What is art, if it isn’t rooted in humdrum existence
Well, art has thrived for centuries. Yet its potency as a possible antidote to myriad problems of life is intangible and unrealistic. Earlier, people who could secure ends meet indulged themselves in abstract yet sublime pursuits as art. But when the banality of life couldn’t elude even the dispossessed and marginalised, maybe art truly realised its value. Its inherent strength lies in its sense of relatability and intimacy. The genesis of art is in the insipid and extraordinarily quotidian quests of life alike.
What is so unique about a poet’s encounter with love than anyone else’s? Or a painter painting mountains and winds, why is her vision of flowers and stars extolled as art? Or some obscure farmers singing the anthem of harvest is any different?
Is it just a belief in one’s experience? Also the ferocity that accompanies the memory of that event?
Yet art is the manifestation of both the present and the past. Humans are thinking creatures. Present is both too near and distant to us. If past debilitates then future animates. If past is an abode of moments -lived then future is the coruscating kaleidoscope of possibilities. If past is real then future may traduce the real. Present is tedious somehow. It is precarious and boring. It doesn’t even possess the sheer vagaries of future or the distant stability of past. It is rudderless and hauntingly pertinent. It is an asset also. It requires nimble handling of it. It needs to be wooed and nurtured. But tell this to a young boy on street with an empty stomach, when he is inundated with a flurry of opulence as rich people in their expensive cars pass by! How is he supposed to embrace this arduous ride called ‘ present’? What past and future are to him is a different matter altogether. Present is a curse and furure well who knows. Past was battered so is present.
But those who can involve themselves in this superficial inquiry , feel a constant need to find refuge in past or future. To make sense of it, they need to sometimes look at it from a distance. To even loathe the monotonous attributes of living, we need a vision to exalt these recurring anomalies of grief & despair to some sort of a phenomenon. Art does exactly this. Good music that people now have an easy access to, after Jio’s watershed entry into the Telecom sector is a parable. As it won’t vanish the raucous passengers from your train compartment but it will make the journey bearable, at least.
The reason I am pondering over art and how it makes present bearable is this film ” The Disciple “. It is no brainer that Indian classical music is becoming decadent in terms of its popularity among younger generations. Thus it is barely remunerative for its practitioners. State patronage helps only a few of them. With occasional accolades and concomitant paltry sum of money, they struggle to sustain both the art and themselves. But chances of some foreigners spotting them considerably aggravate if right connections are effected. That requires again some privilege and access to people who have the requisite clout. A case in point is Pandit Ravi Shankar Prasad. He won international recognition and led a comfortable life consequently. But there are hundreds of classical musicians who end up being unsung heroes in their little circles of admirers. A lot of them even struggle to secure ends meet. The causes behind this dismal state of Indian Classical Music are many. Several commentators believe it is high time that Indian Music& Dance shed the tapestry of ” Classical “. When literature, paintings & other expressions of art are freed from this label, then music& dance too need to be unshackled. The overarching weight of “classical” doesn’t always help. Sure it is a symbol of authenticity and serenity. But it is susceptible to being eulogised than profusely used. I am not saying ” Khayaal Gaayaki” needs to be altered to express the dilemmas of creating a new reel on Instagram. But it needs to resurrect its ability to enchant, animate and soothe the audience. As the ability to entertain is often lampooned in circles of elite – aficionados. Thus for them it is just a tool to laud some artiste under the pretence of being cultured. Ideally it should not be another class symbol or an instrument of intellectual snobbery. Yet it’s been reduced to this. Moreover, it is loosing relevance as the elites who traditionally patronised it aren’t important any longer. A lot of young people find it inaccessible. And this has nothing to do with their taste and knowledge of music. A song like” Aaoge Jab Tum o saajana” from the film” Jab we met” is an example out of many that people across age groups have appreciated. Coke Studio gained rapturous popularity among young people. It made many time tested symphonies congruent with changing times, without diluting or defiling their core and credo.
In ” The Disciple ” , the protagonist Sharad Nerulkar is an aspiring Hindustani Classical singer. He is instructed by Maai- a grand dame of her field, whom he revers as his guiding light, to pursue singing with a sage like commitment and penance. She herself refused to perform in public . She didn’t allow to record her singing. Sharad gets tapes of her telling about how piety and sacrifices pave the way for this eternal quest called ” Hindustani classical music “. In those tapes, she refers their music as something gods and sages practised. So according to her it requires heavenly devotion and determination to be able to sing it. One has to sacrifice all materialistic yearnings if he were to tread on this divinely path. One has to be free of bad thoughts and motivations. The piety this art requires is emblematic of the purpose it serves. It is the music of Gods and sages. It has to come from a pure soul. To her disciples her wisdom was unassailable. They tried to follow her. Some of them succeeded either by making money that kept them afloat. Others languished in obscurity, with their predicament further compounded by financial pressures. Sharad refuses to get a job. He remains unmarried. He lives an unglamorous life without any wealth or fame. His guruji who was trained by Maai herself lives a squalid life too. He lived in a small, cramped house with no one to take care of him. He even struggles to pay for his medicines. Sharad out of a sense of obligation and deep regard, helps him out quite often. Despite his ingenuity and musical prowess he stays condemned to little recognition and financial uncertainty. Maai’s talisman- to strive for a divine quest can be inspirational to those relentlessly working for the attainment of perfection or anything similar. But how can any goal, purpose or ambition be realised at the cost of dismissing the conspicuous banality of living. If Maai’s idea of music was the expression of sages & gods, no wonder despite her excellence, mere mortals couldn’t relate to it. The vacuity of painting something as sacred and all -encompassing is fraught with despondency and frustration when mortals are hit with the cruelties of life. What is art, if it isn’t rooted in the humdrum existence, if it isn’t about the trite experiences of ordinary lives? The answer has lessons for the ” Classical “, puritanical and pious pursuits of art.