It was the opening of an exhibition of an internationally prominent and senior Indian artist at a popular gallery in our city. The artist had displayed his recent cubism inspired, female figures. In the pristine white gallery space there were small circles of many known faces of the city, busy discussing the paintings on display and also each other. A high profile event it being, the organisers had set up a seven-star hotel’s stall to serve samosas and chaa. To add more colour to the grandiose of event in the court flanking the gallery, a ravanhatta and bansari were being played by two men-attired to be from rajasthan. This is the first time I met Jagdish Bhai, playing melodious tunes from the bansari. And inside outside-on display was an ironical comparison.
Both Jagdish bhai and the artist were almost of the same age, late 60s. The artist was inside the gallery, being well hailed at; while Jagdish Bhai played away in the corner of the court outside. The artist just had had a discussion with me on the pains of an artist to produce art and how irresponsibly the media represented both the art and the artist, while irrespective of the questions I asked, Jagdish bhai had begun a spontaneous conversation about the maya of this sansar. There were turns to congratulate the artist or to be introduced to him, while Jagdish bhai was easily passed by- reduced as a background score for the whole high profile event. But why I remembered Jagdish Bhai for a long time, even after that event, was the warmth, comfort and content his tunes played. So enthralled were a bunch of us by his music, we expressed him our joy, to which he smiled and replied, “Main uski den se ek kalakar hu!” (I am an artist because of his blessings) And so curious was I, that I had decided to meet him again.
The next time I met Jagdish bhai at his house in Gulbai Tekra-where the community of Solankis from Sarala in Marwar have settled around 150 years back. Jagdish Solanki born and brought up here showed no trappings of modernity of the city which surrounded him. Interestingly he was a government driver before he gave up his job for the love of the flute 40 years back. “I began learning practising folk songs from our Rajasthan and a few filmi songs.” He now plays at bhajans and functions. Sometimes he goes to Delhi and Mumbai to play. Also for the Jain monks at their utarans i.e. the temporary stops on their pilgrimage routes. His father and grandfather were dari-makers. “There wasn’t a fixed occupation. We were nomads who decided to settle.” He shared a dramatic story of how the Solankis decided to move away from Rajasthan to escape the tyrannical rule a feudal king before he had begun talking about the workings of the world-displaying highly philosophical and liberal views.
Of his seven children only his elder son has inherited his love of playing the flute. Two of his other sons are sculptors and artists who make traditional murals on the walls. Recently one of his son who was approached by a UK based organisation for some work in London, was denied help to go abroad, for reasons of being an illiterate. Then the family collectively decided to educate the grandchildren. However he wants them to be kalakars. What about clichéd desires engineering or medicine? Amused, they laughed a no.
“..it is like the fish and the bird. You remove the fish from the water to live in air, it will die. So will the bird die in the water. Each can survive only in their worlds. One cannot live in the world of the other.” Jagdish Bhai told me in one our meetings. Were these thoughts a consolation or the cause of the existence?
Jagdish Bhai is just one of the many stories of people who are anonymous folk artists, lost in economic and caste crutches. What would be art in stories of such ironies? An artist in his x by y studio, moulding with paints and clay with great effort an abstract meaning into reality versus the man who engages with a musical object like a bansari creating something as abstract as music –everyday everywhere. The artist who reveres the art on a pedestal, only to viewed and touched by a select few versus the notes of the bansariwala constantly modulating and being familiar to the streets around Gulbai Tekra. One was displayed in the ‘privileged’ space of a gallery versus while the other person’s notes were played, forgotten outside the gallery.