We are building a country with no vision or culture,” is the first thing artist Jatin Das says on a Monday morning in a quaint corner of an old heritage-feel small hotel on Prabhat road in Pune.
As he settles down at the table, he makes a face at the waiter for the unclean cutlery and tells us how he is completely disappointed with the way things are functioning in 2018, and points to how we are all headed to nowhere. “How can I talk to you about art and my artistic journey? I have dedicated all my life to my work, my art. Have you?” he questions. “I cannot talk about art to someone who barely knows what art is,” he stresses, adding that he means no offence. None taken, sir!
Jatin Das, a contemporary artist born in Mayurbhanj, Odisha and living in Delhi, was conferred with the Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian award by the President of India in 2012. An alumnus of the Sir JJ School of Art in Mumbai, Das has been painting for close to six decades now. “You want to know about my long journey? You must then listen to my lectures,” he explains how he is “tongue-tied” in talking to an absolute amateur, while still slowly obliging me with bits and parts from his illustrious life as a painter, sculptor and artist. In a conversation that was nothing short of haphazard, Das expressed his disappointment with the Indian youth’s blind aping of the West. “All the things we are now copying are superficial. We have high quality artwork and history in our country. But we want to copy them simply out of our inferiority complex and instead of imbibing our ethos,” he says, as he raves about the sculptures at the Ajanta-Ellora caves in Aurangabad and lights a smoke.
These are the things you must write about, he insists, “and not about my journey”. Speaking of the lack of art in our private and public lives, he says that today parents take their kids to malls and movie halls alone. “When was the last time we took our kids to museums, art galleries, bookstores on a Sunday? Art and aesthetics must be a part of our day-to-day life,” says the painter whose work ‘The Journey of India: Mohenjo-Daro to Mahatma Gandhi’ finds an honourable place in the Parliament of India. “It has been slightly damaged these days, I hear. You should publish that. Sensational hoga na?” he laughs.
Having worked on several murals and sculpture installations, Das says that our cities need more galleries, bookstores, and museums. Why is there only one Kelkar Museum in Pune? Why hasn’t anyone else thought of doing this? Is there any poetry bookstore at all? Why not?” he questions, adding that he is building a huge collection of artwork at his JD Centre of Art in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. This art centre houses a collection of traditional and contemporary arts and antiquities, designed by eminent architect B V Doshi as also a collection of pankhas (hand fans), one of the largest private collections of pankhas in the world.
Where did this fascination for fans come from? “It began as stupidity and just continued. You too should collect something. We must all build art like this,” he answers. “We are simply busy talking about development and industrialisation. When will we speak of education, agriculture, art and aesthetics?” he frowns, as he points to the sea change in attitudes that he has seen over the years. “There is now a general lack of dedication. We have had stalwarts in every field. But where is that kind of dedication? I don’t see it anymore,” he says, speaking of his experiences as a professor of art, and adding that art education, and education in general is flawed in this country.
So where did things go wrong? “We are all equally responsible for it — government, parents, teachers, politicians, bureaucrats, media and everyone. We are a great country but we are going to the dogs,” he sighs. “We have lost our holistic approach. Our foundation must be strong for us to succeed in any field but that’s lacking. We no more learn art. That sanskar needs to come from home.”
“Today, a young artist who barely has seen life can talk for hours about his art. That’s all garbage. A real artist is someone like a weaver I met in Paithan day before. This lady, immersed in weaving, and saying not a single a word. That’s an artist. An artist can never be confident. You must constantly be vulnerable to be an artist. I am still imbibing at this age. I am a student forever,” he signs off.