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The War of Art

In many ways, this essay has taken a life (if not generations) of experience and wisdom. The intent behind writing it is twofold. One part is to open up about some of the stuff I have been going through since returning home and my mother's passing. The other intent is to share one of the strongest lessons I have learned in my life. A lesson not of my own alone but an incredibly powerful insight I gained from my Mother. One that can serve us all as a reminder to fearlessly embrace the creative way of being. It relates to the core of who my mother was and by extension, who I am. A cautionary tell-tale about art1 and war, specifically about the War of Art.

All my life people would ask me what my mother does. Back then I would fumble to fit her multitudes into a response. But now when I am asked the same, the answer is quick and concise - she was an artist, a warrior, and a lover! The deeper and more important insight hidden within the triad of these roles is that one necessitates or near begets the other. In my mother's case, the war was to hold assets as a woman and one necittated by that pandemic of old - patriarchy.

Early on in her life and shortly after her beloved Father (and then first husband) passed away, my Mother went through what so many women did and continue to do so in my country. Instead of having the space to focus on herself and her art career, she was seen more as a liability to be mitigated away from her own home (which she helped her father build.) And thus began a lifelong fight against patriarchy over the right to hold assets as a woman. But it had come at a cost. It cost her art.

Fast-forward to around the time I returned home, my mother was at the near-triumphant eleventh hour of her lifelong war to fight for her rights to hold assets as a woman. Owing to a verdict by the Supreme Court of India in 2005 giving equal rights to women in family properties, she finally had her name on the house she had built and another she grew up in. She also won a major lawsuit against her second husband and my father (a whole other essay), who had illegally sold a joint property they held.

Just before she passed and as the pandemic began to ease, we reflected (based on her experience) on how we all have to fight wars to make art. It may be a family feud for one, a bad relationship for another, or financial woes for another (my mother and and now I have been through it all) but something or the other will always exist that will turn making art feel more like an act of war. After enduring a lifelong of this stuff between the two of us, we decided to take the plunge and focus on art together. The idea was to restructure some of the assets after the pandemic restrictions eased, such that we could set up a space (creative studio and cafe) in the rural outskirts of our city. Unfortunately, she passed away before we could manifest what we had dreamed together.

When she passed away, I naively assumed that the forces (my maternal family and my father) that went after her while she lived would take a pause. That the war she waged all her life would not have to be continued by me. Sadly, sensing an opportunity, the forces have gone after me just as they did after my mother. Luckily, with the truth and law in my favor - not much harm has been done to me by their childishly deceitful ways and most of what my mother left for me has made it to me despite all efforts to ensure otherwise.

Like my mother, however, my victory with the succession matters has come at a cost. Although I have tried desperately to prioritize making art instead of the succession matter, I haven't been able to give myself to art to the capacity I had hoped to. Whether emotionally, physically, or financially - the succession matter often leaves me feeling spent, exiled, and alienated in my hometown with no exit other than to keep fighting. As I went through it all (and still often do), gathering the strength to make art (or do much of anything else) felt like summoning the strength before a passage of war.

In such times, I have gradually begun a practice of reminding myself of the lesson I first learned from my mother - that making art was never supposed to be easy. It demands that we must also be willing to wage wars. Possibly the reason why some of the greatest kings also made for great poets/artists and connoisseurs of the arts. (Interestingly, my mother has a family history of warriors. And even more interestingly, she always identified strongly with her warrior roots and saw herself as no less than a King.)

So in this rich human tradition, I suppose I'm destined for war as much as for art. If you are like me and are kept from your art by the wars you wage - know this is how it has always been and that you are not alone. Keep going. Keep fighting but also keep creating and sharing your creations. And most importantly, stay true both in war and art.


  1. I use the word art rather expansively and include within it any creative act (and at whatever capacity)

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