“Do you live in a state of bliss?”
Kim, originally from California, posed the question from a plastic chair next to Ganesh, her Gujuarat husband; and I stood near by with a Kingfisher in my hand.
When she and Ganesh arrived at Mojim beach to join our sunset group of artists, writers, workers, kids, and a Russian wedding party, I suspected I’d like her immediately. Her long blonde hair was held back with a casual ponytail which brushed the collarline of her salwar kumeez (loose fitting tunic and pants). She lived in the same tiny village as Ganesh’s family and she admitted that she was here in Goa for a western-style holiday in her own (adopted) country.
I took her question about bliss seriously. I tilted my head back and took in the sights, sounds and smells that had surrounded me for the past few hours. Mojim beach was locally referred to as one of the “Russian beaches” for the Russian mafia that had apparently staked a place there. This end of the beach was free of the noisy shacks that crowded the beaches further south.
Its relative isolation had caught the eye of Candolim-based Goan artist Subodh Kerkar as a good place to try out a new idea, and he’d invited a few of us to tag along. We’d started the day at his house in Saligao with a homemade lunch, then piled into his friend Veronica’s Jeep and carefully stowed camera equipment and rope under the seats. It felt more like a picnic than an installation by an internationally recognized multi-media artist.
Kerkar’s assistants arrived at the beach separately in a truck loaded with bamboo poles and orange lengths of fabric. We walked past a group of people circled around a funeral pyre in a sand dune. Veronica and I opened sun umbrellas and guarded the camera equipment while Kerkar and Veronica’s daughter Manolite began the artwork.
Kerkar tied a rope end to a piece of thick stick and – using the stick as an axis – had Manolite draw a circle in the sand with a stick tied on the other end. Suddenly geometry had relevance, and we joked that we would have paid more attention in math class if we’d known it would be good for creating art.
After the circle was drawn, Kerkar took a shorter length of rope and measured out points along the circle. His workers stepped forward with the 20-foot bamboo poles and a heavy iron rod, and one of the men began driving the rod into the sand to create a hole. When a hole was completed, Kerkar and his son, and then other workers, stepped forward to slip pole into it. Each pole had a orange fabric attached to its length.
Kerkar said that the poles were reminiscent of Tibetan prayer flags, and that he eventually hoped to create a installation with a much larger number of flags at a Tibetan monastery in south Goa. While his assistants continued to insert the flags into the white sand, Kerkar and Manolite turned their attention to Kerkar’s favourite medium, the sea. He’d created a corrugated metal shape with a couple of leg-like mounts that – once planted into the firm, wet sand of the tide line – would face and join with the waves. Manolite wet the metal surface with bowls of water and Kerkar photographed it from a ladder, then within the waves themselves.
“My installations are my creations in partnership with the sea,” writes the artist on his website, “…As a little boy I built many sand castles and collected treasures of shells and pebbles….Every time I do an installation on the beach my bonds with the sea are reconfirmed, consolidated.”
I teased Sudobh on how he’d become so intimate with the sea that he’d lost his pants – he’d gotten them so wet that he eventually discarded them so he could venture into the water further and photograph his water installation more intimately.
On the beach, the sand installation was complete. Two crescents of flags seemed to cup a section the beach and hold it tight for the setting sun. The offshore breeze was strong and balmy and the flap of thirty flags was loud and important.
Nature, art and joy
The sun descended towards the water and the artist photographed the flags from the perspective of the sea, then the land. While he perched atop his ladder a Fellini-like collection of international friends assembled nearby. Brit ex-pat Chris wandered the flags with a sketch book and black pen; Johno (U.K.) and Monika (Spain) nibbled on jumbo prawns; the young Russian wedding party smoked cigarettes and fussed with their flower leis; and I stood with Kim and Ganesh and thought about bliss.
It was an important question for me. I’d lost joy and contentment after I lost a loved one to suicide a few years ago. Surviving that pain meant having to relearn hope and love very slowly, and very purposefully. The healing began with the transformation of pain into blissful nothingness. Eventually, micro-seconds of joy nudged into the nothingness; and those tiny moments became larger.
Art – and the people who create it – gives me joy. Like myself, Kim had met Kerkar at his Art Complex in Candolim and Subodh – being a kind and generous person – had invited we strangers into his world, into his installation, and onto his beach. The power of sharing his gift, his art, his family, his friends, the sky, the flags, the light, the food, the play – at that moment, it was bliss for me.
“Yes,” I said to Kim’s question after a long pause. “I believe that I am living in a state of bliss.” I guess that until Kim had asked me that question, I’d just absorbed and accepted what was happening around me. There’s a lot that’s wrong with my life, but that afternoon I felt perfect and in a perfect place.
Art does that to us. And unlike the beach shacks further south in Anjuna and Baga, it’s drug-free.
“Goan Art?” coughed a local politician when I asked him about contemporary Goan artists, “What art? Name one Goan artist!” At that time I’d been in Goa just over a month and could list at least three: Sudobh Kerkar (artist), Wendell Rodricks (designer), and Gerard da Cunha (architect).
Since then I’ve been blessed with the acquaintance of others and I wonder if that local politician has been spending too much time at Anjuna Beach. Goa needs art and it needs its artists. They show us that – far from the politics and the dirt and the corruption – there is beauty bursting at the seams in Goa: bursting out of its sons, out of the soil and into the sea.
If I’m lucky, I’ll be there to see it happen.
> View photos of Subodh Kerkar creating the Tibetan flag installion on Mojim Beach, Goa (35 images)