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‘The excitement is missing’

Veteran artist Rameshwar Broota, 78, who has been part of Delhi’s art scene for half a century, tells Patriot how it has evolved with time

Crowd, pollution, traffic – all these traits of present-day Delhi don’t quite sit well with veteran artist Rameshwar Broota. Born in Delhi in 1941, the Capital has always been his home. He has been around long enough to witness changes in the face of both the city as well as its art scene.

Four years after graduating in Fine Arts from the Delhi College of Art in 1963, Broota became the Head of Department at Triveni Kala Sangam and has been ensconced there ever since. And this art and culture hub is where he likes to spend most of his time.

How much would you say the art scene in Delhi has changed over the years?

During my time, there were hardly three to four galleries: All India Fine Arts & Crafts Society, Delhi Shilpi Chakra, Lalit Kala Academy… The time was very simple. Artists used to sit together in the evening at places like Indian Coffee House, or Shilpi Chakra.

We sat and discussed and sometimes got together and did a group show in the gallery itself. Mostly, there used to be a healthy discussion between the artists. All in fun and joy, there would also be good criticism. People had more tolerance back then.

Also,  artists used to experiment  with whatever  limited resources they had , but now this has changed. It was due to lack of knowledge and materials, so there was a lack of inspiration.

Not just artists, but poets, theatre artists, writers — they all shared a very friendly relationship among themselves and used to meet. It was quite a good environment. Today, this is almost gone.

What about the involvement of ordinary citizens with art?

As far as painting is concerned, newspapers were quite interested in writing about us. There used to be art criticism columns by good writers. All newspapers had them.

Not only us young artists, even veterans used to wait for the critics right from the time when they put up the shows. The critics would come in quietly, take notes — and we were afraid of them, waiting all excited at night to see what comes out in the paper the next day!

Art columns held a lot of importance for us, a reason for huge excitement. We used to wait for their judgements, be it good or bad. There used to be healthy criticism and good writing. Now with advertisements, things have changed a lot.

What about the market for art? Hasn’t it vastly improved?

Absolutely. In our time, there used to be no sales — hardly anything ever got sold. Usually people used to try to get the opening done by ministers or ambassadors and sometimes they used to end up buying one or two.

Now viewership has increased phenomenally, especially with younger people. Awareness has spread. People used to hesitate to enter galleries because they did not want to buy, like the same way people do not enter shops if they do not want to buy anything.

Art sells at a very good price these days. It all started with the news of auction houses, when people started taking note of art. Students started getting involved. Collectors made an appearance. The people who used to visit were so-called intellectuals like poets, theatre artists, but now the crowd has changed. The change, however, was gradual.

Now demand for galleries has increased and there are a great number of them in the city, so many shows. We have a chance to screen the works of people who come to display. It has become very lively.

Has the attitude of Delhiite towards art changed gradually, especially with the younger generation pursuing a career in this field?

When Delhi College of Art was started, we used to convince parents to send their children here. The numbers of students used to be less than the number of teachers. Since artists did not earn enough, naturally people believed that they would have no future in this field.

Even when I started pursuing this profession, I was discouraged by my father. Even though my elder brothers were great artists as well, they could not pursue it. Fortunately, I was allowed.  Nowadays, people are more aware.

Since you have been in the city for so long now, what is the most significant change you have noticed?

I feel like a stranger in my own city.  There are too many people in the city now. Unlike in my time, where I used to meet my fellow Dilliwala on the street —now you know almost no one. Roads were not this crowded.

There is lack of open spaces now. The city has changed beyond recognition. Previously, I used to walk to Connaught Place and return walking as well. We used to walk a lot as a routine. Now people are scared to walk due to so much pollution and dust. I feel scared while crossing the road that I might get hit. There are too many vehicles!

I have taught and painted all my life but still managed time to step out. I don’t like going out anymore.  Traffic is a huge problem. Going for any show means keeping one hour in hand to reach the place and again an hour to return. Now there is so much of confusion and dust.

Despite my driver being an expert, I always keep an eye on the road, scared that someone might hit us and cause an accident. I am scared of the crowd. I feel better staying at my home and studio.

However, with new bridges and flyovers, there are quite some good changes as well. I like that Lutyens Delhi is still spacious. The city has developed quite a lot and has made life easier in many ways.

What from the old days do you feel is lacking these days?

In our time, there would be a lot of excitement (about art). Wherever a show was being inaugurated, we all landed up there for drinks. We used to enjoy our drinks and sometimes some people after having too much to drink would pass out and there would be fights often. But now there is no argument, no discussion, it is all a very formal atmosphere. Neither do you want to say anything bad nor do you want to hear it. According to me, it’s all very polished now.

Also, there would be personal relationships then. Nothing much would sell but even with all the struggle, it used to be fun. Despite huge financial problems, we were happy.