"ETHEREAL ROSES AND RAINBOWS-III Instalment
JOURNEY OF AN ARTIST
I met Elena first time in a small café mostly frequented by artists. I had gone there with a colleague. I had not been very long in Vienna. The small café is very popular with artists who struggle to balance their creative world with the material. My colleague knew Elena. She introduced me to her. She came from a small town called Zilina in north-western Slovakia, very close to Tatras. When I heard ‘Tatras’ a chord stuck in me; my mother and father had met in Polish Tatras and it held a special magic for me. Elena is a photojournalist. She is tall, lanky and with very intense brown eyes. The café owner has special affection for art and artists. The walls of café are full of paintings, drawings, and photos, gifts from artists who frequent the place and have sweet bonhomie with the owner. The artists hunger is satiated by the fresh strudels, and delicious Viennese cakes. I find the owner on his desk with his well-groomed beard and a smile for all the artists, known to him by name. The artists relax by his good coffee, meditating or in the midst of heated art discussions, their faces hidden partly by the thick blue smoke from their cigarettes. It often reminds me of Picasso’s card players wrapped in thick smoke. This is a magical world –faces vanish and emerge constantly from the smoke screen. Life is lived here with intensity oblivious to the routine run of daily grind.
This brings to my mind the wonderful old man with Tolstoy-beard who would stay on a bench by Stefanplatz bus station just opposite the Mozart candy store named after great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It looked very funny to me to have turned the great artist into an advertisement to sell chocolates. Everyday the old man could be seen established in his seat, while people hurried up and down obliviously trying to accomplish unknown missions of their routine life. The non-fecund actions of this accursed humanity made them go round and round in a circle like the beast turning the Persian-wheel. While humanity milled around this Tolstoy, he would be engrossed in his love. Around him, surrounding him and on him would be a loving group of wild pigeons, cooing to him affectionately and snuggling close to him open heartedly. They would eat out of his hands the food he brought for them everyday. May be his existence did not register with many of the people who routinely crossed this street everyday, or may be they thought of him as and old crank. Well it did not matter what people thought of him or if he did not exist for them. It was an indictment of contemporary civilization. Human life has become much mechanical-time propelled. As a result, the feelings, which are the finer silk web of human meaning and essence, have ceased to exist. Elena and I would often watch this wonderful specimen of humanity. Elena photographed our Tolstoy and published a moving image in a Viennese journal. People ran after newer models of limousines; they no longer ran after butterflies in the forest. I remember how returning from school I would chase butterflies. They settled on flowers and as I advanced stealthily, they would flutter away. It did not matter if I could catch them; I was delighted to observe their beautiful, designer wings and their intensity while drinking nectar from the fragrant wild flowers. When I pass through crowded streets of Vienna, I still look for my childhood butterflies. May be one day I will find them and would whisper to them once again as I used to as a child.
Elena had been telling me about her last assignment covering a war in Africa. How something changed permanently in her soul when she observed so much futility and hatred among humans who have but a temporary stay on earth. That is the story of human civilization all through the ages. We have finished our coffee and after paying the bill, we walk out on the street. It is early evening and the light is still good but beautifully soft. Aimlessly we move in the city feeling the warmth of flourishing life. The neon lights are slowly taking over as we take a promenade by the Danube. The reflected city in the Danube water looks like a genie emerging from the lamp. The eternal river of Europe, its fertile soil, its life sustaining water sustained humans and animals alike for thousands of years. It has become symbolic of confluence of people and cultures. A collage of large humanity finding its moorings in Vienna of eternal Danube; Asia, Africa, Latin America with myriad cultural cameos come to fertilize the social and cultural landscape of Vienna. This humanity carries a memory of the golden land from where they self-exiled like the gypsies, to which they probably would never return. Nevertheless, the land would continue to flourish in their soul and small icons unfurl fragrant memories and exist side by side their life in Vienna. On their visits back to the land of their past they bring tokens of cultural memory to sustain them in their exile—an exile of voluntary choice. Humans create webs of memory to fall back on, whether its separation from the beloved person or from the land of their forefathers. This is the beauty of human resilience. To eliminate this missing, this lack, this absence, this unwilled silence they create a new reality in the recesses of their souls. This is the fountain of all creativity—to bridge the lack, the missing by inner dynamism; the writers, the poets, the painters, actors, singers etc. use this angst to live and to create flowers of extreme beauty. Eternal Vienna, the forever city for arts as also for the exiles! However, all artists are exiles, self-exiles. Their search for precious pearls makes them cast their nets wider, deeper, and in distant lands of their souls. The city taught me a lot about humans, humanity, art, artists, freedom, and suffocation. You always take some character of the city you live in for long, in your own personality. I have become a mini Vienna in part of my being—with its idiosyncrasies, moods, frivolities, and its rainbow coloured cultural cameos. When I move away from the city, stronger it asserts its fragrance in me, but remains imperceptible, taken for granted presence, in its dazzling lights when I dine with it everyday. It is as if when in Vienna, I ask for Turkish coffee and when in Istanbul, Viennese coffee. Yes, it feels tastier!
Exile, even temporary has it own nostalgic fragrance. Some years back I travelled to Poland, where in the musical city of Krakow, I met a poet from India, who had arrived dusty-time back in Poland to study engineering. On way to earn his degree in engineering, he also earned the love of a sunshine-bright Polish girl. He married her and raised a happy family. He invited me to visit his family. In the house, I saw a small Ganesha sculpture, pictures of Indian gods, sandalwood incense, an old map of his city in India and music from his growing up period in India. He had a daily ritual of offering incense to gods. He told me that he was not particularly religious but as a child, he used to observe his mother worship everyday and light incense. He indulged in this ritual not from force of faith but because it brought him the pleasant nostalgic feeling for his childhood. He played for me Indian songs he grew up with in India; they were like memory tracks for him. There were different happenings associated with different songs. Joy and sorrows were etched on the chronology of songs as he listened to them. Memories of the time flooded him as he had raced to adulthood from his child's world. His autobiography was written in music and songs. He narrated to me the incidents related to some songs. For example when his younger sister was born, a particular song had become popular and he would listen to it on radio. I realized… we are all exiles in one way or the other. Our exiles help us to fashion from shadows of past the most beautiful sunshine landscapes. Upasak – for that was the name of the poet—presented to me a collection of his poems. When I read the poems soft as the fluffy clouds, shiny as the sun-kissed dewdrops and beautiful as a little baby, my heart cries. It cries for Upasak’s beautiful soul that travels to his Indian abode collecting fragrance of blooming mustard flowers, of wet earth in Monsoon rains or the aroma of lentils cooked by his mother and a thousand other fragrances, aromas, colours, tastes and sights. That meeting changed something in me. I did not realize what or in what way. I understood better the tales of gypsy kings and the lost lands of honey and happiness that my mother talked about in her magical tales of yore.
After a pleasant walk by Donau— Danube for you—I kissed Elena goodnight and departed towards home. Home to where we belong.