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"Blue 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.

"What?"

"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..."

"Yes?"

"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 crowd."



"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 extraterrestrial glow."

"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 philosophic statements."

"I'm not so sure," says The Bird. "You have read his poems put up along with the pictures..."

"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 credible proposition."



"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 pictures."

"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 it down."

"I don't think Ramesh is rejecting the world;' says The Bird. "He is recreating it."

"Playing god?"

"Why, yes! As every artist does."

ramesh gandhi

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