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Wanderlust and the artist

Spirituality, the fine arts, Sanskrit... everything Indian has attracted this seeker from Belgium.



Yogi, mural artist, designer, art historian, spiritual writer, translator, are just a few of Ascharyacharya's many faces. — Photo: K. Gopinathan

HE TALKS fondly of a time when he went to plead with a retired school teacher in Kerala to teach him Sanskrit. "I initiated my melodramatic appeal, and gave him all the reasons why he should teach Sanskrit to a Belgian-born artist.

During the course of my 45-minute outpouring, he continued to read Mathrubhoomi and put it down only once or twice to ask if I wanted another coffee. Finally, the Namboodri said: "Sorry, I can't teach Sanskrit to someone who wants to learn it from the head. One can learn well only when one wants to learn both from the heart and the head."

Jean Letschert, then in his twenties, went on to learn a lot of things, definitely from the heart. Yogi, mural artist, designer, art historian, spiritual writer, translator, musician, Indologist... are just a few of his many faces. The commercial artist from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Brussels, learnt Tantric art from sadhus in the Himalayas, Buddhist philosophy and Mandala art from Tibetan monks, Sanskrit from a young Keralite, Swathi Tirunal and Dikshitar compositions from Madurai's Revathi Ammal, and a host of other traditional disciplines from various gurus. He spent several years in Wynad in the ashram of Nataraja Guru. "It was during this time that we started environment protection activities, promoted tribal rights, and did our best to protect the beautiful Pookoththu Lake in the foothills of the Western Ghats. But tourism finally did irrevocable damage to the area and drove us out," laments the man who felt blessed in the ``amazing Eden''. It was in this ashram that the Belgian was given an apt Indian name. "I selected Rahasya Dasa, but my guru said an artist should never have secrets, and should never be a servant. He named me Ascharyacharya, one who wanders with wonder."

Jean first came to India in 1965. After several trips, he finally settled down here. "I was searching for something, I did not know what," says this disciple of J. Krishnamurthi. JK ``filled the gaps''.

Now 64, the slim man with his hair in a neat little bun paints ceaselessly in a makeshift studio in `Panchavati', the beautiful house where the Nobel Laureate, C.V. Raman, lived. "At 64, it's important to finalise certain things," he says. Does he mean the imposing painting of Ganesha that is taking shape on his canvas? Is it the East-West Academy of Spiritual Art that he has dreamt of? Or another book?

"One of the important duties of an artist is that of observing very deeply," says Ascharyacharya. "This is his chance to develop his indispensable visual memory and present it to the public. In this context, my art is not an end in itself."

"The recent popularity, among all kinds of artists, of Ganesha as a subject for a canvas was a bit unpalatable to me. Then I thought about the great artists of the Renaissance and how they produced so many works based just on Christ and His family. So now, I'm painting this Ganesha as a challenge to myself," confesses Ascharyacharya, who works on several canvases simultaneously.

Married to France-based journalist, comedienne, and television and stage artist Nathalie, he feels ``completely awake'' at this stage of his life. " I feel extremely inspired in this house... there is something inscribed in the aakashaa of this place," he says gently.

Ascharyacharya can be e-mailed at musician@bgl.vsnl.net.in

M.K.

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