Hasman of our times
- April 1, 2010
Since childhood the one story I have heard a hundred times from my father is that of his good old days in Bombay where he came to pursue his passion for being an artist. At the age of 17, he ran away from Biology to study art at the JJ School of Arts, which was by no means easy for him. But among all his nostalgic stories of struggle and little moments of joy, the one I have always been envious of, are his days at the Bhulabhai Memorial Institute. It was called Hasman. My father, then in his twenties, was among the youngest artists, who like others had his 8ft x 8ft studio there. It was a haven for painters like Hussain and Gaitonde, theatre directors like Alkazi and Satyadev Dubey, actors like Harihar Jhariwala (Sanjeev Kumar) and Jatin Khanna (Rajesh Khanna), musicians like Ravi Shankar and designers like Dashrath Patel, among many others. Some of their first performances, exhibitions, concerts… all began there. They would view each other’s work, participate, give friendly criticism and the struggles of the times seemed more like a joy ride! It was one big happy family!
I can only imagine how exciting those interactions must have been. So many creative and sensitive minds shared their art, their concerns and I am sure it contributed to their respective journeys. All this was not a deliberate plan of action, but a spontaneous way of being. There are hundreds of stories that my father fondly recalls, as if he was talking about something that happened yesterday, even though all this was before I was born! Many of the stories that he reminisces are of the days when they were all pretty much broke! Madhuriben Desai and Solibhai Batliwala, the owners of Hasman and patrons of the artists, would not charge 1 rupee, the daily rent, on the days they would not come there to work! Despite the fact that the rooms were occupied by their belongings. When I hear the innumerable stories of camaraderie, trust, affection and admiration for each other, to me it almost sounds like it’s from another world. Guess it was just another time when openness was the way to be, when competition and elbowing was not the order of the day, when priorities were different, where people mattered and to grow was a holistic journey.
Maybe they envied the 1940s artists for their purity and commitment that surpassed even their times. Maybe that is what nostalgia and memory is all about, because while I think my college days were not a patch on my father’s times, they still were better spent than what I see today. I would finish my classes at the Delhi University and go straight to learn Odissi dance from Madhavi Mudgal and then to the street play rehearsals with Safdar Hashmi and others in Jan Natya Manch. We would rehearse, discuss, vent our dilemmas and attempt to understand the different realities around us. I would often go to concerts, exhibitions, performances and film festivals. In fact that was the time when my film buff friends exposed me to the world of cinema. Till then at home we didn’t even have a television, let alone going to movie theatres!
What I miss today, despite the abundance of art and ideas, are spaces that foster truly open interaction that would expand one’s horizon. Spaces that allow honest exchange of ideas of diverse people with a common interest. A space where nuanced conversation and genuine dialogue is encouraged and questions and answers are open-ended. But today it seems that the only space for debate and dialogue is in the mass media, and television in particular. And most of it is about getting sound bytes, provoking divisive responses in favour of or against, and opinions are thrusted on us encouraging very little self-reflection. It is tragic for a pluralist democracy like ours to not have enough open spaces. I am not talking about parties or social gatherings that limit people of similar backgrounds but open forums, platform and institutes that provide for free-flowing interactions as a way of life.
It has been my dream and I know many of my friends share the same desire, to have a space that will draw like-minded people from different walks of life to share their work, ideas, angst, concerns, and excitements. Maybe a place with a small theatre, bookshop, cafeteria, work studios and a big banyan tree to anchor it all! A Hasman of our times.