The Tagorean Path – by Esther David

(Written for Prof. Sankho Chaudhuri’s centenary year celebration was held in Varanasi at Ram Chatpar Shilp Nyas Museum by sculptor Madan Lal from 24-26 February 2016. His family donated 100 sculptures and 70 drawings to the museum, as a permanent gallery will be made there in memory of Sankho Chaudhuri

( 25 February 1916 – 28 August 2006)

It is said in the Bible, that in times of difficulty ¨…help cometh from the Lord …¨ Something like this happened to me, when I was a student at Vadodara’s Faculty of Fine Arts and was denied admission to the painting department . I was in tears. My drawings were spread out in the studio and while I was collecting them, I saw a thin middle aged man, maybe a new professor; with a bird like face entering the room. He was looking for a cigarette, as his packet was empty. He borrowed a cigarette from one of the professors, lit it, stood there, smoking thoughtfully and looking at my drawings. Then, with compassion writ large in his be-spectacled heavy lidded eyes, he said. ¨You have a good hand.¨

My spirits soared. But, I did not even know who he was.  He asked me, ¨would you like to study sculpture.¨ In a shaky voice, I said, ¨when, I cannot be a painter, how can I be an artist of any sort.¨ He burst out laughing. I looked up startled, as I had never heard such a happy, loud, resounding laughter. He smiled affectionately; saying, ¨come with me, I will make you an artist.¨

He led me to the sculpture studio.

I hesitated.

Reluctantly, I stood there, saying, ¨…But, I don’t want to be a sculptor.¨

Tears were running down my face, so he asked the peon to bring service tea from the canteen, sat on the steps leading to the sculpture studio, telling me, ¨you don’t have to be a sculptor, just learn the basics and you can become an artist like Tagore.¨  Surprised ; I sat down on the steps opposite him, as he told me about his years in Santiniketan. By then, the tea had arrived, so with great finesse he poured it and offered me a cup of tea, which calmed me. I listened attentively, as I had grown up reading Tagore. He referred to Tagore as The Poet and patiently recounted events from his life, which cast a spell over me.

That day, I came to know that he was Professor Sankho Choudhuri, the head of department of sculpture. As, he was friendly; I took courage in my hands and told him, that sculpture bored me. So, he decided that besides the syllabus, I would have to write a diary with 500 words a day and as I was interested in reading, I had to spend all my spare time in the library. He also asked me to become a member at a cine club in Vadodara, where I saw films about the Holocaust and Satyajit Ray.

And, he also gave me the profound sermon, which I follow to this day, that – ¨Creativity is like a room with many doors, open any door and you will find it…¨

He came into my life at the most unexpected hour and feel blessed that I met him, as today, I can lead a life, where art is my soul and writing is my life.

Soon, I realized that Sankho Choudhuri was my Guru, as I believe that one always needs a Guru to guide us, when we are confused.

He was a fascinating, interesting and whimsical human being, who could laugh suddenly; while stamping his feet, then roll up his trousers, jump into the clay pit and knead clay with his feet, sit in silence for hours, contemplating about his next work, over a cup of tea or have animated conversations with guests like Mulk Raj Anand or other well known artists and writers who may have come to Vadodara, then decide to sculpt a portrait in clay, like the one; he made of my father in an hour; working with thumb and side of palm; creating an incredible resemblance in a technique similar to Rodin’s impressionistic application of clay; as he was a master of portraits. Sometimes, he liked to sit on a packing case in the foundry with his tea tray and tell me about his trips abroad, when he had met Henry Moore and Giacometti. He often talked about the time he had spent in Paris, where I was to eventually write my first novel and organize an exhibition of untutored art at Unesco.

He also knew how to celebrate life, as he made the campus lively, with his rendition of Rabindra Sangeet, encouraging students to play Holi, asking Kumudben Patel of the pottery department to teach me Garba steps and planning study tours along with the Fine Arts Fair.  And, whenever he did bronze casting at the foundry in the sculpture department, which went on till late night, Iraben brought us tiffins of home cooked food.

In today’s world when student-teacher relationships are indifferent, I was lucky to have been in Vadodra in the sixties, during the era of the Gurus.

Sankhoda, as I affectionately called him was a dynamic live-wire human being, who touched my life and gave me the gift of the Tagorean Path.

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