The plant was a species of multiple petals. It had since fallen on evil times. There were three angels around the thick-stemmed plant. One of them digs a pit around it. Another one puts manure into the pit. A third one waters the plant from a long-necked gold vessel. The living presence of the angels and the new life surging up in the plant held the observer in a thrall. It was meant to convey a message to the men and women who had lost all hope in life and were desperate. To people who were seized of a fear that ruin would soon be upon them. To the Insulted and the Humiliated who draw their breath in pain and anguish. And to believers in truth and justice who are on the verge of defeat and disgrace. The picture was meant to assure them that there were Invisible Powers that would retrieve them from sorrows and misfortune, and put them on the way to triumph and happiness. This carried the caption "THE HIBISCUS PLANT AND THE ANGELS".
Jitendra then asked, "How much do you think, Mr.Vidyapathi, each of these pictures would be worth?"
The canvases were an anathema to the artist. He had lost interest in them and in the profession of a painter.
"What could I say, Mr.Jitendra? By condemning them to the lumber room I had already treated them as mere junk. There is no use picking them up again from the garbage heap. They have no status or value. I am prepared to give them away to anyone who would offer me two hundred rupees each. At least I could get that room cleared for other uses. Otherwise I may have to cart them away and dump them on the village dirt-heap".
"Is that the respect you give for Art, Mr.Vidyapathi?"
Jitendraís face was deeply clouded in sadness. It was as if all inside him stood still. His voice seemed to come in a faltering trail from afar.
"But Mr.Jitendra, I am no longer an artist. Nor would I ever be one. These paintings are to me just a haphazard throwing-together of colors. They are related to my adversity. They are accursed things I hate to see. They are the plagues of my life. I have become as much a lumber as they have. There is a curse on them as there is on me. Me, my family and these canvases are all together in the siege of a rotten devilry. We have no escape. If you want, you can take and make a gift of them to anyone you like".
Jitendra could see how broken hearted he was, and how lacerated his feelings. He had lost faith in himself and in life.
"Madam, will you please pack up all these four canvases and securely tie them up?", Jitendra asked the woman. The woman collected a few pieces of sack cloth and made a neat bundle of the canvases.
He and the artist now came out and resumed their seats. The woman brought out the bundle. The daughter and the two sons followed her. Jitendra opened the car and put the bundle in the back seat, and closed the door.
"Now, Mr.Vidyapathi, I am a painter and I write review articles in the Art-magazines and the newspapers. I determine the worth and quality of the various works of Art. There are people who think that I am an experienced connoisseur of Art. I could easily judge the monetary worth of any painting. These four paintings like all the rest have tremendous esthetic value. I propose to buy them myself. According to my present estimation, I put a value of Rs. 6000 on each. Therefore I am now giving you a check for Rs. 24,000 which you may please accept. You may encash it tomorrow at the bank in Benares.
"Next, I would advise you to secure a building in Benares on rent and open again your studio and the shop. Please come back into the profession at once. Get yourself known. I will arrange for publicity. I will do my best to bring you again into public notice. Don't refuse please. It is Adi Shankara that has brought me here. I will speak about it to you later. Be happy. God be with you".
Jitendra wrote out the check, and put it into the hands of the artist.
All of the family stood stupefied and spellbound. Then they all began to weep. The woman and the children fell at his feet. He stopped the artist when he was also about to do the same. Jitendra asked them not to weep. And to permit him to take his farewell. Before he boarded the car, he took out from his purse one thousand rupees in cash and put it in the hands of the woman.
"Madam, please buy clothes for yourself, your children, and your husband. Eat a feast and offer thanks to God. He will protect you all". He joined both his hands in a farewell salute. Then he got into his car. It went slow till he got out of the gate. Then it sped away.
Georgina Maxie had completed her tour of Ajanta and Ellora. She had taken about two hundred photographs. She had made plenty of notes that made quite a bundle. She had already read quite a good number of standard authorities on Indian Art including the cave paintings of these two historically famous places. She was a woman much educated in the theory and practice of Art though she was not an artist herself. She was full of praise for Indian Art, but her views were exclusively her own, and differed substantially from those of a few established authorities. She agreed with Swami Jitendra broadly that classical Indian Art derived mainly from the Hindu and other religions and their metaphysics. She had written in one of her articles that Hindu, Buddhist and Jain Art had quite a lot of spiritual content in them and could be explained only in spiritual terms. In fact there was in them the universal religion. It was that which gave them an abiding energy. This universal religion had a proximate or ultimate presence in the Art of these three primary religions of India.
She wanted to hand over her notes to Swami Jitendra for his study, and write down his comments herself. She proposed to write a whole book on her very fruitful travels to these two places. She arrived at the Ashram to see the Swamiji as she had originally hinted. Jitendra read her notes fully and made a critical analysis. She wrote down his comments as he dictated them. It ran to several pages. They put her on some new lines of thinking. It meant a goodly enrichment to her knowledge on the subject. She thanked him. They talked about Art for more than two hours. She took his lunch with him.
Jitendra felt happy at her coming to see him. He was expecting it, and it had happened at a most opportune moment. For he had been thinking of entrusting to her the four paintings he had taken from Vidyapathi and asking her to get the views and reactions of the leading Art circles in Amsterdam, and also to get some press reviews for them in leading Art journals. If she thought they would fetch a good price, she could sell them. He told her of the former status of Vidyapathi in the field of Art and his subsequent hardships and misfortune. She promised to do her best. She got all the four paintings securely packed up and handed over to her. She touched the feet of the monk, took his blessings, and left.