My home hosted people coming from all over the world and was a venue for conversations in the nude where people bared their mind and body
Some of my friends call the place I have resided at for the last 15 years, which I am now about to leave, ‘a mausoleum of nudity.’ Far from it, it’s a very lively place, energised by the intensity of people that harbours a certain aura, as larger-than-life naked images in bright palettes adorn the walls.
They talk to me; sometimes are happy, at times probing, on other occasions pose existential questions — ‘You confined us to this canvas,’ they seem to be telling me, ‘like you are trapped in your own body.’
I’m tempted to think all my paintings, created in a fury of creativity with frantic brushwork, overnight in this house, have a destiny of their own, like offsprings. They bare themselves to me, and I have bared myself to them. There’s no politics between us, just a recognition and acceptance of our realities. Not just to me, these paintings, emphatic and evocative, seem to speak to visitors, variously, in a language that has no words, it’s not heard but felt.
My living room has been the venue for at least 150 conversations in the nude. People come and talk without the qualification of their clothing. That makes them forthright. Stripping is like the unwrapping of an aura. They are face to face with their reality in front of me and this experience is not skin deep, but reverberates in the dark nooks and corners of the psyche long after the sketching session is over. I share a special bond with my subject. They have a lot to unlearn to enter into this private space for public nudity, my living room is energised by their puissant energies.
My house is also a junk yard of old furniture. My Burma-teak study table was purchased a dozen years ago from an old lady in the neighbourhood who had no better use for it than a cooler-stand. Most of the furniture is over 60 years old, it was a gift to my parents on their wedding by their parents — there is a deep association with it, feels like my cradle.
Then there are books, some 2,000 of them. Lately, I’m interested in quantum and its uncanny resemblance to Advaita Vedanta or non-dualism philosophy. I don’t end up reading sages or scientists as much as the beatniks, who created some exceptional literature inspired by their out-of-the-body experience, in their elated consciousness fuelled by chemicals.
I believe in fluidity or non-determination. Any definition of a person, thing or phenomenon is limiting. A definition confines people to an identity and to live up to the expectations of complex identities that we wear for public consumption, subsumes life itself.
In my home, I have tried to preserve an element of fluidity by not defining rooms. There’s no one place to do a specific thing, with the notable exception of bathroom and kitchen. There are phases when I spend most of the time in a room, which on other occasions, I won’t even enter for months. The walls are adorned with paintings in a way that each wall seems to belong to a different room.
I have had more space than I need in the house. Sometimes, I get tired of my company. Usually, I have a good relationship with myself, but sometimes solitude can be nagging. I guard my freedom but also misuse it. There are also occasions when the characters I painted, stare back at me from their vantage position on the wall, like they would gang up against me, castigate me and judge me. I feel, not often, like living in a concentration camp of my own making.
I decided to have company. I started to sublet the second bedroom. People from all over the world came and stayed with me.
My bedroom was my exclusive domain, their bedroom was theirs. Rest of the house was the common space. And being in the common space, meant we were open to interaction. I was lucky, most of the 20 flatmates in last 10 years didn’t lock themselves up in their room. And their room acquired a different character, quite distinctive, every time a new flatmate moved in. As if the same canvas was being painted again and again with distinct images.
It was an enriching experience to have perfect strangers from different backgrounds, who grew up in varied cultural milieus, to paradrop into my living space and life, share my home, which all said and done, remains quintessentially a private space.
Many of them became an integral part of my life. Yes, perfect strangers they were, but when they left — after three months to a year — they became family and this house which we cohabited, became our ‘Delhi home’. The Delhi home has helped me acquire a big global family.
My flatmates harbingered a whole new world around me. Some of them landed up in Delhi by sheer coincidence, despite the intensity, heat and dust, population and pollution, they internalised the way of life here as their own. Our Delhi home also became a venue of cultural assimilation.
Like my tryst with nudity has taught me, my flatmates in their own unique way bared an essential truth to me, not necessarily by posing in the nude. Even though we have our own unique self, trapped in our own inherent beings, belong to and espouse varied cultures and have different skin colour, but we all seem to gravitate towards something common. I know for sure, after having lived with so many people from all over the world, after having had conversations in the nude with scores of men and women, that we may all have different exteriors but we all have an essential good and an essential evil embedded in us, and the core is quite similar, we all seek to be loved and to love.
I go visit my flatmates, their friends and family every year, as most of them are in Europe. Some of them also come back to their Delhi home. Either way, we feel at home. If I were to use a word to describe my stay in this house for over a dozen years, it would be intense.
My time here taught me that true empowerment comes from living vulnerabilities, worst fears. Mostly, vulnerabilities are a source of strength, of conviction. My tryst with nudity is, in fact, a way of making people vulnerable by pushing them out of their comfort zone. They, by reliving their vulnerabilities, feel empowered, and inspire my drawings.
Many flatmates and friends are sad that I’m leaving this place for good and there will be a new address for the Delhi home.
Change is always good, I reason. “You’re giving too much credit to the place,” I remind them. They quip, even force a smile. I’m acutely aware that life will not be the same. I’m numb, neither happy nor sad. Even the best of things has to come to an end. I know, it’s time to move on!