Destination Kudal: Until Corona subsides
Mumbai-based visual artist Sumeet Patil has been locked in Kudal village for over a month. However, that hasn't stopped him from being part of the statewide stay-at-home poster art initiative
As a student-practitioner of visual arts and a short filmmaker, Sumeet Patil, 30, was always fascinated by pareidolia, the tendency and professional habit to see human faces in inanimate objects. Not that he made a living out of the practice, but it recurred as a theme when he pursued tree photography, or when he spent after hours around his BDD chawl residence or even when he made music out of unconventional objects outside the studio space. He saw thought-provoking human faces in rusted locks, discarded TV sets, bloomed flowers and broken belts. Little did he realise that this preoccupation would be one of the key themes of his posters designed to dissuade people from venturing out during the Coronavirus pandemic outbreak. Patil is one of 700 artists currently sculpting innovative visual messages persuading people to stay at home in Maharashtra.
Patil hasn't been at his home in Naigaon for over one-and-a-half months. He is in scenic Kudal in Konkan—not as a fun-seeking tourist, but a Mumbaikar unable to circle back because of the statewide lockdown. He had come to Kudal for a recce to finalise shoot locations for his upcoming feature film that looks at a blind girl's journey. The full-length feature stems from a 22-minute short, which he had shot in Kudal. In fact, he was walking through possible shoot locations along with the visually challenged protagonist Shabnam Ansari. But, just as he wrapped up the recce, the Janata Curfew was imposed on March 22. Soon followed the nationwide lockdown. Patil, along with his camera and laptop, became a long-standing guest in Kudal. His hosts—percussionist Vivek Kudalkar and singer-paramedic expert Trupti Damle Kudalkar—have extended their mango-cashew laden wadi to Patil, Ansari and the crew, who are now executing multiple awareness initiatives during the extended lockdown. Patil has, in fact, featured Ansari and four other visually challenged artistes (situated in different cities) in a video which underscores the willingness of blind artistes (who depend much on human touch) to embrace social isolation as the need of the moment. Kudal offers restricted mobility for Patil, after due precautions laid down by the local police.
At this point, pareidolia has become a bit of a default setting for Patil. "When one is away from home, the mind starts journeying through objects, which are in your consciousness; they come to life in the form of a thought," says Patil whose 200-odd posters concentrate on the dynamic of objects wedded to or associated with a spot. For instance, shoes that went out every day, now have a still-life; pants that saw the outdoors, are now locked in a shelf; a belt that accessorised a formal uniform, now wonders about its utility in a house where men wander in pyjamas.
Patil has made about 200-odd posters with expert advice from senior adman-artist Bhupal Ramnathkar, who is overseeing ad campaigns on Corona prevention
Patil toys with the ideas every morning, gets expert advice from senior adman-artist Bhupal Ramnathkar, a senior adman currently overseeing public ad campaigns with regard to the outbreak. He is a JJ School alumnus and a fellow mate of CM Uddhav Thackeray. Patil's Kudal existence doesn't come in the way of the morning exchange over the posters. "I appreciate Ramnathkar's time, efforts and wisdom. People are currently in a frustrated mood; any poster can create a negative impact, especially when 'stay at home' is not something they want to hear," observes Patil who feels pareidolia in a sense minimises the risk of angered public reactions. It evokes laughter more than indignation. Patil has also focused on other themes that drive home the importance of not venturing out. For instance, he shows how home-based celebrations are the need of the hour, be it in the case of festivals—from Easter and Hanuman Jayanti to Ramzan and Akshay Tritiya—or commemorative occasions such as Babasaheb Ambedkar's birth anniversary, Maharashtra Day or Earth Day. It is the thought that counts, not the geographic location of
Patil's posters, often black and white, also dwell on service givers like nurses, policemen, sweepers and traffic police whose duty hours deserve respect from those staying at home. His poster on the relevance of Sankashti Chaturthi touched chords across Maharashtra. Over the image of Lord Ganesh, he superimposed the policeman on duty who is at supreme risk. "Whether at Kudal or Worli or Mahabaleshwar, it's the average guard in uniform whose care and public service touches our lives. People loved the equation between Lord Ganpati and the police on duty," says Patil, a Bal Shree awardee. Patil's affinity for the policeman is natural. His father is a police inspector with the Bhuleshwar police station. He has seen the daily grind of policemen families since childhood, and has witnessed life in the chawls where isolation is a foreign word; what he has not seen is a sealed neighbourhood. His parents and brother currently await his arrival in a tense pandemic environment. "They are at least assured that I am safe in a Konkan village where the infection hasn't spread; and that I can operate on my laptop to create images that contribute to the statewide 'stay-at-home' messaging," Patil says.
Patil has also kept busy with a cap-making initiative. Just as he realised that his stay in Kudal was going to be extraordinarily long, his mind started thinking of the May-June heat that Mumbai city will have to face post lockdown. "Being in a sylvan green Kudal, I was getting increasingly reminded of the heat Mumbaikars and others will have to encounter. So, I started making caps out of old newspapers." Patil started free origami workshops for school going children of the Ambedkar Nagar vicinity in Kudal. Workshops have flexible timings, but viable targets. He introduces variations through the use of earth colours and also moulds made out of dried leaves and fruits, which are available in abundance in the Kudalkar residence. Children are encouraged to stamp natural elements on the paper caps, be it a mango leaf or cashew insides or a dried twig. "I want to carry at least 2,000 caps for Mumbai, which will be a symbolic bond between Kudal's children and Mumbai's working class," says Patil.
Mask disposal is one area, Patil feels that needs advanced public awareness. During his stay in Kudal, he has started an awareness video campaign on ways to discard masks because the junked masks are creating hygiene issues across Maharashtra. "I feel the Coronavirus outbreak should give us long-term takeaways. We can't be littering our surroundings. This is also the right time to attack the Indian habit of spitting. As artists, we are trying to weave as many themes as possible into the Coronavirus bouquet," he adds.
Patil also conducts regular cap-making workshops for local villagers at the home of his hosts, Vivek Kudalkar and singer-paramedic expert Trupti Damle Kudalkar. He hopes the newspaper caps will help Mumbaikars battle the heat
Unlike Mumbai, Kudal has a pace of its own. Patil feels the pandemic has taught him to adapt to a new routine cycle, a slower rhythm, a more reflective ecology-conscious take on the goings on. In a recent visit to the Savita Ashram (a charitable trust sheltering 100-odd visually and mentally challenged), he realised how handicapped the children and adults bound to a remote location were where ration stocks are acutely short. Had it not been for the Kudal stay, the Mumbaikar wouldn't have possibly met the inmates in the far-off care centre. Patil inhabits new homes when his own is unreachable.
Sumedha Raikar-Mhatre is a culture columnist in search of the sub-text. You can reach her at email@example.com
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