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‘Requiem for the Deferred Desire: A Comparative Reading of the Works of A. Ramachandran and Gabriel García Márquez’

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In 1989 Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote one of his grand novels, ‘The Major in his Labyrinth’ based on the life of the ageing conqueror Simon Bolivar who spends his time in a hammock, fighting torturous mosquitos in the hot and humid weather of Bogota. In 2004, the great Columbian novelist who had lived on this earth to ‘tell a tale’ came out with another masterpiece, this time in lesser length and was titled, ‘Memories of My Melancholy Whores’. It tells the story of a 90 year old retired journalist who seeks sex and finally falls in love with the young prostitute who comes to give him pleasure. The world of Marquez is populated with ageing patriarchs, generals, autocrats in absolute solitude, sinners, prostitutes and saints; all of them invariably go through the Proustian moments of recollections, sometimes exquisitely poetic, at times staggeringly surrealist and at other times unnervingly raw. When I stand in front of the latest suite of twenty-one watercolor drawings of the veteran artist, A.Ramachandran, I cannot help but thinking about Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Both these veterans perhaps did not go around the world (as many do to gain new experience and themes); they looked at the same place, exactly the way Orhan Pamuk does in his novels, with renewed and ever-renewing eyes and saw what was beautiful and evolving there. Marquez had his Columbia and Ramachandran has his Udaipur.

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(Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

In his autobiography, ‘Living to Tell a Tale’, Marquez recounts how the mundane newspaper reports that he was handling on a daily basis as a political journalist, supplied him with the most bizarre and surreal, to make his meanderings through the history of conquests and colonialism that made and broke and then again made the Latin American countries, their politics and the socio-cultural ethos. He could not have been anything but a storyteller. Ramachandran, at the age of eighty one, still remains a storyteller, the way Marquez was. Years ago, when Ramachandran was a young man looking for the verdant beauty of nature which was not there in Delhi, which he had chosen as a karma bhoomi, place of work in 1964 after his education in the sylvan Santiniketan. He lived in history and his story has been evolving through the rich narrative and symbolic visual traditions of India which were not away from the ‘gruha’ or ‘vastu’, architecture of the human habitat. He considers himself as the Vastupurusha, the god of the abode and the supreme creator. Like his understanding of art as something that is not separated from the living and lived realities of human beings, he makes his symbolic presence felt in every painting and drawing that he has been doing since late 1990s. Perhaps, Marquez was realizing the old Patriarch in him through the creation of several Generals and retired journalists.

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(From the Earthen Pot series by A.Ramachandran)

If such comparison between two patriarchs from two different geographical locations, using different mediums of expression is possible (I simply would like to overlook the fact that Marquez is dead and gone) obviously it calls for the reference of Magical Realism that Marquez’s works are generally connected to. Ramachandran is a naturalist and less a realist though his naturalism is really magical. Marquez deifies ordinary people through exemplary acts and exceptional narrative styles. The repetitive nature of Marquez’s novels, which is recognizable to the English reading public through the translations of Edith Grossman, his official translator, however does not diminish the effect of magical twists and turns, that render each reader a child who despite knowing the fact that the magician would pull out a rabbit or a dove from his hat, willingly suspends disbelief in order to gleefully enjoy the narratives of Marquez. So is the case of Ramachandran. There is a repetitive nature to his works; from his magnum opus of the yesteryears ‘Yayati’ (1984-86) to the latest suite of watercolors one could see this, exactly the way a musician would elaborate his raga with slightly different inflexions here and there, for many number of years without putting the ‘rasikas’ into boredom. Repetition for both Marquez and Ramachandran is a way to assert their belief in life and life’s forces and its magical revelations. May be in the most mundane, suddenly one could see a divinity coming up.

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(From the Earthen Pot series by A.Ramachandran)

Yes, it happens both in Marquez and Ramachandran. Look at the ‘The Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane’ included in the collection ‘Strange Pilgrims’. Marquez sees a beautiful woman who just passes by in an airport lobby. He is enamored by her beauty. His mind is preoccupied with the thoughts about her. To his surprise, she turns out to be his co-passenger in the next seat. She comes and orders the air hostess to wake her up before the landing and sleeps off. She gets up before landing, puts a little make up on her face and once the plane lands she walks out as if nothing has happened. In fact nothing had happened. It was only the narrator’s feverish imagination that had made his travel miserable and exciting for him at once. In Ramachandran’s paintings and drawings, we encounter such women. Art historians have time and again said that these women are from the Lohar and Bhil community, a kind of nomadic community living in Udaipur whom Ramachandran has taken into his pictorial scheme as models. But they transform in the encounters in the exhibition halls where they appear as Draupadis, Gandharis and many other mythological women. This magical metamorphosis makes Ramachandran’s works as alluring as his brush-man-ship and Marquez’s penmanship.

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(From the Earthen Pot series by A.Ramachandran)

Sometimes when you read the stories of Marquez you shiver in an unknown and inexplicable feeling or fear. It is just like opening a coffin of a friend or a relative after twenty years or so after his death and seeing the body intact and luminous. Should you be afraid of that body? Shouldn’t you be happy that he/she still remains the same as you had left him/her years back? Is there some kind of saintly touch on that person that has preserved their body I feel the same shiver going through my spine when I stand before the latest suite of twenty one watercolors by A.Ramachandran. Titled ‘Earthen Pot: Image Poems-2016’ this body of the works shows how an eighty year old artist still carries the flame of creativity and above all the drive of Eros within him. But ironically, there is some sense of deception that Ramachandran has used in order to hoodwink the ‘inappropriate’ drive of desire in him. We have seen Ramachandran taking different forms of creatures (crickets, bugs, bees, turtles and so on) and witness or partaking in the action of his paintings. At times he even holds a mirror to the heroines of his paintings in the shape of a satyr. The male witnessing here is not voyeurism, but the active expression of desire or a sort of watchfulness; a patriarch’s perennial urge to keep his flock together. But, ironically, the Ramachandran incarnate is like foetus curled up in an earthen pot, absolutely oblivious of the things that is going on around him.

 

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(From the Earthen Pot series by A.Ramachandran)

Ella Dutta, art critic and a longtime friend of Ramachandran has done her best to write a catalogue as beautiful as possible and quite befitting to the works that she is writing about. But Dutta’s awkwardness is visible in each line as she tries to interpret Ramachandran’s foetus position as the eternal dream of the creator whose dream itself is the creation. In way, she is not too far from the perspective that I have developed through comparing Ramachadran with the literary giant, Marquez. In his story titled ‘I Sell My Dreams’ Marquez narrates about a woman who dreams calamities, catastrophes and celebrations alike and still survives in the high society. Ramachandran as foetus takes that godly power of dreaming things around him. And what does he dream? In his eternal creative dreams, he conjures up fertility symbols like flowering trees, woman awaiting her beloved and various images of birds, bees, insects and so on as the agents of the changing ‘ritus’, seasons. She refers, invariably the Ragamala paintings and the Barah Maha paintings and poems which Ramachandran also uses as one of his various inspirations. Dutta attributes the centralized flowering tree as a phallic symbol, which is not a bad allusion though. She also pitches her arguments on three pivotal imageries as said before, such as waiting women, trees in bloom and the sleeping Ramachandran as foetus. The recurring image of a chameleon climbing the tree is read as the presence of a dangerous predator.

 

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(From the Earthen Pot series by A.Ramachandran)

Keeping all respect for a senior critic like Ella Dutta, I would like to make a different reading to this new suite of Ramachandran’s watercolor drawings. Dutta speaks of a pervading melancholy in these paintings; yes, it could be caused by the absence of the lover. But I would say it is also a wistful waiting, all wet. It is not simply melancholy but a love prank, which amounts to irritation. While looking at the drawings on the walls of the Vaderah Art Gallery, I was continuously singing the song, ‘Ambua ki chhaya mein, mangal gaaye, barkha ki ritu aaye, jhoola julaye’ (Under the canopy of the mango tree, let us sing some auspicious songs while swinging as here comes the Rainy season) in the voice of the vivacious Shubha Mudgal, singing the same in raag Khamaj and Deepchand Taal. I had listened to this song more than a decade ago and it came to me as absolutely evoked by the drawings. The ‘ritu’, seasonal aspect is there; but it is not the season of rains. Outside I could see sunlight weaving fiery threads everywhere entangling the human beings like insects fallen to a spider’s web. Here, the women in the watercolors are also entangled in a desire and which is not realized corporeally but the artist has given enough suggestions that he intends a prolonged session of lovemaking and the offer still lingers in each metaphor and symbol he uses in these pictures. The sleep that he is having inside the pot (a mortal mother’s womb) is deceptive. He sees it all.

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(From the Earthen Pot series by A.Ramachandran)

A closer look reveals that the central image of the trees which are in full bloom is nothing but a displaced metaphor or a surrogate female body (unlike the phallic image that Ella Dutta contends). How do you make love to your beloved? You touch her/him with the tips of fingers, you touch her/him with the tip of your tongue, you peck at the lips, cheeks, chin, ear lobes, nape and the back, while your hands explore his/her curves , the undulating landscape of corporeal passion, bodies in heat. Nothing is closed then; every pore of the body is opened. Everything is filled with the juices that are not heard of otherwise. Every imaginations that you knew never existed in you comes out into full view and play. You torture each other eking out the best pain and pleasure in the world. You gag and bound, you turn into an animal, and fly like a bird. You move like a lightning without heeding to the aching joints and ligaments. And now look at the works of Ramachandran. A woodpecker is pecking the bark of the tree. And you know a woodpecker does not peck softly. And in all forms and all shapes it pecks Look at the insects that crawl all over the petals and stamens exactly like the fingers of the lovers move. Look at the buds, don’t they look like the throbbing tips of the male organs? Look at the flowers that are partly open, do I need to tell you how they look like? There is a chameleon in every painting. In the symbolism of Indian traditional art and astrology, chameleon is a creature that has the power to move slow, patiently and covertly, till it gets its prey or pleasure. And the phallic way that Ramachandran has painted them making their hold onto the bark of the tree as good as a slow but steady embrace of the lover.

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(From the Earthen Pot series by A.Ramachandran)

Ramachandran sleeps because he has allowed the Eros of his mind to come out and play. The life force is all the more pronounced and here is a rasa leela in twenty one frames. He prefers to call it Earthen Pot- Image Poems. I would call it Earthen Pot: Erotic Poems. Also I would say, Ramachandran has come out with the best erotic drawings of the century, which without even once showing human genitals and other pleasure points have achieved the heightened sense of erotic impact. The women in the drawings remain pristine and longing; perhaps that’s what the patriarchs want. They find love in these women who have desire but do not have worldly ways to express them. Ramachandran gives them the chance to experience the best erotic pleasure ever without losing their modesty or dignity; and even not staking his six decades long artistic career. These most subtle and wonderfully aesthetical drawings give a new dimension to Indian erotic art. As a patriarch, Ramachandran sleeps on as if nothing affects him. Yes, it is his dream and in his dream he could conjure up everything that he wants. The satyr in his earlier works and the creatures are left to do what they are supposed to do. They no longer carry the head of Ramachandran, who is watchful and guarded. Now they have their head but their heart is controlled by the artist who sleeps the sleep of creation. Or perhaps, it is tiredness also. The age factor is realized when he paints the snails moving painfully slow near his pot/pod/shell/womb. He does not want to subject these women to any kind of fantasies. But fantasies are molded by the same clay of which dreams and desire are made of They will wait, and that endless wait is like the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ by John Keats. They remain eternally beautiful and desiring and Ramachandran would remain in his everlasting deception as a sleeper. Let’s wait for him to wake up again and recount the stories of his melancholic whores.

 

 

The article has been reproduced from Author’s Blog- By all Means Necessary. The article was first published on 25th April 2016.

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