Solitude", article by Abraham Eraly, author
of The Last Spring: The Lives and Times of the Great
Mughals (Viking, 1997)
Aside Magazine, September 30, 1994
"Wake up, Kakka," whispers Lady Bird, her lips
tickling his ear.
The Bird flutters awake, and as she leaps away from his
grabbing arms, he languidly props himself up on the
pillows, squinting; into the afternoon sun lancing into
the room through the open window. On the tape deck,
Chaurasia's flute is whisper soft. He takes a sip from
the cup of steaming tea she hands him and closes his eyes
with a sigh of absolute contentment.
"What were you dreaming about?" she asks.
"There was an asinine smile on your face while
sleeping," she says.
"Yes, honey; I was dreaming," The Bird sings.
"I was dreaming that I was a butterfly, flitting
here and there, feeding on nectar, my colours brilliant
in the sun, but now..."
"Now I don't know whether I was then a man dreaming
that I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly
dreaming that I am a man."
"You're daffy," she says, laughing.
"Not me, honey -- that's one of the fantasies of
Chuang tze, an ancient Chinese poet," says The Bird,
and goes on to soliloquize on the interplay of illusion
and reality in an exhibition of photographs by Ramesh
Gandhi that they had seen the day before.
"It's like being sucked into a Black Hole and spewed
out into a world of alternate reality," he says.
"Remember the picture, Benediction? What you see are
the menacing, skeletal claws of the vampire, but look
again, and the claws turn out to be just a bunch of
ordinary glass bangles. The peril of misery, the picture
warns, is latent in every promise of love.
Such transpositions of sentiment are
there in many of Ramesh's pictures. A shrivelled papaya
leaf curling in death is an octopus coming alive. In
another picture, a pair of sun-drenched banana leaves
evoke a feeling of gentle domesticity, like the smell of
ghee on hot rice, but with the shadow of gulmohar leaves
on them, they take on a menacing, predatory aspect, like
the war shields of the Red Indian, and you seem to hear a
faint whoop behind the genteel chatter of the gallery
"But there is also a sort of reverse osmosis in his
romanticism." says Lady Bird. "In one picture,
a pool of black waste oil glows iridescent with the
promise of spring, and in another, a small block of brick
rubble peeking out of a ditch of sewage looks as if it is
setting out on a space odyssey."
"That's part of the romance of the
romanticist," says The Bird. "He pushes
everything to the limit of its potential so that the
subject is not only intensified but also transformed.
Ramesh sees patterns where we see none, he even coaxes
out secret colours hiding deep in his subjects, as in the
picture of the roll of cotton wool, which he turns into a
roll of manna, a gift from the gods. His candles burn
without heat, almost without flame, exuding an
"They are lovely pictures," says Lady Bird.
"They are world class pictures;' says The Bird.
"But they are more than just great pictures -- they
also offer a unique view of the world."
"Oh come 'on, Kakka;' says Lady Bird." You're
getting carried away. They are just pictures, not
"I'm not so sure," says The Bird. "You
have read his poems put up along with the
"Yes, but they don't explain the pictures,"
says Lady Bird.
"Yes, they do, though not directly," says The
Bird. "I think what really distinguishes Ramesh's
pictures are not colours or patterns, but his exploration
of the occult mystery of the world, the world that exists
as a potentiality around the corner of our everyday
world. He sees Kailas, Shiva's abode, in a crumbled
plastic bag, and astonishingly, it seems an entirely
"I don't know whether it is such a good thing to
refuse to deal with everyday reality," she says.
''There seems to be quite a bit of escapism in Ramesh's
"All art is escapist, honey," he says.
"Several of his pictures have a wispy, elusive
quality about them, as if he is listening to the faint
echo of some long ago memory," she says.
"The sense of loss too, is part of the romantic
despair," says The Bird. "The romanticist is
doomed to a timeless sorrow in an imperfect world."
"Terrible," says Lady Bird.
"Terrible for the artist, but lucky for us,"
says The Bird. "The romanticist enriches our world
as none else can, opens the doors of perception for us.
So next time when you see a dry leaf or a pool of sludge,
look again, for there might be a door of perception
there, for you to escape from our drab reality."
"I don't want to escape from reality," says
Lady Bird. "I want to combat reality. Escapism is
easy. It's much harder to take on the world and wrestle
"I don't think Ramesh is rejecting the world;' says
The Bird. "He is recreating it."
"Why, yes! As every artist does."