‘One life is not enough’, says Jatin Das - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

‘One life is not enough’, says Jatin Das

ByKumkum Chadha
Nov 13, 2023 03:47 PM IST

Jatin Das's range of work is phenomenal. He carved a distinctive path, human figures being the central theme in most of his work.

The best way a daughter can celebrate her birthday is with the warmth of colour, and if she happens to be a painter’s daughter then it is colours, canvas and a paint brush.

Jatin Das celebrated his daughter Nandita Das's birthday is by showcasing 60 years of his work to the world.
Jatin Das celebrated his daughter Nandita Das's birthday is by showcasing 60 years of his work to the world.

Equally the best way a father can celebrate his daughter’s birthday is by showcasing 60 years of his work to the world.

Unlock exclusive access to the story of India's general elections, only on the HT App. Download Now!

On November 7, this is exactly what happened at the National Gallery of Modern Art in India’s capital city, New Delhi.

Renowned painter Jatin Das had his Retrospective show, a long pending one for 15 years. “I got an offer in 2018 to show it at NGMA, Delhi, Bombay and Bangalore. But they gave me only a month to prepare, so I let go of the dates”.

And rightly so because Das is not a man in hurry. Nor is he desperate to do half-baked stuff to meet deadlines. Yet a deadline is a sword hanging over one’s head. Das too has had his moments, when panic struck.

His daughter Nandita Das said,“He was to do a large mural on Marine Drive, in Bombay, soon after his college days. It was a prestigious assignment and he needed the money. He postponed it till the last day. A night before he panicked and told his friend, Ashok, if he would break eggs and beat them with the colour for the egg tempera fresco, he would climb up the scaffolding of the building and finish it in one night".

“The only condition being, Ashok would have to sing till he finished the fresco. So all night Ashok dada sang and Baba painted. The fresco was completed with the first rays of the morning sun,” she added.

For record Nandita Das is an accomplished actor and director. She has done some path breaking films including Fire, Firaq and Manto among others. Nandita directed Manto, some ten years after her directorial debut Firaaq.

While researching Manto, she felt she was treading familiar ground: “I wondered why he seemed so familiar. I soon realised that it felt like I was reading about my father, Baba, as I call him.

“Much like Manto, he is instinctively unconventional, fearlessly blunt and often misunderstood. The uncanny similarities between Manto and Baba doesn’t stop there— Baba paints in the midst of chaos, likes to cook, is a stickler for cleanliness, keeps his doors open to not just friends but even strangers... Having grown up with a father so ‘Mantoesque’ helped me understand my protagonist more deeply and intimately. And now understanding Manto has made me understand my father even better”.

Like Manto, Jatin Das, says Nandita, never valued money.

“Being an artist you have to hold shows and sell your work, simply to live. There is a dichotomy here - I live on the sale of my paintings, but I do not paint to sell”, he says.

His range of work is phenomenal. He carved a distinctive path, human figures being the central theme in most of his work. Yet ask him for a description and he said, “I am a painter, wanting to become an artist. I never like to give an elaboration, explanation or description of my works. Ever”.

Once over, Das himself becomes what he calls “an outsider” to his work. “When I paint or draw, there is an intimacy, a purity. There is no calculation, no distance. When the work finishes, it doesn’t need the artist anymore. Even I become an outsider, a viewer. It stands on its own merit and strength. And if it doesn’t, then it goes into the bin”.

Given his talent, that bin must have always remained empty.

Loosely put, Das’s figures are kind of nudes but he has another take: “The figures I paint are not nudes, as they have not been disrobed. My figures are just bare, beyond any context of time and place”, he says about his work.

The chosen mediums are watercolour, ink and oil. Admittedly he dislikes acrylic and if he does use it as a medium, it is “with a vengeance”.

Playing with mediums is what he enjoys most.“Every medium is good and cruel, depending on how you handle it. When I look at an empty canvas, a bare paper, I feel I am starting to paint for the first time”.

Having said that he is perhaps among the few who finds painting “great fun” but preparing for an exhibition “boring and exhausting”. It is taking out the work, mounting and documenting them that Das finds tedious.

As for the current show it is not easy to encapsulate one’s life’s work in one exhibition. “There is never enough time to sieve through 60 years of work and so it was a real challenge”.

Time, he says, has escaped from his hands: “An artist needs at least two or three lives. One life is not enough”.

While putting together this show, Das discovered that his own work had changed and evolved. In the seventies and eighties he did large works that had “movement”. In later years, the works became smaller but those that had “inner movement”.

About the Exodus 2020 series which are a consequence of Covid-19, his restlessness of being confined to the house and not going to his studio was kind of killing: “I had 200-odd acid-free papers, some ink pots and lots of brushes. So I began painting. What I saw in the newspapers and on television came pouring out spontaneously. And that is how the ‘Exodus 2020’ series was born”. The series is “special” and a response to those troubled times”.

This exhibition is kind of rare because Das is an artist who talks little about his work and exhibits it even lesser. Therefore the NGMA exhibition is god-sent because it encapsulates a lifetime of his work: an amalgam of paintings on canvas and paper, drawings in conté and ink, watercolours, sculptures, graphics, terracotta, ceramic and porcelain platters, pinch toys; as well as his poems and insights about art and life”.

It is in a true sense a celebration of Jatin Das’s 82 years of a glorious, eventful and envious life: a retrospective that Das says was “long overdue”.

“A solitary wanderer” as NGMA Director, Temsunaro Jamir Tripathi, describes Das, “his creative genius…timeless and relevant….Jatin Das paints the world through the lens of his unique perception, crafting masterpieces that dance to his own rhythm.”

Words that ring true and enough to send one to the National Museum of Modern Art to see the Retrospective which is on till January 7.

Are you a cricket buff? Participate in the HT Cricket Quiz daily and stand a chance to win an iPhone 15 & Boat Smartwatch. Click here to participate now.

Catch your daily dose of Fashion, Health, Festivals, Travel, Relationship, Recipe and all the other Latest Lifestyle News on Hindustan Times Website and APPs.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Monday, April 15, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On