Sometimes, an art critic or a friend will come up to me and say, “Jitendra, the women in your paintings resemble Kakoli.” Kakoli Sen, who is an artist, is my wife. I always say to that, “Oh yes, that’s true. Kakoli is everywhere – sometimes, her beautiful, large eyes lend themselves to my women figures, sometimes, it is her long hair.”
You see, as an artist, my hand is connected to my heart. My hand reproduces what inspires me, moves me, observations from my daily life. Kakoli and I share a household, we share our days even though both of us have our own studios.
We met sometime in 1987. I had gone to Delhi for an art exhibition titled Life and Birth of Modernity. It was there that I saw her first. She was and still is beautiful. I remember being drawn to this dusky woman with her expressive eyes and child-like innocence. You will find those qualities in my women figures to this date. All of them have very Indian features, just like Kakoli.
It was love at first sight for me. You meet so many people, and yet you are drawn to this one person… When we got married, we didn’t know much about marriage. We had nothing. Then Kakoli got pregnant. We needed a fridge. With whatever money I had upon us, I went and bought one. Kakoli was aghast. She was like, where will we get the money to buy the milk or our groceries? What use is the fridge if we have nothing to store in it?
That afternoon, a man came and bought some paintings. I said to her, look, the fridge came and it brought with itself the groceries. We laughed together. Such a carefree laugh it was! And yet, just a couple of years later, we were struggling to pay the quarterly school fees when a buyer surfaced and booked the still wet canvases on which I was working.
Why am I telling you these things? You see, just as we were creating art, we were also creating a life together. Our art and lives were intertwined.
We have had adventures together and in those adventures, our art has been our constant companion. We both left for China for a year, to set up an art department for a school. We took our children, we homeschooled them.
While setting up that department from a scratch, we were also exploring another part of the world, adding another element to our married lives.
Once, Kakoli took up an offer to teach at a residential school in the hills. I stayed behind in Baroda with our kids. But in this instance, though we were both passionate about our art, we couldn’t really make it work – this thing of being apart. She left the job and came home.
She was missing me and I, her. The women in my paintings borrowed her beauty and grace, but they couldn’t comfort me in her absence.
My paintings will always have an element of her. We will both have our studios, and our art will be distinctive, neither of us is blending into the other, or copying each other. But what is important for me, is that we have built our marriage on foundations of our passion and also on the love that struck us both when we were very young and naïve. We have grown in our craft and in our marriage, building upon the pot of love that we first started with.
So I will come back to that question. “Yes, you will find her in my paintings. You will find her in my colour palette. Love can be like a pot of colour. You dip your life’s brushes in it and create something beautiful and lasting…”
(As Told To Prerna Shah)