While on his death-bed Maharaja Ranjit Singh is said to have sought for the map of his kingdom. Except for the area under his rule all other surrounding states, being under the British control, were shown on the map in red colour. The Maharaja, with tears in his eyes and an emotionally choked voice, reportedly uttered the following painful words, “‘ mere baad sab laal ho jayega!” (All would turn red after I am gone!), and breathed his last!
Why did this apparently old historical story come to my mind now? Actually I was hunting for a theme to paint in a three-day long art workshop that I would be attending shortly. And found this death-bedtime story a befitting bait. For, it would give me an opportunity to make an incisive spoof on the current political situation.
The invite to this art workshop, which I accepted instantly, had in fact come rather reluctantly. For, though I have attended innumerable such art workshops/camps in the past, I have been refusing, for the last many years, to accept many such invites. My refusals were based on my late developed notion that the art of painting being not a performing art, one cannot do full justice to one’s art-pouring in a time bound stifled environ.
However, of late I have realised that though the art of painting is not a performing art, it can be made participatory one during such ‘ mela’ like ‘festivals’. For, one can have a close communication with the viewers, many of whom might not be regular visitors to the art museums and art galleries.
Now let me come back to the story that I have narrated at the outset and which I have intended to use as the theme of my participatory workshop-painting.
But why did I choose a story from the history books as a spring board to knit a painting around it? May be because today our history is facing a savage wrath from the right wing power-supported politico-religious zealots!
History, they say, repeats itself. It is another matter that these days, horrific ones indeed, history is being ruthlessly changed, mutilated as per the whims and fancies of a select few, lest it repeats itself!
The way things are moving it would perhaps become quite difficult, sooner than later, to sieve fiction from history and history from falsehood.
History is not only what is comprised in history books. Many a historic evidence comes to us through other modes, like monuments and cultural legacies, also.
Sadly, the current right-wing wrong-overturn of history has been designed as a multi-pronged assault on its every aspect. No wonder old historic names of roads, railway stations and institutions, are being changed without any rhyme or justifiable reason.
The other day I was shocked on watching a tv-show-promotional-ad, which was there to announce the beginning of a ‘historic’ tv-serial, named ‘Porus’. The promos blatantly presented Sikander, once ‘Sikander the great’, as a sinful villain and Porus as a ‘great’ hero and saviour of ‘Bharat’. It is another matter that the concept of a united Bharat was yet not born at that point in time!
However, the most disturbing of all has been the proposed change in the name of Dayal Singh College in Delhi. For, earlier it was being thought that the current singularly coloured assault is limited only to British and Islamic names and places.
Returning back to my thematic story, I must admit that I do not know how much truth is there in the death-bed story of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Still I do hope that it would provide me with many truthful visual possibilities for my painting.
However, going by the current dismaying anti-history happenings, I am swayed into believing that after Gandhiji was shot by a right wing ‘ karyakarta’, his parting words were not ‘Hey Ram’. More so because Ram currently is the sole property of the BJP-RSS combine.
His last uttering must have been, in the same Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s anguish, the following, “ Sab saffron ho jaayega”! (All would turn into saffron!).
(Published on 04th December 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 49)