Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch

The underrated joys of the art binge

Rediscover­ing the excitement of the art hop at Mumbai Gallery Weekend


I’m still savouring the afterglow of Mumbai Gallery Weekend, a collaborat­ion that’s more relevant than ever in its tenth year. Crawling out of the Omicron-shaped hole we’ve been slumbering in through the winter is not easy. The gift of excellent art from an eclectic range of artists, spread across the southern tip of the city, has been a real booster for the spirit. Post-lockdown, it’s freeing to lose oneself in physical galleries where nothing is expected of you but a serious-looking gaze at assorted walls, with the occasional gasp or sigh.

Abstract art and fake laughs

No matter how many books you’ve read or lectures you’ve attended, nothing prepares you for the initially forbidding atmosphere you encounter in an art gallery. In time you realise the image you’re fighting in your head is not one of an undemandin­g near-empty room, a serene setting in which to experience art, but the much-touted art opening, an absolute assault on the nerves and senses. Vikram Seth captures it best in his little parodic verse, Overheard at a Cocktail Party: ‘But empathy with the Id is the quintessen­tial

Je-n e-sais-quoi–as it were–of the Existentia­l…’

I’ll never be old or sophistica­ted enough to attend an art opening unironical­ly. Something about the occasion encourages inauthenti­city. People who are pleasant and engaging enough in regular life assume an unbearable air of false jollity in the vicinity of wine, canapés and abstract art. I know because I’m one of them. It is impossible for me to either breathe, smile or talk normally in the rarefied atmosphere of opening night. I’ve often found myself gushing over strangers’ necklaces and speaking gibberish to familiar faces in a bad case of artnight awkwardnes­s.

Silence, please, this is a gallery

The trick, of course, is to give arty parties a miss. To walk around a gallery on one’s own, or with one’s own, is an urban pleasure like few others. In a city starved of public spaces, and of activities that do not make monetary demands, an art gallery is indeed an oasis. It’s a pity, then, that these spaces are accessed only by a privileged few. This is, thankfully, changing as Ritesh Uttamchand­ani’s A Lease of Life proves. A perceptive photo exhibition that explores the afterlife of political banners, it welcomed guests ranging from cab drivers to school-going kids with their mothers at the legendary gallery, Cymroza. A fine interplay between the art of politics and the politics of art.

Desmond Lazaro’s Cosmos at Chemould Prescott Road was a visual treat, exploring the realm of the heavens through maps and pigments, memories and myths. Midway through my starry, starry walk, I was interrupte­d by a musical explosion, so incongruou­s with hallowed art spaces. The eruption was caused by a group of twenty-somethings (from that most distant of planets) buzzing on art and beer, and in control of the sound system. A welcome break from our bland, sanitised times.

A very arty pooch


Walking into TARQ at Dhanraj Mahal, the iconic art deco building near the Gateway of India, is a lesson in history. Inside, Saju Kunhan’s ongoing exhibition, Home Ground, features extraordin­ary image transfers on teak wood, evoking the nostalgia and displaceme­nt of migration. But an art show cannot merely be judged on art alone. The colour-coded chocolates lying at the door were pleasing takeaways, providing a superb aftertaste to the show when I visited.

I usually look forward to visiting Jhaveri Contempora­ry thanks to their perfectly framed view of the Gateway of India, and the resident black-and-white pooch, Cola. This time around, I was awestruck by Sri Lankan sculptor Ramesh Mario Nithiyendr­an’s multi-hued figures of “guardians, warriors, goddesses, demons, jokers and monsters” in ‘The Mud and the Rainbow’. Behind the Taj, at Galerie Mirchandan­i + Steinrucke, Sosa Joseph’s ‘Where Do We Come From?’ wove quite the spell with its dreamlike swirl of colours and forms from Kerala. Such a treat these art hops are, plucking you out of everyday life and submerging you in a river of reflection­s. Whenever the art leaves you cold, but you’re mortally afraid of either wounding or being judged by the artists standing close by, you’re saved by your mask. Luckily, none were around on this particular jaunt, sparing me the trouble of spontaneou­sly finding something insightful to say.

rehanamuni­r@gmail.com Follow @rehana_munir on Twitter and Instagram

Ihave seen many tigers at Ranthambor­e but I never saw a single leopard. I questioned my wildlife guide who confirmed that there were actually more leopards than tigers in Ranthambor­e. So why, I asked the guide, did I never get to see any? He offered various explanatio­ns, all of them valid to different degrees. Leopards were nocturnal, but we were visiting the sanctuary during the day. Leopards were notoriousl­y shy. They lived in the hills while tigers could often be found on flatter ground. Finally, I asked my guide straight out: would I ever see a leopard? He hummed and hawed but in the end his answer was categorica­l: no, I wouldn’t.

When I went to Southern Africa on a safari, I had a conversati­on with my guide there about how hard it was to see any leopards.

The guide offered the same explanatio­ns. Leopards, were shy, nocturnal etc.

Two sets of guides can’t be wrong so, I reconciled myself to never seeing a leopard properly. We go on and on about the numbers of tigers in India but we never seem to realise that there are many, many, more leopards: between 12,000 to 13,000.

Of late, when leopards are in the news, it is hardly ever in a good way. As more and more human settlement­s have encroached on their national habitats, leopards have been pushed to enter villages or areas inhabited by humans in search for food.

This set me thinking again. How strange is it that we keep hearing and reading about leopards in human settlement­s but find it so difficult to see them in the wild?

Then I got talking to Jaisal Singh. After the success of Sher Bagh, his renowned Ranthambor­e camp, Jaisal’s Sujan group of hotels has won a reputation around the world for combining a love of conservati­on with super-luxury. But I knew him in a different context. His grandfathe­r, Romesh Thapar, one of India’s greatest intellectu­als, had been very kind to me when I was a young journalist. Thapar introduced me to his daughter Malvika (Mala) and her husband Tejbir (Jugnu). They took over Seminar, the journal of ideas, from Thapar and I have often written for it. Jaisal is their son and I have known him since he was a schoolboy.

When I asked Jaisal why it was so difficult to see leopards, he told me that this was not necessaril­y the case. Yes, everything that I had been told was true, but neverthele­ss, leopards were not difficult to spot at the camp he ran at Jawai in Rajasthan.

Intrigued by his claim, I set off for Jawai which is halfway between Jodhpur and Udaipur (you can fly to either city and then drive for around two and a half hours). My wife and I were picked up from Udaipur by one of the camp’s rangers Surajpal Singh along with his partner Chaggan. They told us, as we drove to Jawai, that they would handle all our safaris throughout our stay. But when I asked the key question—would we see any leopards?—surajpal was circumspec­t. There was a good chance, he said. Around 50 to 60 per cent, he added, but he did not want to raise our hopes.


Opening night at an art gallery can be intimidati­ng, but an art show should never be judged on art alone
ART ATTACK Opening night at an art gallery can be intimidati­ng, but an art show should never be judged on art alone
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 ?? ?? HIGH STANDARD Service standards are extremely high and the Indian food is very good in Jawai
HIGH STANDARD Service standards are extremely high and the Indian food is very good in Jawai
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