You can’t miss the banner announcing the Creativity Workshops as you enter the Matunga Campus. This talent development programme, initiated by Peter Gonsalves well over a decade ago, has grown to be the most popular service offered by Tejprasarini. Eager youngsters, with determination written large across their faces, excitedly troop into the campus and passionately immerse themselves into the music, dance, acting and other classes. Come the summer vacations and these workshops are brimming with young people happily developing their talents. A great way to spend the holidays!
And what about us Salesians? Could we also not set aside some time during the holiday season to brush up our own talents?
Down the years, certain talents or skills were considered to be of great value in Salesian life—they were in fact the defining elements of our culture. Today, unfortunately, these skills are on the brink of extinction and in some cases have even totally disappeared from our lives.
Take music for example. Music has grown to be a massive industry the world over, with youngsters being its chief clientele. And not only are youth consumers of music, they are also the crafters and creators of it. I am overawed by the children who often give performances here in our city, finding their way with grace and ease through complex Bach and Beethoven compositions. So why aren’t we attaining similar standards of perfection? Why aren’t we producing Isaac Sterns and Arthur Rubinsteins from among our Salesians? No, I don’t buy the argument that it is sufficient for us to know just enough music to keep the kids entertained—to strum the guitar at a picnic or to accompany the singing in church. That is not an exhibition of our modesty; it is but an excuse for our mediocrity. It is time we get our musically talented young Salesians to work their way through
And the art of writing. I recall Fr Arokiam, our Regional, at a recent meeting talking about the power of the novel and its influence on the thinking and behaviour of people. We Salesians should consider writing novels if we want to reach a large audience, he suggested. Certainly a ‘novel’ idea! But good writing doesn’t just happen—it is an art that needs to be painstakingly perfected. The free moments that the holidays afford us would be an excellent time to put pen to paper and embark on our literary pursuits. And yes, we live in fortunate times when we don’t have to chase publishers—it is enough to launch your own blog and post your works there. And if we work hard and long, we will certainly have a Rohinton Mistry or an Amitav Ghosh rising from our ranks.
Reviving these ‘lost arts’ will not only keep alive the ‘Salesian culture’ but also enable us to be ‘cultured Salesians’. I have always admired the refinement and grace of the Parsees. Undoubtedly their elegance comes from their prolonged exposure to the arts. Immersing ourselves in music, theatre, literature and the other arts will definitely have a similar refining effect on our personalities.
Cultivating our talents, mastering the skills, growing into cultured persons—now that is more than a holiday agenda, but the holidays are the best time to begin.
Savio Silveira sdb
Ian Doulton sdb
Among the many photographs of Don Bosco preserved in the central archive there are some that those who knew him, considered as the truest representation of the saint. They were taken on March 16, 1886 by Angelo Ferretto for the Genoa firm of Gustavo Luzzati when Don Bosco was over seventy years of age. He was on his way to Spain at the time, and had stayed a few days at the Salesian school of Sampierdarena (Genoa). In this portrait Don Bosco’s eyes have a brightness about them that fascinates and impresses the viewer. It is hard to believe that when these photographs were taken Don Bosco was practically blind – he had lost sight out from his right eye, and his left eye was weak and barely functioning  . When he posed for the famous Luzzati photographs (mentioned above) Don Bosco was practically blind. It appears that by that time he was suffering from irreversible macular degeneration—but managed withal to write. In spite of being plagued with near blindness and other handicaps, Don Bosco never stopped working untiringly at the apostolate of the written word—making use, in his later years, of helpers to further his efforts. The output is enormous. Both Pietro Stella and Francis Desramaut have compiled lists of books and pamphlets authored by Don Bosco and published over the years 1844-1888, lists that run to hundreds of titles. Stella lists 403 titles of books and pamphlets in their various editions in various languages. Desramaut lists 145 titles: 108 signed or claimed by Don Bosco; 37 attributed to Don Bosco – quite an achievement by a person so handicapped!
For the sake of my article, I am inclined to envision him as exhausted and old with tired eyes squinting slightly as he struggles to read what he has just been writing. He bends down again and his pen rages across the paper as he writes by the light of a lamp in his first floor room at Valdocco. He writes with the fury of a prophet, his pen scarcely keeping pace with his thoughts.
Just observe the urgency with which he wrote to the Salesians in 1885: “I beg and beseech you therefore—do not neglect this important sector of our mission (spreading good literature). Begin by working with the young people that Providence has entrusted to you; and then by word and example inspire them to be, in their turn, apostles for the spreading of good books.” He felt urged to write and publish what he wrote for all kinds of people, for peasants, paupers and princes, for the intelligentsia and the clergy but most importantly for his boys who eagerly lapped up whatever he wrote. How blessed the reader to have been able to connect with so prolific a writer!
He would write while he was sitting in shaky stagecoaches as they trundled through the towns of Northern Italy or he would busy himself correcting proofs of The Catholic Readings while taking the train from Turin to Pistoia and Piacenza with Fr. Costamagna.  Occasionally gazing out of the window…he was not admiring the countryside but only slowing down his trend of thought and if he closed his eyes it was to rummage through his treasure chest of words for one that would precisely fit the idea he wished to put into words. No lazy verbs, no vanilla adjectives. His sentences were graphic and concise. Immorality and squalor, bourgeois decadence and highhanded aristocracy certainly upset him and he wrote compulsively in order to protect his youngsters from becoming victims of this dangerous and unstable environment. At times he might have been very tired, frustrated and even upset but he was never confusing in the way he let his thoughts leave his pen. They were meant for his boys (and simple folk) so they had to be, not just readable but interesting. He wasn’t writing some learned tome, he was writing to grip the hearts of his boys and his Salesians. He wasn’t crafting encyclicals; he was inspiring souls, admonishing the wayward, addressing issues and solving problems. Probably he did not realise it, but as he wrote about the issues of his time, his writings would affect future generations. While he was writing he made certain that he addressed himself above all, to his boys and his Salesians in the various communities of his fledgling congregation, his main aim being “the salvation of their souls.”
An Early Start
Just think of little Johnny Bosco, a young stable boy at the Moglia farmstead of Moncucco who spent his spare moments reading. And whatever he read sank into his mind, firing his little soul with thoughts about his future mission – the care of youngsters. While he was in Chieri and working as bartender’s assistant, he slept every night beneath the staircase at Café Pianta but not before he had read a few pages from a book that his spiritual director had given him. Obviously his craving to read led to his urge to write. We wonder if God could not use us to do the same.
Don’t we know a couple of confused youngsters, maybe on our college campuses, in our parish youth groups or at our holiday camps? And have we not felt that yearning within our hearts to see things turn out right for this “most vulnerable part of society”? For so many other social and personal reasons haven’t we, at least mentally, written articles, blogs or even stories? Maybe not as prolific like Don Bosco, or Fr. Lemoyne, Fr. Braido or so many others, even our very own Fr. Chavez whose letters we so unanimously hail as moving, relevant and powerful? We’re not unlike them, because, we, like them, have that yearning to serve youngsters that so tempts us to take up the pen or turn on the PC.
Begin with a thought
Admit it; we have had our moments of inspiration, sandwiched between hours of perspiration, for sure, but we have had our moments—mystical moments of pounding heart and pounding keyboard. We have felt the wind behind our backs and sensed a holy hand guiding ours. We, like our Creator, have beheld our creations and declared, “It’s good.” (Or, at least, “It’s not so bad.”) And we have asked: Is this our call? Our assignment? To use words to touch young lives and shape youthful souls? Our first attempts may frighten us. Many of us might dread a writing assignment, but gradually we will come to cherish this labour of putting words to our ideas and pen to paper so that our thoughts may give life and our words may take flesh. Sometimes with a notebook nearby I have waited for a thought, at other times I have just retreated with pad and pen and waited until something happened…and it did.
Believe me, with such desire and commitment, something is bound to happen and before you know it your pen will be flying across a page or your fingers will fling themselves recklessly over a keyboard as your thoughts flow. And then is there any sweeter moment than the writing of your final sentence?
An Influential Task
Actually there is: the appreciation thereof. When someone comes up to you and tells you that what you wrote touched them ‘spot-on;’ while another photocopied your article to pass it on to friends and yet someone else asked for a soft-copy to be able to send it on to friends abroad. You will then feel it was all worth your while. But then comes the suggestion from someone: why not write for publication? You might be a bit amused because you never dreamt you would ever hear such a suggestion. It’s one thing to write. It’s quite another to be read.
I believe that good words are worth the work. Well-written words can change a life. Why is this? Because words go where we never go— across continents like Africa, Australia, Indonesia…and descend to depths you’ll never believe fathomable, into the personal lives of those who needed just a thought to help them make a choice.
Think of this:
Readers invite the author to a private moment. They clear their schedules, find the corner, switch on a bedside lamp, turn off the television or just glance through your ‘opus’ while taking the train or sitting at an air terminal. They set the table, pull out the chair and invite you: “Come, talk to me for a moment.” It’s an invitation of a lifetime.
Admit it. Your writing is needed. This generation needs the best you can write and the clearest thinking you can render. Pick up the pens left by Don Bosco, Fr. Lemoyne, Fr. Braido…or even our very own Fr. Pascual Chavez. They have shown what writing can do.
The Birthday Cake!
Have you had an experience of going shopping for something, say for instance a birthday cake for a confrere? The administrator knows you’re in town and calls you and you say: “Of course.” But when you get back you find that you’ve bought all the other unnecessary stuff but simply skipped the “birthday cake!”
You forgot the big item. The one thing you promised you’d get – the birthday cake! How embarrassing!
Might we make the same mistake? In an effort to write well, let’s not forget the subject we’re tackling. In an effort to be creative, let’s also be clear.
The most important point – the birthday cake! The early Christian writers remembered it. They made certain that every reader received the unparalleled revelation, the defeat of evil, the beauty of truth, goodness and love. They didn’t forget the cake! Don’t forget it. Entertain, inform, inspire, engage, thrill and stir, but amidst your plots and word-pictures, don’t forget the cake! All our predecessors from Don Bosco right down to our present Rector Major didn’t, they delivered.
Conclusion – Writing from Life
What’s most important is that they wrote with their lives first. They lived the message before they wrote it. Our Salesian writers didn’t inhabit ivory towers or quarantine themselves in a world of un-asked questions. They were truly Salesians with dusty tucked-up cassocks from the playgrounds..., perspiration dripping down their foreheads…and hearts burning with a desire to pass on the fire that burned in their hearts. Like Don Bosco himself, today his sons still respond to a real world embroiled in real problems, with real words. We must do the same.
As Salesians are we not lovers of the young? Loving the grumpy ones, the grubby ones, the hungry ones and those struggling with issues too huge to handle alone; so it’s time to write and write with clarity. Good writing is clear thinking. Don Bosco was his own editor. He auditioned his stories to fit the manuscript. Good writers do this. They tap the delete button to distill the writing. Make every word earn its place on your page. Reread your masterpiece until you’ve thrown out all that stinks.
Ernest Hemingway espoused re-writing: “I rise at first light, and I start by reading and editing everything I have written to the point where I left off. That way I go through a book several hundred times, honing it until it gets an edge like a fighter’s sword. I rewrote the ending of ‘A Farewell to Arms’ 39 times in manuscript and over 30 times in proof trying to get it right.”
And isn’t our aim to put forth the best article possible? We want to offer good stuff so we put forward only our best contribution. Don’t give up. Be stubborn with your standard. Stay faithful in your intent. Don’t begrudge the hard work. It is noble work!
 Cf. G. Soldà, Don Bosco nella fotografia dell’800 (Torino: SEI, 1987), p. 183-186]
 Cf. P. Stella: Gli Scritti a stampa di S. Giovanni Bosco (Roma: LAS, 1977), p. 25-79
 Cf. F. Desramaut: Don Bosco en son temps (Torino: SEI, 1996) p.1369-1381
 Mons. James Costamagna, Writings and Life in Salesian Spirituality, edited by Eugene Valentini, LAS Rome, 1979
 Cf. G.B. Lemoyne: The Biographical Memoirs of St. John Bosco Vol. I (English Edn.) p. 147
 (Readers’ Digest, October 1968, “I Remember ‘Papa’ Hemingway,” by A. E. Hotchner, p. 151.
Kenneth Pereira sdb
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night begins with the immortal words: “If music be the food of love, play on!” Well, whatever music may mean to lovers, my tryst with music inclines me to regard it more as the food of discipline and soulfulness.
One of the things that I noticed early in my childhood is that some people have music in their blood while others simply don’t. And I would discover, by and by, that with music go a whole cluster of other virtues such as gracefulness, rhythm, feeling, expressivity, perseverance and discipline. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that there is an intrinsic connection between these virtues and musicality. But I cannot help noticing that musically gifted people also evince these virtues in a remarkable measure.
During my primary school days, the ‘singing class’ was an inalienable part of our school timetable. It was here that I discovered—to my puzzlement—that there were companions in my class who were tonally insensitive. If our music teacher asked them to sing ‘higher’, the only outcome was a ‘louder’ version of the same melody, lustily rendered in falsetto. I guess they wouldn’t be able to appreciate the difference between C sharp and B flat beyond the one liner: “If there’s a banana peel on the road and you don’t C sharp you will soon B flat!”
My parents were never professionally into music. But yes, they did possess an innate musical sensibility. They combined beautifully whenever they sang duets at parties and get-togethers. Well, when I was about eight or nine years old, they must have realised that I was musically inclined, and so decided to give me the opportunity that they had missed in their childhood: to hone my musical talent by learning to play a musical instrument. So one day, when they asked me which instrument I would like to learn, my first choice was the piano! (Our ‘singing class’ teacher played it so well!) Alas, our home was too pokey to accommodate a piano—electronic keyboards were unheard of in those days. So I settled for the violin. It was my second choice then, but has become my first love today. My younger siblings were more into sports, and so never pursued music with the same rigor as I did; nevertheless, they too proved to be naturally talented in music, and always carried away prizes at singing competitions.
Mastering the violin was one of the most formidable experiences of my life... and even now, I cannot say that I’ve really ‘mastered’ it. In my earlier years of violin study, I had to bear up with a lot of disparaging remarks from friends and family. Some of them told me that my violin sounded like a cat in agony. Others found the piercing notes of the violin downright irritating. But encouragement also came from a few quarters. They told me that the violin is the king of all musical instruments, and that if I could master it, then I too would be a king of sorts. But it was only when I was exposed to good violin music (on LPs and cassettes) that I realised what I was up to. The music of Paganini and Sarasate, outstanding in brilliance and pyrotechnics, beckoned me to invest my time and my energies in a ‘labour of love’ that I too might be able to achieve such artistry.
Looking back at all those years, I realise on hindsight that my romance with the violin has disciplined me more than any external authority could ever have done. Every musician knows how important it is to have precision in intonation, economy in one’s choice of notes, and accuracy in keeping timing. Cutting corners alla buona is simply unthinkable. No wonder so many musicians are accused of being (tyrannical) perfectionists!
While ‘cold blooded’ perfectionism seems to be a recurrent trait among many musicians, mercifully—and ironically—there is also the other side of the coin: soulfulness. Good music is more than a matter of technique; it is an art. It calls for a good measure of ‘emotional’ intelligence. While on the one hand my favourite violinists have ‘wowed’ me by their virtuosity, I also notice that these same musicians have been able to stir the depths of my soul by the emotions that they evoke through their rendition of other pieces. As a violinist myself, I can candidly say that music has helped me experience a wide gamut of emotions, for one cannot possibly put forth on the violin what one does not feel deep within his heart. Perhaps no other musical instrument can touch the human heart as profoundly as does the violin. I think I owe it to my training in music that I have become such an emotionally sensitive person!
There’s another side to music that I discovered when I became a Salesian: its tremendous potentiality to generate goodwill and friendship. Perhaps this is what Don Bosco had in mind when he said that a Salesian house without music is like a body without a soul! Have you noticed how a stiff and formal atmosphere loosens up when people begin to sing? And the moment a familiar ‘filmy’ tune is struck on an instrument, the youngsters there present go gaga over it, and are all eager to make friends with the player!
Speaking for myself, I can confidently say that music has been my lifeline among alien people. The first time I went to Gujarat in 1982, I did not know a word of Gujarati, but I had carried my violin along... and the moment I started playing it, I knew that I had won the hearts of the people who had gathered around, with curiosity and expectancy, to hear me. With the ice having broken already at that point, moving deeper into Gujarati culture was not as daunting as it first seemed. I had a similar experience the first time I went to Italy to do my theological studies as a cleric.
On a more organised level, music has a tremendous pedagogical value. Salesians who have put up musicals and operettas would surely vouch that they were able to galvanize both staff and students to a collaborative effort, involving multiple skills: dance, drama and music. But why think of operettas only? Even putting up a good choral piece in four voices can be just as exhilarating an experience!
In this regard, Don Bosco is seen to be a man of deep wisdom and insight. He encouraged the setting up of a musical band in every Salesian house. The idea was not simply to lighten the atmosphere with music—a gramophone player would have sufficed for that! Don Bosco realised that music educates! Firstly, it gives youngsters a medium in which to channelize their energies and their creativity in a healthy manner. Secondly it inculcates discipline. Playing in a band or in an orchestra demands teamwork, sensitivity to others, and focused attention on the conductor, even as one plays from his own score. At times it demands the ability to play a merely supportive role with ‘oompahs’ all through, while someone else shines, playing the lead melody.
How sad it is to find that in many of our houses the band has fallen silent, and band instruments have been either sold off or given away. Five-piece beat groups may be able to rival a band in sound output, but they can never achieve the pedagogical fruits of a full-fledged wind and percussion band. I yearn for the day when participatory music evinces a revival in our Salesian houses, when Salsians will be eager to invest their time, their talents and their energies in training youngsters to sing and make music. Would that we experienced at gut level the profound truth in this prayer-song sung by ‘ABBA’ in yesteryears:
Thank You for the music, the songs I’m singing. Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing! Who can live without it? I ask in honesty, what would life be? Without a song or a dance what are we? So I say, “Thank You for the music... for giving it to me!”
Isaac Arackaparambil sdb
It is said of Ben Kingsley, the versatile film-star, that Ben realized his dream to become an actor, thanks to the encouragement he received from his parents. Fr. Hedwig Louis in his book God Here and Now narrates that when Ben was young, he was inspired by his father who was a doctor, and wanted to go to medical school. However, the summer after he graduated from high school, he attended a Shakespearean play, Richard III, and got totally absorbed in it. During the performance Ben began to imagine himself in the role with such intensity that, drained of energy, he fainted. After the show his parents picked him up at the auditorium and informed him that he had been given an appointment for an interview at medical school. But Ben said to them, “This is where I want to be. This is what I want to do.” His father looked at him thoughtfully, then said, to the future star of Gandhi: “All right. I will encourage you.” And thus Ben got started on his illustrious acting career.
In theatre, Ben discovered the medium in which he could realize the complete or at least a satisfying measure of his self-expression. One of the manifestations of inner confidence in individuals is the ability one has of expressing oneself. Too many interviews are failed and job opportunities lost, because of the inability of individuals of expressing themselves appropriately. A lot of misunderstandings occur in relationships because of the inability of individuals to express their points of view in a way that is understandable to the other. Effective leadership rests on the shoulder of confident self-expression. Entire nations are shaped by the ability of their leaders to express their vision in a way that moves its governments and citizens to adopt and execute whatever leads to the fulfilment of that vision. Religious congregations were founded by charismatic leaders who had an unlimited dose of self-expression up their sleeves.
Self-expression is a vehicle that stands good in any circumstance of life. When one learns the art of self-expression, one also finds it easier to cultivate the capacity to understand others in their forms of self-expression. And if one is in possession of both these skills – one: of self-expression, and the other: of understanding others in their expressions of themselves – one becomes a cultured human being. Jesus was the most cultured human being on earth, and he used this strength in ministering to all the people who came to him. He brought them health and wholeness because of these traits which he cultivated as he grew in the
Theatre provides the platform from which an individual can develop his or her skills of self-expression to a measure that builds inner confidence. Don Bosco knew best that youngsters need platforms for self-expression. No wonder he encouraged, games, music, theatre, and numerous other forms of expression that found place in his educational style. In my experience in youth ministry, I have found that the majority of the youngsters I have interacted with manifest a sense of fear in expressing themselves in public forums. They often need to be coaxed out of their shells, fears, inhibitions, and blocks that are posed by their peers in order to stand out and make a statement. My own inner confidence grew thanks to the opportunities I was given to act, sing and recite on stage. If it were not for theatre, I would not flower into the personality I have shaped myself into today. My own experience of growing in confidence, thanks to theatre, made me make the platform of theatre available to the youngsters I was put in charge of during my practical training, among my classmates during the student years of theology, and even now as we train our aspirants at Kapadvanj. I have seen people growing not just in confidence, but also in team spirit, relationships, discipline, multi-tasking, alertness, diction, expression, smartness and all other trappings that make one an expressive and confident person.
Theatre also provides the ropes that assist individuals to come to a fair understanding of others in their expressions of themselves. In fact theatre dramatizes the dynamic between expression and understanding. In theatre one sees that scripts that are ‘fossilized’ within the pages of a book come alive in the characters that play out the message in those scripts. The more one exposes oneself to the medium of theatre, the more one begins to understand the drama of human communication, the ah ah of human tragedy, the ha ha of human comedy, the la la of human melody, the saga of human history, and the jigsaw of human mystery. It helps both artists and audience to enter into an intellectual dialogue in which perceptions to life and issues are challenged. It stirs sentiments of patriotism as well as passions that spark revolutions for causes that need to be addressed. It makes available a space for relaxation and a sense of wonder amidst the stress in life. In short theatre reminds society of its humanity.
Theatre has helped many a nation preserve its culture especially when cultures faced the threat of annihilation from enemies. The story of Pope John Paul II tells of how as a young man, Karol Woytela dedicated time to theatre and was also instrumental in taking the theatre underground during the onslaught of the second world war, for the sole purpose of preserving and promoting Polish culture which was on the brink of eclipse due to the repressive policies of the Nazis. A similar story repeated itself in
Theatre has helped not only to preserve culture, but it also depicts how life styles have changed, while also subtly being responsible for those changes. Hence, if we as educators happen to keep ourselves out of touch with this dynamic medium, we gradually loose touch with the reality of the young who today are the most dramatic of human beings, and who not only script but enact theatre on the stage of life. Hence we need to get back to viewing theatre, appreciating this form of art and promoting it in our settings. It is consoling to observe that in some of our schools and formation houses we have carried on the tradition of putting up plays on auspicious occasions. But we seem to be happy doing the same old musicals and plays in cycles. We need to summon our creative sides to write new scripts, compose new songs and stage plays that are not limited to the classics but those that speak the idiom of our times.
We have got to be participants in the drama of life by immersing our intellects in the ongoing dialogue with the changing culture of our times, especially when the culture being created by popular media goes against the spirit of the Gospel. We as Salesians need to enter main stream media and promote the values of Christ’s kingdom by creating value-themed-theatre, songs, movies, and invest in making the gospel more attractive than the attractions that absorb this techno savvy generation of youngsters in our day. In doing so, I believe we will be growing to become cultured as persons in the first place, and effective as God’s ministers to his people.
I propose the following in order to promote theatre in our settings:
1. Create theatrical resources on the lines of the twelve diamond values launched by Fr. Glenford Lowe through AVEC.
2. Have a media club of interested Salesians who are not necessarily in the media commission, who could come together with lay collaborators and youth, and have a media production workshop in English as well as in the vernacular, on contemporary issues, biblical plays, music videos, power point presentations, documentaries and whatever else, to generate a value-projecting-media as a response and counter culture to the damaging influences of the evil and sin promoted in popular media today.
3. Have a Province Year for Theatre just as we have International Years dedicated to some issue. During this year we could celebrate Theatre by making it a point to watch theatrical performances when staged in the cities. We could create new theatrical resources and present them in various venues during the year. You could add your suggestions.
4. Collect all the original theatrical productions that have been put up around the province in the yester years, and make videos of the same for wider distribution.
5. Have a system in which when any institution makes a theatrical presentation, the entire presentation is video-graphed professionally so that the efforts are not lost and more over, so that the efforts need not be repeated if one feels that a recording should have been done in retrospect.
6. Make a province or regional library of theatrical material, audio, video, script, costumes, backdrops, light and sound equipment so that every house has access to these whenever they need to make a presentation. It would also generate a sense of solidarity in the region/province, and save on replication of expenses if every institution desired to have all the equipment.
May Don Bosco who saw it wise to offer to the young a medium of expression through theatre, help us preserve and promote this legacy for the growth and benefit of our own beings into cultured humans, and for the integral growth of the young.
Michael Bansode sdb
I can tell you that art plays a large part in making our lives infinitely rich. Imagine, just for a moment, a world without art! Art gives us insights into our being, fills our emotions, and helps us understand reality. Art gives us a way to be creative and it is through art that we express ourselves. For some people, art is the entire reason they get out of bed in the morning. Therefore, you could say that art makes us more thoughtful and well-rounded humans.
On the other hand, art is such a large part of our everyday lives that we may hardly even stop to think about it. Look at the desk or table you are sitting at right this minute—someone designed it; it is art. Our shoes are art. Our coffee cup is art. All functional design, well done, is art. So, we can say that art is something that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
Art is in a constant state of change, and change is a very important element of our lives. To change is to grow. Our culture changes and our language too, keeps changing. Such constant change is part and parcel of our lives.
It can also be said that art is subjective, and means something different to each person.
While all the above statements contain elements of truth, they are largely based on opinion. And my frank opinion is that there is art in everyone’s life. But I must say this—many things that were originally necessities have now been developed into forms of art. The desire to create something special is characteristic of the artistic process.
What is the connection between beauty and art? Art is not just beauty; it also emphasizes reality. Sometimes, art may remain inaccessible because it requires some background knowledge in order to be understood. In fact, not all art can be considered beauty—it may not always be ‘pretty’. So what does art do for us? The answer will be different for each person. But it is important to know that art requires no language in order to be understood.
Why do I talk about art? That is because it has fascinated me all my life, and in a way, it rules my life. Whenever I see the paintings of other artists (e.g., Ravi Varma, John Fernandes, Sr. Claire) I learn a lot from them, and they have inspired me in many ways. Artists like Angela Trinidade, Marie Pinto, Sr. Genevieve, Jyoti Sahi and Sr. Claire have contributed much to the popularization of Indian Christian Art. I too, feel that it is my responsibility to contribute something to the church through my art. I have realized that paintings can handle many subjects that would otherwise leave us mystified.
There are many types of paintings, but personally, I prefer realistic art, and I find the life of Jesus to be the best and most enriching subject. I am constantly trying to create realistic pictures of Jesus and the context he lived in. I believe that realistic art is an easy book to read, and an exhibition of such paintings that I once held in Bangalore was well-appreciated. On the other hand, I also believe that abstract art can convey broader ideas and perspectives, and I have created a few pieces in this style.
Much of my interest in and love for art developed in the Salesian congregation, and many Salesians have encouraged me in this field. Today, whatever I do invariably contains art in some fashion; art adds meaning to my life and is an integral part of it. I try to convey this through my paintings, some of which are as follows.
The painting of the Nativity depicts the new-born Jesus and his parents in the foreground, with the eyes of Mary and Joseph focused on the child. The vast expanse of the city of Jerusalem is in the background, seen as if through a window. The moon shines bright over the pillar and post where the new born King is born, showing that this is his house and home, not the manger which is popularly depicted by other artists. We are forced to contemplate head-on the primordial event of the birth of the creator.
The scene is awash with shadows and hues of dark purple and grey, indicating that Jesus is the birth-light of creation, the best fruit of God’s masterpiece. Jesus wrapped in white swaddling clothes is the center of the scene, while the landscape conveys meaning and also serves as an attractive component.
Shyla Coutinho, a mother and catechism teacher, declared that this painting expressed ‘caring and concern’. The magic of Christmas and the arrival of the Saviour is conveyed to the entire nation, which is seen in the background. Paradoxically, a tiny baby comes to rescue the whole of Israel and the Jewish Nation.
Similar to this midnight vision of Christ is the painting of the Last Supper, which takes place in twilight. Normally, supper is eaten at sun-down, unlike what we see in many paintings of the Last Supper. I am trying to depict Jesus and His apostles reclining in the hours of evening sunset. There will be lamps to illumine the faces of the relaxing apostles celebrating a memorable meal before the Passion commences, before Jesus enters the Garden of Gethsemane to prepare His chosen ones for the agony of His crucifixion.
In conclusion, I feel that even today, art is one of the most powerful means of communication. Unfortunately, many of us have an attitude that sidelines art. There are quite a few in our province who have been using art to communicate, but there are others who don’t. Let us start trying to enter and understand the wonderful world of art.