The Storyteller's story

Sunday, 18 May 2014 - 6:15am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

Over these last few months we've talked about artists who transcend their original roles, shape shifting narratives of their work, and their lives. I'm lucky to count bestselling writer Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi as a good friend, and an older brother figure. He's gone from writing award-winning novels (translated in 18 languages) to shooting photographs, and most recently, hosting a conversation series, The Shanghvi Salon, in Goa. I encountered his photographs at Delhi's Vadhera Art Gallery, where his poignant, precise images – praised by Salman Rushdie – soon moved into my own collection. We caught up with SDS as he was flying to Europe on an eight-city lecture tour.

Your first body of photographs documented your father's life with cancer. What did you learn from this?

For starters, light is everything, on a purely aesthetic level. Personally, it raised questions on how we age, and more importantly, why we must reserve the right to die on our own terms. There's too great an emphasis on living long, not enough on how we must not have to endure unnecessary suffering in the name of longevity. Always leave the party while you're still having fun.

The Shanghvi Salons hosted Booker Prize winners (Anne Enright), legendary actors (Jaya Bachchan) and brilliant historians (William Dalrymple). How does a salon connect with the writing?

I've prized conversation above all things, an invaluable art form, transcendent, a kind of thinking aloud with peers. Writing is a way to organize your world – and the salons try to trace this process. I also don't believe work must be transparently connected, although invariably there's a thematic resonance, an incremental building of one thing over another.

So it's the conversation about the conversation – do you talk about this with Dayanita Singh?

Dayanita is perhaps the most exciting author today – she just happens to work with photographs. We talk about how the great love affairs in our lives shaped our work, and the importance of being an ethical friend.

You are visiting scholar at FIND, the premier Indo-European think tank. And you're speaking on sex and Indian modernity in France, Spain and Italy.

Postmodernism was all about identity creation. Now, I hope we're ahead of that slightly dated, banal American identity politic. The idea that sexuality is a vibrant continuum, and gender a bit of a performance, is vital to current discourse. Labels are restrictive, love too wide to adhere to boundary or classification – I want to advocate locations of self in relationship to shared affinities, not desire alone.

Some say you've retreated to a solitary life in Goa – yet one hears of your riverside home hosting the Fendis, the Bachchans, the Salgaocars. How do you balance your social life with work?

I have no social life, I am not interested in one, and public notices glamorizing this notion are for my salon – which, clearly, is the work I do. Andrew Sullivan said that 'friendship is the performance art of love' - I believe in that. The idea of a social life – of connecting with someone for anything other than intrinsic worth – is antithetical to who I am.

Are you writing another book?
Truman Capote said all literature was gossip. And boy, do I have good gossip! I might consider a new book, exploring the failure of moral consciousness at our society.

As an artist what do you value most?
I prize freedom over all things. I've been able to walk away from situations and people who restricted my freedom. To be free of definition, free from the anxiety of being liked, and released into an atmosphere where you are true to yourself.

Weekend studio visit
This weekend Mumbai was oddly calm so I decided to head to Delhi where I visited the studio's of art power couple Subodh Gupta and Bharti Kher to see where the magic happens. Rather than show you some finished pieces, here's a sneak peak at some works in progress to keep the mystery behind their practices going.


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