He talked about his art. He would scratch out as he wrote, and out of these emerged images. The disjointed sundry scratchings one day demanded form. “They made their ‘claim’, I could not leave them consigned to the phantasmal world." The word ’claim’ here is very apt. It makes it clear that his art is not a sudden strange whim, nor the colourful caprice of a poet, it is born of an intense inner urge. They say that long before he started to draw, he would often say, “ I have tried my hand at almost everything, but never painted.” The first tentative unfolding of his secret desire occurred through the scratching out of his poems. Then, when he lost his diffidence, there ensued such a cloudburst in colours and lines. The span of his artistic years is small, yet his paintings number two thousand. His entry into the world of art was for him a miraculous discovery. It was as if his eyes opened for the first time, he learnt to see. He saw that the world was an unending succession of visual impressions. “So far, I have been a poet; when spring came, I heard birdsong, rustling of the leaves, the south wind set my mind swaying, today for the first time I see faces peeping from within the leaves. I dare not turn my gaze---wherever it alights, I see what I never saw before.” He does not appreciate most of the discussion about his art, or even art in general. Much of it sounds hollow. “See the painting, learn to look at it—nothing else matters. A painting is just a painting, nothing more and nothing less. See the picture, and decide if it has achieved fruition.” But, he says, we do not know what to look for in a painting. That needs experience. In our country, we see some paintings here and there and more of foreign prints. We hardly get a measure of the real work without the originals. In Europe he gazed in silent amazement at original paintings, sculptures, wondered at the talent! That is something we have never experienced; we have no experience of art. Poetry is in our tradition, we have an intuitive feeling for it. But our nation has been denied art, paintings have no place among the general populace, we have never learnt to look at them, how would we critique them?
He is dismissive about any discussion about his style. He waves his hands and says, “I do not know, do not ask me. I do not know how it came to be, if it has turned out right so it has.” All know that he has had no formal training in art. He has viewed paintings abroad, in his own country he has seen Abanindra, Gaganendra and Nandalal painting---and thus he has learnt. He says that it has been the same for music: from his very childhood he has heard music, but he has never learnt it formally. “Vishnu Ostad was very eager to teach me music, but I managed to evade him always. The music in my songs I found within me, I cannot say how and whence they came to me. When I taught Dinu a song, he would suddenly say,’You have used the komala nikhaad here’. I would be surprised, ‘Have I?’ My Art and my music both flow from my unconscious.” Another day he spoke of rhythm. In the creation of any art, a sense of rhythm is of utmost importance. He thinks you cannot make songs without a mastery of talas or rhythm. The one thing that lies deep in his bones is the beat, the rhythm. In his life, no matter what he did, he never lost a beat, he never was able to. Whether for the notes of a song or in the beauty of a painting, he has always depended on his inspired cadence.
Not only in music and art, it is true that he has never gone through any formal education—it is against his nature. He has always played truant from school. He has himself advertised this fact so hard that even many sensible people in our country labour under the belief that Rabindranath has become what he is today solely due to his excessive god-gifted talents, that he hardly has any learning. “Rabindranath does not understand art, he does not comprehend music,” they say unhesitatingly, they who claim to be experts. Some Pundits lightly say “Rabindranath is uneducated”. One could argue that lack of education is to be preferred to bad education, and ill educated we all are, no doubt. When Rabindranath says, “I do not understand music at all”, and one takes that literally, what does it go to show apart from the absence of any kind of sense. We know little, but we are always in a frenzy trying to show off that little something, we are forever exaggerating, jazzing it up to do some window dressing for our mental stores—with the intent to dazzle at a glance. We liberally sprinkle our speech and writings with names of books, writers, quotations, lest we are thought ignorant; eager to prove our own worth we cling leech-like to any opportunity for argumentation. In doing this, we merely prove how ill educated we are. We read books that we cannot absorb; undigested particles swell up and give off stench. Rabindranath is rightly wary of this footnote-infested grotesque knowledge that abounds in this country; be it wealth, knowledge or power that is trumpeted forth with deadly arrogance, he only has sky-high contempt. Such staidness is torn apart with raucous laughter in page after page of his stories, plays, satires. Rabindranatha is a bookworm, he does not luxuriate or pride himself in the possession of his books, he devours them. He gorges on them, and digests them. Speaking of his talents, one must say that he has a phenomenal talent for learning. He hardly has the need for the kind of learning disbursed in schools, nowhere does he need progress slowly like a snail, for at a whiff he is airlifted to the bounds of knowledge. He has learnt little but has immense knowledge. His essays are not likely to be nominated for a PRS or Phd from universities , but their contents are such that if selected judiciously and elaborated upon would easily qualify for a degree. True, Rabindranath could not have written a doctoral thesis—how would he, but his writings easily become material for theses. Remarkable is his ability to imbibe, the essence of whatever he reads sees or hears easily penetrates into his bloodstream, the superfluous is consigned to oblivion. And so, his knowledge is not to him a burden, but the core of his being; not something he is weighed under but that which nurtures him. He has reached the pinnacle of knowledge, and so he is unperturbed. He has read far and wide, there is very little of which he is ignorant, but his conversation would belie that. He speaks nothing of what does not spring from his own realization or his own perception. He talks of so many things, but never drops names, of books or authors, not even to cite examples; he speaks only his own words, as his discourses progress it lights up with examples right and left, and a sudden spark of intellect. He has written so much, but apart from the Upanishads, Mahabharat or vaishanava poetry he hardly quotes or refers to any books. The Pundits interpret and elaborate, he lays bare its essence, the critics perform labored deconstructions, he suddenly dispels all darkness with a single word. Jamini Roy’s discourses on art may become wandering, he might be unable to express his exact feelings, but what touches the heart is that he never resorts to art terminology, he does not appear to be even aware of words that lie outside the pale of the humdrum language of everyday life. And that goes to show his complete mastery over his art. Especially difficult and therefore rare is this unaffected simplicity, and it is with this ease that Rabindranath handles every subject, and besides there is the fascinating brilliance and power of his words. He speaks as if he knows nothing of the subject, that neither he nor anyone has ever before thought or discoursed on it, as if he was approaching the subject for the first time with a primeval ignorance. Which is why his views are so clear, his discourses so unlaboured. There was a time when he too railed at ignorance, reasoned, argued, explained; but today he is perched where he perceives the truth clearly without the mediation of reason and argument---the truth unadorned, unwavering. No matter how involved the issue, he at once gets to the root of it; so his words bear a simplicity which is the ultimate consequence of wisdom. We who are confused by our various and variegated readings, are not embarrassed to pour forth as our own opinion whatever we have just been reading; Rabindranath teaches us what it is to be truly learned.
He speaks of so many things, but he likes best to talk of literature, Bengali literature. His interest in new writers, witty writing, good plays remains undiminished. All books or magazines sent to him must be given to him, nothing can be put aside as unworthy of his attention. True, much of it remains unread now, not because of a lack of will, but because of his body’s non-cooperation. Till now , no one was allowed to open his letters, now all his letters are opened right in front of him and read aloud. A schoolboy wants to know what he thinks of a certain dancer, even that letter is not put aside. Any letter deserving of an answer is answered immediately. I am struck by the fact that though ravaged by disease, in such small matters he lives fully, he has not let his life miss a beat.
Premchand Roychand Scholarship: A prestigious scholarship instituted at the University of Calcutta in 1866 by Premchand Roychand.
Illustration: Goalpara, by Sri Kanai Samanta; taken from Sudhiranjan Das's Amader Shantiniketan.
Published September 21, 2010
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