When A. Ramachandran exhibited his monumental mural Yayati (60’ x 8’ along with a group of 13 bronze sculptures) in 1986, he was bitterly criticised by the art community. Few realised that the master artist was turning away from painting the existential crisis of modern man. He was rejecting the expression of violence and degradation of humanity from his canvases and choosing to fill the blank space with a joyous, universal vision of man in nature.
Ramachandran accounts for this complete break from his past work to his witnessing an incredible act of inhumanity. In 1984, he saw a group of men lynching to death a Sikh in the neighbourhood. He was revolted by the sight and felt that all the images of dehumanisation that he had painted did not have any impact on an individual’s consciousness. He made up his mind never to create an image of violence.
For almost two decades, from the early 1960s, he had been painting cataclysmic images of violence, bloodshed, human degradation in such works as Kali Puja, Audience, Gandhi and the 20th Century Cult of Violence, Vision of War, End of the Yadavas. This bleak vision of humanity was born of his encounter with post-Partition Calcutta, where he saw refugees living abysmal lives on the pavements of the metropolis. These decades were also witnessing skirmishes and wars all over the world, as well as extreme political violence. It was natural for a young sensitive artist coming from quiet, beautiful Kerala and reared in the idyllic landscape of Kala Bhavana in Santiniketan to react to the scenes of human agony that he encountered.
Ramachandran moved to Delhi from Santiniketan in 1964. In 1965, he joined Jamia Millia Islamia University as a lecturer in art education. He won respect as a distinguished art teacher even as he and his colleagues worked hard to create a full-fledged art department.
The 1970s was a decade of exciting experiments for Ramachandran. He engaged seriously with bronze sculptures. The embryonic forms and the totem pole-like figures that he created were remarkable milestones in modern Indian sculpture. Also, during this decade, he wrote and illustrated books for children, for which he received international awards, made a few ceramic pieces, painted two sets of miniatures, designed postage stamps and illustrated Sadat Hassan Manto’s stories. While the experimental spirit was always present in Ramachandran’s creativity, it was during this time that he explored many mediums.
During the latter part of ‘70s, his fiery response to human suffering was slowly abating. After a visit to Rajasthan, his memories of the lush Kerala landscapes stirred in his mind and he began to introduce trees, flowers, clouds, the sky in his images. The climactic moment came when he conceptualised Yayati. It was clear that he was deeply immersed in the aesthetics and language of Indian art of the past as well as the art of East Asia. He also had intimate knowledge of Indian myths and epics. It was from these resources that he created unique visual language and imagery. The two ideas that he explored in a million ways are the universe in a lotus pond and the life in tribal villages around Udaipur in Rajasthan. Around these two ideas, he created his own personal mythology by painting himself into his images as a creator, as an observer and as a participant, be it a snail, a bat, a bird or innumerable other forms. His brilliance as an artist became manifest in the way he achieved his jewel-bright colours and the magic that he could create with the diversity of his lines. This is particularly patent in his watercolours and drawings.
He received the National Award in 1969 and 1972, the Noma Concours for Picture Book Illustrations in 1978 and 1980, the Parishad Samman from the Sahitya Kala Parishad in 1991, the Gagan-Abani Puraskar from Visva Bharati in 2000, the Manaviyam Award and the Ravi Varma Puraskaram from the Government of Kerala in 2001 and 2003 respectively. He was elected Fellow of National Lalit Kala Akademi in 2002, Professor Emeritus at Jamia Millia Islamia in 2002 and conferred with Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 2005. In 2013, Ramachandran was awarded Honorary D.Litt by Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, and the next year he received the Kalidas Samman.
Well-versed in art history and aesthetics, Ramachandran’s definitive book on Kerala mural tradition, Painted Abode of the Gods, was published in 2005. Ramachandran’s essays on his art have a sparkling quality.
Following is an edited transcript of a video conversation with A. Ramachandran conducted by Ella Datta on November 3, 2020, in Delhi.
Ella Datta (EL): Over the six decades of your life and art, you’ve been acknowledged as the master of medium, material, imagery and language. Would you like to tell me how it all began? You were deeply involved with Malayalam literature as a young man, you were also an accomplished singer, how did art come about?
A. Ramachandran (AR): I think I had some talent when I was a child. But the talent of a child cannot be assessed because art activity is basically supposed to be a part of the child’s growth, a part of his motor activity—you draw, you put pressure, you scratch on the walls and things like that. But I had a little more than an ordinary child’s gift because I remember when I was around seven or eight, I did a portrait of our servant on the wall. It was a fairly large work and I did it with my pencil and a little bit of colour, I think watercolour. It is interesting. That servant who used to treat me like her own child stood for me. She asked me, you spoil all the walls, why don’t you make my portrait? It was a very interesting challenge for a child and the funniest thing is, I call her my Mona Lisa in my writing because she was the first woman who posed for me for a portrait, but unlike a pretty woman like Mona Lisa, this one was around seventy and had drooping breasts and had only one eye and she used to tie a turban on her head like a man. She used to clean the floor and wash the utensils, so she was a very tough woman. When she said this, I thought it was a very interesting challenge. So, I painted her with one eye and drooping breasts, and a little towel hanging on one side and this turban. She looked at it and she said, ‘Oh, this doesn’t look like me, I’m much better than this.’ So that was my first encounter as an artist and the relation with a model. But later, I remember, my grandmother was very strict, she said, you spoiled this wall, you should not do this. I was very disappointed. I thought I would get some recognition from the family members, but they didn’t bother about it very much. Only my mother was very sympathetic towards my artistic talents. She used to get me clay from the potter woman so that I could play with it. Then she herself would make something with it and show me how to make figures using separate sections—a body, a square, head, round ball, two hands, things like that. To my mind she was the most inspiring person. Much later when I became a known artist, she used to come to my studio, look at the paintings and then say, ‘This is much better than the previous one you did.’ She was very encouraging.
If I remember what made me an artist, it was the kind of life we were living then. We had long stretches of land, very fertile land with lots of trees, different kinds of trees, and it was an undulating kind of landscape. We children used to run around in this forest-like landscape, and I encountered many kinds of trees and plants, the shape of the leaf, the shape of the flowers, the shape of the fruits, all these things became a kind of an intimate response to my mind as a child. I’m telling you about these things because in later years all these dormant experiences, they come out and then come through in the works you do even now. That is not because you get it immediately, it’s a life-long memory you carry of your childhood. So, that way I’m very fortunate that I grew up in the lap of nature. I grew up in a kind of a wild landscape where there were also scorpions and snakes and all kind of things of which we had to be very careful, but there were also very beautiful birds which you can’t even see now see, for instance, the bird of paradise with the long tail. This you don’t see anymore, but these were all very common things then. If you ask me, that kind of an amazon jungle kind of a landscape, where I ran around and played, that must have left a very deep impact in my mind. That, I think, is the foundation of my art.
I joined University College (Thiruvananthapuram). I got admission in BA Honours and I became a student of Malayalam literature. That part of my life was very rewarding. Because some of the teachers who taught us were very eminent scholars and writers and, besides, they were all associated with literary movements and other such things. In my time, there were so many things happening, there were so many social changes, political changes and cultural changes. There were some very extraordinary, brilliant writers like Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, Kesavadev, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, Karur Neelakanta Pillai, Lalithambika Antherjanam, etc. So, these were very eminent writers of Malayalam. The Malayalam language got a complete group of eminent writers who created a new chapter in the literary history of Malayalam. So, from the first phase of imitating the European novels, short stories and poems, they broke away and they discovered the language, life and experiences of the people who lived in Kerala. That became the topic for the writers. So, it was a kind of a cultural renaissance which was happening when I was a student at the University College. All these must have made some impact in me.
ED: Yes, this ferment . . .
AR: Yeah, so, in a sense I was very proud that I came from such a background, and that I knew more things than many of the normal students who went to art school did. After passing my MA, I got a scholarship from the University of Kerala, and with that, I joined Kala Bhavan. So that is how I decided to go to Kala Bhavan.
ED: So, you were aware of the reputation of Kala Bhavan?
AR: Well, I didn’t. In fact, you know, I did not know much about Kala Bhavan. I knew some of the Bengal School artists because we used to get Modern Review. So, through the Modern Review, I got to see the paintings of Nandalal, Abanindranath and other Bengal School masters and even Tagore’s paintings. I was more attracted to Bengal School artists than to Raja Ravi Varma, who was the great icon of Kerala. Somehow, I didn’t get much attracted to his work because, to my mind, it was too realistic, too recognisable kind of images. Everybody talked about Ravi Varma, the role model—you should paint like Ravi Varma, you should do portrait like Ravi Varma, then only you are good. If you don’t have that craftsmanship, if you don’t paint like that, then you are not worth being an artist. But I could never do it myself because I never did realistic work in that sense even in my childhood.
I knew that Kerala was not very conducive at that point in time to become an artist and live there. Anyway, I had some kind of correspondence with K.C.S. Paniker. Paniker used to write nice letters to me, and I asked him for assistance. So, he said, come and join Madras College (College of Fine Arts, Madras). So, when I left Kerala, I was not going to Santiniketan, I was going to Madras to study under Paniker. But then, there was a function of Tagore’s festival in the college. There was a professor in the women’s college who was an ex-student of Santiniketan. As I used to sing, I joined the choir to sing Rabindra Sangeet. This teacher was teaching us Rabindra Sangeet for the assembly. I went to her house and she was very nice, she taught me the song and explained the meaning of it. Then she told me, you should go to Santiniketan. I said I didn’t know much about it. Then she took out an album and showed some of the pictures of her time at Santiniketan. Then I saw a photograph of Ramkinkar’s (Ramkinkar Baij) Santhal Family. It was one of the most important turning points in my life. The moment I looked at the photograph of that Santhal Family sculpture, it was like an electric shock going through my body. It was an absolutely amazing experience. How a great work can touch you even as an image! It was just a photograph. I said, ‘My God, if I have to be an artist, I should do like this, this is what I want to do.’ So, I decided to go to Santiniketan. I went to Paniker and said, ‘I am sorry, but I’m going to Santiniketan.’ He asked why. I said, I wanted to study under Ramkinkar. He said, ‘Yes, Ramkinkar is a very good artist, but he is a good sculptor.’ I said, ‘Okay, I am fine with whatever he teaches.’ That is how I went to Santiniketan.
I reached Santiniketan in the evening around six o’clock. There was a Malayali student in Vidya Bhavan—he was doing his BA Honours in Literature—he came to receive me. I had written to him about my coming. So, he took me in a rickshaw and we reached Santiniketan. By that time, it was around six-thirty–seven in the evening. He said, ‘Come, let us go to the common dining place.’ So, as I was walking, it was a moonlit night, I saw young boys and girls going around, even small girls wearing saree and the boys wearing kurta-pyjama and singing songs. I said to myself: My God, this is a very strange land that I have come to. In Kerala, even looking at a girl was considered to be a criminal act. So, to go to a place where I saw boys and girls going around together, and had so much freedom, it was also a cultural shock for me. I was seeing a new kind of world, a new kind of life which I had never thought about. So, I went to the dining hall, and from nursery to PhD students, everyone was taking food together, and there was some kind of a family atmosphere. Each member behaved as if he was a part of the family and not just a student. These were all things that made a very deep impact on my mind. After that I never looked back, I spent eight years in Santiniketan. Gradually I started getting exposed to the teachers also.
ED: The Santiniketan experience is manifest in your expressions in many ways. One notices many cross-currents going on in your mind, in your pursuits in Santiniketan. You were drawn to sculpture, you wanted to be Ramkinkar’s student and, at the same time, you were painting quite furiously during your time there. For your PhD dissertation, you chose to work on Kerala murals and, at the same time, we see an expressionist bent in the paintings, the watercolours of that period.
AR: The period you are talking about . . . the first part is when I completed the diploma. At that time, for the diploma course they had, the students had to learn several subjects. Nandalal’s teaching was such that each student was exposed to different kinds of activities, including painting, sculpture, graphic arts and decorative arts. So the idea is, suppose you are not good at painting, you can be a designer. You can be a theatre designer. Or, you can do sculptures. So, the idea is that artists should be familiar with different kinds of techniques and methodologies so that once they realise the suitable medium for them, they can move to that. Now they have removed this type of learning, but I thought it was one of the most beautiful ideas of Nandalal. Because Nandalal did not look at art as water-tight compartments. If you do sculpture, you do only sculpture and if you go to painting class, your chastity will be lost—that kind of attitude was not there then. That was, in a way, very good because we could do many things—theatre, designing, costumes, we did make-up, we did water paintings, decorations, alpana. So, every kind of thing to make the environment beautiful—that is the ultimate thing. So, they were teaching you how to live a life of beauty, where everything—what you wear, what you sit on, what you do—everything has a certain artistic sense. In that kind of atmosphere, it was natural that I did everything. I did sculpture, painting, graphics, textile designing—everything. It was only good for me because that is how easily this house (where I am living now) was designed by me. So, everything is done by myself, whatever things I have to arrange in this space, this studio is, the easel, I did it myself, that is what Nandalal taught me—that one should be able to mould a space for oneself . . .
ED: Create your own environment…
AR: So, your signature should be there in your house. So, it’s not like buying designer clothes and wearing them, of course, I am wearing designer’s cloth—Fabindia.
ED: When did you move to Delhi?
AR: I moved to Delhi in 1964. During 1957–64 I was in Santiniketan. In 1964 my scholarship got over. I had an exhibition, which was actually organised by Dharma Narayan Dasgupta, who was my classmate. He and another Calcutta (now Kolkata) artist were having an exhibition in Delhi. Dharma Narayan asked me whether I would like to join. During my research time, I had started doing large oil paintings. So, I had one or two large paintings which I gave him to exhibit. It was he who managed everything, I only came at the time of the exhibition. Virendra Kumar (Virendra Kumar Jain) of Kumar Gallery came to see the exhibition. He must have been impressed by my work, and he asked me, ‘What are you doing in Santiniketan?’ I said I was doing research, and he said, ‘Why are you wasting your time there, come to Delhi and stay with me and do your work.’ So that was how I came to know that one could live as an artist or that you could choose art as a profession, an artist’s profession. That I came to know only when Kumar told me.
When I moved to Delhi, Kumar Gallery was one of the best galleries then, and most of the important artists were working with him. That was how I came to know Krishen Khanna, Tyeb Mehta, Ram Kumar, G.R. Santosh and many other artists. They were all working with him. Occasionally artists used to come from abroad to exhibit. So, fortunately, when I came to Delhi, first of all, the good thing that happened was that I got exposed to the professional world of artists. Otherwise, my teachers, whether Nandalal or Ramkinkar, they all practiced art for themselves and never thought about how a work of art could be sold to the public or that it could be a profession by itself. Those days everybody used to become teachers, that was the best thing.
I stayed with Virendra Kumar for a few months, and then there was this war with Pakistan. So, the whole market closed down. It was because mostly it was foreigners who used to come and buy art in those days—there were not many Indian buyers. And they all, mainly Americans, I suppose, disappeared when the war started. So, I found it very difficult. Second thing, I also found that I was not suitable to become a freelance artist, because freelance artists have to be more sociable, you have to move around and meet people, make friends, make contacts, then only you can sell your work. Those things I could not do. So, by sheer accident, I went to Jamia Millia (Jamia Millia Islamia University). The head of the art department there was an ex-student of Santiniketan. When I went there, Mr Abdul Kalam asked me, ‘What are you doing?’ I said I was a freelancer, and then he said, ‘You have a Master’s degree in art. We have a lecturer’s post vacant, why don’t you join here?’ So, I thought, good. He asked me to apply, and after two weeks, there was an interview and I was selected. When I was selected, Professor Mujeeb, who was the Vice-Chancellor, said, ‘Nair sahib, you will help us to make Jamia another Santiniketan.’ That was my guiding motto. For twenty-eight years, I worked in Jamia based on that principle.
ED: To go back to the sixties again, when you came to Delhi, one notices that you had already acquired a distinct, recognisable style, one where your drawing of Santhal girls and baul singers had a very sculptured quality. At the same time, there were intimations of mortality, a bleak future. One of your paintings that haunts me is Kaleidoscope. The terror . . . Would you like to talk a little bit about that period?
AR: At Santiniketan, once I finished the diploma, I joined as a research student. I used to read quite a lot. I was very fond of Dostoevsky, and he had a great impact on my mind. I used to read and read and get feverish and sick because some of his novels are really terrifying. Plus, I was a young man who did not know what my future looked like. I didn’t want to go back to Kerala, since it was not conducive for my growth. I was in a great dilemma, and since I had no job, and the scholarship was finishing, I had to go often to Calcutta and look for something. So, I did theatre for Santiniketan ashrams, designing theatre and doing make-up and all that. I used to get small amounts of money. In those days, I used to wander around in Calcutta without much money, or rather without any address. That period of life was quite depressing because I didn’t know what to do. So, it was a very tough life for me. I remember I used to walk from North Calcutta to South Calcutta, and then walk back without money, and you could buy a roll from Karim Hotel for 4 or 5 annas, which used to be my food. So, it was a very tough life. And then I stayed with Dharma. When you looked out through the window, you could see the migrant labourers from Tamil Nadu and other places, sleeping on the streets—complete family, husband, wife, children. And also, the Sealdah [railway] Station which was in utter chaos . . .
ED: Yes, the refugees . . .
AR: The refugees. So, in Calcutta, I was exposed to the miseries of life which I had never experienced in Kerala. In Kerala there was no poor man in that sense. Even the poorest man, he would have a white shirt and a dhoti, which was washed and even ironed and he would have a chandan tika (strokes of sandalwood paste given as an offering and which the devotee wear on his forehead) from the temple, and even if he was begging, he would be very neatly dressed. So, I didn’t identify with this kind of life of people living on the pavement. At Sealdah Station, in every six feet square, a complete family was living. So, there, birth, death, everything happened. So, it was something very remarkable that human beings could live in such a degraded and degenerating atmosphere. This I could never visualise in Kerala. So, these were cultural shocks I got. Plus, the reading of Dostoevsky also contributed to these interesting imageries which started popping up in my mind. So, most of the works I had done at that time, like Kali Puja, then later…
ED: Yes, I was just going to talk about it. They were so angst-laden, the End of Yadavas…
AR: It’s a little later work. But the early ones are more drastic, you know.
AR: I have written it in one of my essays that I had seen the dead strewn all over Calcutta. I saw a man lying in a gutter, completely naked, drinking the muddy water, you know, these were quite shocking images for me. So, at that age, I was looking at life in its raw form, it had affected me so much that the paintings turned out to be very grotesque and also with a tremendous, rebellious spirit in them.
ED: At the same time, you were working out a language for yourself. For instance, there would be the references to myths, not boldly stated but in the images, say, in the End of Yadavas or one or two others in that period, Kali Puja, for instance. You were also bringing in fleeting references to European masterpieces like in the Anatomy Lesson. So, were you evolving a special or a particular language for yourself at that time?
AR: No, no. Of course, I have always thought that every artist should evolve a language of their own.
ED: Yes, yes.
AR: It’s a very long and tough process. But then at that time, being young and coming from Kerala with a certain political background, and then looking at things which were not correct, socially not correct, not correct to other human beings—all these kinds of acts used to give a kind of strong response to my mind simply because I was a young man of rebellious nature. So, each painting has a reference point. I did Kali Puja because of the Naxalite movement, where young boys and girls from Jadavpur and Calcutta University were attracted to the Naxalite movement, and they were killed like dogs by the police and army. That was how they subdued the movement. So, Kali Puja to me was like the sacrifice of a goat I saw at Kankalitala temple near Santiniketan. Those sketches I used later for my reference. So, you see many young, brilliant boys and girls were killed in that process. Kali puja is like sacrificing goats for someone else. Goats are only sacrificial objects, that’s all. So, ultimately, I found that these kinds of movements create more miseries for people rather than bringing any change in society. It didn’t. You can see that from the later histories.
Same way, End of Yadavas is a result of my visit to Poland and the gas chambers, where the Jews were murdered. So, when I came back, I somehow worked on two or three themes. One was the Nazi regime and how they treated human beings. Anatomy Lesson is one of those paintings. Another one was that when I went to Japan, I went to Hiroshima and I saw the reaction of the nuclear bomb. Now, End of Yadavas is actually a statement on that. Human beings are creating weapons to kill each other and, ultimately, destroying our own planet. That is the whole idea of the weaponry each country is amassing. So, I used a story from Mahabharata, where the Yadavas—Krishna’s race—at the end of the war that they won, they were very proud and arrogant. So, one day, they dressed up a boy as a girl with a pillow inside so that she looked like a pregnant woman. One sadhu was passing by, and these boys went and asked him, ‘You are such a great man, tell us whether this girl will give birth to a boy or a girl?’ That sadhu said, ‘He will give birth to an iron mace and that will be the end of your race.’ After sometime, an iron mace came out of the body of that boy dressed as a girl. So, the Yadavas got so frightened, they ground the iron mace into small dust and threw it away at the seashore. Each dust grew into tall seaweeds. Yadavas forgot about it. One day, they had a picnic there, and they were drinking and then they started fighting with each other. So, they ran and pulled out the seaweeds to beat their fellows, and each seaweed became an iron mace. So, each one of them had iron mace in their hand, and they killed each other with that. Only Krishna and Balarama were left. Balarama was so ashamed of seeing his own race dying like this by killing each other that he walked to the seashore, sat there in a yogic posture, and a white snake asked him to the sea, and that was the end of his life. Only Krishna was left. All the Yadavas were finished. Krishna was so tired and disgusted by his own people dying like this. He was lying on the grass, and he was shot by a hunter by mistake. That was the end of Yadavas. So, the entire Yadava race was killed by the invention of that weapon—an iron mace. So, to me, an atomic weapon is something like this. Ultimately, we are going to kill each other, nobody is going to survive if any of these nuclear weapons is used by the people who have it. I don’t think there will be much left on this earth. So, for each painting, I had worked out a different kind of a thought process, and then I worked on those paintings. Of course, I never stood there and explained all this. Now you are asking so… I think each painting is an independent entity and should be seen as that.
ED: Yes, it is for us to read meanings. So then, that was another thing that interested me in your work of that period is the composition where you bring in a great deal of geometry. For instance, a circle, in many of your paintings, the circle forms the very core of the work.
AR: That is because in those days tantric movement had come to Indian art, but I’m not a tantric painter. But I saw many mandalas in the pictures. They were very interesting. They are basically geometrical diagrams. But when you carefully look at it, because they are structures made of space, pictorial space, they can be used to, like architecture, arrange the kind of image that you want.
ED: Also, the other thing that I have often felt, have been struck by is an element of theatre in your composition. As if you are blocking a space, as if activity is about to start within…
AR: Yeah, that is in only certain kinds of works… because again it has a political background. It was during the Bangladesh crisis. I did Audience for example. Audience is a very strange-looking old man watching two dogs mating and then a carcass hanging. So, that is the time when Pakistani forces were killing hundreds of Mujibur Rahman’s followers. So, I did a series of works based on that. Frankly speaking, in those days I used to respond to political ideas, later I gave it up, I will tell you why, but in those days, there was always a springboard of political ideas from which I would take off. But I never did political paintings, neither as propaganda material nor even as a literary end of interpretation.
ED: No, it was your vision of life.
AR: Yeah, it was only a springboard. That theme gives you or the incident gives you the idea to make an entirely visual imagery, to make a parallel experience, that was the idea.
ED: In 1969, you got your big public art commission for Gandhi Darshan- Gandhi and the Cult of 20th-Century Violence. And then ten years later, the Vision of War. It was a continuous kind of thought process but since they were major works, would you like to talk a little bit about it?
AR: Gandhi Darshan was the first commission work I got. It was Gandhi centenary (1969). Charles Correa designed a special building in Rajghat. There, the idea was to have some of the important artists of the country do paintings and sculptures on the basis of Gandhiji’s teachings. So, I was the youngest artist. Maybe I was selected because Mr Alkazi was one of the persons who recommended me. I was too young to be included among those senior artists. But, in fact, it is one of the great tragedies in my life that I took that commission so seriously. I went and selected a space for my work. I told the man who was in charge of the project that I was going to do my work there. So, it was a highly raised ceiling and so I thought I would make a mural that looked like the altar in a church. So, from the ten thousand rupees commission which I got, three thousand rupees I spent on a teak wood panel and then I pasted canvas on it and I painted this with a curvature—the curvature was in alignment with the ceiling. I had these very interesting images, but in the central piece was Gandhiji’s Dandi March picture, I projected his leg marching forward.
ED: And you had the Buddhas at the…
AR: At the top, I structured the body in such a way that it touched the pillar on the concrete block on the ceiling. So, it seemed like a continuous thing, and in that area, I stencilled Buddha images from Ajanta, a thousand Buddhas. On one side there was this huge army tank with collages of photographs, especially from the battleship of Potemkin, and also of many other world wars.
ED: Yeah, the Pieta was on the left…
AR: Yeah, on the other side, Pieta was there. There was also a man lying on the ground and blowing bubbles of atomic explosions and things like that. Anyway, the man who was in charge of it was quite insensitive. He changed the place of my painting and brought it down to the ground level and put it at the beginning. He then gave other places to other artists. Despite this, at that time my work received much attention from many people, including Mulk Raj Anand. But later, I don’t know what happened, they converted it into an office… A museum specially designed by Charles Correa was converted into an office!
ED: When I visited it, it was in a very neglected state.
AR: You know, because they wiped regularly with a wet cloth to clean, half of my painting got discoloured, completely changed. After that, I never went there.
ED: But then your mural commission by the Welcome Group, Vision of War, that also had not such a . . .
AR: I think, any commission I do, I have problems. So, the second one I did was at Maurya Hotel. I did Ashoka’s image, which is a sculpture with a mirror at the back, on the opposite side I did the painting. Again, on a wooden panel, I painted the wars, all starting from Kanishka’s times to modern times. So, there were all wars. So, my interpretation was that Ashoka said no more war after Kalinga. I thought, even today, even though he said no war, the war continues in its own rhythm. So, I did all this. There is one picture of Hitler on a horseback and then below there is a Statesmen newspaper…
ED: Crumpled, yes.
AR: And a little girl running away from the napalm explosion. There is a famous photograph of that young girl. I painted her. So, the hotel people said, ‘Sorry, this is against the British and Americans and Germans, and we get people from different countries to stay here, they don’t want to see a political painting. And so, I was asked to take it back.
ED: Only Ashoka remained.
AR: Only Ashoka remained. Then, instead, I did a harmless painting of horses running and broken chariots.