28th July, 2002

Strokes that speak
by Uma Nair In the beginning of the 1960's Ram arrived in Benares. Not alone, Husain was with him. Two painters. Two brushes. One brush played with the waves of the restless Ganga. The other was still-like a centuries old meditative trance of the Benares ghats.

At godhuli, they would both watch, Ram and Husain, from the windows of Prem Chand's haveli - cows returning home. Dust like a sheet of muslin, rising from behind them, following them.
Husain couldn't stay in Benares for more than 15days, Ram went on talking about benares for years." - M.F.Husain
It is most appropriate to recall the words of Husain saab while gazing at Ram Kumar's latest oeuvre that went to San Francisco and is now at the indo center at New York. A series of canvasses, number of paper works - all personifying the artistic rumination of one of India's finest artists of the older generation. But this artist who is a writer of short stories, an inspiring agent of intellectual prowess has within him an uncanny silence that unravels the meditations of a city called Varanasi. But Varanasi is not clothed in a profusion of colour - it is instead like the muslin which sheathes every animate or inanimate being that comes in its wake of a breezy entendre. And the colour is a tranquil orchestration of elegance that has ingested gestures, moods and the poignancy of the tale of a life lived in acceptance of destiny. Years ago, when he had an unforgettable show at Vadheras in Delhi, Ram Kumar had said, "Benares is a city that presents a unique experience in terms of the contradiction of time. On one hand there is the recurring chant to Mahadev, and on the other the wail of the wiow that emanates through a song of heartfelt desires. At times you feel as if the Gods have descended from their heavens, at times it is just one of the oldest civilizations that interacts with you at different levels. Benares has often led me to wonder about this whole dichotomy of man's reason for existence."

However, what sets you thinking in terms of artistic negotiations is the way Ram Kumar has over the years played with the minimalist metre of the landscape, how he has evolved a lingua franca that has moved from the realist parameters of capturing the architectonics of a place to the paring down of glimpses - to achieve a unity that is no longer the sum of parts but an amalgam of a state that lies between being and nothingness.

The momentum of Ram Kumar's moods is always one that is in quest of an isolatory quietude - one that is content in sensing the fragility of the wind that wafts across the shores.
In the largest canvas that crowns the show you can just stand and wonder how the artist contemplates the treeless expanse that has at some time been swept by a gale or a storm swept inner landscape of the mind. I think the answer lies in the perception of the tonality - so much like the taans and toras of a raga that Pt. Bhimsen Joshi would want to capture. click here to view the catalogue

Spiritualising the essence of music is what Bhimsen Joshi always endeavours to mirror and that in fact is the rendition of Ram Kumar's palette. Theses works are not a form of savouring instant and monetary entertainment - they are a residual invocation to the aradhana of a lifetime of pursuit. The raga that comes to mind is Bhairav - because its alaap begins with concentration of mind and soul that is the act of creation. A small work that has streaks of blue exemplifies the shades and accents of composition - in which the most fascinating of all is the smoothened background that glides like the wistful transition from the instrument of expression to the serenity of silence.
Ram Kumar is an artist who continues to move from passages of solitude to rivulets of nirvana. For this artist experience does not impose a pattern, it instead inspires the moment that evokes a newness of shraddha. While every moment is tensile there is a source of communion that comes through in the wake of the artist's introspection. Ram Kumar's landscapes are lonely but they speak with an elegance that mystifies and an antiquity that invites modernity to co-exist in harmony. In a quixotic way this show has Mark Twain's words leafing through every nuance of shade and colours: Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.

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