Adarsh was sitting in his room looking out of the window at the setting sun. He heard his father’s voice and stiffened. It was clear that Bappa was upset about something and he was the cause.
“Adarsh!” his father stood near the door, his eyes sweeping across the room and as usual making Adarsh feel uncomfortable. His father had a way of looking which made him feel uneasy, almost guilty.
Upendra Routray was a tall, broad shouldered man, with strong features and a commanding presence. He had joined the State Bank of India, Puri, Main Branch as a messenger and had worked his way up. Now at 55, he was a junior officer and naturally very proud of his achievements. He had got two daughters married and now his only ambition was to see his son become an engineer.
“I met Manoranjan Kanungo in the market. He was telling me that you have not been attending his tuition for the last two months.”
Adarsh kept silent looking down at the floor.
“You know, Manorjan charges the highest tuition fees, yet I have been sending you to him with the hope that you will get into engineering. And you have not even been attending classes. Where have you been whiling away your time?”
Adarsh looked at his father. His face had gone red and his eyes had grown round and large. When he was a kid he had been terrified of his father’s temper and would run away and hide under the bed. Now, though he was not scared, he hated these showdowns, especially because his mother Savitri ended up crying after every face-off and losing her sleep.
“Answer me you rascal? What have you been doing – running after girls, seeing movies or something worse? Don’t you realise that if you work hard for the next six months you’ll get into a good engineering college and then your future is secure.”
“But I do not want to do engineering!”
“Then what do you want to do?”
“I want to become a sculptor?” Adarsh said, meeting his father’s gaze for the first time.
Upendra’s eyes widened even more.
“Wh..what? A sculptor! Have you gone mad?”
Adarsh kept quiet, but continued looking at his father.
“And how much money do you think you will earn by making and selling statues? Will you be able to even feed yourself, let alone your family?”
“Money is not everything, Bappa? I am passionate about sculpture.”
“I know it is not everything, but it definitely is very important for survival. How did you think I could educate your sisters and get them married and also give you the best kind of schooling – only with the money I earned from slogging night and day – not from dreaming about my passion.”
Adarsh did not answer and his silence angered Upendra even more.
“In five years I am going to retire, after toiling for forty years. I was hoping, by then, you would be settled in a job after completing your engineering and I would be able to lead a comfortable post-retirement life. But I think that is not in my destiny. Even after retirement I’ll have to continue working to feed you and your passion,” Upendra said and walked out of the room banging the door shut.
His father had the perfect knack of switching back and forth from unbridled anger to emotional blackmail.
That night Adarsh could hear his parents arguing – the issue was their favourite topic – their son’s future.
Next morning after Upendra had left for the bank, Savitri told Adarsh, “Last night we were discussing about you.”
“I know, I could hear each and every word and the way Bappa was shouting I am sure the neigbours could hear too,” Adarsh replied dryly.
“This is not a matter to be treated with humour or sarcasm, Adarsh. It is a question of your career. Your father has your best interests at heart.”
“More than my interests he is concerned about his pride and esteem. He wants me to become an engineer so that he can hold his head high and say, “See I began my life as a messenger but have made my son an Engineer.”
“That’s a very mean thing to say Adarsh,” Savitri snapped. “Your father is not against your pursuing sculpture as a hobby. In fact, he himself says it is a beautiful art form. But you can’t earn a living through sculpture in today’s times. What he is saying, and I totally agree with him, is that you making engineering your profession and continue with sculpture as your passion. That way even if you don’t succeed as a sculptor you’ll have your profession to fall back on – you won’t be on the streets.”
“But ma, I can’t cut up my existence like this – a chunk of it for a profession and a slice of it for passion. Why don’t you people realise that any passion is all consuming, it cannot be partitioned into time zones. And moreover, why do you people assume I will not succeed? I am good and I know it. I have the confidence that I’ll do well. So why don’t you allow me to follow my passion. It’s my life, allow me to live it the way I want to,” Adarsh said and walked out.
He went to his favourite spot on the beach and started doing what he was best at…..
The arguments continued for days on end. Finally one day Upendra told him, “You can stop taking tuition so that I can save that much money at least. Also, from now on you are entirely on your own. After all, like you told your mother so grandly, it is your life so I am allowing you to live it the way you want.”
Adarsh did reasonably well in his class ten exam. He didn’t join college – his college, his laboratory, his entire world was now the beach.
He would disappear early in the morning and come back at night. The entire day he would spend creating art on sand. He would make figures of mythological characters, modern legends, animals and birds, idols and icons in fact anything and everything he fancied. As he sculpted beautiful figures from the grains and pebbles on the beach he attracted beggars, kids and curious onlookers.
One day he had a special visitor. Durga Puja was around the corner and he had made a stunning sculpture of Goddess Durga in all her magnificence. “It is lovely son,” he heard a soft, all too familiar voice and looked up. Savitri was standing with her hands folded and her eyes closed. It had been three months since Adarsh’s full fledged tryst with sculpture but only the first time that Savitri had visited him. He looked around hoping against hope that his father would be there somewhere, but even he knew that was too much to expect.
Six months went by. It was evening. The rays of the setting sun were caressing the dark blue waters of the Bay of Bengal. Adarsh was completing the sculpture of Lord Buddha sitting in meditation under the Bodhi tree. He added the finishing touches and then stood up to have a look.
“It is so life like and serene.”
“It is beautiful.”
He turned back. Two Japanese women and a man were standing behind him admiring the sculpture. Even as he watched, the taller of the two women started clicking photographs of the sculpture.
“You are very talented,” she said in strongly accented English.
“Thanks,” Adarsh mumbled.
“I am Etsuko Nozaka, “ she offered her hand. “And these are my friends Karin and Soma.”
“My name is Adarsh,” he said.
“How long have you been doing this? You look very young.”
“I am 18 years and I have been practising since I was around 12. I stopped my studies six months back and am now concentrating only on sand sculpture.”
The three visitors nodded their heads in short vigorous movements and flashed appreciative smiles. They left after sometime.
The next day they were back early in the morning. Adarsh had just started his work. He was planning to create a sculpture of Lord Krishna playing the flute.
Etsuko and her friends watched him work and continued taking photographs as well as recording the progress on video.
That evening they invited him for dinner to their hotel. Adarsh agreed quite readily. During dinner they asked him about his parents, his aspirations and various other details about his life.
After they had finished and were having coffee, Etsuko said, “Adarsh, the three of us run an academy of Fine Arts in Tokyo. Students of all age groups are taught drawing, painting and sculpture. We have very talented teachers but no one who can teach sand-art. We would like to make you an offer. If you can come to Japan with us we can give you a job as a teacher. The contract will initially be for a period of five years.
What do you say?”
Adarsh could not believe this was happening. He was at a complete loss for words.
“I…I do not know what to say. This has come as a complete surprise. I’ll have to ask my parents first.”
“Fine, we are here till tomorrow evening. Please take this document. It gives the terms and conditions of your job. You can show it to your parents and get back to us.”
“What! Japan! Have you gone completely mad?” Savitri almost shouted. “How can you even imagine that we’ll send you to a country thousands of miles away, just like that. I think your father was right. We have given you too much freedom and that has gone to your head.”
The three of them were sitting in their cramped living room.
“But ma, this is a one in a life time opportunity.”
“No question Adarsh. We can’t take the risk of sending you at such a young age to an unknown land. God knows after how many years we’ll see you or even…even see you at all….” Savitri started crying.
Upendra who had been sitting quietly all this while spoke, “Let him go Savitri. Let him follow his passion.”
Adarsh looked at his father in surprise. There had been no sarcasm in his voice and there was no anger in his eyes. Adarsh could only catch a fleeting glimpse of empathy – a sentiment he had thought, his father was incapable of feeling.
Savitri was too shocked to speak.
“Go to them right now and give them your consent. We’ll catch the first bus to Bhubaneswar and go straight to the passport office. By friend Lalatendu is there, he’ll help us out.”
Adarsh looked up once again and their eyes met. He didn’t know what to say. He knew if he opened his mouth to say even a word he would start crying. He silently nodded and left the room.
The next five years went like a blur. Adarsh would ring up his parents every day and tell them about his work. It was rather strange he thought that he was talking to his father much more now when he was thousands of miles away than when they existed barely a few metres from each other.
He thoroughly enjoyed working in the “Kaizen Centre of Fine Arts”. Along with teaching, he got the opportunity to learn various forms of sculpture. During the fourth year of his stay, a cultural team from India paid a visit to the centre. It was headed by Ramakant Mohapatra, Minister of Culture, Government of Orissa. When he came to know that Adarsh was from Puri in India he invited him to his guest house. The minister made a proposal and Adarsh and he spent more than an hour discussing it.
After completing his tenure, Adarsh decided to return home. Etsuko was very keen to renew his contract but Adarsh declined very politely.
He was seeing his parents after five years and was surprised to find that though his mother looked the same his father seemed to have aged more than ten years.
“Bappa, ma, I have got great news for you. Sri Ramakant Mohapatra, our culture minister met me in Tokyo. He wants me to start an Arts Academy here in Puri. It will be under the aegis of Government of Orissa and I shall be its director.”
His mother, in typical style, started wiping tears. His father’s face remained as impassive as ever, only his eyes betrayed a glimmer of pride.
A year later a glittering function was held in Puri. Though Sri Ramakant Mohapatra was the chief guest, the Academy was inaugurated by Savitri Routray.
The name of the institute too came as a surprise to many. It was called the Upendra Academy of Fine Arts.