The recent exhibition of paintings and photographs by the father-son duo of Aloke Lal and his son Maanas was a curious experience. It was heart-warming to see how the artist father and photographer son complemented each other. When I said I was a landscape painter the father insisted I see the paintings first, “His photos are mostly landscapes, you’ll appreciate them.” It was young Maanas Lal who showed me around the gallery first. The first stop was a panoramic view of the Munnar lake and the sloping tea gardens. The black and white picture was indeed awe inspiring. To my comment that the photograph was more like a painting Maanas remarked, “There couldn’t be a better compliment.” There were quite a few such landscapes in Maanas’s repertoire, photographs that looked like paintings.
One that stood out was another BW painting of the sea front in Mumbai, a string of electric poles in the fading Arabian sea. Yet another majestic picture, also BW, was of a mountainscape from Chakrata in Uttarakhand the home state of the two. There were many such remarkable pictures. Some of the pictures were in colour, capturing light and shade with such elegance the word “classic” escapes your lips unintentionally. Another colour picture that this writer mistook for a painting was that of falling snow against a façade with windows. When told it looked like a painting, Maanas was pleased with the compliment. Another picture that calls for mention was a clock tower in Prague. The golden hue to the picture, taken around midnight, was amazing. “I had to expose the lens for as long as 15 seconds!” Maanas explained.
Maanas, a software engineer by profession who once worked for Infosys, says photography is his passion and that he intends to branch out into painting like his father. In fact when his father Aloke showed me his paintings it was Maanas who added those bits of information about the texture and grain of the canvas. When there were questions of price the father always turned to his son, “Manas, how much is this?” The son had most of the answers ready. But if you thought that the son was pursuing a future in photography and painting, you are wrong, the young man is currently preparing for a career in civil services. “Given a choice, I would love to be a photographer any day but…. It’s not easy making a niche for one self,” he trails off. If this talented photographer is lost to babudom it will be a sad day.
For father Aloke too painting is not a full time vocation though he has been painting since his childhood and has held exhibitions before. A former IPS, he took to painting with greater vigour after his retirement in 2012. Currently an Advisor to the governor of Uttarakhand, Aloke’s paintings, mostly acrylic on canvas, betray a deep concern for nature and our vanishing greenery. In more than one painting the theme is urbanization and the resultant loss of nature. “Environment,” he says, “is one of my favourite themes. My paintings bring out the devastation humanity is creating for itself.”
One his paintings also powerfully depict the devastation caused by the recent floods in Kedarnath and Uttarakhand. While Lord Ganesh occurs frequently in his work the colour orange is also used with flourish. One such large painting in orange, that of a cycle resting against a large wall, was the centre of attraction for many. Aloke is intrigued by the attention this particular painting has drawn saying, “The centre of attraction in the piece is actually the window.” Somehow, the tiny black cycle stands out against the massive orange wall. Though he works on various mediums acrylic remains Aloke’s favourite. And how would he describe himself, a modernist, a cubist? “I’m not a trained painter,” he says self-deprecatingly. “I do whatever appeals to me, it could be landscapes, portraits…anything”.
Looking at one of his etching, study of a horse’s head, I remark, “Hussain!” And pat, he leads me to a collage-like painting of little Hussain-like figures of horses and humans. “I did this soon after Hussain died; this is my tribute to one of India’s greatest artists,” he says. Aloke’s four large charcoal and pencil portraits of Mahatma Gandhi are his tribute to the father of the nation. The four moods of Gandhiji somehow dominated the exhibition walls. Aloke’s Gandhi, imprints of the original, are also keeping his cash registers ringing. Two of his “signature” Gandhis have already made it to the Raj Bhavans in Lucknow and Jaipur and another one is destined for their hometown in Dehradun, Uttarakhand. Gandhi has ignited a passion for portraits and Aloke may well give more attention to sketching portraits.
Ashim Choudhury is the author of The Sergeant’s Son