Rodwittiya’s treasured memory of her mentor: I remember vividly how after a gruelling submission session with the department teachers in my first year specialisation (the third year of my five-year BA painting course), when I was ready to call it quits and leave the college, Jyoti bhai merely said to me, “It’s always those whom you believe to be good that you will drive the hardest, so it’s up to you to see criticism as a compliment rather than something to be defeated by.” To this day l carry this advice as a mantra to continuously push the parameters of learning in my life.
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Rodwittiya’s favourite work of Bhatt:
For You Only, 1968
Lithograph on paper
This beautifully articulated lithograph of a simple bouquet of flowers is one of my favourite works of him. For me this visual is like a playful letter of love — for all to give and receive — that holds the imagination of one’s dreams, and the hope of the expectancies of joy. It is a timeless work that speaks to all genders and all ages, and communicates across all cultural spaces.
In conversation with Bhatt
Has looking through the lens of a camera opened up your perception differently?
‘Looking through the lens’ is the common expression used. However, it is the square or rectangular frame of the viewfinder where we place our eye to select what we see, and this does influence one’s vision and perception. Habituated to seeing through this ‘frame’, you, perhaps, sometimes begin to ignore what lies outside of this focused area – instinctively creating a ‘frame of mind’ in some circumstances, and, at other times, perhaps, a ‘frame of habit’! However, what is interesting is that the camera also obliges you to start noticing small details, that you may otherwise have missed, that have the ability to tell a larger story.
How does the altering of history/ies that we encounter today affect your personal memories of Indian history as you have witnessed it?
One of the songs I learnt in school in Bhavnagar was Tees koti sheesh praname tane, Bharat ni ho dharma dhwaja (Thirty crores heads pay obeisance to the Indian flag). I had never thought we would have a population of 135 crore in such a short span of time. At the time of Independence, we had a lot of hope for what free India could become, but most of the values we thought were essential have disappeared. For instance, I know people who fought for India’s freedom and never applied for a freedom fighter’s pension, but now people are entering politics merely to avail of a lifetime pension. In the present situation, I have lost all interest and hope from politics and politicians, and have become apolitical.
You have been a teacher to so many of us. Was it a challenge to engage with generational shifts through the years when communicating with young impressionable minds?
It was never a challenge because most of my students were very friendly. Technically, they were my students and I was their teacher but I always viewed it as a relationship of mutual give and take. I, perhaps, learned more from them than they did from me. When my students came to me with a new problem, I had to learn, in order to give them the right answers. They also taught me. I still remember, once while looking at my work, a young artist remarked that it was postmodern. At the time, I did not know what it meant so I asked a student of mine to explain the meaning in the context of my work. I did not plan to become a teacher. I was lucky there was an opening for a teacher and I got the job — Log saath aate gaye aur karwaan banta gaya.
I know that everyday of your life has been engaged with some factor of art — either through teaching, writing or your own studio practice. What is the reason you hold such conviction for art as being pivotal in your life?
As a young school student, I was deeply influenced by artists like Ravishankar Raval and Jagubhai Shah who introduced me to publications on art and to the images of Ajanta and to the murals of Nandalal Bose, which led me into my own initial engagement with art. Coming to study art in Baroda under the tutelage of stalwarts like Shanko Chaudhury, KG Subramanyan and NS Bendre further opened up my world to new ideas and more importantly to a better understanding of myself. I think that my curiosities are what have always led me to formulating my articulation as an artist. I have never been able to be idle – so I work! I am 89, and I still cannot sit idle, I have to do something, and art is what I find easiest to do. Today, I am unable to see much but I still work on my paintings with the help of my ex-students and young artists.
‘I want every child to be confident and resilient’: Manu Gulati

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