Fardoon struck the cigarette butt off the table disgustedly with a carom board flick of his fingers. The results of the painting contest for amateurs had been announced and he had not won. That meant Someone Else had. This could have been Fardoon's big break that would make the art world sit up and notice him.'
As he reread the collation of critics' comments about Someone Else's painting, he tasted the sour bile-like taste of defeat in his mouth.
This winning painting heralds the entry of a new, talented artist in our midst with aplomb. It holds one's eyes riveted until one is completely mesmerized by its haunting aura. The response it evokes is only matched by Picasso's or Dali's works.
Picasso! Dali! Fardoon clenched his fists in exasperation. The critics always fell back upon Picasso and Dali when they didn't know what to say. And yet, it could have been him they were eulogizing, not Someone Else.
The motif of the painting is abstraction and extraction, which is very eloquently expressed by its title The Essence of Man. In fact, the only complaint one can envisage against the artist is that the painting itself makes the title redundant.
More rot! No two critics would be talking about the same subject if all modern paintings were left untitled. What if the title were 'A paraplegic's life'?
The artist has put down boldly what he sees as the representation of man'a connection of limbs. An arm and a leg, with a single, simple connecting link which is the only role played by the brain'as the coordinator of one's physical actions. What the artist is saying here is that Man's supreme position as a result of his mental powers has far been overrated. Man is no different from other creatures in that, ultimately it is only his physical attributes that keep him going in the serious business of living. He can keep on thinking till kingdom come, but it will be his hand that will feed him. The same hand that made this wonderful, profound painting in which only the essential remains, all the other vestigial parts stay unrepresented. Hence this acephaolus, torso-less manifestation of the human body, where only the arm and the leg are deemed fit to survive.
Fardoon fumed like the tip of the cigarette he had relit. Had everyone gone mad? If it was only the hand that had made the picture, then who in the first place had thought of it? What was that that set man apart if not his mind? That's what he felt, and that's what he had painted, by some quirk of fate, some inexplicable coincidence'the exact negation of Someone Else's work. Fardoon's painting had a head, a torso and' that's all. The head as the receptacle of the marvelous human brain, the trunk as the container of the heart, the seat of the soul, the Atman. Wasn't that what nature itself expressed so cogently'a man could live with his limbs amputated, what were limbs without the man? The identity of man was attached to his head. What Someone Else had painted was without an identity, an anonymous, unclaimed piece of baggage. He read on.'
The exquisite touch in this work is indubitably the black felt hat held upwards by the hand, as if to receive alms or wages. The artist's intention is crystal clear'to show Man's life as a ceaseless struggle simply to survive, to earn something to live another day to earn to live' A pessimistic view but who among us has the courage to prove its fallacy? A talented artist gets a well-deserved prize and we can expect many more of his eye-opening works in the future.'
Fardoon flung the newspaper away. He had painted the hat too. But in its upright position, in its right place on the head. It was a mark of dignity for his limbless man, that confirmed his status as an individual, not a sign of mockery.'
What was the use now? Some judge had agreed with Someone Else. It was just not the in-thing to be sanguine in your world-view. Perhaps he would try again when it was. But Fardoon knew what rankled him the most: that the title of his painting too was The Essence of Man.