By Tushar Bhatt
His name, Kanaiyalal, was the same as one of the innumerable names of the legendary Krishna; his surname too was that of the clan from which Dwarkadhish came, Yadav. Both, though not born in Gujarat, made it their home. Yet, Kanaiyalal R. Yadav, a painter par excellence of portraits and landscapes in oil and water colour, spent most of his career _ and life _ in a hut in penury, like a mod-ern-day Sudama.
His works are prized posses sions in several private collections, galleries and temples. Nobody knows exactly where these all are. Yadav was not just a master artist; he was a superb teacher as well, exploding the myth that those who can paint cannot teach. Among his friends and contemporaries such as Piraji Sagra, Nag-jibhai Chau han and others he stood apart, a proud man who could shower great affection and show greater considerations for others. He had been a teacher at the C.N. College of Fine Arts in Ahmed-abad for long years, moulding several of the young talents on the art scene to day.
His countless friends and stu dents tried as much as they could to help Yadav while he was alive. But the proud artist himself never sought any assistance. Nor could he ever learn how to realise a prop er commercial value of the master pieces he was creating. Recalls Madhav Ramanuj, a poet and close friend of the artist: ``Once we sent someone very wealthy to buy one of his paintings and told him to charge as much as he could think of, hinting at a sum of about Rs 7,000 or 8,000. Yadav did not put such a price tag on his work, shrug ging away with an unbelievable ex planation that how could he think that the buyer would be able to af ford a high price.'' Perhaps it was the innate unwillingness of the man to put a price label on his art _ he would not name a price and would part with whatever the buy er thought fit to pay, assuming the buyer could not afford to pay more.
His creative life was full of su perb works of art; his personal life full of miseries. It was spent eking out just enough for an existence but dogged by suffering. When things you do not like happen or you suffer, you have two choices _ you get bitter or better. Yadav never got bitter, though he was never better-off in the day-to-day sense.
Kanaiyalal was born on April 10, 1932, a Sunday, in Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh, where his fa ther, Ramachandra, and mother, Maniben, then lived. Ramachan dra, an overseer in the Public Works Department, hailed from Agra, but Maniben was a native of Patan in Gujarat. The young Ka naiya, as he was known, began his school in Ratlam, catching the at tention of his teachers because of his beautiful handwriting. A Eur opean woman teacher in drawing was the one to put a painting brush in the child's hand, setting him on a life-long course.
After a few years, the Yadav fa mily came to Ahmedabad as the world was in the grip of the Second World War. His studies at a Hindi school in Saraspur were rather in different, though he was becoming more proficient in the use of the brush. However, a ca-reer in paint ing was far from Kanaiyalal's mind then; he was charmed by the lure of the filmdom after seeing the film Andaz, leaving for the tinsel town of Bombay to shine on the silver screen. It remained a dream that was never fulfilled; the young man, after running from pillar to post, worked for a while even as a peon be-fore returning home. His stay in Bombay, otherwise un lucky, was a boon in one respect; he went to see the J.J. School of Art, and was inspired to study painting and drawing. Back home, he took up studies and passed an examination to become a drawing teacher. He started learning fur ther from the late Rasiklal Parikh, a stalwart painter, and sat in sever al examinations in art, for which one had then to go to Bombay. Yadav would put up with a distant relative in a hutment colony near Lalbag, often sleeping on the pa vement. But he stood first in the entire former state of Bombay for diploma in painting, an examina tion in which many other noted painters of today also sat. He also bagged the first prize for a creative paint-ing, `Bullock Sellers', and came first in the Art Master test.
But these successes were not en ough to make any change in the life-style of the young man; his ex istence was as wretched as ever, sometimes getting work as a tem porary drawing teacher in a school, other times as a substitute worker in a textile mill. He was married to Ram Dulari from Vrin davan, and the couple used to live in the slum opposite a textile mill in Saraspur, an eastern suburb of Ahmedabad. It was as rundown an area as ever. His friend Ra-manuj says that often he would hang a painting over a gap in the mud wall of the hut to stop wind from blow ing in. Innumerable hardships never ruffled Ram Dulari who, de spite terrible poverty, never com plained, allowing her talented hus band to devote what-ever time and money on painting. Ramanuj says Kanaiya's love for colours and brush was so great that he would spend recklessly on these as also on books at the cost of basic neces sities of life. This became a life- long pattern. Yadav's wife caught tuberculosis and died a few years later. Although perpetually short of money, the painter tried as much as humanly possible to com fort her during the ailment.
Suffering dogged him at every turn worse than like a shadow; shadow at least leaves you when it is dark. Yadav's 14-year-old daughter died, leaving him in a deep grief, which he never showed even to his closest friends. Around this time, he had to leave his job at the C.N. College of Fine Arts. The job had been the only break in his career. Students and friends still recall an unkempt, emaciated fig ure, with a beard, cycling 15 kilo metres from his home in Amrai wadi to the college in Ambawadi, be the weather fair or foul. He went into a mental depression, de stroying many in-valuable paint ings, sketches and portraits. Friends would send medicines, some money, but nothing seemed to help. For a while, Kanaiyalal had to be sent to a mental hospital; he drew portraits and did colour paintings there, earning praise and release as a normal person. He re turned to his slum dwelling. That was around 1964-65. He would roam around on his bicycle throughout the day, subsisting on a cup of tea at a roadside stall, do ing sketches and landscape draw ings. The information department of the Gujarat government asked him to do a sketch on the Nal Saro var bird sanctuary; Yadav had not enough money for the bus fare both ways. He walked to the sanc tuary to complete the assignment.
His was an artistically fierce re lationship with the world around him, and living in the slum areas of Amraiwadi he was never dampe ned in spirits. In art, more than anywhere else, forms result from existence and performance. Whe ther it is a lowly craftsman or an ac complished artist like Yadav, the making of the work of art gradual ly becomes a ritual of heart, see mingly unaffected by the sur rounding environment of his phy sical life. The landscape of heart matters rather than the landscape around. This was what had happe ned to Yadav too. If one were to look at his art only, one would never realise the trials and tribula tions Yadav suffered. With open eyes he saw the world around with a curious detachment. With eyes closed, as if, he saw the world within him, a world of beauty, of hazel-eyed lovely faces, of serene wood lots, so keen that his por traits would capture the likeness of the person and yet impart a mystic quality that would lift that work from the stream of routine output. A prime example of this is the landscape in water colour he had done of a wooded lot in the college compound. An-other was a portrait of the Swaminarayan monk, Yogi ji Maharaj. His vision was direct and still two-fold; he would, through immedi-ate intuition, re veal the image, and seeing aware ness clothe it with lineament which had the shape of man or landscape but with a recognisable spirit of man and place.
In 1976, friends persuaded Ya dav to rejoin the C.N. College, where he worked till the time of re tirement. The grateful authorities extended his tenure by a year. He would still come on the bicycle only from Amraiwadi. The only difference was that he had shifted to a modest flat under the Indira Awas Yojana from the hut. Still, it was as deprived a living as any; he would be painting on the first floor landing of the staircase, unmindful of the squalor, noise and stark poverty. The richness of his soul would reflect in his art. Come win ter, he would don a navy-blue long coat on top of his usual meagre at tire. Around this time, another break came; a cou-ple of monks from the Bochasanwasi Sanstha of the Swaminara-yan sect had been his art students. The Sanstha com missioned Yadav to do paintings and portraits, which today adore temples in Shahibaug, Ahmeda bad, and at Gondal.
But other difficulties persisted. He could never fulfil his wish to educate his three sons well. Disap pointments of life, however, never cast a shadow on his creations; they became, if anything, more powerfully evocative, with strong colour schemes, meticu-lously ob served details displayed in magni ficent proportions, su-perb in com position and pleasing to even a lay eye. Not for Yadav were the mod ern abstract styles which would need pundits to ex-plain and bring joy only to the initiated. His were works that brought visual plea sures, and were yet so different from photographs. Pho-tography captures the exterior beauty; Ya dav's brush could not only show the exterior loveliness vividly, it could bring out some-thing of an in ner mood as well. There is a magic in the active form, performance and transformation, all simulta neously. The net effect is the same as one looks at a snow-capped mountain peak or a wooded valley of flower, and say, how beautiful.
Yadav had retained an inner tranquillity all his life, made many friends and no foes in spite of his mercurial behaviour. He was do ing a painting of Laxmi and Vishu one June day, when a heart at-tack made him collapse with the brush in his hand.
More than a year and a quarter after Yadav's death, something sa tisfying about his memory is hap pening. His friends have chipped in to bring out a portfolio of repro ductions of 11 of his paintings as also a set of greetings cards. The money from these will go to his fa mily. Private collectors have will ingly allowed the paintings with them to be used; the Bochasanwa si Swaminarayan Sanstha has prin ted it and the Sahitya Mudranalay has given pa-per free for this effort. It sends a good signal to artists and others engaged in pusuits other than that of share markets. We may be a forgetful people; but we are not ungrateful.
His creative life was full of su perb works of art; his personal life so full of miseries of eking out en ough for an existence dogged by anything but suffering. When things you do not like happen or you suffer, you have two choices; you get bitter or better. Yadav never got bitter, though he was never better-off in the day-to-day sense.