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Childhood in Kerala

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My mentors Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore
KG Subramanyan Artist
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72. My mentors Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore 70 07:16
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When somebody asked me about the kind of, I mean, you shouldn’t say role models, about the people who inspire my ideas or let us say clear or widen, clarify or widen my horizons. It is on one side Tagore and another Mahatma Gandhi. They have been an influence on my life from my early years. It is true that when you think in terms of them in their totality with all their idiosyncrasies, I probably don’t agree with everything that they did or said, but still they were larger than life figures and their thought is much more comprehensive than the thought of many other people that I have known. In fact, Mahatma Gandhi said or did various things which are, which any young man of my generation would have questioned, but then he roused the whole nation into a position of strength. I mean, that nobody can deny. Not only that, he made common people very uncommon in their activity. In fact, I remember having read somewhere, though I cannot locate the context or the kind of document where I read it, but Gandhi had first come and he was in Bombay. Then I wonder who was then the British Governor, he found that he had three close friends. One was Horniman who edited The Bombay Chronicle, then another was I think one Jhaveri, who was a rich man who dealt in diamonds and jewellery, and another was Bhulabhai Desai, who was a lawyer, an established lawyer. In fact, there is a Bhulabhai Desai Road in Bombay now. Now, the governor wrote a clever letter to Gandhi saying that look, you are a saintly person, you are the man who is trying to purify politics, but your associates are not that good. One of them can be seen in the red light district every evening, another is a boy chaser, and the third one is a drunkard. So, how do you explain your association with them? Then apparently Gandhi wrote to them, actually wrote to him back that well, you see, I cannot make people better than they are, but the only little ambition I have is get all people together with all their defects and at least they act in the right direction in one context, and that is good enough for me. Now, that kind of an attitude of a man like this was a great thing. I mean sort of, that is how he was able to transform the whole country, and many people. And of course it was the occasion too, I remember my mother telling me at one time when I was 6 years old and I was ill and delirium, and when my fever went down and I was out of my delirium, she said you said a strange thing. It was the time when Gandhi was on a long fast, and I seem to have asked her whether he has broken his fast or not. But for a boy of 6 to know much about Gandhi is inconceivable, but it is also true that he was in everyone’s minds. My mother had no pretences to know politics or even talk, think about the independence of India and things of that kind, but Gandhi was there all the time. So Gandhi was almost part of Indian atmosphere at the time that we grew up. The great thing about Gandhi that I came to realise later, in spite of his certain idiosyncrasies, was that for every question his sort of solution, he wanted to make that small question be answered by a very big solution. That is, if India wanted to get independence, that was only a small thing, but it has to get independence in a way that the Indians will be better persons than they were. He didn’t want to sort of fuel animosities, he didn’t want to hate the foreigner who sort of ruled over you, but he wanted that when the problem was solved, everyone will be better than they were. And in fact, in the world of today when we have so many problems and it is terrorised by a group of sort of headless youngsters, this is the only thing we can think of, and the same thing was in the case of Tagore. Tagore thought in terms of his institution, because it is not that he didn’t see that there were so many institutions trying to do things and educate people well and make them efficient, but he thought that was not enough. In fact, any education should make men who have the dreams of making the world a little better than it was, making life a little more beautiful, and doing things which will rouse the creativity which is in each one’s heart, and he used to firmly believe that each one can be creative to a certain extent. I mean even the man in the street, if he is put in the right circumstances, he can be creative, and that was the intention he had when he started this institution. So these two people are, I can’t say role models, they were mentors of a kind, under whose shadow I feel comfortable.

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: 7 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: 2008

Date story went live: 10 September 2010