An earthy note
The Telegraph
| Sunday, September 15, 2013 |


Straight talk

Published on Mon, 16 Sep 2013 18:7:10 IST

The best of Bengal

  • Supratik Bose

On September 17, Christie's will hold a once-in-a-lifetime auction in New York of 81 rare works by the maestros of the Bengal Renaissance, Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose that come from the collection of Nandalal's grandson, Supratik Bose.

The auction of The Art of Nandalal Bose, Abanindranath Tagore, and Rabindranath Tagore: The Collection of Supratik Bose will bring under the hammer works of impeccable provenance and great historical significance that were personally handed down to Supratik by Nandalal when he left to study in the US in the 1960s. They include a copy of the famous poem Where the Mind is Without Fear written and signed by Rabindranath himself, an exquisite watercolour Siva-Simantini by Abanindranath and also four of the original posters such as Bull Handler that Nandalal painted at the request of Mahatma Gandhi for the 1938 meeting of the Indian National Congress at Haripura.

In an email interview with Graphiti, Supratik reminisces about his grandfather, Nandalal, and the priceless legacy that he passed on to him. Excerpts:

  • NANDALAL BOSE (1882-1966)
    Untitled (Bull Handler Haripura Poster) tempera on paper 25 x 23 ½ in. (63.5 x 59.7 cm.)
    Estimate: 30,000-50,000
    This work was commissioned by M. K. Gandhi for the 1938 annual Indian National Congress Party meeting.

Q: Your paintings by your grandfather and the Tagores are, of course, of great importance in the context of Modern Indian art. But what do they mean to you?

SB: Before I came to the US in 1962, my grandfather Nandalal gave me a small collection of art and told me, "Keep them with you outside India" but keep the major part together for the scholars and the public in future. In 1969, I met the first person in the US who had ever heard of Nandalal Bose. That was Prof. John M. Rosenfield, now Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of East Asian Art, Emeritus, of Harvard University.

John told me a great deal more than I knew about the art of Nandalal Bose, Abanindranath Tagore, and the Bengal Renaissance. He said that we had to find a proper home to preserve the collection and show them in the East and the West. After my studies in urban design at Harvard University, I was with the university as its head of Long Range Planning for a couple of decades, and also ran a personal campaign of finding a home for our art collection.

It was in 1982, at the suggestion of Indira Gandhi and Satyajit Ray, that I placed 6,800 paintings by Nandalal Bose in the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in New Delhi. In 1983, a collection of about 100 paintings by Nandalal from NGMA was exhibited in Delhi, Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, Beijing, Osaka, Tokyo and Djakarta. In 2008, I helped organise an exhibition, Rhythms of India: The Art of Nandalal Bose (1862-1966), at the San Diego Museum of Art and Philadelphia Museum of Art. I took the preservation and publicity of Nandalal's art as my responsibility.

  • NANDALAL BOSE (1882-1966)
    Untitled (Ardhanareswar) tempera on cloth 14 ¼ x 9 ½ in. (36.2 x 24.1 cm.)
    Executed in 1942
    Estimate: $40,000-60,000

Q. Can you share any special memories of your grandfather - and also of some of the works that appear in this auction?

SB: In March 2008, I wrote an essay, Growing up With Nandalal Bose , which was originally published in Orientations. Here is an excerpt from it:

"One morning - it must have been in the mid-1950s, when I was about 15 - I was in my grandfather's studio grinding a stick of ink while he was painting a sumi-e (Japanese ink-brush painting). He was telling me how important the placement of the red seal was as it provided the only colour in the painting. I speculated where he might place it. He took great care preparing the seal, making sure it picked up enough vermilion seal ink to transfer to the paper. Then, with no hesitation whatsoever, his hand moved, and there it was - the seal was placed, not in a bottom corner, but near the middle of the painting. Surprised, I asked: 'Why there?' He said: 'It wanted to go there - perhaps it is the sun rising.' Indeed, the seal was just above the horizon, and I was left with a distinct feeling that there was no explanation for 'Why there'."

Among the works, Siva-Simantini by Abanindranath Tagore and Ardhanareswar by Nandalal are the only two paintings that were on display at our home in Santiniketan. They both are of a single embodiment of male and female, a strange idea (of hermaphrodite) that fascinated me. Is the love between the two, Shiva and Parvati, so strong that they morphed into a single being, I wondered as a child.

  • NANDALAL BOSE (1882-1966)
    Untitled (Chaitanya and Haridas)
    Watercolor on paper
    9 ¾ x 6 ¾ in. (24.8 x 17.1 cm.)
    Executed circa 1942
    Estimate: $60,000-80,000

Nandalal's Chaitanya and Haridas was also fascinating to me, especially during the Hindu-Muslim riots that came with Partition. How could Chaitanya, a Hindu saint, have a Muslim disciple called the servant of the Hindu god Krishna or Hari?

Another work, Bapuji , is a linocut print of Gandhi's march at Dandi and there's a linocut print of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi who led the non-violent resistance against the British in Afghanistan and what became Pakistan. In the context of history, that was a remarkable friendship between the two leaders.

And the poem, Where the Mind is Without Fear is the most famous and to many the most moving. I have known people who get teary eyes reading the last lines, Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake . We all wish it would - some day.

    Untitled (Shiva-Simantini)
    watercolor and wash on card
    10 1/8 x 7 7/8 in. (25.7 x 20 cm.)
    Executed circa 1920s
    Estimate: $40,000- 60,000

Q: What are your earliest memories of your grandfather and also his art? Can you share any anecdotes on him, or on how he's influenced you?

SB: Nandalal was an extremely lucky man to have presented himself to Abanindranath and E. B. Havell in 1905, the very year they started the Oriental Art Department at the Calcutta Government Art School. In one sense, Nandalal had two benefactors, who were also inspired teachers, the first was Abanindranath and then his uncle Rabindranath, to last him a lifetime. During the first 15 years with Abanindranath, he was at the centre of what some call the Bengal Renaissance along with Ananda K Coomaraswami, Okakura Kakuzo (the father of the Pan-Asian art movement), Sister Nivedita (a champion of the Indian Society of Oriental Art) and the Tagore family including A.N. Tagore, G.N. Tagore and S.N. Tagore. How lucky could a 23-year-old art student get?

I grew up with an extended family of the faculty and students of Kala Bhavan, the art school my grandfather headed, in Santiniketan. I had no idea as a child just how dynamic the school was.

The faculty included Benode Behari Mukherjee, Ramkinkar Baij, Xu Beihong (a famous Chinese ink-brush painter), Madam Fuku Akino (a famous artist from Kyoto), Sir Patrick Geddes (a polymath and father of modern city planning) and Stella Kramrisch (the editor of the Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art and the curator of Indian and Himalayan Art at Philadelphia Museum of Art). And well-known students included Indira Gandhi, Satyajit Ray (who said that he would not have won the Palme d'or at the Cannes Film Festival without studying under Nandalal) Prasata Raghava Rao (who became a famous puppeteer in Europe), K. G. Subramanyan, A. Ramachandran and Nirmala Dawaldas Patwardhan (who was an accomplished potter).

My father and two aunts studied and taught at Kala Bhavan. My father, Biswarup Bose, spent four years in Japan learning preservation of art on paper, and he was the reason why we had preserved so many paintings so well for so long. He also taught Japanese print making, including woodcut, linocut, lithograph, etching and stencil. My two aunts, Gouri and Jamuna, were champions of decorative art and crafts including alpona, batik, Kantha and cloisonn. My mother was a potter who worked with a Swiss potter, Martine Easchliman. I grew up breathing art.

    Where the Mind is Without Fear
    ink on paper
    14 x 19 ¾ in. (35.6 x 50.2 cm.)
    ESTIMATE: $100,000-150,000

Q: What do you like the most about your grandfather's art?

SB: I trust new art (and architecture) grounded in history. I find the idea of "starting at zero" by totally ignoring history - as did Walter Gropius at his Bauhaus school of architecture in Germany during the two World Wars -- most disorienting.

Before meeting Abanindranath, Nandalal had copied Italian renaissance paintings like those of Raphael. Later, he catalogued Abanindranath's collection of art which included Egyptian, Persian, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian and art from every region of India. Nandalal's innovations were grounded in history. Satyajit Ray once told me that before you see an exhibition of Picasso's art, you know what they might look like but Mastermosai (Nandalal) expressed in such diverse styles that one has no idea of what they might look like - Egyptian, Japanese Sumi-e, Bengali Paat - yet they have a unity. And that unity is Nandalal's art.

Published on 14 September 2013

An earthy note

  • Raghu Dixit

To pin down Raghu Dixit's success to just one factor is hard. His music is rooted in the country and is therefore quintessentially Indian. Music buffs feel that he has produced, sang and recorded some of the finest alternate music on India's independent music scene. From guitars and violins to drawing on blues, rock, reggae, bhangra, Latin and Sufi as inspiration, Dixit and his troupe, called The Raghu Dixit Project, have done it all.

Besides the band's private album, Antaragni: The Fire Within , Dixit's kitty also includes songs in four Kannada movies (including Psycho), as well as Bollywood movies like Quick Gun Murugan and Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge.

For those who haven't tuned in to the radio for a while, Dixit is a pioneer of Kannada-Hindi fusion music. He's melded together tunes and dialects from across the country and given them an international twist. Dixit and his band have played at over 500 concerts in the last six years, have garnered a major fan following (including 1.2 lakh Facebook fans) and perhaps an equally large number of followers in Europe and the United Kingdom.

Dixit is, surprise surprise, a trained classical Bharatnatyam dancer and has had no formal training as a singer or a musician. He is currently touring the country with Bacardi Weekender and also finalising the band's upcoming unnamed album.

As a prelude to the NH7 concert that happens across the country every year, the Bacardi Weekender (which began on July 19) will have 60 artistes including The Raghu Dixit Project performing at various venues across the country. The tour will head from Delhi to Calcutta, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Chennai, Coimbatore and more. In Calcutta, Arjun Vagale & BLOT will be performing on September 21 at Swissotel, City Centre New Town, Action area 2D, Plot No.11/5, New ToV Kolkata.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q: You have had no formal training in music. Does that make your music inherently different from any other musician's in the country?

Raghu Dixit: I was drawn to the guitar when I was young and learnt how to play on my own. I did enroll in a few courses but whenever I did try to learn, people told me I shouldn't take formal lessons as I could lose the rawness in my voice. I have however, in recent years, enrolled for a few online courses to pick up the theory of music.

Q: What have been your major influences?

RD: My dance background is the single-most strong influence in my music. I started learning Bharatnatyam when I was just eight years old and continued to dance till I was 22. Even today, I think there are a lot of influences of classical music and rhythms in my songs.

Q: You primarily focus on fusion music. Do you think folk and fusion music still have a niche audience in India?

RD: India is open to hearing Indian music, be it film or folk. But rock music is still niche in India. But, access to music has increased so much in the digital age that people hear music on the go and not just on the television or radio. This is helping artistes like us.

Q: What is your connect with Europe and a large number of fans in UK?

RD: We've had really incredible international concerts in the UK since 2006. In the initial years we decided to start touring there and applied to participate in concerts but had to spend much of our own money. But the gamble paid off. About three years ago, we started to bag some of the best gigs in UK including the Glastonbury Festivals -- the John Peel Stage, which is the place to be seen in. We went to the Latitude festival, the WOMAD festival and others.

We've even performed with pianist Jools Holland and Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin fame)as well as Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire. The best achievement thus far has been The Raghu Dixit Project album, which became Number 1 on the iTunes World Music charts in the UK in 2012.

Q: How important is the film industry for independent artistes in the country?

RD: I can't deny the "bigness" of Bollywood. It is certainly the Big Brother of all music. Indie music will have to fight to stay in the scene with Bollywood. But there's still hope. There are umpteen number of music festivals in the country that give artistes like us a platform. You'd be surprised at the number of people who camp out to watch a four-day concert in some of the metros.

Q: Last year you performed for Queen Elisabeth II. What was that experience like?

RD: It was quite unique and wasn't like a regular concert. There were a lot of elements that came together for that performance. It was at The Royal Horse Show and Winter Fair and we were representing Asia from the Commonwealth countries. We played a song on stage while the horse ensemble performed. In fact, it was the first time that I collaborated with my wife, Mayuri Upadhya, who is also a contemporary dancer.

Q: What is your upcoming album like?

RD: The album is a work in progress. It's yet unnamed, unreleased and unfinished (laughs). But we're at the last 150m of the race. It should release mid-October as we're doing the second round of mixing. We have pre-sold around 35,000 CDs already.

Q: What music does Raghu Dixit listen to?

RD: Right now I'm listening to two or three different artistes. My favouites are Paradise Valley by John Mayer, Something for the Rest of Us by Goo Goo Dolls and Mumford & Sons.