Friday, April 06, 2007

Pain and suffering.

Is Art always and without exception a child of pain and suffering and deprivation? Can an artist never be someone who has had a normal – even a “boring” – childhood as Alan Bennett has repeatedly pointed out? An artist as a tortured soul suffering in the Nether World is the fashionable take and a much touted figment of popular imagination as well as a conscious and deliberate media spin. A deprived background adds a dramatic edge to the story no doubt but need not be the fact of the case. Sunil and Nargis Dutt surely did their best to give Sanjay a happy childhood. He turned out the way he did despite it. Now there is a media conspiracy to whip up sympathy for him by projecting him as a tortured but noble soul loved by one and all. His recent Gandhigiri-spouting Munnabhai screen avatar is put forward as an additional proof of his being a good but misunderstood human being. Even if all this is taken at face value, does it condone his role in the Mumbai blast case? I no longer belong to the eye for an eye school. But the Indian State surely cannot afford to take a lenient view of the digression and make an exception for an individual citizen for the sake of its very existence. That’s the way the cookie crumbles as the saying goes. However, the point I’m making is that the art born out of suffering seems to be a false premise. Just as much as the rosy-hued portrayal of an artist as a rootless person, a born expat or émigré, an outsider – the other trendy self-delusion much favoured by Salman Rushdie – happens to be. Art can be a way of earning money like anything else people do for the same purpose. If you happen to be good at what you do, it may even turn out to be a fairly lucrative and comfortable way of doing so. And who knows Time may decide to forgive you all your trespasses and faults as it did Yeats in Auden’s view:

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and innocent
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.

Truth to tell, there was a time in my life when I too flirted with the artist-as-a-tortured-soul and artist-as-an-outsider self-delusion. I even affected what I thought of as an arty mode of dress, khadi kurta over denim jeans. (I was no stranger to jeans of course as I had adapted them as my favourite garment of comfort in my early youth. I also started frequenting art shows and craft stores regularly. I used to visit Contemporary Arts & Crafts when it was a first-floor walk up – with a wooden floor and down-to-earth prices – opposite the Bombay University near Kala Ghoda as well as the old Bombay Store on Phirozshah Mehta Road. I was a regular at Wayside Inn, another Kala Ghoda landmark that disappeared quite recently. Arun Kolhatkar and George Fernandes too used to frequent the moderately priced eatery. More truth to tell, I was attracted to copywriting because I thought it was a creative field. Along the way, I dabbled in writing for children and was successful at the very first try. The ditty book I did with Sanat Surti (I See, I Think, I Sing) published by Thomson Press as a Sunflower Books paperback in 1972 won the National Book Trust Award. The second book (The Cloud & the Kite) – we tried selling it to a Japanese publisher – never made it. I lost the comprehensive dummy of the book soon and along with it the children’s writing yen. I continued to do well at copywriting and won a few awards as well, though, fortunately having shed the copywriting = art notion. It’s just business writing – a fairly comfortable way of earning good money if you’re good at it. Experience shows that the Auden hypothesis applies to good copywriting too. Amen to that.

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