A dreamer’s reality
- June 1, 2013
Today I am writing about a dream that my father saw several years ago. A dream of setting up an art centre to preserve and promote the visual arts and crafts. This idealistic intent is best described by Baba, as I call him, but here I will call Jatin Das, JD, “I am deeply inspired by traditional crafts and want them to share the same space as a Chola bronze or a Brancusi, to dissolve the boundaries that keep the so-called fine arts separate from the work of India’s master artisans. The Centre will be an arena where many different creative impulses, traditional and contemporary, will meet and interact.”
As the centre is to be in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, the state government gave an acre for it. JD writes, “When we were first given the land for the centre, a small wild sapling, barely a foot high, caught my eye. Sensing it was something special, I hurried to protect it. Now, the sapling is a 30-foot-high, lush green canopy, a symbol of all that is to come.”
Early this month, the foundation stone for the JD Centre of Art was finally laid by the Odisha Governor, chief minister and the ministers of culture, from the Union government and the state. They all committed their support. A brochure about the centre was released that day and in the foreword, JD wrote, “When I paint with watercolor, I let the water flow and smudge on the paper. I enjoy the process, allowing the unexpected to enter and govern. Having decided to set up an arts centre in my home state, I want to see how a vision born many years ago will develop. “The eminent architect B.V. Doshi, along with JD, has reinvented the layout of a traditional artisan village, in a modern idiom, and can’t wait to start the construction. But till such times, the collection and activities furthering the vision continue.
Over the years, JD has collected thousands of works, including more than 5,000 hand fans, which despite being exhibited in various parts of the world, are now lying unseen with other works of arts and crafts, in big boxes, in rented spaces. He sees the legacy of the past as a vital stimulant to contemporary creativity and a way to understand life itself and says, “I dedicate JDCA to the artisans of the world, from whom I am still learning.”
It is astonishing that a country so rich in arts and crafts does not have a centre that gives due importance to its silent existence and instead, allows it to fade away. My brother Siddhartha and I do feel fortunate to have a father like JD, whose selfless commitment and passion, not just for the arts, but also for human life and its struggles continue to inspire us. While his optimism and childlike wonderment gives him the energy of a 27-year-old man, the truth is that he is almost 72. And painting is his sole source of income, of which every penny goes towards the centre. Now how does a painter, who moreover refuses to be part of the market forces, realise a dream so vast? That, too, in Odisha, a state far from the mainstream radar!
He, too, knows it is easier said than done. But then those who think out of the box are always aware of the challenges, and that is never a deterrent. While many think he is foolish to immerse himself in this mission impossible, a man wedded to the journey, more than even the destination, is happy as long as he is on his way. He and a few like me have complete faith that the world will conspire to make this happen. But I understand when he says, “I am growing restless because, in my mind, the centre is already there, the objects are in place, a poet is reading under a tree, a potter is working on the wheel. I am in a hurry to build because the building itself is only the beginning.