This seems a pretty picture- it is of one of my favourite flowers- Flame of the forest (Butea monosperma)- a medium-sized dry season-deciduous tree, which grows in the tropics. It is found in a forested part of Delhi, where I grew up and seeing these flowers reminded me of springtime. In my native West Bengal, the poems and songs of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, likened its bright orange flame-like flower to fire. In Santiniketan, where Tagore lived, this flower has become an indispensable part of the celebration of spring. I used to love these flowers.
However, the same forest became associated with murder in late summer of 1978 when siblings Geeta and Sanjay Chopra were kidnapped and brutally murdered. On their way to the radio station to present a youth programme, the children were kidnapped for ransom. On learning their father was a naval officer, both were killed instead and the girl, Geeta, was allegedly raped before being murdered. Both were bright young people- Geeta was a 16 year old second year college student and Sanjay, was 14-year-old school student.
I was very young but I remember the impact of the murders. Suddenly parents were cautious about where their children were going, suspicious of strangers and our world changed from being happy and carefree to fear and mistrust. The city which had never experienced such a heinous murder was traumatised and all energy was directed to finding the killers. It was my first loss of childhood innocence- the flowers which I loved, grew in a forest where children had been murdered. I came to associate these flowers with blood. Years later as an adult, coming across these flowers accidentally, I wondered if I could change my fear to joy again. So this was painted.
The ‘bark’ of the trees is made from newspaper cuttings about the murders and the stylised flowers, with their curved and spiky forms, represent my fear. However by painting this, I have made my fear disappear and understand the sadness from those murders. It may be because I am older and it may be because exactly 20 years later on the day when the culprits were caught, I had a son, who helped me to see the world in a different way. So the painting is curiously sad but optimistic by its brightness and exaggeration. Like these flowers that bloom in the spring and wither away in the heat, whose leaves fall in the winter, leaving a skeletal bareness, our lives are informed by sadness and joy, by gain and loss. This painting connects me to my childhood and my adulthood and to that of my son. The sadness of the loss remains but the fear has gone. Art has become a therapy.