In May 2021, I stopped feeling inspired to do things I loved. Every day became like the one before and the ones to come, and I started feeling distant from everyone I knew. My mind had created its own plague – one in which I was living in monotony and existential dread.
On one such monotonous day, my mother forced me to help her in sorting some old and new books from our modest library at home. A few minutes into it, I came across a square green book titled Creation with a white, curled-up fish on its cover. Inside the book were ten familiar-looking paintings I had never seen before. I decided to place Creation next to my bed and started spending a few minutes with the ten paintings before sleeping every night.
The Unborn Fish by Bhajju Shyam, Silkscreen, Art from the book titled Creation by Bhajju Shyam and Gita Wolf, Copyright 2014 © Tara Books Pvt Ltd, Chennai, India. tarabooks.com
15 June 2021
I decide to step out of my house after two months and walk along the main vein of water that flows through my city, Varanasi. I find a place for my meditation mat near Manikarnika ghat. It makes most sense to start seeking clarity from the place where the confusion was supposedly going to end. I close my eyes and focus on finding the curled-up fish among the dots of green light on my black eye lids. I expect this to create a sense of calm, but instead it makes me more aware of my surroundings – children jumping from the ruins into Ganga, glow of the sun on my face, synchronised chants of passing crowds and blabbering of people sipping on chai.
Maybe calmness exists in observing and becoming a part of our world, instead of finding ways to escape from it.
Air by Bhajju Shyam, Silkscreen, Art from the book titled Creation by Bhajju Shyam and Gita Wolf, Copyright 2014 © Tara Books Pvt Ltd, Chennai, India. tarabooks.com
18 August 2021
It’s my birthday today and like the past six 18th Augusts, I am feeling overwhelmed by my decisions and the responsibilities to come.
To steady my breathing, I spend a few minutes making eye contact with the ‘blue crows’ in Bhajju Shyam’s painting. Even though I have done this a hundred times before, it’s only now that I realise, they are different forms of the same bird and not different birds part of one group. Over time, this bird seems to have grown by following a pattern of connection and discontinuity from its past. There is discipline and prediction in its movement, but also a sense of freedom, rhythm and pride.
To start with, I decide to ignore my clouded thoughts about the future, and attempt to find rhythm in my every day.
The Egg of Origins by Bhajju Shyam, Silkscreen, Art from the book titled Creation by Bhajju Shyam and Gita Wolf, Copyright 2014 © Tara Books Pvt Ltd, Chennai, India. tarabooks.com
10 October 2021
I am lying under the 50-year-old mango tree at home and thinking about the last time I saw my grandfathers who planted it. I try hard to remember what they looked and sounded like – a few memories take shape in the gaps between the branches and my eyelids start feeling heavy.
I see my grandfathers; they’re holding hands and speaking to me. Their voice sounds familiar but they look very different from their human form, yet more comforting. They tell me to find balance and strength in my core for connecting different forms of life. My limbs begin to spread out like the branches of the mango tree.
I am woken up by a monkey’s baby. Tomorrow I will visit the nursery and get seeds for planting another tree. Maybe the blue crow will visit it.
The Birth of Art by Bhajju Shyam, Silkscreen, Art from the book titled Creation by Bhajju Shyam and Gita Wolf, Copyright 2014 © Tara Books Pvt Ltd, Chennai, India. tarabooks.com
31 January 2022
Though she won’t admit it, I am pretty sure that my mother planted Creation in the pile of books she made me sort last year. I think it was her way of passing on stories about art, celebration, living and surviving that inspired her – just as the deer in the painting is narrating the life she created.
Bhajju Shyam’s paintings guided me to find ways to connect my beliefs with reality. Or as he would probably put it – saved me from getting trapped in the “emptiness that existed before water and art flowed in our universe.”