‘I wanted to look at humanity’s
inner side’

- S M Verghis (Pioneer)         

Binoy Varghese tells S M Verghis how kundalini yoga changed his life and art, when he was going through his darkest period, and why his continuing theme is about displaced people

His canvases are large and lush. Most of them have a single figure and in one case, a group, juxtaposed against tropical junglescapes in several shades of green and brown for leaves, branches and dashes of flowers and stems. Binoy Varghese is sharing space at Gallerie Nvya in Square One Designer Arcade, Saket with Maya Burma for a show called Fables and History. He explains this continues a theme on displacement he began after a Canadian residency in 2006. “The subjects could be from SWAT Valley, or from Bihar. Because of urbanisation, many have become refugees and the greenness is like a dream they aspire for.” His most recent piece has a figure against a temple town background with images like Kathakali dancers. Varghese, who exhibited in New York not long ago, had graduated from art school in Kerala on a scholarship. Then he worked in Cholamandalam’s Artist Village, finally moving to Delhi some years back. He nostalgises about, “the lovely carefree days when a group of us hung at Lalit Kala academy canteen, drinking coffee and talking about art.” Although he has had several visits overseas, the Canadian one he says, “opened the world to me.” He explains, “I was thinking of myself there as an ‘ethnic’ Asian from Kerala and I am displaced in Delhi too. Then I wondered, what about other people, apart from Malayalis. Till then, most of my paintings had been about personal problems.” Varghese, a soft-spoken man who is apparently very shy, added, “As I explored the topic, I began to focus on newspaper articles about displacement in places like Singur, in Marad, Kerala. Then I did several different series, Home, Transit. Then My stories/Storeys. This one is the last. Refugees/Their Own. He says, “Theme is important. I’m not interested in just a beautiful picture. But everything else is beautiful, anyway. With displacement, everything is related to people and government or industries taking over their land. How it affects them mentally and physically.”

A large painting of his adorns a wall at the children’s ward in Apollo Hospital. Varghese has also done philatelic projects with 7-8 special stamps by him commissioned for the Indian Government.

He didn’t enjoy it, saying, “There were too many rules and regulations. You need approval by different people.” He eventually walked out halfway, returning to what he loves best. But even there he has had tough patches. The rockbottom was after Canada. “For three years, I had little finance. Nothing got sold. I chanced to read Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahamsa Yoganananda. The place I lived in was tiny. Once I dozed off and Paramahamsa Yogananda appeared in a dream, wearing saffron. He told me to meditate. I had met various swamis. But I didn’t like what I got. So I began kundalini yoga myself, with someone at Sahitya Akademi, who knew about it, assisting me.”

Binoy says he, “got the complete experience.” Adding, “I felt light, weightless and went a bit crazy. I was told it takes one a lifetime to experience what I did, so I must have been blessed.”

He adds, “normally I’m quiet, but then, when I did something like, talk to my mother, I would babble and she would ask if I was drunk! The yoga made me bolder and also gave me much deeper clarity. All I had wished for, materialised.” About six months after the vision, he had a second one. Paramahamsa Yogananda asked him to stop meditating saying that ‘you have what you need.’” He thinks, “maybe this is why my work is so sensitive to the emotions of others, like the displaced people. For a topic like urbanisation,

I could’ve painted buildings.

Instead I wanted to look at humanity’s inner side.”

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