As incongruence binds…

Artist Sheetal Gattani visits Mehlli Gobhai, the Mumbai based veteran artist, at his studio and wonders at the interests that the artist has been cherishing since his formative years to now.  

Knowing Mehlli Gobhai one can surely say that his is an unprejudiced mind, unconstrained by the rigid rules of harshly defined likes and dislikes. A step into his working space (a space intimate to him) and you get to see a different world altogether, a world dotted with objects which at the first sight seem to be slightly incongruent and yet link well: be it a brilliant Chola sculpture, a bleached dolphin's skull, dried coconuts, the works which he has collected, books and magazines or even a crow (a temporary resident) which he saved from under a truck; somehow every thing/ object seems to find its own space or corner and lends its distinct presence. 

Books collected over the decades play a role of ever-present companions. As you pan across the arranged books it is evident that Gobhai doesn't show predilection for few subjects but has an interest in a variety of topics: ranging from philosophy, arts, travel, culinary etc. Apart from books, Gobhai likes to sift through magazines, old and new alike.

Be it books or magazines, reading can never be a one time process. To Gobhai, old issues of magazines continue to serve as informal learning. These act as catalysts, reviving nostalgia; magazines collected during his formative years are chronicles of his days in New York. They remind him of his old interests and how these have changed and grown over the years. 'It is strange that some works which didn't appeal to me earlier suddenly seem to strike a resonant chord.' Stepping back to the years in New York, Gobhai recalls building his collection from the $2 book sales. The Strand Book Shop in New York was another source.

Considering Gobhai's reading, a conversation with him invariably tends to branch out to various directions: from rugby to science and geometry, from his illustrations for children's books to abstract art. Running through his collection you find: books by Carl Jung, Wassily Kandinsky's 'Concerning the spiritual in art', 'The ancient science of Geomancy' by Nigel Pennick,  'Islamic Cosmological Doctrines' by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, 'Zen and the art of Archery' by Eugen Herrigel, etc. And he wishes he'd held on to an early edition of Max Muller's 'Sacred Books of the East' which formed a fraction of his grandfather's collection. Gobhai feels no need to look for a level of correlation between what one reads. He sees inter-relations almost naturally. In the most matter-of-fact manner, Gobhai sees how one thing leads to another and everything being connected.

Sheetal Gattani is a Mumbai based practicing artist.

Photo credit : Vrushali Dhage







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