Sunday, April 13, 2014

Shadecard | (from the year 2001)

My arms hurt with the up-down movement of scraping. The scraped paint is in my hair, in my nose, on my hands. The walls are looking so sorry; it’s hard to imagine any paint could save them. The shade card is at my feet. It is a posy of insipid, noncommittal colors that people like to surround themselves with. Like Windsor Cream.

I was looking for a color that would not say sorry for being up on the wall. I have found it. It comes out of three tubs not one. You can get computerized shade-matching now, but I’ve always drawn margins in my journal to accommodate human error. I’d say 80% Flame of the Forest + 16% J’adore Crimson + 4% Burnt Umber. More or less.

The gent who was meant to oversee the paint job disapproved. He gave me a quick lesson in aesthetics. The colours I had chosen would take the apartment in visually, make it claustrophobic and small. A surface this color would play tricks with the eye, he said, dizzy blurs in sunlight and nightmares at night. I argued my case, pleasantly at first and then somewhat not. He muttered under his breath about how he had been painting walls since before I was born. But he was a Windsor Cream man, what more can I say. That was that, we mutually sacked one another.

Took a while, but the first layer is drying on the wall. I’ve really gone to town with the roller brush. At this point, color wise, tomato supersedes temperate. The walls are blinding, but a second coat will fix it.

You sent me post.  The envelope lay among bank statements and Domino’s flyers for a few days before it caught my eye. I don’t look out for post anymore. It brings nothing good with it, nothing with a handwritten address. Our love (quite predictably) thrives on the bone meal of urgency. So you leave phone messages that interrupt my breath with beeps. If love feels leisurely, it may amble into a mailbox as Unread Mail. But you sent me post. In a foreign land, you sat trawling over hotel stationary, my runaway bride. Post contained a short story you wrote to expel pain. You expel pain in short, sharp words unsullied by spell check.

Gist of the short story is three lines intersecting each other’s rumps, a triangle. I’m new enough around you to look for autobiography everywhere. You are jack of hearts enough to let me find it. K in the story is really you, S is the girl from yesterday, and J is the home breaker. I keep my stomach in a safe place and read on. Which is to say I sit on the pot and run the tap like an urban waterfall. K spoons with S and of course it is you I see spooning with her. I am not objective enough yet to keep you out of this alphabet soup; but then, as a writer, neither are you. Until such a time, I will continue to check under the carpet.

Speaking of carpets. Good intent notwithstanding, ours got a bit paint-dappled. Just so you know what the carpet escaped, the pants I’m wearing got dappled so stiff, if I take them off, they will stand upright all by themselves. Mental picture of upright pants makes me laugh. I sound like a demented emoticon laughing aloud in an empty room. Know what, just get back. ‘Back’ gets me thinking of yours, which is scenic and firmly out of sight. I will go and focus on the paint job now.

Today. 60% Flame of the Forest + 35 % J’adore Crimson + 5% Burnt Umber. The thing with Windsor Cream man’s beiges is that plus or minus even half a bucket of something, you can’t go very wrong. Not so with these diva paint buckets in our living room. It is good we can afford no more rented space than this, else I’d have died in repaint. Death by paint job.

I could’ve sworn the proportions were right, but in morning light, they are very wrong. Wall like this in your face every morning, and you’ll be getting out of the wrong side of the bed even if we slept on the floor. I slept on the couch last night and thought of your story. K crying in a room with a philandering S.  It isn’t S’s philandering that makes me mad, but the fact that it marked you with scar tissue no one else can kiss away. Marked K, I mean, but fuck algebra variables. What made you stay in that room so long?

2 a.m. I register with a jolt, sluggard that I am, that the room in your story is red. Red! The room’s redness was large enough for you to want to document it right there with the people and the hurt. Disrupting to the eye, red like a sunning lamp, like conjunctivitis. And here I thought I was saving you from Windsor Cream worse than death.

We don’t fight well. You curl your claws in, stop breathing and freeze. I would rather die of open, bloody wounds. Spark plug trouble, but we will find a way. White paper lamps wait in the closet. They are old and a bit off center, but they’d do fine. Swaying somewhat, spilling light. In red vision, a house begins to think of herself as a womb. Platelet infused and comfortable. Whenever I cannot pull you close, let the room pull us both in. You can’t be cold in a womb.

Room like coagulating blood, I am working my way to a hemorrhage. Fatigue. Calf to neck via second-last vertebra ache. Time zone is still sunny where you are but it won’t be for long. Is there any time for a repaint? I would need to pull off a re-scrape as well. This color will not take well to be hidden by another, unless I go darker. I would hate to go darker. I sleep indecisive. In my dream, patches on the wall and the underbelly of a plane catching fire on takeoff. I wake up parch throated with fear that you may be on it.

You are not on the plane. Your voice mail says you’ve left, will be on your way home soon. By daylight, my fear about the wall seems unfounded. A few minor repairs. Say, 20% Flame of the Forest + 70% Crimson + 10% Burnt Umber. Is it too dark for you? We’ll get more lamps. If the familiarity of the color unsettles you, we will reinterpret it. Let wet paint carry the imprint of loving double entendre, feverish kiss.

I am keeping your story aside. It is well-written, but not your best. If you needed to write it, it is done. If you needed me to read it, it is done. Let me court you now: Knight minus, jester plus. Hardly dragon-slayer, but firm of step, and a head without bees in it. Flair of the middling. I will finish the last paint stretch by the bathroom, air out the smell, catnap in the couch. The house looks ok. Let’s begin at the beginning. Get with me.
From the archive of forgottens, with small edits. Romantic-love-as-centre-of-the-Universe epoch :)   

Saturday, April 05, 2014


She does the fertile squat of a Lajja Gauri, but her head is intact and her gaze, cow-like and sweet. (Sketch morsel from a small, loving forthcoming work. Details, by and by) | © Amruta Patil 2014

Monday, February 10, 2014

Nicholas Roerich: Miner of Beauty

Our decision to take a detour en route Manali to see the Roerich Art Gallery in Naggar was a spontaneous one. Here I encountered the worlds of Nicholas Roerich  (1874-1947) for the first time. Six postcards from the Naggar museum shop would be my only connection with Roerich for many years to come. Those were pre-internet years, and our local library drew a blank vis-à-vis this painter of mountains. Today a fair representation (the entire corpus consists of nearly 7000 canvases) of Roerich’s oeuvre may be seen in online archives, but barring the occasional academic paper, there is little conversation about a being who actually deserves that overused epithet of ‘Renaissance Man’. (The apathy isn’t unique to India where Roerich spent close to thirty years creating his most inspired work; or to books written in English – in his native Russia, too, Roerich’s name has all but faded into obscurity). Which is why I met my review copy of ‘Nicholas Roerich: A Quest and a Legacy’ with great delight.

Here is a book about an artist that isn’t a lazy coffee table number or mere biography. As editor Manju Kak observes in the introduction, ‘the average western viewer sees his work purely in the light of ‘mere’ painting without its philosophic, esoteric connotation and contextualisation’. To counter this, Kak unapologetically brings together an eclectic mix of people to explore Nicholas Roerich’s spiritual, political and artistic journey. The nineteen essays are written by Indian and Western historians, Buddhist scholars, personal friends of the Roerich family, a scientist and a lama, even. To Kak’s credit, the different lenses are often far apart, even contradictory.

The fulcrum of the book is Roerich’s Asia years: Nicholas and his wife Helena’s growing fascination with Theosophy, Kalachakra Tantra and the occult; their  trajectory from Russia to the Himalayas; Roerich’s two Central Asian Expeditions, and the family’s settling in Himachal Pradesh until the end of Roerich’s days. The Roerich one meets in Manju Kak’s book is already nearing his forties – a successful, politically-savvy visual artist who demonstrated versatility in various fields. (He had an abiding interest in archaeology, particularly of the Stone Age; and was trained as, both, lawyer and painter). His art found patronage in government and church alike; his ambitious theatrical design (for set and costume) fired public imagination. The role theatrical design played in honing Roerich’s bold visual voice (and  that of other Russian artists in the first two decades of the 20th century) is studied in Joe Troncale’s essay ‘The Transcendent as Theatre in Roerich’s Paintings’. While reading it, I was troubled by the absence of suitable accompanying illustrations. Any visual person will be forced, as I was, to run to online to see what Roerich’s designs for the legendary Ballets Russes production of ‘The Rite of Spring’ looked like (image below).

As with most bonafide seekers, there were drastic changes in Roerich’s work in the course of his lifetime. The 1920s marked a particularly acute shift which corresponded with seismic changes in the artist’s spiritual landscape. It is, however, hard to see this transition from the images chosen in the book. For most part, artwork seems to be randomly scattered between text, in a size that is smaller-than-satisfactory. When page-space is at premium, one grudges small things – like the black-and-white photos of Roerich being one too many; or Andrea Loseries’ essay ‘Luminosity and the Natural Mind’ having just one full-page image where one can carefully observe the minutiae being talked about. This may well be a design/layout issue; but a tighter selection process for visuals would’ve done more justice to Kak’s effort. Culling some text may have allowed the inclusion of more illustrations without skewing the economics of producing this book (eminently cull-able are the essay on the Shambhala legend; at least two of the stories about the Roerich Pact; and paragraphs where authors overlap one another’s content).

Another missing link is a more in-depth analysis of Nicholas and Helena Roerich’s union. Theirs was a deep spiritual partnership from the very outset – indeed it is hard to determine where the influence of Helena ends and the ideas of Nicholas Roerich begin. Roerich refered to Helena as ‘wife, friend, partner and inspirer’.  She played no small role in turning her partner’s gaze eastward. Avid reader and polyglot, she was also a prolific writer and translator. Like her husband, she had a mystical bent of mind and received transmissions from Master Morya (also the spiritual guide of H.P. Blavatsky). Roerich never concealed how influential his wife was in conceiving the worlds that manifested on his canvases. It was no passive collaboration either. On a gruelling four-year trawl Roerich’s entourage made through Central Asian mountains, deserts and the wild, untouched Siberian taiga between 1924-1928, Helena was firmly by his side.

The essays about the Roerichs’ expedition across Central Asia (AV Stechenko’s ‘The Central Asian Expedition’ and Ruth Drayer’s ‘Across the Gobi Desert’) were a revelation. Roerich was fifty years old when he undertook the voyage. The almost 12,000-kilometre haul was fraught with hardships, bandit attacks, imprisonment, staggering beauty and deaths of five members of the entourage because of harsh living conditions – a backdrop and plot that can only be called ‘cinematic’. Underlying reasons for their journey extended far beyond wanderlust; and details will ever remain shrouded in the secrecy occult necessitates. In ‘A Caravan in Time and Space’, LV Shaposhnikova hints at ‘laying magnets’ in places en route, at tapping into the great rhythms of the cosmos.

This was a fecund time for Roerich the painter. He returned with more than five hundred paintings, an artist at the height of his powers. There was a transition from distinctively Slavic themes to Eastern overtones in style and imagery. Photographs bear testament to the fact that the Nicholas Roerich who returned from kissing the hem of the Gobi desert, Altai mountains and the Himalayas was a changed man: sober, tailored European clothes give way to flowing Tibetan robes, to brocades and velvet headgear of a monarch. Roerich  noted in his diary, ‘In 1924, a new era started according to Tibetan chronology.’ He had fully embraced his role as a prophet who would help usher in the new era.  

Scholars have suggested[1] that Roerichs’ obsessive quest for the geographical location of Shambhala may have been inspired by the Third Panchen Lama’s The Guidebook to Shambhala. The Panchen Lama (1738-1780) made it clear that the physical journey to Shambhala could only take a seeker so far; and that the rest of journey towards that fabled realm could only be traversed by an enormous amount of spiritual practice. The journey to Shambhala was an inner quest, and Roerich did reach this understanding (sooner or later). His paintings are best understood in the context of Tantric visualizations. Quoting Madhavan K. Palat in ‘Nicholas Roerich: Artist and Messiah’, “A series of canvases marked the progress through the cavern up to the mountain, the mind’s advance.” Those familiar with Tantric Buddhist imagery will recognise this as art that’s meditation-in-action, an idea elaborated upon by Chogyam Trungpa in ‘True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art’ (Shambhala, 2008).

The Western world’s unease with Roerich’s work is a long-standing one. Roerich’s contemporary, the painter and critic Alexander Benois denounced his ‘endless visions’. In a cultural landscape speedily rendered anodyne by the Bolshevik rule, metaphysical themes that incessantly referred to saviours, inter-planar transmissions and energy-suffused stones generated the same unease they’d meet in skeptical, pseudo-secular settings today. Kak mentioned in a TV interview that the reason Roerich has fallen out of fashion is because contemporary art asks to be approached from a purely intellectual-conceptual angle. Roerich’s journey was always a spiritual rather than artistic one. Those who deign to discuss his work while refusing to engage with the convictions that underlie it will – regrettably and doubtlessly – dismiss Roerich as a painter of pretty, somewhat repetitive reveries. Palat notes, “Roerich looked to the inward transformation of the individual through spiritual exercises. All his art was a means to (…) a revolution through the spirit.” The paintings are completely uninterested in making small talk with a rushed spectator.

Inundated as we are with reactionary art and in-your-face activist-artists, it takes a lot to understand the idea of revolutions that unfold silently. As Europe roiled through the World Wars, Roerich worked relentlessly in his mountain hermitage until the day he died, promoting ahead-of-their-time ideas like the Roerich Pact, and painting beauty. Only knowledge and only beauty, he believed, can counter ugliness. As Sina Fosdick remembers in ‘Meeting my Master’, ‘He foresaw grave calamities before they descended upon humanity…Yet he sent messages of peace all over the world, to purify the space, to help the growth of human consciousness…He scattered  many benevolent milestones…’ In a world jaded by its own preoccupation with angst and underbelly; it is with unmitigated gratitude that one must celebrate an artist whose life is a tireless endeavour to hone mind, soul and hand until they cannot but create great and luminous beauty.

Nicholas Roerich: A Quest and a Legacy
Edited by Manju Kak
Niyogi Books (2013),
ISBN: 978-93-81523-52-0

**This article was written for Biblio: A Review of Books**

[1] Alexander Berzin, ‘Mistaken Foreign Myths about Shambhala’ (1996), Berzin Archives

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Regina Mundi

'Regina Mundi' | © Amruta Patil 2013
Queen of the World reigns in red earth and moist deciduous foliage - guest-starring that flame of the Western Ghats, Gloriosa superba (love it when scientists are unable to contain their emotions), aka Glory Lily or Agnishikha.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Manifesto of the Uncowed

 © Amruta Patil 2013 | Time Out Mumbai, (October 11th '13) 

ime Out answers some hard questions about preventing, coping with and reporting on sexual assault. To read all the articles in this special issue about Women/Safety, click here

Time Out Mumbai

My first magazine cover, ever. To go with a series of 6 half-page illustrations (inside the issue) titled 'Manifesto of the Uncowed'. Happy and honoured to have been asked - could not have chosen a better reason or time to debut with this sort of work. Hopefully the painting will get stronger with time.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Kari, Ruth and the Extended Sisterhood

Extended Sisterhood © Amruta Patil 2013

Friday, September 06, 2013

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Transit Maps

For the Independence Day Special, Open magazine | © Amruta Patil 2013

Thursday, July 18, 2013


For First City | © Amruta Patil 2013

Sunday, June 23, 2013


For First City | From the McLeodganj sketchbook © Amruta Patil 2013

Thursday, June 13, 2013


For IQ | From the Mahabalipuram sketchbook © Amruta Patil 2013

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

On negotiating gender warfare

© Amruta Patil 2013 | Femina (26th June issue, on stands)

1-pager was on the hows of negotiating gender warfare (so much war-terminology in every aspect of our lives, do we even notice?) In many ways, this an extension of the Surviving Your Habitat piece in its need for altered eyes. Ps: Colours are more lurid in digital format.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

'Surviving' your habitat

© Amruta Patil 2013 | Originally appeared here, Hindustan Times 'Brunch', Sunday 9th June 2013.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dark earth land

For First City | From the Pune sketchbook © Amruta Patil 2013

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

On stands June 2013

Detail from a one-off one-pager for Femina.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013


For First City | From the Chennai/Auroville/Bangalore sketchbook © Amruta Patil 2013

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Surfacing: An ode to the 'greening' Indians

Appeared in Mint's 'Small Picture' (January 23rd 2013)
© Amruta Patil 2013

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Any beauty is the grace of the head quarters; all ugliness is entirely my own. | Adi Parva book launch with Professor Vidya Dehejia, Kala Academy, Goa