Some words have a meaning that is as good as they sound and vice versa. Serendipity is one such word, and it means, ‘the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident’. English author Horace Walpole coined this word based on the old name for Sri Lanka, Serendip in his work, The Three Princes of Serendip.

After a recent visit to Sri Lanka, I had to make a quick dash to Delhi. The people I met there led me to think most bonds that we forge are all the result of serendipitous encounters.

This is the premise of the movie starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale; the romantic comedy features the pair meeting while reaching out for the same pair of gloves as Christmas gifts.

Serendipitous Sri Lanka

Out there in our national capital, having taken the precaution to arrive a day ahead of important meetings, I had time enough to catch up albeit briefly with a few friends.

One of them was dancer Prathibha Prahlad, who has just organised the Delhi International Arts Festival to much acclaim. Sipping green tea at the India International Centre, she talked about several highlights of the show. As we stepped out in to the night that was just beginning to be enveloped up with cold, a voice piped out from a dark corner.

It turned out to belong to the bewhiskered catlike artist Jatin Das. He insisted that we join him and we ended up listening to him spellbound for close to an hour.

Artist Jatin Das
Jatin Das has been painting for 50 years. Born in Orissa, India, he has achieved international acclaim for his painting, murals and sculptures. While his works feature in several public and private collections in India and abroad, Jatin has a large personal collection of traditional arts and crafts and has set up the JD Centre of Arts on the outskirts of Bhubaneshwar. Designed by the eminent architect B.V. Doshi, JDCA is a repository of tribal, folk, classical and contemporary art. It also features his unique ‘pankha’ collection – of hand fans in the Indian subcontinent.

Much before the Centre came up, Jatin had started a ‘Meet the Artist’ programme which has run uninterruptedly since September 2001. On the second Saturday of every month, a scholar, artist or craftsperson is invited to present their work to an audience. The programme has embraced a broad definition of the term ‘artist’, encompassing sessions on the preservation of temple murals, town planning in Orissa, the origin, evolution and use of script. 

Jatin Das’ collection at JDCA
Jatin’s passion for arts and crafts started when his grandmother bought him a terracotta toy at a street fair in Mayurbanj. He says, “Traditional folk and tribal objects still hold high energy for me. I want them to share the same space as a Chola bronze or a Brancusi: to dissolve the boundaries that keep the so-called fine art separate from the work of India’s master artisans.”

Later this month, he is starting shooting at JDCA for a series of programmes for Doordarshan. With his deep voice and wealth of experience, the series will be eminently watchable. He has lectured at Harvard amongst several other universities and museums, and anchoring the programme will be as effortless for him and enjoyable for us as it was listening to him over hot kebabs on a cold winter night. 

By Sandhya Mendonca (Sandhya Mendonca writes a weekly column for the Herald Goa)

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