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A journey with K.G. Subramanyan

K.G. SubramanyanPhoto: H. Vibhu   | Photo Credit: H. Vibhu



Although he had written and spoken widely on art and aesthetics, K.G. Subramanyan never opened up on his personal life. It was in 1992 that he wrote: “I have not been to Malabar for the past 45 years. But that was where I was born.” It took 13 more years for him to think of a visit to Kerala. It was around 2004 – almost 60 years after he left – that K.G. Subramanyan decided to travel from Thiruvananthapuram to Mahe, his birth place, with his daughter Uma Padmanabhan.

I was assigned by Manida (as he was called by admirers and students) to make a schedule of his visit that began on October 15, 2005 from Thiruvananthapuram to Mahe by touching a few places like Muvattupuzha, where his mother hailed from, Kalpathi, where his father came from, and Mahe, where he lived till the age of 17. It is not very easy to travel by visiting places and meeting relatives staying at locations where he had spent his early life. So I approached Shaji N. Karun, eminent film maker and friend, for advice as he knows Kerala very well. While making the schedule, it was Shaji who casually remarked about the possibility of making a documentary on this visit.

The 13-day trip included four days in Thiruvananthapuram. Over a cup of tea Shaji himself expressed his interest in making a telemovie to K.G. Subramanyan. CPI (M) leader and Politburo M.A. Baby offered us the support of Kairali TV and encouraged us to proceed with the project. This led the making of the movie Moving Focus: a Journey with K.G. Subramanyan.

The journey from Thiruvananthapuram to Mahe started on October 19 and the plan was to leave Kerala from Kochi on October 27.

A travelogue can be read in this movie, as the viewer gets a ringside view of Krishnapuram Palace, Kayamkulam, Karumadi, Mattanchery, Fort Kochi, Muvattupuzha, Kalpathi, and Mahe. Though the movie is woven in a non-linear form, the thematic structure binds visuals and words through insights of K.G. Subramanyan (KG S), on art culture and memories.

What the movie pulsates with is the life of KGS who questions argues, explains and reflects. The long part of his conversation shot at Krishnapuram palace, presents a wide range of views on the freedom movement, contemporary situation, the free and spontaneous nature of his art, and the pedagogic preoccupation of writing.

In Fort Kochi, a delegation of students and staff members from the faculty of Fine Arts, MS University Baroda – who were on a study tour – joined the discussion on art education and art practices. It was then that KGS responded to a young artist that the roots are to be in the soil when the tree branches out to the sky. Regional identities are there but not always confined to Kerala or a region as he says that the most popular songs sung in Kerala temples - the Ashtapati - was written by Jayadeva, a poet from Orissa.

The biographical part of KGS is revealed through words of his relatives from his mothers family at Muvattupuzha and their memories.

Manida had vague memories of the earlier part of his childhood spent in Kalpathi, (Palakkad) where his father hails from. Along with him we tried to trace the house where he stayed till at the age of five and received the first impressions of visual arts. About Kalpathi he remembers that he would wander away "to the riverside on the backyard or play under the temple cart at the street crossing. The carvings on the sides intrigued me no end; that was my first encounter with art: Though I hardly knew what art meant at that time."

Mahe was the next and last destination.

The growing period from childhood to adolescence is decisive in the construction of one's personality and this period was spent in two parts of the little place Mahe, in which one side was occupied by the British and the other by the French, It was at the age of 10 that he was sent to the school, in which he was admitted to class four. The entire family shifted from Parimadom to the other side of Mahe, where they had a public library and a reading room near the house. He says it was a distant passage "from the enchanted world of childhood to the greater world beyond.”

(To be continued)

(The author is Dean and Professor in Visual Arts at World School of Design, Rajiv Gandhi Educational City, NCR, New Delhi)

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 11:25:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/A-journey-with-K.G.-Subramanyan/article14465335.ece

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