Introduction

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Love for art also takes him to Shantiniketan; love for country brings him back to Mumbai within a few months, when Gandhiji gives the call to the British to Quit India. The family joins the freedom struggle and envisages a Free India. His brother Champraj lays the foundation of an Indian chemical industry. This is the humble beginning of Excel. It needs all hands on board. The young man puts aside his art and joins this nation-building enterprise.

He gives himself up to the emerging, independent present; but as the years go by, he focuses more and more on the future: what the country will need in ten, twenty, fifty years. He finds himself at the forefront of industry, agriculture, environment, philanthropy and much more. All the while, he is also engaged in another, and perhaps his most enduring endeavor: man making – nurturing all those who come in contact with him.  He is beloved. He is Kaka.

After retiring as Managing Director of Excel Industries, Kaka moves permanently to Kutch. All through his 70s and 80s, he remains fully effective, fully relevant as he takes up one urgent issue after another; from grassland development to watershed management and river basin revival to rebuilding Kutch after the 2001 earthquake.

By now he is close to 90 years and unable to participate in the many activities that are so dear to him. He finds it difficult to travel even short distances. He does not complain about the restrictions that his body has put upon him or about how drastically his life has changed. But Ba can read him. She tells us, I am not wishing for another earthquake or cyclone, but you have to find something for him. We recognize the immensity of love and concern that prompts her words. We also know that she will find a way out, for she is a master at rasto kaadh wana prayog, especially when it concerns her husband’s well-being. One day, she tells us to bring out all our art materials and give them to him. This simple directive is a masterstroke. The art materials work like magic to entice an artist to find his art again.

  

The experience of art is to be shared. Kaka allows family, friends, colleagues, well-wishers and the world at large to contribute to his art endeavours. Relatives send him photographs of beautiful landscapes from their travels. Others gift him expensive art materials and, much to our surprise, he accepts them with delight. All his life he has been uncomfortable with expensive items and here he is now, having no qualms about using top-of-the-line art materials. And when visitors ask, Kaka what have you been doing lately . . . he immediately summons a family member to bring out all his art. This is not an attempt to seek praise; he just loves to share what he considers to be an incredible gift that has been bestowed upon him by his near and dear ones.

 

Then Ba is no more. We are all worried about him. He has a hard time, he struggles, and he struggles some more. All his life, he has put his faith in Bhagwan and trusted Him to hold his hand, to guide him. Now, all he wants is release. The two of them, Ba and him, had made a pact that they would leave together. No one knows what took place between his Bhagwan and him, as to who cajoled whom, but a time came when Kaka’s hold on life steadied. We saw him regain his appreciation for simple pleasures: a bowl of khichdi with dahi; the evening sky all pink and gold; his great granddaughter Keya playing with Patch, the gentle Great Dane who is four times her size.

 

And there is his art. He is a devoted student, a quick learner but an impatient one. As soon as he gains proficiency in one medium, he cannot wait to move on to another medium and then another and so on. But this is not as easy as it sounds. When you switch from one medium to another, you struggle for a while with the new medium, because the way of working with each medium is so different. But you should see the swiftness with which Kaka moves from pencil to watercolors and charcoal to powder pencils. All he needs is a page or two on which to practice; by the third page, his lines and strokes show power and perfection. For someone to be this quick is astonishing, forget the age factor!

His 2018 exhibition is entitled ‘There is no need for us to get old’. He is 95 and at the forefront once again.  He leads the light, and shows with great magnificence that . . . instead of getting all tangled up in the difficulties that come with advancing years, we can work for body-mind-spirit co-ordination. That way, we can stay effective in old age, provided we want to stay effective.

In the years following the exhibition, Kaka transcends age and moves from proficiency to mastery. He reveres his teachers, whether it is a Walter Foster book from which he learns a particular technique, or a young artist friend called Lalji who comes every Sunday to teach the finer points of different mediums. What is delightful and what also shows his mastery is that his reverence has touches of rebellion as well. He learns a pencil stroke from a how-to book about drawing trees, but uses it not to draw a tree but a mountain or a sea. He takes a visual from an acrylic painting book and renders it in powder pastels; or explores a visual from a watercolor book, in pencil or charcoal or some other medium that has not the slightest affinity to watercolors. The results are stunning, even if we say so ourselves.

But what does Kaka have to say about his own work? There are occasions when he looks at a painting done some years ago, and says, Maaro haat ketlo saras hato ne? Aa me bahuj saras karyu che . . . kem karyu hashe? I have done this really well, haven’t I? How must I have done it? One may think that he is praising his own work, but that is not what he is trying to express. It is as if he is surprised and perhaps even amazed that his hand and his body could have produced something so saras, so nice.

After having just finished a painting however, he is usually not satisfied. Aa barabar thayu che? Has it been done well? It may seem as if he needs a second opinion on his work, or some sort of validation. To us however, these questions suggest that he is measuring the artist that he is right now against the artist that he had dreamt of being in his youth; and that he is falling short, in his own eyes.

We want to tell him, Kaka, you had a dream, now you are living it. The mystery that is life itself, has given back to you what you gave up so magnanimously, so many decades ago.

How strange and wondrous is this full circle.

The KCS Family

February 2020

There is no need for us to get old

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There is no need for us to get old . . .

In 2010, I began to think that I was not very useful anymore; my greatest fear was that I was becoming a burden. I wished I could leave this world.

Chanda told me that leaving the body is not in our hands. She said I should focus on some creative activity. 

 

I had done five years of drawing when I was young.  Then I had put it aside. I wanted to be very committed to my factory life, so I stayed away from anything that could cause any disturbance in that. Once you have owned up responsibility, then that’s it.

When Chanda said, do something creative, I started making attempts at sketching. But I was not doing a good job. My children brought me books on art training. Wonderful books by Walter Foster and others taught me how each medium can be effectively used. I became fully aware of what I did not know.

May 2013, at age 90, I started learning with full focus and discipline. I started gaining confidence in myself.

The first sketches I drew were of trees; once I could draw trees, the children said, put aside the trees, draw birds; then, put aside the birds, draw animals . . .

By 2014, I was able to draw with more courage and more skill. From using a thick number 10 brush, I was now able to work with a very fine, double zero brush.  A table easel was placed on my desk, so I could do work in an even more accurate manner. By this time, I was also learning to sketch human faces.

 

All this work and discipline increased my physical strength. My age was increasing but it was not getting in my way . . . mind and body were progressing together. So, I can confidently say, I became a saras artist at the age of 90.

Then the realization: instead of getting all tangled up in the difficulties that come with advancing years, we can work for body-mind-spirit coordination.  That way, we can stay effective in old age, provided we want to stay effective.

I am living with this faith that Bhagwan is ready to pay attention to us, to keep us engaged in work. He is there holding our hand always; we have to surrender.

My children and grandchildren ask: You have tried many mediums, worked mostly with watercolors, oil pastel crayons, and even more so with chalk pastels, so what has been your best art? 

Let me put it this way: the most satisfactory part is that I could make this seven-year journey; I could move beyond the limitations of the body and stay committed to the journey. There is no need for us to get old.

We can awaken our body-mind-soul with something we are passionate about - and if we are not passionate about anything, then let’s become passionate.

Kantisen Shroff