Honouring Baroda’s Jewels

Rajmata of Baroda Shubhangini Devi inaugurating the Rotary Art Festival in the presence of RID Manoj Desai and Sharmishtha, DG Hitesh Jariwala and organiser Alok Desai (extreme left).
Rajmata of Baroda Shubhangini Devi inaugurating the Rotary Art Festival in the presence of RID Manoj Desai and Sharmishtha, DG Hitesh Jariwala and organiser Alok Desai (extreme left).

I had joined the Faculty of Fine Arts at the MS University in Vadodara when (N S) Bendre Sir and Mani Sir (K G Subramanyam) were teaching. I had the good fortune to be trained by them. We got to see first-hand the way they approached art. In hindsight, I can clearly see who they were. Now I believe that Bendre Sir was a minimalist in both his speech and work,” recalls Aruna Tomar.

Interacting with Rotary News on the occasion of the Rotary Art Festival organised by RC Baroda Metro, D 3060, to honour the nine “Jewels of Baroda”, including N S Bendre and K G Subramanyam who passed away in July this year, she recalls how Bendre wouldn’t say much as he walked around the room when the students were painting. “He used to go around all the students with his hands held at his back, would see, examine, each and every painting and comment ‘good’, ‘bad’, and sometimes when he felt that we were overdoing something, he would say: ‘Good, but stop’!”

I believe that Bendre Sir was a minimalist in both his speech and work.
– Aruna Tomar A Baroda artist

Vivid in the memory of Aruna, who went on to become a teacher at the Fine Arts Department of the MS University, is the day there was a demonstration of life study… making plaster casts. “There was a human ear in a plaster cast. We were doing our small numerous strokes and making the ear, some in oil, some in charcoal. Bendre Sir was going around the room and suddenly he put up a canvas, picked up somebody’s brush and paint, and with just a few strokes made an ear! I still remember it so clearly; 50 years have gone by but it is still fresh in my memory how the ear came to life with a few big strokes on his canvas.”

The same was true of Sankho Chaudhury, she adds. In their sculpture calluses in first year, “he would demonstrate for us. I distinctly remember the day when he picked up a lump of clay and in no time made a work of art from it; it was so amazing to watch him. But both of them were very different personalities. Shanku Sir was talkative, Bendre Sir was very taciturn but very involved with the students and he had the vision and acumen to spot quickly who had what ability,” she adds.

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The hall at the MS University hosting works by 19 artists from Vadodara is buzzing with activity. Rotarians dressed in Red tee-shirts, salwars and sarees denoting members of RC Baroda Metro are busy putting the final touches to the exhibition showcasing works from 19 artists including the nine jewels of Baroda, all Padma awardees — N S Bendre, Sankho Chaudhury; K G Subramanyam, G R Santosh, Gulam Mohammad Sheikh, Bhupendra Khakar, Shanti Dave, Haku Shah and Lakshma Goud.

President of the club Sonal Desai explains that when they were brainstorming on “how we should do something special to mark the Centennial of the Rotary Foundation, we hit upon this idea. Not too many people, even in Vadodara, know that the Fine Arts department of the MS University has produced nine Padma awardees.” Adds her husband and Event Chair Alok Desai, “So what better way to celebrate the TRF centenary than by hosting such an event, selling the paintings given by other artists, mainly the students and disciples of these nine greats, while also displaying the works of the nine masters, lent for the event either by the University or some galleries.”

At least art has a market today. There was a time when young artists were worried about how to get petrol for their vehicles!
– Sculptor Nagji Patel

By the sale of the paintings — among the generous patrons were RI Director Manoj Desai and spouse Sharmishtha — the club hopes to donate Rs 15 lakh to TRF.

Sachin Kaluskar, curator of the exhibition, said that thanks to the firm roots given by the masters to this Fine Arts Department, “today it is considered among the best in the country.” He explains that the department was started in a small bungalow with a few students soon after Independence. “That time they were clearly told by the Chancellor: Make yourselves free from all the shackles, we have achieved Independence, so let your art also not have any shackles. He said let’s not imitate foreign ideas and values all the time, and as we have such a rich tradition, let us create something new.’

The students and the faculty reiterate that even today, the first thing taught here is: ‘You should think freely. You can ask why should the sky be always blue; why not pink or green?’ The faculty spearheaded what was known as the Baroda movement. “It was not as successful as the Progressive Artists group from Mumbai, but it managed to produce many art historians, artists, research scholars and several art directors in ad agencies studied applied arts at the MS University,” he adds.

From left: DGN Pinky Patel, Sonal Desai, Sharmishtha Desai, DG Hitesh and Bhishma Jariwala and Kalpa Rachh.
From left: DGN Pinky Patel, Sonal Desai, Sharmishtha Desai, DG Hitesh and Bhishma Jariwala and Kalpa Rachh.

The exhibition, inaugurated by the Rajmata of Baroda Shubhangini Devi, created quite a ripple in the city, not the least because the Rotarians thought of novel ways to publicise it through small radio clips, etc.

Participating in the event, RID Desai said, “What is crucial in Rotary today is that either innovate or evaporate. I’ve always encouraged my club members to think beyond the box. We did two villages after the Bhuj earthquake, you saw the project in the village Katarvad (Rotary News, December, 2015); last year we had 6,100 schoolchildren making Gandhiji’s face, without even a rehearsal, and now this. It is not easy to bring so many artists on one platform, get the galleries to lend the paintings of senior artists, but Alok, Sonal and their team did it.”

D 3060 DG Hitesh Jariwala, DGE Ruchir Jani and DGN Pinky Patel participated.

For art lovers the paintings on offer were a visual treat. Artist Ratan Parimoo, who came to study art at the MS University in 1951, recalled how his first teacher was NS Bendre. “Many of us, including Jyoti Bhatt, are his students. He was a master of so many techniques and he would demonstrate, in great excitement, his stills or other works. One of the paintings of Bendre in the exhibition is a demonstration in the cubistic approach. It is wonderful that Rotary has taken this initiative to honour these artists… and got other artists to pay a tribute to these nationally recognised masters. Such a thing has never happened before.”

On the resurgence of art in India and people buying art as investment, Sculptor Nagji Patel says, “At least art has a market today. There was a time when young artists were worried about how to get petrol for their vehicles!”

Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat

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