One of the most quoted lines from Robert Browning’s poem Pippa Passes is ‘God’s in his Heaven/All’s right with the world!’ Such is the profundity of the line that one could by mistake assign it to some biblical source. The poem, of course, is dedicated to the harmony and bliss of nature. But when that bliss is lost and the result is an unbearable chaos then those whom we regard as the ‘unacknowledged legislators of mankind’ (that’s what the romantic Shelley called the poets but extended here to include all artists because there can be no art minus the poetics) are bound to react and more so if they are themselves enmeshed in the not-so-merry mess.
If we go by Amir Khan in the film ‘PK’ that has a humanoid alien who challenges the ways on earth, presenting a defense of sorts against human as well as divine exploitation, the results can be very rewarding. Mind you, the results can be very rewarding! Not only has the film proved to be the highest grosser film in India of all time, but it is also 65th on the world list of 2014. So one could say sardonically that it pays to protest against the folly of the times, but, taking a larger view, it can be said in all when the masses respond so enthusiastically then a chord is being touched in the hearts and some change may be in sight. One says this hoping against hope, even when one knows well that art cannot change the world.
Yet, the artist must say it. This disenchantment with man and so-called god is evident in the short poems by Gulzar of Dadasaheb Phalke fame which are being published in an anthology called Pluto to be published by HarperCollins before the first month of the year runs out. These sunset poems have the energy of youth and are dedicated in solidarity with the poor planet that scientists shunted out of galaxy. Says Gulzar: “Pluto lost its status as a planet only recently … Seeing Pluto sad on being rejected thus, my heart sinks. It is so far away, so tiny, so all my pint-sized poems I gift to it.” Just a teaser of a few lines from a Gulzar poem here: Why live in a city/Where the day is butchered/Skinned alive, and its flesh put on sale? /The poor day whines/And drags itself to the slaughter house/Before the final hour.
Closer home, the 2014 paintings by a city artist Ram Pratap Verma dwell on the human dilemma by juxtaposing the old and the new in one frame. Exhibited a few weeks ago in Delhi, the paintings have attracted notice and discussion.
“Development is a process that has to go on. We cannot stop it. The earth was beautiful then and it is beautiful now, but we need to pause and ponder over what could be and what could not be. That is what I have done in my paintings,” says Verma. The paintings take images from the painter’s memory bank of what it was and collect around the human form pierced by fish of desire pinned in multiple arrows. The work is interesting and it also points to a constant urbane, and now often rural too, in which the sighs seem to indicate that all is not well with the world! email@example.com
(The writer is a prominent art and culture critic.)