Ganesh Jogi, musician and artist from Rajasthan-Gujarat, is no more. We met him and his wife Teju Behan in February 2010, and invited them to sing and draw for us.
Ganesh died at the age of 72, while singing at a temple. Born in Rajasthan and to music, Ganesh was from a community that wandered the streets from early in the morning, singing devotional songs to the neighbourhood. In return the singers were given grain, clothes and some money. Like many old caste based practices, this one too has lingered on, but is not a viable occupation. Ganesh Jogi, like others in his community, had to make other livelihood choices. For a while, he did whatever work came his way, but some years proved harsher than others. During one such period, when his home town was plagued by severe drought, Ganesh left home to go to Mount Abu, a major pilgrimage centre. He worked there for a while and then moved to the city of Ahmedabad, where he tried to make a living by singing.
As fate would have it, he met the artist Haku Shah, who was keenly interested in folk and people’s music and art. Haku Shah invited Ganesh into this home, and eventually found him a job as a singer in a hotel. But he did more – he offered him a pencil and asked him to draw. Ganesh was bewildered, but at Haku Shah’s insistence, began to try his hand. He came to visit Shah’s house every day, and in time came to develop a style all his own – naive, yet fresh and extraordinarily complex images made up of dots and lines.
Ganesh then encouraged his wife Teju Behn, a singer in her own right – who had even sung a number for an offbeat Hindi film – to take up paper and pen. Eventually their children came to paint as well, and art became a means of survival for the entire family. Ganesh and Teju Behn found themselves invited to craft and art fairs across the country.
In February 2010. Ganesh Jogi and Teju Behn visited Tara Books. This was not their first time in Chennai. They had come a year ago, to participate in the crafts fair held in the Kalakshetra ground (Kalakshetra is home to a prestigious dance school). We heard them singing, surrounded by their marvelous paintings. We wanted to create a book with them, and so they returned, at our behest the next year, and worked on two book projects with us. We also organised an evening of music for book and music lovers at Spaces – an atmospheric venue near the beach in Chennai. It turned out to be a magical evening of Kabir songs from their repertoire.
This year, at the Frankfurt Book Fair, we presented Teju Behn’s stunning visual story of their moving to the city to become artists. As we begin to print, news of Ganesh’s passing came in. We are shocked and heavy hearted, but also curiously fulfilled by the thought of Teju’s book going out into the world. Called Drawing from the City, it is at once a celebration and a tribute to his memory, to the art that this gentle and loving couple practised together.
We can only hope that Drawing from the City will stay with Teju, as a reminder of what she may yet do, though neither this nor anything else can compensate for the immense loss she has to endure.
Gita Wolf & V.Geetha, Publishers, Tara Books
A more extensive selection of images can be found on our facebook page here.