The blackened Paris buildings were washed when Malraux was the French cultural minister. When I first went to Prague in 1980, the buildings were somewhat black and Easter was white, snow fell in the wrong time. But Prague seemed beautiful to me. It was when Kafka’s name was pronounced on the sly and my government-approved guide was just not interested in hearing it. It was when some of these guides were spies, too. Kafka’s grave wasn’t far from my hotel, even if the guide really wasn’t interested at all. But the white snow on the blemished buildings of the city seemed almost Kafkaesque. The castle was looking mysterious from the lake and inside a writers’ club, the Czech poet Josef Hazlick spoke to me about the Indian Emergency till late at night, while drinking white wine. The poor guide was rather annoyed. He had to drive, so he couldn’t even drink. But in the end, he couldn’t resist. Inside was wine and outside was moonlit snow and a big poet with small exhilarations. Kafka had turned into a magnificent object when years later, in 2015, I spent a fortnight in Prague for Narendrapal Singh’s exhibition. Wherever one went, Kafka followed: his statue, his books, his T-shirts, his museum, everything was dripping with his name. His tomb was one of the great attractions of the city, which meant that his reality had turned into a new form of clothing.
Another great name associated with the city is of Mozart, about whose music I’ve heard that it makes people intelligent. Don’t cities like Prague make people more intelligent?
Among the Hindi writers, it’s Nirmal Verma who has been closely associated with this city, who writes about Prague’s incredible little quarter Mala Strana that everything is as it was centuries ago, nothing has changed and it seems that the clouds hovering over the buildings are also old, that, for years, they have been returning after strolling around this same piece of sky. Nirmal’s older brother, the artist Ram Kumar has said Prague is the city that reminds of the land of fairies. Vishnu Khare, too, stayed here for a long time. He believes that Prague’s original colour is ashen or grey while Narendrapal has seen it in the light of deep blue. But Narendra is a painter of bold colours, and he spent a time here when it was really beautiful to look at the green emerge on dry branches. Ram Kumar viewed Varanasi in grey and black but Manu Parekh’s Varanasi is brighter.
In the present-day Prague, the John Lennon wall is rather famous, on which Narendra’s beautiful colours look inspiring. It’s not possible to enclose a lock of love on a bridge in Paris anymore, but one can still do it here, near this wall. Pablo Neruda had taken his name from Jan Neruda, after whom there is a street named in the centre of Prague: Nerudova. There is a popular tavern there, Two Suns. The last time we were there, a waitress fell in love with Narendra’s paintings and said that she could only pay a thousand korunas. Narendra gave her not one, but two paintings for that price. She said tenderly, “the next round of beer is on me.”
Prague, under the effect of light beer, seems a little too much like a fairy-land.
Read this post in Hindi.
Vinod Bhardwaj is an art and film critic and writer. He has published two novels, two collections of poetry, one short-story collection, and more than ten books on art and cinema. He has also compiled and published an acclaimed encyclopaedia of modern art in Hindi.
Narendra Pal Singh, originally from Bihar, has been painting quite prolifically for the past 3 decades. He has held solo exhibitions in Italy, Spain, Berlin, America, South Korea and India, and has also been an art-coordinator and a panelist in several fora.