Every greatness has its own geographic parameters and distinctions. There's Karl Marx, for instance, the singularly great one in the realm of political science. And there is Max Ernst, a similarly great one in the realm of Modern art. And in Colvale, there is Max Sequiera, whose most famous words -- uttered to a westerner at the end of one cerebral encounter -- were: "You can see the colour of my skin, but you cannot see the colour of my brain!"
We first met in the autumn of 1969. I was scouring through the neighborhoods for a suitable candidate to inaugurate my exhibition of paintings to be held in Panjim. In the process, I was referred to Max Sequiera. As fate would have it, I was given no address other than two reference points: a) He lives in Colvale, and b) He was the former manager of the prestigious Roopa Art Gallery -- presently, the Taj Art Gallery -- at the Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay.
Going by the flight pattern of a literate-looking crow, I landed in Colva instead of Colvale. I was then reoriented to Colvale. A courteous bystander directed me to a dirt road. Another bystander, wanting to make himself even more useful, added: "Maxi...oh yeah! He lives in the white house at the end of that road!"
To meet some one living in the 'White House', I figured, I had to be auspiciously heading in the right direction. I found him, alright. And although he resembled a hypothetical Einstein, in matter-of-fact, he was like the biblical Noah, surrounded by works of art rather than by rambling hens and other exotic four legged beings, bees and bugs.
In a modest tone, he declined my invitation. In retrospect, it was fortuitous that he declined for had he acceded, I would have ingenuously succeeded in insulting his connoisseurship in the art world. My art at the time, as he later confided, was so mediocre that he had no difficulty envisioning my immortality as a 'Sunday painter', and for that authentic reason, opted to keep his objective distance from me.
The period in reference related to my first attempt with oil colours. The result was a splendid array of balcao art. Or balconish art! My second attempt resulted in the paintings now at display in the Bom Jesus Basilica, Old Goa, and in the Basilica Art Gallery. The Basilica paintings prompted Max to take me more seriously, and when the Art Gallery was being put together, he was there.
To my late father, Max looked the kind of Bohemian that left him feeling very much unsettled about who I was associating with. I had to assure my father that Max is a critic of uncommon insight. My father had no argument with that, except, he wanted to genuinely know what Max thought of my art. I had no answer, notable or otherwise. Neither did Max.
Whenever I wuld nudge Max for a verdict, he would respond by subjecting me to a taunting silence, kind of stroke his chin indecisively, and finally give me a nondescript nod. His reticence might have had to do with the fact that I was so transgalactic in my artistic and literary temperament. In other words, where an average painter's potato would either look perfect or arguably still a potato, my potatoes would turn out to be somewhat hallucinogenic. And Max was not about ready to go on the record on how well my potatoes compared with Vincent Van Gogh's masterpiece, 'The Potato Eaters'.
One Friday morning when my father ran into Max at the bazaar, he (my father) lost no time confronting Max on what he thought of my art. Max's response was swift and decisive: "Let him suffer and die . . .!" The proclamation was intended as a compliment, more or less placing me in the same league as Vincent Van Gogh and Modigliani.
But how was my father -- who was neither groomed in art nor in literature -- supposed to have known that, much less, the gory fact that Van Gogh and Modigliani had both ended their lives by staring down the barrel of a loaded gun! Thus, seeing my father neither amused nor elated, Max was quick to realize his irreversible folly. And for the rest of that week -- until he met with me again -- Max agonized himself over what he had said, mortally fearing that my father may have taken his proclamation quite literally.
I remember the other time I asked Max what he thought of the painting I had selected to submit to the State Art competition. Max vehemently disapproved of my choice and presented his own. I held on to my choice. Max reasserted his choice. And in a deteriorating attempt to enlighten me of his choice, he began choking my ego with a string of charismatic obscenities. It was all to no avail. Ultimately though, I did condescend, and submitted the painting he had so persistently insisted upon. It won the State Award!
And what did Max think of my writing? Like other bumbling prototypes, I was terribly aware, my writing too had its flaws. The editor of the Navhind Times, once admonished me for using words that he thought I myself, perhaps, did not even know the meaning of. Was the editor right, I quizzed Max.? I was hoping for something augustly sympathetic. Instead, Max clobbered me with a metaphor! Comparing my pen to a telescope, he remarked, I have a tendency to insert too many lenses in between. Thanks a lot! This awesome remark was later modified into: "What you talk is third class, but what you write is beyond me!".
Our often celebrated event would be sipping tea at Hotel Mandovi. Dressed as commoners in chappals, we contritely knew, we were not the most welcome duo. Therefore, and rather than wait to be led by the host to a table, we would, as inconspicuously as possible, wend our own way. It would always be the same table, out in the balcony, isolated from the rest of the non-Bohemian crowd. The fact that we went about in a sure-footed way, probably spared the management the impulse to boot us out the rear door and into the alley we came from!
Once seated, Max would then rise to the occasion of scouting for the waiter . . . leisurely walking down the length of the corridor and disappearing through one of the elegant doors. When he would reappear, he would give me a squinted look and smile. It generally meant: A fresh pot of well-steeped tea and pastries are on their way over!
Those were the days, when we felt impetuously dignified idling the afternoon away in small talk over a pot of tea, and watching the rest of the world below, bristle on. When it came to big talk, we would have our occasional differences, but none serious enough though to ulcerate our friendship. And there were other afternoons, when we would take our siesta on the concrete benches at the Panjim jetty. Here, obviously, we would be overdressed for the occasion. We were, after all, in the territory of bums and porters, whose faces would exhibit a begrudging consent to our usurping a couple of the benches they had inherited through perpetual use, wear and tear.
Conclusively, it would be fair to suggest that in the realm of the great, Max is a noteworthy bystander. A bystander, known to the likes of J.R.D. Tata; the late nuclear physicist, Homi Bhaba; the late poets B.B. Borkar and R.V. Pandit; the late Frank Moraes and his son, Dom; painters M.F. Hussein, the late Jamini Roy, F.N. Souza, Raza, Gaitonde, the late Angelo de Fonseca, and a host of others
Article and computerized pen-sketch by Dom Martin. This article first appeared in the Navhind Times (May 21, 1995), under the caption, An Unknown Man.