by Dom Martin

It would always be an effortless automation, whether Mohan (Anandmohan) and I would inadvertently eyeball each other or simultaneously point out a buffalo going in the wrong direction! Something always incubated the chuckle. Ordinarily, Mohan is reputed for being impartially stern, almost impervious to laughter. Or so inferred Kerman, his wife, and a chuckling fan as well!

Each time the three of us would herd together, the situation would become a chuckling phenomenon. S. Chavda -- a noted painter from Bombay but now a permanent resident of eternity -- could vouch for the above. With a chuckle, of course! He, along with Mohan and I, were camp artists at the 1977 Third Annual Artists' Camp, which was organized by Kala Academy and held in Calangute.

It did not take much from Chavda by way of inclination to join our chuckling club. On the contrary, his stately presence became the prime stimuli for my chuckling innovations. And Chavda was not oblivious to my antics. Each time a chuckle would be in progressive motion, he would eye me suspiciously in order to assess who was the intended scapegoat in the latest plot. Wisdom had long before cautioned him from delving into triangular situations where he could easily find himself marooned, simply because good old Mohan, happening to fortuitously look the other way at the inauspicious moment, would come out unscathed by the satiric bombshell bearing my initials!

Reminiscing back -- camp days were indeed memorable. The sun would always sneak out and shine in the usual spots. The tide would ebb and flow at given intervals. A bunch of crows — like coast guards — would always patrol the southeast side of the water. The fishermen would hustle and bustle in the growing cover of darkness, giving no clue whatsoever, whether they were heading out to deep sea or to a coastal brothel. In general, everything had a sense of conformism and routine, except our schedules.

We never woke up at the same time, or used the same mirror or toothbrush. Much less, did we think or paint at the same time. We did, however, manage to get together for lunch and dinner. The first to arrive at the table courteously welcoming and seating the future Rembrandt or Modigliani. And unlike Van Gogh and Gaugain, we preferred going Dutch than Scott. Recommendations from the menu were solicited, particularly by Chavda, to whom the Goan cuisine was as alien as Konkani. So when I recommended Goan Sausages for breakfast, he went for it! It was the last time he entrusted his gastronomical welfare to me!

Prior to the camp, Chavda and I had met before. He was a man of refined qualities and initially, I thought I would find myself quite at unease around him. As for Mohan, it was going to be my first meeting with him at the camp. My curiosity exerted in me a whole array of expectations. Mind-boggling ones! But at our maiden meeting, we passed each other like ships at night!

It wasn't Mohan's fault; nor was it my own! As I joined the camp a week later, I missed out on the official red carpet and drum roll rigmarole. Going by the photo on the catalogue, I was on the lookout for someone with a moustache and not another bearded specimen. Mohan in turn, was on the look out for a bearded debonair, with a full scalp of hair -- not someone who resembled a balding, displaced monk.

Mohan and I never discussed our work, or any one else's worth. Such debate, we reverently knew, could have the perils of going after the other's ear with a pen knife or bringing the deteriorating argument to a close with a loaded gun! We were plainly content with the fact that we had come to paint, and that our motifs were as diverse as our looks. Subconsciously, we were grateful to the Creator for having processed our creativity in different solar systems. What Mohan painted was quite unlike anything nightmarish that I was very much into. Chavda was perched higher up on his own branch. In general, none of us felt threatened by the other. There was an air of jurisprudence in the manner we went about with our creative business.

Evening chatter would clinch around almost anything. Usually, some one would throw in a joke. It had to be a joke, only then we would agree to laugh. Some times, a stupid joke would provoke a debate. There would be the clink and clatter of brain-droppings, and then everything would stand still, as if the only egg in the world had carelessly been dropped!

I remember the day I stupidly undertook the decision to do a painting in egg tempera. It was Mohan's medium at the camp. He was kind enough to prepare the board, transform a couple of eggs into colored slop, and lend me his fine set of brushes. 1 was to produce a work of art. My very first painting in egg tempera! I worked industriously with the slop, tutored by fleeting observations of seeing the egg-maestro transform his colored slop into paintings. When evening descended, the board was very much still a board. The only seeming progress was blotches of colored slop on it finally beginning to smell like eggs. I felt frustration weigh me down with anxiety.

A couple of days later -- urged by the whims of failure -- I picked my palette and did an oil number over the colored egg-slop. I then summoned the bellboy and instructed him to deliver my creation to Mohan, with my compliments of ingratitude! Mohan was impressed in the sense he wasn't entirely sure what to make or think of my creation. He had never before seen such a sloppy marriage of oil and egg. Neither did Chavda. Nor Kerman, although she took a liking to the work. Not wishing to forfeit the moment, I offered my creation out to her, gratis, and with the blundering assurance that it would be dried by the day she would be all set to depart.

It did not! I compromised my offer with a promise to deliver it to her when I would be in Bombay again later that month. Kerman acknowledged my gentlemanly gesture with a profound bow and parted, leaving the three of us -- and the damn painting — to what lay in store ahead.

Days went by, until the final one came clobbering down like an unbearable revelation: The darn painting still hadn't dried! And the more I stared at the particle board -- given me courtesy of Mohan -- the less it seemed a painting of any kind. This time, it began to smell like a hydrogenated egg. It sent me bonkers! In a moment of maddening fury, I grabbed the board and snapped it in two. It made a loud bang. Mohan thought I shot myself. So did Chavda -- as they hurriedly darted into my room only to find me standing intact, like a corpus that was several times oversized for the cross.

And Kerman! What was I to tell Kerman? I honestly did not know. Nor was Mohan of any assistance in this predicament, as what she once liked, now lay in the trash can. I couldn't even tell which side of my creation was up. Neither could Chavda. He wasn't interested in that. He merely wanted to know if I was going to leave the masterpiece behind. He tried to be deadly serious. After all -- shattered or whole -- a work of art is a work of art! He meant to be poignantly sympathetic, but again, couldn't quite contain his chuckle. Mohan was doing precisely the same, a little more uncontrollably though!

 This article first appeared in the issue of the Navhind Times dated December 1, 1984. It has since been revised to give it a contemporary beat.