Back to the roots

Bimal Saigal, endlessly fascinated by the twisted forms of roots, knows how to bring out the shapes and creatures hidden in them.

May 08, 2010 05:56 pm | Updated November 28, 2021 09:01 pm IST

Expressive forms: Fettered Femininity, one of Saigal's wood work.

Expressive forms: Fettered Femininity, one of Saigal's wood work.

Ever seen a gnarled, knobby piece of root lying on the ground and kicked it out of the way? Look before you kick and like Bimal Saigal, you might actually see in it the shape of a horse, a man or a woman or even an ostrich. And like Saigal, you might even be inspired to take to root sculpting.

Saigal, a diplomat now posted at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, simply cannot resist picking up roots, and branches — more grotesque the better — whenever and wherever he sees them. “I pick it up if it looks promising,” says Saigal.

It takes a special discerning eye to spot an interesting shape in an unrelated object, and then an artist's hands to bring it out, and Saigal clearly has both.

“All I do is to clean it of the dirt and mud, cut away the extra bits and pieces and the shape starts standing out,” Saigal says. He makes it sound simple, but as he admitted, even he sometimes mulls over a bit of dried-up root for months before he spots an interesting form in it, and begins to give the idea a shape, literally.

Saigal's journey down this artistic road began when he set eyes on an entangled mass of root that was dug out from his garden. Instead of throwing it out, he kept it and thought about it. Days later, it was transformed, under Saigal's expert cutting and clipping, into a woman joyously holding her hands up in the air.

Rich collection

Over 15 years and postings in faraway places such as Chile, the Caribbean and Canada, and difficult ones like Pakistan, Saigal has built up a rich collection of over 50 sculptures, some of which adorn the shelves of his home, and the rest packed away safely, awaiting a formal exhibition, when the time and location are right.

“You can call it a hobby but this is what I do for relaxation,” Saigal says, as he shows me some of his work in Islamabad.

An early piece that he takes pride in is called “Fettered Femininity”, with the gnarled roots resembling shackles around a female form. Another piece, called “Sitting Duck” is true to the original, the ribbed texture of the wood bearing a remarkable resemblance to feathers. There are other feathered friends in his collection too, like owls and eagles, all eerily close to the real thing.

Mainly comprising animals and the human form, the entire collection ranges from two to 12 inches in height. In creating the sculptures, Saigal uses nothing more complicated than a pair of scissors, a small garden clipper and a kitchen knife. And when it's all done, a quick coat of varnish and wax-polish to protect the piece and give it a shine. Roots, perhaps because they are more flexible, apparently hold more scope for bringing out a shape than wood.

Protective about the uniqueness of his art, Saigal takes umbrage if you draw similarities between his work and driftwood sculptures, and is quite emphatic that his is quite different. The most important difference, he points out, is that there is no sandpapering or filing to wear down the rough edges of the wood. He prefers to call his work “floral fauna”.

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