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Sketching in Art College

Sonal Panse,

Sketching was an important part of our art college curriculum. The professors could never stress enough how important. 

"If a man falls out a window," our Life professor said, "what will you do?"

"Call the ambulance!" shouted half the class. 

"Call the police!" shouted the other half. 

"Wrong," said the Professor. "You will finish drawing him before he crash lands on the pavement."

Since there weren't too many people falling out windows around us, we sketched on railway platforms and on busy Bombay streets. With the quick-moving crowds, you had to learn to draw very quickly and that built up your skill. It also made for very good practice in concentration and self-control, because, more often than not, a crowd would gather behind you and, you know how it is, everyone is an art critic.

A friend of mine scoffed at the whole thing. He didn't like sketching and he wasn't going to be caught dead doing it. Especially not in public. 

"It is not necessary for an artist to sketch," he said. "It is actually dangerous."

 He spoke from experience. He had once gone sketching in Dadar and a policeman came and smacked him for staring in an 'intense, awful way' at a respectable, matronly lady. He hadn't even noticed her, but she had noticed his concentration and complained to the policeman. 

"There are two things that hamper Indian artists," my infuriated friend said later. "The Indian Public and the Bombay Police."

To get away from the Bombay Police and to make us grow more accustomed to the Indian Public, our college organized two trips every year, one was the 'Short Trip' of three to five days and the other was the 15 days long 'Long Trip'. The Short Trip was usually somewhere in Maharashtra, and the Long Trip took us to other states, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh being particular favorites. Scores of entertaining things happened during these trips, and, yes, we also did plenty of artwork. This work was later exhibited in the Annual Exhibition.

There was a set quota of sketches that you had to submit as part of your portfolio prior to the mid-term exam and the annual exam, usually between 500-1000 sheets. The first time I deposited a 1000-paged bundle on the Professor's desk, he drew back in amazement. He hadn't expected someone to actually do it, he said, he always said 1000, so that he would, optimistically, get at least a 100. But I loved sketching and I kept delivering the 1000 quota.

"You're a bit touched, aren't you?" said another friend, also of the 'I won't sketch' brigade. Completing the quota didn't worry him. "What do we have friends for?" he said. "Get twenty sketches from this person and twenty sketches from that one and so on and you're all set, and that reminds me, it's your turn to contribute..."