5th May, 2016 4:30 pm (IST)
After four days of the scorching May sun at the Kumbh Mela in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, I realized something. That temporary structures can never withstand the wrath of god. Let me explain. Santanu, my new artist friend and I amongst the other thirty-eight artists had come together to be a part of the Samhistha Artist Camp that was set up about eight kilometers from the actual Kumbh Mela. On the fourth day Santanu and I were seated in our studio space, which was next to our living quarters, and above us was a gigantic tent held up by an iron structure. Immersed in philosophical banter, he was sharing the teachings of ‘Samudra Mantham’ or ‘Churning of the ocean’ with me. Ironically this exchange was to put me through a life altering experience.
Tea was being served in the evening outside but since I’m not much of a tea drinker, I was alone in the studio space. I did not want to join my friends outside who were tempting me to enjoy the sudden turn of pleasant weather because I was lying down listening to a song called ‘Cigarettes and Chocolates by Chet Faker’ on repeat mode, staring at the fans that were swinging above me.
I was immersed in artistic thought about what to paint in the center of my unfinished canvas. Meanwhile, Indra, the weather god had begun showing his colours so to speak and the seemingly harmless weather suddenly turned into a riot. Strangely enough I had already calculated that if the two fans fell, they wouldn’t fall on me. What a strange thought, I thought.
My gut started to speak. A language I knew well. It was telling me that something bad was going to happen. And as if on cue, I heard a thunderous crash and the ginormous tent came crashing down. And I was under it. The iron rods turned into Indra’s axe, crushing our studio walls and our canvases. It was the headless chicken moment for me. But to my amazement I was calm. I managed to keep an unbelievable composure and presence of mind. The rain came down like shards of sliver on a mission to destroy. But I was in rescue mode. In a flash I ran towards the canvases of my fellow artists that had been strewn everywhere, and hastily stacked them beside the door where the water had not reached yet. But what the hell had happened my mind kept asking incessantly. It could not have been just the rain that wreaked such havoc. Then I noticed the golf ball sized hail stones that tore through the traumatized roofing that was almost in tatters.
I managed to slip out from beneath the debris and join the rest of my crew at the entrance of the camp who were in a state of absolute shock. And just as suddenly as the squall appeared it vanished. As if Indra had lost his temper for a moment. The casualties thankfully were minimal. One with a slashed cheek and another with a broken foot. Later we were taken to a safe house where we gathered ourselves and our senses.
Ironically before the hailstorm, Santanu and I were drawing the ‘churning of the ocean’, and how Lakshmi arose from the waters along with the ‘Kumbh’ or ‘Pitcher’ and how the four drops of ‘Amrita’ or ‘The nectar of immortality’ that fell landed on four places in India. Haridwar (Ganga), Allahabad (Saraswati), Ujjain (Shipra) and Nasik (Godavari). These are the locations for the Kumbh Mela where devotees gather from across the world to wash away their sins.
The South Central Zone of Culture, Nagpur invited me to an art camp from the 2nd -8th of May along with thirty-eight super talented artists from across ages, genres and India. Our assignment was to seek inspiration from the sights and sounds of the Kumbh Mela in Ujjain to create works that were going to be exhibited at the Lalit Kala Academy, curated by Dr. Alka Pande. There is a rumour that this still might happen. Fingers crossed.
On the flight back from Delhi, I could not get the harrowing experience out of my head. I thought I would be a headless chicken and live up to the reputation of the ‘losty’ my close friends know me to be. But that evening, I met a very different person inside. A person who somehow had the inner strength to face adversity head on. I learnt that there is a powerful force that is latent within all of us. Perhaps it’s called survival instinct and this was my experience of it.
The domb tent collapsed
Chaos on the way to a safe house
The grey skies of the evening
On reaching the house of a civilian who generously opened her house to us to change into dry clothes.
Our dormitory for a night at Ashray Hotel in Ujjain where we booked our tickets back home.
Nothing like a Rajasthani Thali at the hotel for the traumatized souls
Four Waters of Kumbh, Acrylic on canvas, 4x4 ft, 2016.
Left as a work in progress.
....The ‘Kaam before the Storm’