On the Flying Horse

Book: Your History Gets In The Way Of My Memory

Author: Geeti Sen

Publisher: Collins

Price: Rs 999

It mustn't be tough to be a diva in these days of instant celebrity. Today's intellectual only has to toss a witty sound bite or lead a candle-light march. In times past they had to hone up on their Sartre and Said, the sage of middle-eastern melancholy as he is better known, to be worthy of their fellowships.

Geeti Sen belongs to this other world. Her essays on eight Indian artists, with whom she has had a close association, bring with it the tone and timbre of days gone by when divas walked the flower-bedecked paths of cultural glory in their glowing Kanchipuram saris hand-picked of course by other equally adept impresarios, communing with others just like them. In the author photograph at the back, one is happy to note that Sen still manages to glow, though in a more muted manner, just as there is something elegiac in her summation of the artists she has chosen to represent in this very personal recollection of their glories past and hers by virtue of her involvement.

It's her gaze that lights them up. Even though in her introduction she tells us that she has left out the jargon with which art historians speak about their subject, her references have a slightly antique drone about them. Do we care about Loren Eiseley at all these days? True, he had a great following in the mid-1970s but isn't there something vaguely muffled about tenebrous insights such as "There is within us only that dark, divine animal engaged in a strange journey…"?

Yet, such is the quality of Sen's engagement with the arts, that she makes the "dark divine animal" come alive for us, in spite of our reluctance, and coaxes it, or us, to embark on her journeys. She is an incomparable guide into a past that has been shrink-wrapped, labelled and sorted out by the insidious claw of the art market into a commodity that creates a stir only if it shows up on the global art index.

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