The call of Narmada

Ambika Shaligram
Thursday, 5 April 2018

Artist Ajay Deshpande went on a cycle ride along the river’s course in two states, which acted as his muse. His art works are on display at a city gallery

Lessons in humanity, faith, the pull of river Narmada, spirituality and plenty of sketches, portraits and paintings — this is what artist Ajay Deshpande came back with from his cycle trip covering half the distance of Narmada Parikrama.

Says he, “I wouldn’t call it Parikrama because I didn’t traverse the entire area. In January, my friend, Vivek Marathe and I started from Omkareshwar in Indore, then went to Bharuch in Gujarat and concluded our journey in Mandu, Madhya Pradesh.”

He anticipated and faced misadventures in cycling — when they had to climb incline or when tarred roads suddenly ended in dirt track, punctured tyres et all. But what he didn’t anticipate was the kindness with which he and Marathe were received by the villagers.

“I had a keen interest in visiting Malwa region. In the past, it was said if you have conquered Malwa, you have conquered the heart of India. I also made a stop at Raverkhedi to visit Peshwa Bajirao I’s samadhi (final resting place). Then, I also visited Baba Nare slope, which couldn’t be crossed before the bridge over Narmada was constructed,” explains Deshpande, who is exhibiting his portraits and paintings titled ‘Narmada Trails’ at Art2Day gallery, till April 14.

All along the route, his company was the mighty Narmada river. Just like the Ganga, Narmada too is an important river and flows east-west through three states — Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and along the borders of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra and Gujarat-Maharshtra, before joining the Arabian Sea.

“The course of the river kept changing. In some parts, the river banks couldn’t be crossed, whereas in some parts, the flow and currents were not that severe. The lives of the people in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat are dependent on the river. And, they revere it just like the Ganga river is worshipped. Of course, Narmada is far less polluted than Ganga. Also, the villages and towns around Narmada are not as commercialised as it is up north,” he points out.

The river and the people he met came alive on his canvasses. “I carried a sketchbook with me on this trip. Often I sat and sketched likeness of the people I met, and the topography which caught my eye. I worked on them after coming back to Pune, where I took some creative liberty and tried to sum up my observations through more details,” says Deshpande, adding, “I have got enough art work that can be displayed in two more solo exhibitions.”

When he set out on this adventure, Deshpande thought he will go as an observer and not as a pilgrim. At the end of his journey, however, he was drawn towards spirituality and humanity. That’s what beckons him when he will make the remaining journey of Narmada Parikrama in December.

ST Reader Service 
The Narmada Trails exhibition is on at Art2Day Gallery, above Skoda showroom, Bhandarkar Road till April 14. You can visit from Tuesday-Sunday, 11.30 am-6.30 pm

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