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My studio and extended family in Baroda


Leaving Baroda in 1980 – I was becoming like a mother hen
KG Subramanyan Artist
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Why in 1980 did you leave Baroda?

Partly because I think it was, people were depending on me too much. In fact, when I sort of went as a visiting fellow to Santiniketan, it had a certain kind of a background. I mean it’s like that. You see, Santiniketan as an institution was always in my mind because I think Tagore thought about it being an exemplary institution, a resource institution. I was always wanting to think that what it could be, I mean if the right people got there. Many people thought that it was to going the right way after it came into the hands of the Education Ministry and it became a central university. So they had from time to time various committees going through it and suggesting how to improve it and things of that kind. The last one of them was called a Masud Committee. Masud was a high court judge there, and various experts were interviewed and called and people answered the questionnaires they sent around. Then they thought they should change the nature of the institution a little and bring it back to the old glory, but that report was more like a textbook. I mean, it didn’t have a plan of action. So they appointed another committee, which was called a Taskforce Committee, in which they called me as a member. So I went to Delhi at that time. It was in 1976 I think, or a little earlier, and the vice chancellor of the university was there at that time and there were people, I mean from the Education Ministry were there, and they had all various solutions to suggest. I was there as an old alumnus and also somebody who had been in the art educational line in Baroda for a long while. I didn’t want to get into the discussion too quickly, so I was watching what all. One of the suggestions was of the administrators. They said the institution is going downhill because there is no code of conduct. So we will have to draw up a code of conduct and then make people sign that they will behave this way and things of that kind. Then when they finally asked me what do you think about it, so I told them look, I mean you are teaching people who want to sort of man this institution thinking that they are little infants that they have to sign up a sort of signature for it. Either you get the right people or you sign the wrong people, but there is no other way. I mean all kinds of signing up sort of a thing doesn’t make any difference, and suppose people sign up and don’t observe it, what do you do, you know? So, I think this is a most infantile suggestion, so I do not agree with it, but the whole thing is that there should be a sort of a community of people who can sort of rebuild the institution here, do you have that community, or is there some way? So the vice chancellor said we don’t have that community. They said now most of the people who come to Santiniketan are coming there not because they are convinced about the validity of Tagore’s ideas, some of them even don’t know fully what he meant. So they are all wage earners like other wage earners, and they are an institution whose head doesn’t have the power to hire or fire, so I am helpless in that. So finally they came, they came to the conclusion, the Education Ministry said well, why don’t you sort of have a little transplant?  That is, have a small group of people who are distinguished in each field, come as visiting fellows to Santiniketan, and they sanctioned 50 visiting fellowships. And that is how I went there, on a visiting fellowship, to start with. It included a lot of interesting people and people with a lot of experience, like Sombhu Mitra in the field of theatre, like Nikhel Banerjee in the field of music and things of that kind. It started very well. Unfortunately, the institution as it was, was not always uniformly receptive to these people.  Sombhu Mitra was there for 2 years, but they didn’t allow him to produce a play. So, he wasted his time. He himself has told me so, and he on the other hand tried to do some amount of research. He has come out with a very beautiful essay on normal conversation, the relation between normal conversation, dialogue and the play, kind of a thing, very... written in Bengali. Well anyway, I had the advantage of being an alumnus, so people knew me better, so I had better reception so I could do quite an amount of work at that time, and then it looked like people wanted me there for a longer while. So the vice chancellor came with the proposal of 3 years, why don’t you sort of move? So I said I can’t do that immediately, but let me go back and think. And then I started thinking that in Baroda, though I had a lot of affection around and people who had grown in my vicinity were all there, I found I was becoming a little like a mother hen. Whenever they had a problem, I had to sort of find out a solution for them. Then I thought that is not good. I mean, they are grown up enough to solve their own problems. Then the other thing was Uma had grown up and she got married to the son of a person I knew who was then here, so like a normal ageing Hindu will think, I thought my grihasth-ashram is done here. Now I can go for what they call vanaprastha, to the woods. So when they had this kind of an invitation, I moved there. Of course, the students and the staff members here tried to persuade me not to go. They even wrote a petition sort of a thing, but I told them look, this is very unfair. Students come and go, but the teachers can’t go. I mean they cannot but anyway, I said that I am not happy to go, but it’s just... then somebody asked me, ‘Why sir, why are you going to Santiniketan?’ So then I told them a kind of a story: that is when I was a student in Santiniketan, those days, Nandalal would take us for excursions to a place called Rajgir. Rajgir is Buddhist centre, and also it was probably a Jain centre at one time. And then whenever we camped there at Rajgir for a tour, then he said let us walk up to a hill called Gridhrakut . Gridhrakut is the kind of a vultures nest. It’s a sort of a tall cliff where there is a cave. Apparently when Buddha was alive, he used to go to Gridhrakut and sit in meditation there. So I said look, whenever he used to take us over, Nandalal used to say do you realise we are walking on the same turf that Buddha walked at one time? So I said look, if I am going to Santiniketan, that is only for that one reason. I will probably walk on the same ground where Tagore walked at one time, and that’s a good thing to think about. Many others have walked over it, but at least for me it will be a kind of a transformation. Well anyway, I went in spite of that, and I think they have done quite well even after that.

KG Subramanyan (1924-2016) was an Indian artist. A graduate of the renowned art college of Kala Bhavana in Santiniketan, Subramanyan was both a theoretician and an art historian whose writings formed the basis for the study of contemporary Indian art. His own work, which broke down the barrier between artist and artisan, was executed in a wide range of media and drew upon myth and tradition for its inspiration.

Listeners: Timothy Hyman

Timothy Hyman is a graduate of Slade School of Fine Art, London, in which he has also taught. In 1980 and 1982, he was Visiting Professor in Baroda, India. Timothy Hyman has curated many significant art exhibitions and has published articles and monographs on both European and Indian artists.

Duration: 9 minutes, 38 seconds

Date story recorded: 2008

Date story went live: 10 September 2010