A Work of Art

A cold wind seemed to blow on his face as Aditya Yadav opened the window of his second floor flat. Opening his eyes towards the road outside his building, he saw on top of parked cars dewdrops coruscating under the morning sun. It was only middle November, but winter was already here. Another change of season in the bustling metropolis of Delhi, but it was only the season that changed; life unfortunately never did, its tedium frozen in mists of time. He shrugged and came back to the blank canvas fixed on a frame in the center of the room.
All I have to do is pick up the brush, dip it in the palette and start painting! He told himself. Why is this simple task so difficult for me? I don’t want to do this painting. Why! Because I am no ordinary painter, I am an artist. Damn it, I know I am! I have the talent, so what if world refuses to recognize it. It is their problem not mine, people who buy art but lack the incisiveness to recognize a truly well done painting. He stood looking at the blank canvas with rising anger. He wished to rip the canvas off the frame. But he could never bring himself to do anything that dramatic.

He had to complete it, just as he had completed similar paintings in the past. After all, this was a paying job. 2500 Rupees! That is what he got every time he completed one such painting for Sujit Sen. Sujit Sen, the toast of city’s cognoscenti! The painter that the city loved to rave about! Such was his popularity that Sujit didn’t even have to wield the brush anymore. He could commission any penurious artist to complete a canvas, on which he would put his own name. That is all that the art-buying gentry cared for – the name Sujit Sen scrawled in dark letters at the bottom of the painting!

As many as twenty-three of Sujit’s paintings were done by him. This one would be the twenty-fourth. But it was no use harping on unfairness of life. No use at all heaping blame on Sujit. While Sujit can market himself I can’t, he thought through a numbing sense of frustration. I have the talent to be a painter, but I lack the sense to market myself. Isn’t marketing as important! I lack the savvy to market my paintings. How is it that my paintings become hot property worth 15000-20000 rupees after Sujit scrawls out his name on them! If anything, Sujit is a brilliant marketing guy.

But that does not change the fact that he is too stupid to create good works of art. He is a damn idiot with delusions grandeur. That’s all. The ridiculous concepts that he asks me to execute for him! I am fed up of working on his stupid ideas! Fed up! God knows how desperately I hate each and every moment I have to spend on Sujit’s work. The supercilious bastard! Sujit Sen, you are a third rate painter and the laugh is on all those suckers who fork out big bucks to buy paintings carrying your name. He laughed, but it was a laughter marred by frustration and ennui.

I am a much greater painter than Sujit Sen. I have original concepts, I have a vision, I have a practiced eye for detail. What does Sujit have? He is a damn fool. He has no eye for detail; every painting that he has ever executed is botched. Only type of art he is fit for is the garish Coca Cola banner on the roadsides. And he knows that. That is why the moron has given up trying to paint. Now he asks me to paint for him. Oh it is an insult to have my paintings sold under his name. A sheer torture to be subservient to an incompetent painter like him. But I have to do it because I need the money. Enslaved by a piffling sum of 2500. What can be a bigger torture than that? He shouted in a booming voice, none! Being forced to prostitute ones creativity to a mediocrity like Sujit, this is the height of torture.

But he could not keep denying the stark reality. The stark reality of the world where he was an unknown painter, while an absolute mediocrity like Sujit Sen was a celebrity artist. You damn fool, he was back to cruising himself, what makes you think you are such a great painter. If you were a fraction of what you assume yourself to be your paintings would sell. But the thing is no one wants to have your paintings. People don’t understand your work. They consider it too abstruse. Abstruse, now that was the term that one critic had used for my painting. Didn’t that stupid critic know that a painting is not supposed to be a photograph? A painting is supposed to go far beyond the mere physical facets. That is the problem with critics these days. They lack the sense to appreciate real art.

Oh my tirade is really not taking me anywhere. I have to stop grumbling and get this damn thing over and done with. He forced himself to pick up the brush. And he looked at the canvas one more time, trying to visualize what the painting would look like once completed. Soon he was painting in bold strokes, his brush flew across the canvas putting a glob of paint here, a smear there. Hours later when the painting was done, it depicted a picture of horses galloping at furious pace. One could feel the raw power exuding from the stampeding horses, so much so that it seemed as if the powerful beasts were about to leap out of the canvas to mow down anything or anybody that stood in their way.

*

Aditya was on his way to Sujit Sen’s house, the painting tucked in a folder he carried in his hand. A vague rancor racked his mind. Only the rancor was not against Sujit, it was against himself. He cursed himself for letting go of yet another painting, yet another work of art for which he had labored, but without any prospect of getting the credit. Do I have to sell myself so cheap? He asked himself. 2500 Rupees were all that Sujit would pay. In any case, his was not the luxury to refuse these painting commissions. He needed the money to pay his utility bills. It was already past the due date for his telephone bill. And he had to settle the grocery store bill as well. The store manager had already reminded him twice.

Sujit Sen’s house was on the seventh floor of a swanky apartment complex. The manservant opened the door to let Aditya in. Ensconced on a velvet sofa in the center of the large hall Aditya waited for Sujit. This was Sujit’s workplace. It was a studio worthy of an artist. The windows were covered with thick velvet blinds of same color as the sofa. On the walls were affixed paintings and murals that Sujit Sen had done, they were mediocre pieces all of them. But the critics loved to rave about Sujit’s paintings and the wealthy customers loved to own them. That is all that matters, Aditya Yadav told himself. All that matters is the salability of the artist’s works. After all, painters are human beings first of all; they have to make a living.

In the middle of the hall was the frame on which was affixed a still incomplete landscape. Last time when he had been here, about a month ago, Aditya Yadav had noticed the same painting in the same stage of incompletion. Is he ever going to finish it, he thought, maybe he doesn’t know how to do the job and someday he will offer me 2500 rupees to finish it for him. Instantly he was struck by the inspiration how he would have done this painting. Sujit’s strokes are too timid, he told himself. He is in not capable of capturing the raw vitality of nature. My strokes will be bolder, and the sun shining on the valley will be scorching bright, the leaves in full brilliance, the ambience of flowers lustrous. Aditya Yadav’s reverie was broken by the sound of approaching footsteps.

He turned to see Sujit walking into the room, attired in his trademark cotton banian and Bermuda shorts, his feet naked, the hair on his head jumbled, the crop of beard on his face at least a few days old. But despite the bohemian attire, he looked remarkably neat. In fact, Sujit took great pains to portray an image of a bohemian painter. He seldom appeared in public formally dressed. His was a carefully choreographed image of a painter so lost in his paintings that he hardly had the time to care for the mundane issues of dressing. Women found his style sexy and among the patrons of his art were quite a few wealthy females.

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½I see that you are studying my painting quite intently,’ said Sujit with a smile.

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Yeah, I was,’ Aditya Yadav

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Like it,’ Sujit threw the question in most nonchalant manner, seemingly confident that everyone must admire his paintings.

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Well, I am sure that you will be able to complete it someday.’

Sujit’s nonchalance vanished and, his face reeked with tension. Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Just because I asked you to do a painting for me,’ he reposted harshly, Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½doesn’t mean that I can’t paint myself.’

For a moment Aditya Yadav was tempted to disgorge the bile on just how contemptuous he was of Sujit’s art. But he realized only too well that he could not afford to antagonize Sujit. He needed the painting jobs that Sujit threw his way. Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Not at all,’ he said, Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½I only meant that being a busy person it is difficult for you to find time for these small painting works.’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½That is true,’ Sujit said drawing a sigh of relief. Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Show me what you have brought for me.’

Aditya Yadav picked up his painting lying on the center table and fixed it on another frame standing in the hall.

Sujit took a cursory glance at the painting of horses galloping in the wild. Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Hmm,’ he uttered, Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½well, you seem to have done a good enough job on this one.’

Aditya Yadav knew Sujit was being patronizing and he hated him for it. Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Lots of labor has gone in it,’ he said.

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½I have no doubt about that,’ shot back Sujit. Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½But the painting is still worthless without my signature at its bottom. People won’t buy it unless they know it is my painting.’ Aditya Yadav nodded his head in response.

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½It is your painting now, you can affix your signature to it,’ said Aditya.

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½I guess it is time for me to pay you.’ Sujit fished out a bundle of currency notes from his pocket and handed it Aditya. Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½2500, the amount we agreed upon.’

Aditya received the wad of notes and quietly deposited it in his pocket. Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½I will leave now,’ he said.

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½What is the hurry, my servant is readying tea for both of us.’

But Aditya had already tired of Sujit’s company. Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½I really must go. I have things to do.’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½What things? More paintings.’
Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½What else can a painter do except paintings.’ He stepped towards the door.

*

A month went by. Aditya was browsing through the morning newspaper when he was startled to find news about the painting he had done for Sujit Sen. There was a photograph of the painting, beneath it the legend saying, Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Renowned painter Sujit Sen has sold his latest masterpiece of horses galloping in the wild to a Mumbai builder for Rupees 250,000′. Aditya was taken aback. In a sudden fit of anger he rumpled the newspaper into a ball and chucked it into other end of the room.

It was his labor, his art, for which Sujit was getting paid. While he was being racked by poverty, a mediocrity like Sujit was cornering all the encomiums. It is my work for which he is getting paid, he shouted. He throws a pittance at me and rakes a windfall for himself. The mediocre bastard! I am not going to take this lying down. I will fight for my rights. I deserve a share in the amount that my painting has got.

Prodded on by an angry determination, he left for Sujit’s place. Sujit has conspired to deny me my dues, he murmured by himself as he marched at a furious pace. He is a mediocrity. No, he is a parasite feeding on my talent, on my blood. Today I will make him pay. Yes, I will. People who saw Aditya Yadav barreling down the road thought just how traumatized this young man, who kept babbling incoherently, could be.

At Sujit’s house, it was the famous painter himself who opened the door on Aditya’s ringing the bell. Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Ah,’ Sujit exclaimed at finding Aditya at his door. Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½How providential of you to show up just when I needed you.’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Needed me for what?’ said Aditya walking into the hall.

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½I have decided to let you do another five or six paintings for me,’ said Sujit cheerfully.

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Paintings for you!’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Sure! I know you are in need of money. Being your well wisher I want you to have a chance to earn it.’ Without waiting for Aditya’s response he continued in the same vein, Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½so here is what I want you to do for me.’

On the center table there laid a coffee table book with glossy renderings of paintings by great classical artists. Sujit opened the book to the page showing Van Gogh’s painting of sunflowers and said, Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½You know, every time I have seen this painting I have been struck by the idea that there should be a team of wild horses galloping through this field of sunflowers. Van Gogh was obviously not as much a horse guy as I am. I am sure that wild horses rampaging through a field of sunflowers will look beautiful. You will have to incorporate just the proper contrasts of light and shade, delicate sunflowers juxtaposed to sinewy horsesâÂ?¦’

Fed up with Sujit’s ridiculous suggestion, Aditya interrupted, Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½we can talk about new paintings later. Right now I am here to talk about the earlier projects I have done for you.’

There came a quick look of surprise on Sujit’s face. Suddenly he was suspicious of Aditya’s real motive in coming here. Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½But I have already paid your remuneration for the earlier work you have done for me,’ he said feebly.

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½What you paid is pittance compared to what you earn by selling the paintings. I read in today’s newspaper that you sold my latest painting for 250,000.’
Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Is that what you are all worked up about! That I got 250,000 rupees.’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½No! I am not at all worked up about what you got. I am only concerned about my getting a measly 2500.’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Are you comparing yourself with me?’ Sujit snapped. Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½You are overreaching yourself. Just because I allowed you to do 3-4 paintings for me, it doesn’t mean that I consider you my equal. I get paid more than you do because I have made a name for myself. I know how to market myself, which you don’t. You are a nobody.’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Twenty four!’ Aditya ejaculated passionately.

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½What!’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½I have done twenty four paintings for you.’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Whatever! Why do you forget that those were my concepts that you painted? My ideas that you only executed for me!’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½I agree that those were your ideas, but the fact remains that I was the one who executed them. I was one who labored to compete those paintings.’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Yours was only the physical labor. You did what I asked you to do.’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Wrong! You gave me a very general outline for each painting; the final rendering has always been mine. It was I who decided how the painting would ultimately look.’

Both painters glared at each other. Both unsure of the other’s intention, both gearing up to fight for what they perceived as their right.

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½I fail to understand why are you raking such nonsense,’ said Sujit with an air of frustration. Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½What exactly do you want from me?’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½I need money. I will forget that I made those paintings for you, if you give me 25,000.’

Sujit was horrified at the idea of parting with that much. Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½No way,’ he shouted.

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½You made 250,000 from the latest painting I did for you. It is only fair that you should pay me at least 25,000.’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½No way! You can’t blackmail me. I have already paid you your remuneration. I am not going to pay you a penny more than what I have already paid.’

Aditya had come prepared for this kind of response from Sujit. Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Is that your final decision?’ he said coldly.
Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½What if it is?’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½In that case I will do what I have to do to make the world recognize the fact that those were my paintings you fraudulently sold under your name.’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½You can do nothing. You have no proof that you did those paintings for me.’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Every painting that I have ever done for you has my signature concealed under layers of paint. My signature can be seen when the painting is x-rayed.’

Sujit was shocked. His bravado went flying out of his system. He panted, Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½You betrayed the trust I reposed in you.’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½No you betrayed yourself by letting me do the work that you were incapable of doing yourself.’ Aditya rose from the sofa where he was sitting and walked towards the door.

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Hey where are you going,’ Sujit shouted after him.

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½To let the world now that those were my paintings that you sold under your name.’

Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Wait, we can talk. I might give you the money you want.’

Aditya turned to face Sujit directly. Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Since I came here you have been insulting me consistently. Now it is too late for you to make amends. You can’t stop me from doing what is right.’ With those words Aditya rushed out of the house. Sujit ran after him, imploring for him to stop, but Aditya did not turn back. Without waiting for the elevator to arrive, he took the stairs and was out of the building in a matter of minutes.

That evening Aditya gave a press conference in which he revealed the full extent of his collaboration with the famous painter Sujit Sen. A big controversy in the world of art ensued, a controversy that was to have seminal impact on the career graphs of both Aditya Yadav and that of Sujit Sen.

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