PERIYAR "THE DEFENDER"
(INTERVIEW WITH A PAINTER WITH RATIONALIST OUTLOOK WHO PAINTED THE PORTRAIT OF PERIYAR E.V.RAMASAMY)
- Kanwal Dhaliwal
is an Indian painter residing in London.
He has drawn a portrait of Periyar E.V.Ramasamy and the same has been published in the special issue of ‘Viduthalai’ brought out in commemoration of the 133rd birthday celebrations of Periyar. S.Prince Ennares Periyar interviewed the painter and recorded his views. The same is given below.
Introuce about you and your family background.
I was born in 1960 in a village in the southern corner of Punjab and was brought up in a small town – Malout, not far away from the village. This is where I received my school education. I was fortunate to have such parents, who inspite of being not rich, tried to provide me with all I needed to fulfil my dreams. We were a small family of four- parents and two children. Right from the early days of life we were brought up in comparatively ‘socially forward’ atmosphere since my father – Dr. Ujagar Singh Dhaliwal, was an educated and socially advanced individual who had a scientific bent of mind. He was a popular orator on political stages with socialist cause and a satirist who was often published in the local Punjabi press.
How did you get interest in this field? How did you find a clear path in this field?
I remember from the very early days of school I enjoyed doing drawings and sketches, which were appreciated by my teachers and family members. This made me decide to pursue higher education in the field of art. So, after finishing my secondary school education I joined College of Art, Chandigarh in 1978 for a five-year-degree programme. This is here where I had exposure to the wider picture of the world of art. During my graduation days I also developed a taste for literature and soon started reading Punjabi and Hindi literature along with some famous authors from other parts of India whose works were available in Punjabi/Hindi translation. I also got opportunity to read Russian classical literature, which was widely available those days in translation. I found Russian literature so impressive that I decided to learn Russian language in the evening college at the Punjab University while still studying art during the day. Along with exposure to the world of art and literature, friendship with some very learned people of rational mind has also played a vital role in shaping my thought process.
What were, are, will be your themes in your paintings/ sculptures/ drawings?
I am continuously working in the field of art since 1980s creating paintings drawings and sculpture and have chosen many different subjects that I found important. Initially I chose to work on a series ‘The Village’ where the faces, landscape and architecture of rural Punjab were the main characters of my works. The ‘law courts of Punjab’ was another series where I drawn faces from the solicitors’ sheds. Later, a series ‘The Dilemma’ shows the dual life characteristics of the Indian migrants in UK. More recently I started working on a series of paintings and drawings ‘The Roots’ where I mainly used the images of trees, which are cut from or away from their roots thus symbolising them with the situation of migrants who are away from their cultural roots.
How & why did you choose periyar ever? How did you come to know about periyar?
More recently I have also started working on a series of portraits. In these paintings I am trying to portray the lives and characters of those individuals who had extraordinary charizma and courage to challenge the existing antihuman norms of the society or the state. That’s why I decided to include Periyar Ramasami in this series.
What are you trying to convey with the snake and the walking stick? because there is a poem like “Periyar beat the snake (varnadharma) with his walking stick”
In ‘The Defender’ (portrait of Periyar Ramasami) I have painted him in a pose where he is trying to kill a snake with his walking stick. I was not aware of any such poem where he writes about killing a snake with the walking stick, since I have not read much of his writings. The contents of the painting are entirely my original thought. There are many other elements in the painting – the coastline of Indian peninsula, the ocean and the fishes, the ‘northern border lines’ (map of India is shown as seen from the South to North), the mountain regions etc. If you look carefully, the skin patterns of the snake are made of Swastikas. This is to symbolise snake with the Brahmanism-an antihuman ideology. The direction from where the snake is entering the landscape is also important; this coincides with entering routs of the Indo-Aryans. Where the map-line of India indicates the geographic location of the scene, the fish is used as an important ancient cultural symbol of Dravidian culture.
Your recent paintings are mostly on leaders and famous personalities. who were and will be in your paintings?
I have already painted great humanists like Gehal Singh Chhajjalwadi, Saadat Hasan Manto, Amrita Preetam, Shaheed Udham Singh, Rahul Sankrityayan and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Periyar E.V.Ramasami is the latest in the series. The series is in progress and I am considering many more martyrs, scholars and challengers of extraordinary strength. Dr Abraham Thomas Kovoor should be the next to follow.
Have you visited Tamilnadu? How did the thoughts periyar inspired you?
It was during the college days in the early 1980s when for the first time I visited Tamil Nadu, mainly Chennai (Then called Madras) and surrounding areas. It was a fascinating experience for me when for the first time ever at the age of 22 I saw the oceans and beaches for real! I also felt a clear difference in general behaviour of people as compared to the people of the metropolis of the North. I found people more helpful and kind while interacting with the visitors. The South impressed me and the impression has stayed the same ever after. However the condition of the poor and exploitation of people by the religion in the Southern region is far worse and worrying. Its an irony that where on the one had those huge Hindu temples are important part of country’s heritage but on the other, they are quite intimidating and present an open scene of violations of human rights where hundreds of citizens are conditioned to bow before the so called holy men and the statues of the so called gods. Its precisely therefore we need more Periyars and Kovoors!