Rivers have always been a fundamental part of any artist’s imagery. All of us, especially during our childhoods, have made that one painting, a landscape in which the sun rises from between the twin peaks and the stream flows across the page. Subarnarekha is a river which flows across the states of Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha, and when translated into English means the “Streak of Gold”. Legend has it that gold was mined near its origin and that contributed to it being called so.
People, who know me, know that I have a prejudiced love for the natural beauty of Jharkhand. I can partly put the blame on my genes because the painting which is at the top of this post has been made by my father. He calls it “Dusk at Subarnarekha”. He keeps on telling me about how much prettier Ranchi and its adjoining areas used to be when he was young. I can understand his pain and his nostalgia, development is continuously eating away into the forests of our childhoods. If you look at the colours used in the painting, you will be able to decipher that the artist has treated it with the kind of golden-hued affection that only emotions straight out of youth can provide.
I recently chanced across something from Greek mythology. It is about the Titaness (a female titan) Mnemosyne. She was the Greek goddess of memory and with Zeus, gave birth to the nine Muses, the goddesses of artistic inspiration. For the Greeks, memory was a fundamental attribute and separated man from the animals. According to them, memory not only gave us the ability to rationalise but also the power to predict. Memory was also the mother of arts, as all our feelings, intuitions and reactions are born of reminiscence, which in turn allows us to interpret the world in unique ways, fuelling our creativity.
This made me go back to my father’s painting. This has been primarily made in three colours; red, orange and yellow. Red is the colour of energy and passion. Orange stands for optimism and yellow for cheerfulness. The treatment of the image also tells you how the artist feels about the days gone by. It harks back to the time when he was innocent and viewed the world with a much brighter lens. The boats are a throwback to the bygone era when man and nature lived in harmony; the river stays true to its name and it is streaked with gold. Even the grass on the bank seems to be engulfed in flames. Most importantly, it captures the poignancy of nostalgia of a man who has lived all his life in the same place and has watched it change in front of his eyes. From peaceful rural sides to violent political ideology robbing the state of its soul, to a bustling city spreading itself across the red soil, it has been a long journey etching on his mind like the wrinkles on his face. As the days pass and the jungles are replaced with concrete and tar, something like this has become a rarity in Jharkhand. You are more likely to see trucks and buses being cleaned in the river than boats out to fish!
As believed by the Greeks, here is an example of how memories can lead to the creation of art. Here is heartfelt longing, amazement, admiration and recollection expressed in bright colours, inviting you to be a part of times which have an exalted space in his mind. The imagery is fiery, burnished into his soul, resplendent and alive. It is also a testament to my father’s skills with the brush since he was able to convey what he wanted to express with clarity and finesse. My father gave this painting to my aunt, maybe because he believes that she will understand what this is all about, having grown up with him in the same place at almost the same time (she is only one and a half years younger to him).
My father continues to paint, and with time his craft has only improved. However, this remains one of my favourites, because in this case, the emotions resonate with me. Also, it gives me a chance to peep into his youth, and how many sons can claim to have done that?