Welcome, said the signboard, To My New Gallery. Around these words were frozen Warli figures contorted in various positions of supposed dance, unable to straighten themselves. The signboard painter had obviously decided in his or her wisdom to keep them that way.
Before I could turn away and get back on to the sunlit street, an arm shot out from the doorway and half yanked me in. Hullo, what you think you are doing mister? I growled.
Sorry, sorry, said the apparition that loomed over me. I don’t want you to miss this amazing artistic experience.
I’m looking for the dentist who has his clinic in this building, I said, trying to be civil, although I was visibly irritated.
Ah, the dentist, you mean the teeth fellow. He’s in the next building. But take a look inside here. All your pains and aches will go away. It is an elevating experience. You’ll put aside your temporary life and your soul will awaken to the wonder of my creative outbursts.
He stood there before me, waiting for me to enter, his enormous frame gently sidling around me till he was almost behind me and I couldn’t retreat. So I decided to give in to his forceful persuasion. Okay, I muttered. Let me take a look.
Ah, but your look will change to a stare and your stare will change to absorbed admiration and that will…
Leave the response to me, I tried patting him on the arm and felt his steely biceps resisting my friendly touch. The space inside was dark and I stumbled around as I entered, stopping because I was afraid I would go crashing into some unseen barrier. Suddenly the lights came on and I was surrounded by a group of people with dholaks and painted faces. They whacked their instruments furiously and bounced around the place with increasing speed, making me feel dizzy.
Awaken your insides, boomed my host. This is the beat of your soul telling you it is time to forget your daily troubles and feel free.
Then the lights went off and when they came on again, I was alone, surrounded by large grotesque paintings hanging on the walls. Little Warli figures with wings floated across blue spaces, others like blips of light swam in what appeared to be dark waters, some even danced on the head of a man who suspiciously resembled the one who blocked the doorway. I had no choice and was compelled to admire (or a least appear to be doing that) the art.
Art liberates, he boombed and I nearly ran for cover as he advanced. When he caught up with me, he patted me on the shoulder. You like? He grinned, one gold tooth flashing. Have some sharbat. In floated what might have been his partner, jasmine in her hair, bearing a tall glass of purple liquid. My very insides were waiting to be liberated.
I am on special fast, I lied.
Okay, he said.You go and find your dentist. You aren’t ready for the true artistic experience. The physical world restrains your responses.
I nodded and slipped out, his heavy hand giving my back a sounding send-off that propelled me out into the street. If it wasn’t for my excellent reflexes, I would have damaged a passing auto.
Phew, that’s a fine example of high art from downtown Pune – a beautiful blending of the sublime and the ridiculous, energetically created, I told myself with a smirk. Now to find the damned dentist.
Oddly, my toothache had gone.
The healing power of art.
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