Veteran artist A. Ramachandran presents stories in his works of art but cooking in the kitchen is a far cry for him
“Please don’t keep so much food before me. My wife and friends will think I ate them all. I usually eat very little…” says ace artist A. Ramachandran seeing platter after platter arriving on his table at Delhi Masala restaurant in Hotel Parkland. The veteran of 75 summers readies himself for a photo shoot with food. He tells the server, “Please fill my plate slowly. Otherwise khana aata jayega aur photo nahi aayegi. He is not getting the contrast of my dark face with such colourful food,” he smilingly teases the lens-man.
Now we know what keeps the veteran look younger than his actual age – his sense of humour and an ability to laugh at himself. The creases have barely started lining his face. His peculiar hairstyle and trimmed down moustache complete the picture of an “amusing looking man”. Despite bagging awards like Padma Bhushan, and occupying seats of responsibilities like Chairmanship of Kerala Lalit Kala Akademi, honours in Japan, representations in three prestigious Indian Triennalles, art shows from Brazil to Belgium, Poland to England, Venezuela to Switzerland, he remains a modest man. With fresh lime soda, he enjoys the starters – vegetarian platter of paneer tikka and seekh kabab and non-vegetarian platter of roasted chicken, seekh kabab, fish and mutton tikka. “But I like Chinese, Japanese, Bengali and Mughlai food too,” he quips, adding, “We have an ‘international integration’ team at home: I am from Kerala, my wife is a Chinese born in Kolkata, so I get all kinds of food at home. I never tried to learn cooking,” he laughs as he moves to the main course.
Known for his murals, mythological renderings, children illustrations and bronze sculptures, Ramachandran has always endorsed the idea of conceptual art and opposed global visual culture. “Global culture in art can be very boring,” he says on a serious note while trying bhuna gosht, kadai paneer with assorted breads. The veteran undoubtedly endorses assortment of cultures in visual arts and not global culture. He reasons, “If we have global culture on art, every art across the globe would look the same. Then where will Bengal, Kerala, Assam and Kashmir go? The local language/visual culture gives a flavour and concept to a whole image. Global culture is a very British phenomenon. It is like giving a botanical description to a flower and ignoring its real beauty. It is like listening to only A.R. Rahman kind of music all over. Listening to Rahman doesn’t mean that we can’t respect Bhimsen Joshi or Gangubai Hangal.”
And that’s why Ramachandran has always mirrored the local culture, people and their evolution in his works. Some can be seen at his exhibition called ‘Bahuroopia’ that is coming up at Lalit Kala Akademi from October 25. Organised by Vadehra Art Gallery, “it is a very well designed show with great visual coherence,” shares Ramachandran.
Switching over to dal makhni and dum biryani, he recalls how he failed miserably at cooking in Japan. “Japanese cook simple food. A few people thought I could also cook and reached my place. To please them, I made a brave attempt at cooking. I fried tomato, onion and garlic, put chicken and water in it. But it became too watery. To make it thick I poured a lot of red chilli powder and eggs. Japanese are very gentle. They complimented me saying ‘very nice’ while tears dropped from their eyes. That was in 1964. Now they tell me, ‘your food was horrible’!” he laughs.
Now comes the enticing angoori rabri for dessert. “You have invited me for lunch. It means I am popular,” he says mischievously as he leaves the hotel thanking the staff for “excellent home-like food”.
Keywords: A. Ramachandran, Delhi Masala restaurant, sense of humour, veteran artist, Kerala Lalit Kala Akademi chairman, murals, mythological renderings, children illustrations, bronze sculptures, local culture.