What would you make out of a picture of an EVM machine with people all around and some standing far away with a sense of longing? The stark sweep of the brush on the canvas paints many a hue. But between the lines in grey, brown and black with a rush of green and yellowish-blue-stands bared-the traumatised soul of Basudev Singh, just 26, confined to jail in a case of kidnapping.
Naveen his 'soulmate' is just 27 and he has painted a crab with its legs moving towards a piece of bread. On the other hand, there is a gun pointed to the crabs head and a golden faced lion. His canvas speaks of people who grab booths, while the genuine and the poor are deprived. The gun in this canvas and the lion, speaks of the ire of the marginalised people and the desire for vengeance to uproot the system-which thrives on caste and class discrimination and denial of bread to the poorest.
"Insecurity, poverty, helplessness, yet hope. That's what comes out of their struggle with paint", says painter and tutor Dinesh Kumar of the Patna Arts and Crafts College, who has worked for a year with the prisoners. "They have talent and even in depression, they nourish hope", he adds.
Beur Model jail had introduced painting classes for prisoners a year ago. And the success and quality of 14 of its painters has now enthused the jail authorities to put up Rs 70,000 to display the talent among prisoners to the world in the art galleries of prominent towns including Patna and Kolkata.
"It's not just a reform process. It's about healing too. Paintings by the tortured may start with anger and rejection. But as the wheel comes full circle, the world of pain, aloofness, loneliness and rejection is slowly changed to hope-the emerging canvas bringing in the livelier colours to erase the dark ones of brood and ire", says Kumar.
"Many prisoners have innovated with dots, lines, circles and squares, all open to psychological transformation and interpretation. They start with recreating their lives, painting their innermost fears, doubts and giving life to their nightmares. They speak about the pain in the deepest recesses of separation, the mind and heart, their sentiments and longings, frustrations and fears of the future. And once, the restraint is gone, the yellow, the green, the reds and blue of a living world takeover", says psychologist Dr Jaimnagal Dev of Bihar Psychologists Association.
He said, "Excessive uses of certain colours giuves away the mental reality. Brown may suggest discomfort and restlessness, while yellow provides a pale view of the world, even jealousy while dark blue is used by pensive people".
Among the 28 acrylic brush bursts are the one, which Sikandar Singh, an Assamese has painted. Confined to a hot and humid cubicle on the charge of being a drug trafficker, which he swears is 'false, this 40 year old paints glades and valleys, the lush landscape of his state, which he pines for. The abundance of green, blue and yellow and the nostalgia portray the humaner instinct despite his captivated soul and body in torture. The man, known for his few words, now talks animatedly and his liveliness has sparked his ward colleagues to appreciate the beauty of life.
Shashi, 30, has painted four monkeys to convey the message of lust, crime and corruption and the fourth one to be the conscience, which helps control these feelings.
Said OP Gupta, Beur Jail Superintendent, "The canvasses also help us analyse their minds and helps soften their hearts. What better means to take out their frustration instead of taking to the gun or other such means. The painters themselves have emerged as role models and earned respect of others, which makes them stronger."
The jail is now preparing a catalogue of the paintings to be displayed in public. What better tribute but for people to appreciate these efforts?