Tuesday, 25 September 2007


6 PM in Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus in down-town Mumbai. A sea of humanity as the office folk head resolutely for the waiting trains. Pyn (one of our UBS interns at JSK) and I wade through the in-coming tide of faces as we move out towards the street.
We are on a mission - a rendevous with culture. The opening of a solo show at Jehangir Art Gallery.
The show is by Yashpal Chandrakar - the amazing person who married Sheba's childhood friend Sucharita an amazing person who we amazingly got back in touch with over the internet in August (see Contact).

And what a show it was. A collection of master prints - etchings and lithographs in subtle and muted colours, some water-colours and abstract oils and the artist himself - living and breathing among the frames.
Running through the pictures were writing-like scrawls. Which language where they? Some seemed vaguely indic, others like blurred cursive writing, some seemed like the engravings on a kitchenware given at weddings. Could it be a picture of what writing looks like when you are illterate? Could it be the writings of antiquity - the ancient engravings that make our cultures who they are?

Then there were the figures. Heads and profiles. Some gently shaded, others starkly and jaggedly etched in. Scrawls and subtley sharing a frame, sometimes overlapping and intruding. Which one is the base, which ones were added later? The more you peer into the engravings, the more thoughts come to mind - a visual conversation.

The Monarch and his realm - I (c) 2002 Yashpal Chandrakar

Besides the pictures on the walls there was also unfolding human drama in the gallery. An unlit lamp waited the celebrity guest. An assortment of pony-tailed artists. The odd bearded geezer in the mix. A sloppily dressed group of foreign tourists comes in briefly.

The ghazal singer Talat Aziz made an appearance - his lanky frame looking sparkling in a crisp white kurta pyjama - the lamp was lit - the hors d'oevres appeared.

A dapper man shows up. S.M. Mansoor - artist, lecturer, practitioner of modern minatures, descendent of the ancient Afghani artists who attatched themselves to the Mughal courts, proud and witty Pakistani. We chat while - almost surreally - Mansoor has his caricature sketched by one of the elderly men in the room.

Have we ever been to Pakistan? We must come. Art is the language that crosses barriers. The art scene is more lively, more cultured on that side of the border. Lahore? The cultural capital. The gentleman holds forth with wit and verve. A one-man ambassador - unofficial of course - of all things Pakistani - full of honour and verve. His contrast between the suave cosmopolitan minituarist and my slightly rumpled self (both sporting goatees) may not have been greater.

We made the pilgrimage to Jehangir not only to see the pictures but also to meet the artist himself. Yashpal moved quickly between the groups - talking to people here - taking someone to meet someone else there.

It was our first time to meet in the flesh. Yashpal is a handsome and intense man - with quick eyes and a generous smile.

The toil of putting the show together - the hard work in setting everything right - showed a bit in his quietness. Asha's school getting out at 6.30 PM meant that we Eichers were not able to all go down together. We will have to wait till this Saturday when we hope to go as a family to meet him.

Yashpal took Pyn and myself to meet one of Sucharita's uncles. Sucharita was not able to come to Mumbai because her son and daughter are studying in 9th and 10th standard. But their pictures were very present. Yashpal has incorporated his family into the body of his work.

And so back through the rainy streets and into the yawning belly of the waiting train. Fast local for Badlapur. Four stops to Thane. Seated but packed. The snippets of the India-Pakistan T20 world cup cricket match filters in. Mobile phones are used. India managed on 157. A few wickets fell from Pakistan. As we come to Thane we see crowds in the rain outside TV showrooms - watching the action. 6 wickets had fallen by the time we got an autorickshaw home. I walked in the Lok Hospital male nurse flat to pick up the JSK keys from Giri. The final over of the match. Pakistan 9 wickets down - 6 balls to go and 13 runs to make. First ball wide. 12 left. Next ball missed. Then a huge 6 by the Pakistani batsman. 4 balls left, 6 runs to go. The batsman takes a huge scoop at the next ball - its up in the air - and caught by Shree Santh. A roar goes up. India have won the T20 cricket world cup!

And so back home - where our artist daughter Asha created this piece on the computer:

untitled (c) 2007 Asha Esther Alice Eicher

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