I can’t remember exactly when I saw Jitish Kallat for the first time. I might have only seen pictures of him after getting to know a little bit about him. To be very honest, I knew him not at all before I joined the BDL course; I had previously admitted to my limited knowledge of the contemporary Indian art scene and gradually that limitation has lessened. And so when I met him and shook hands with him for the first time, I knew his art and his stature in the art scene.
I was sitting in the Gallery Odyssey office reading his biography when he walked in. As Reena Kallat and Arshiya Lokhandwala discussed the location of Reena’s work in the latter’s then upcoming show (now on view, titled “India Re-Worlded”), Jitish sat opposite me to work while he waited. It was a surreal moment for me, reading the biography if the man who was sitting in front of me. We both silently continued to work for what seemed like an hour, but may not have been more than half of that time span.
The next time I spoke to him was at his studio in Bandra where we were taken for an Artist’s Studio visit. He recognised me as the person who was working at the Gallery Odyssey office. Again it was surreal, I was no longer a nobody in the crowd of admirers of his work. He spoke about his art and his curatorial practice while showing us his work. He also brought out a small paper model of his famous installation in Austria, Here After Here After Here (2012-15).
It is a testament to his charming personality that when I saw him next at the Sudhir Patwardhan show in Jehangir Art Gallery, he stopped to chat recognising me instantly even though I had self-doubt. We spoke at some length about the works displayed and in particular to the work titled “Erase”. I mentioned that there seemed to be an intertextual reference to Velasquez’s Las Meninas in that work. He agreed and seemed impressed my perceptive eye. He then mentioned that he was actually working on a write up for a book on Patwardhan when we first met at Gallery Odyssey. We had come full circle.
Now, whenever I bump into him, he always has a kind word for me, and it brightens me up because a person of his calibre and standing need not be kind me.