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`So many parallels in our life...'


I'v always wondered how you adjusted! A white woman, beautiful, alone, it was very inviting: SATISH GUJRAL
You are one man who really appreciates women in the classical sense of the term. You are the only male that I kiss!:SHARON LOWEN



TWO TO TANGO: Satish Gujral and Sharon Lowen in New Delhi Photo: S. Subramanium

They have a nice shared interest in art. While he creates sculptures, paintings and murals, she has more than a passing interest in visual art - having seriously pursued these arts before settling for her first love - dancing.

Sharon Lowen, the Fulbright scholar and sensitive Odissi dancer, and Satish Gujral, one of India's best known and most creative artists, whose art extends to harnessing space via architecture as well, in a free-wheeling conversation with Alka Raghuvanshi at the latter's aesthetically maintained residence in South Delhi.

The conversation explores several genres for communication - words, signs, gestures and most importantly, Satish's wife Kiron, who conveys some of the words to him through a totally personalised language perfected over decades of togetherness.

They talk of their experiences in foreign lands, the initial hiccups and the final triumph. What shines all through is their spirit, when they agree, when they disagree, when they embrace. Truly, there is almost a mutual admiration club at work here.

Sharon: It is interesting how there are so many parallels in both our lives in our experiences in alien lands. You went to Mexico with no language - neither English nor Spanish, no hearing, no money!

And I came to India on a tiny scholarship, at an young age to pursue dance, not knowing the language, not knowing where I was going to stay, not knowing how safe it was... And to top it all, both of us didn't look alien in the countries we opted for!

Satish: But that was more of an advantage! We merged into the people seamlessly and didn't stick out!

Motivation

Sharon: What was you motivation? How did you have the nerve?

Satish: I was always drawn to murals. Easel painting was for drawing rooms. Whether one painted the bourgeoisie or the revolution, it was going to land up in someone's drawing room!

And I wanted to share my arts with everyone! And when I heard that Mexico was the place where murals were being taught, I knew there was where I had to go! Except I didn't even know where it was on the map! It didn't have an embassy here! I was the first Indian to go there.

My mother said it was where the Pandavas had gone when they had to go to Paatal lok! My brother (I.K. Gujral) saw an advertisement offering scholarships to study there, he insisted that I apply.

He said, what do you have to lose? And Octavio Paz, the poet and then the Mexican envoy to India, said: All that could be negative is already there, anything else can only be positive!

Sharon: That's the poet for you! When I landed, it was a horrible living experience. I decided to live as a paying guest with a family who went away to Shimla for a month, leaving me at the mercy of a small servant, who didn't understand the language, could barely cook and I didn't know if it was safe to go out to eat, what to buy, etc!

Mind you, it was nearly three decades ago!

Satish: When I landed there after much high drama, it was rather tough as well.

On the day I arrived, there was a change of government and all the civil servants and political honchos changed! And language was a huge problem. I met an American architect who offered to teach me English if I taught him Hindi. While I picked up English, he didn't go very much further with his Hindi!

Adjustment

Satish: You are a dancer, how come I see you always with artists and not so much artistes?

Sharon: Ever since I came to India, I've had better relations with visual artists rather than dancers!

There was more readiness by individuals to share rather than stonewall!

Satish: I've always wondered how you adjusted? A white woman, beautiful, alone... It was very inviting - not that men anywhere need too much invitation!

Sharon: My safety was in numbers. And I made sure that I didn't meet people in private. I was very social and hung out a lot with Shankho Choudhry, Biren De, G.R. Santosh, Shanti Dave, Himmat Shah - who were like protective uncles.

I went out with so many different people to various places like art shows, dance and music concerts that some people must have thought that I was having an affair with several people! I knew if I had an Indian boyfriend, and if that relationship were to not work out for some reason, all my connections would collapse. Besides, I didn't think I was beautiful!

Satish: Were you so modest or so naοve! How did you make sure these artists didn't misunderstand?

Sharon: They came. They tried.

But when they realised that it was not going to go any further, they went away to try elsewhere, but there were others who found me interesting and stayed anyway! Then I started taking my daughter. Since I didn't look western, I felt I had to uphold Indian values! You are the only male that I kiss!

And that's because you are safe and I love you!

Satish: I think I should be offended at that safe epithet! But I learnt in life to play safe!

Sharon: No that's because you've got a more wonderful woman in you life at home, whom you love at least 100 per cent more than anyone else! You are one man who really appreciates women in the classical sense of the term and there are not that many men who appreciate women and one wants to be appreciated by someone one respects. Touche!

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