Monday, December 27, 2010

Making a reasonable sculpture

Some of my students/friends on Facebook been asking for the story behind this sculpture I had made when I was in IIT ... so here it is now:

Spring Fest 1980 was my first full fledged festival I was attending at IIT. It was exciting and the mood was very nice. I did not have any reason for participating in anything in the festival, but I was a keen observer. Those days, I had just come from Mumbai and was quite "shell-shocked" (to put it mildly) by what IITians were doing. It didn't strike me that what one can do is actually all there within oneself. We just need to surface that capability out.

I was walking around the campus, and events were happening everywhere. In one corner I saw this large group of people doing all kinds of things with clay. I told myself "Hey, why not? Let me see if I can do this. At the worst nothing will happen. So I will get nothing and anyway I was starting with nothing. And that is okay" I was about 45 minutes late and asked the organizer of the event if I could join in. He shrugged his shoulder and said "As long as you submit on time"

I dived in.. and what you see in that photo is what I made that day. It has a striking resemblence to my grandfather whom I admire greatly. I remember keeping his image in my mind as I worked furiously with the clay to meet the deadline. I won this event and I won the same event within the 1st three positions in all the subsequent Spring Fests (save the last one, where; if memory serves me right, the event was not held)

I love working with clay. The only experience (if I can call it that) is a TV program on Doordarshan which I remember seeing as a kid, where a sculptor made an amazing bust of Abraham Lincoln as he explained the life of that president. By the end of the talk, he had also finished the bust. It was truly remarkable that within half an hour one could make a bust. It gave me the confidence that something can be done in a limited time.

There are some lessons I learnt in that one episode: It put me on a road where (as one of my friend put it) I am on a "perpetual churn" of self-discovery. I was quite a reserved chap during those days (in fact nobody would believe that I am a reserved person today; other than those who knew me during my childhood and teens) I realized that the biggest hurdle is the one that we create for ourselves in our mind. There are many, many talented IITians I know who simply wasted their lives because they wake up each day and don't want to be comfortable with the imperfections they may have.

C'mon, what is the worst that can happen if you try out something and it does not turn out nice? Maybe you think friends would laugh at you... but that is not true. Real good friends will not laugh AT you. They will laugh WITH you and calm you down, if your plans dont go right. So just dive ahead and do exactly what you want. Maybe whatever you did is what the world wanted and you will miss contributing to the world, if you thought the world will not accept your imperfection. Even today, I have no clue whether I did an absolutely good job or not with this bust. In fact, recently a trained sculptor pointed out that the forehead of this bust is sloping -- and so it surely can be improved upon.

The act of sculpting also has lessons for your life:

Firstly: Choose the right clay.
Somewhere inside; one's genetics and basic growth does play a part. Well, we cannot control this aspect for ourselves. Our "clay" has already been given to us. But it does have lessons on what we can give to our progeny. I tend to take a lot of trouble to ensure that my kids and my students get as much of my attitude, learning techniques, my excitement and curiosity. These are values that I want my kids to grow up with. Because that is how they'll get the real clay they'll get to work with when they grow.

Secondly: Get the right amount of water in it.
Too much or too little water will destroy the sculpture. Similarly, whatever we do with ourselves; whatever ingredients we put into our efforts, make sure we don't overdo it or underplay it. I know many who remain silent and secretive. They don't want the rest of the world to know what they are up to. They go under a pretence of modesty, when actually they are silently devaluing the other person. One of the best thing you can do to yourself and your friends is to expose both your pride and your vulnerabilities. At the same time, don't go over the top, overwhelm your friends and give them a message that they cannot do what you've done. If you are truly transparent, friends will then always chip in when they see sincere work. Like the way Paul Ryan, Pratap Singh Khanwilkar ( my friends from IIT days) and others chipped in to clean up that day for the presentation of this sculpture.

Thirdly: Ensure that you knead the clay really well.
Somehow I've always got this right. Not just for this sculpture for all subsequent sculptures. This bust is now over 30 years old and it has not cracked though it has never been baked (One small part of the nose got chipped because it fell down one day. I was surprised it didn't split open) To me, kneading clay means churning everything that I learn inside me very well, holistically. If I dwell too much time on one aspect of a creative problem I'm working on, I whisper to myself "You are getting stuck in one corner of the problem. Go knead the other part too"

The simple summary: It is not the need for perfection which should drive you, but the fact that whatever that you have inside you may be good enough to propel you forward. Just make sure you maximize your own efforts.

Hope I didn't bore you with this