Updated: Apr 5, 2020
The Arles Sunflowers by Van Gogh, 1888
The air felt so wholesome that day that every inhalation was a benediction in itself. With every step he took, and every time his feet touched Mother Earth, his lips naturally hummed an incantation of gratitude. The trees spoke to him, the butterflies playfully formed a wreath around his head, even the inanimate glowed like never before as the all-encompassing beauty permeated in every cell of his body slowly and gracefully. It was as if the universe is injecting a beautiful golden elixir into his veins, lighting up each part, like a horde of glow-worms traversing through his being.
The ‘chai shop’ was his next destination. Nothing like a celebratory cup of earthy tea to rejoice in the luxury of living. With each sip, a thought appeared like a cordial guest. Each of these cordial guests were everything ranging from compassion to kindness to pure unadulterated ecstasy. They sat, and they slowly began to settle down, like someone who comes to your place and doesn’t show any signs of leaving any time soon. They start getting too attached to their inherent natures and identities. They mingle, but with an air pride, and a wee bit of entitlement.
He entertains all these guests, and thinks, ‘I shall let them stay, I don’t know for how long, but I shall let them stay. They give a little personality to my empty mind, they give a little bounce of worldliness to my voided vessel, I shall let them stay…’
A women clad in a pure white salwar kameez makes her way into a florist shop located right adjacent to the chaiwalla. Her smile so resplendent, it could change the mood of a roomful of gloomy people. She sways as if the queen of fluidity has just blessed her with a water-like quality. She asks for a bunch of sunflowers, clutches the bright yellow in her hand, like a seamstress holding a cashmere fabric with a feeling of awe and amazement. She rubs her nose against the soft petals and lets the dark center caress her cheeks.
He looks at her stupefied…why does he feel this sudden bewilderment? The cordial guests who were having a dignified tea party inside his mind suddenly start chatting up a storm. They start running helter skelter, like mad men going amok for no reason. The trees, the stones, the buildings – the magic that he had experienced all day now felt like a petered-out Illusion. The tea swirling in his mouth loses its earthiness and the chaiwalla doesn’t seem as interesting anymore. The guests are still running around like kids, playing tug-of-war from all corners of his mind.
‘That’s not beauty, that’s just a woman with an attractive face.’
‘Beauty is in nature, the environment, and in each human being.’
‘Love is not mere physicality, love is energy, love is transcending.’
‘Stop looking at the face, you shallow bugger!’
The guests kept reasoning and reducing and deducing, forming umpteen theories, creating several models of deconstruction and reconstruction. Trying to resort to first principles, trying to latch on to the ladder of logic – one step at a time, the guests have a gala time intellectualizing the visuals he kept witnessing.
The chaiwalla gave a tap on his shoulder, shaking him off his reverie. He looked at the woman with a glint in his eye for one last time, noticed the different shades of yellow forming a lovely gradient on the flowers she still held on to as if it was an extension of her, bid all the guests inside his mind goodbye, and entertained one last guest before he would wrap all this up and move to his next destination – this one whispered – “Don’t be suspicious of beauty my friend, don’t question it so much.”
Sunflowers – Vincent Van Gogh (1853 -1890), Arles, January 1889
Oil on Canvas
I still can’t say if the story inspired me to pick this painting or the painting helped me think of the story. In the large scheme of things, everything seems inextricably linked. It seems Van Gogh created five versions of the sunflower painting with just three shades of yellow, hence proving that it’s possible to create a single piece of art with numerous variations. Similarly I guess, sometimes the wisest thing to do is not question love and beauty too much, as one can create different versions and variations of it, with just 3 shades of yellow, 5 sets of canvases or maybe a motley burst of wonderful heart-warming hues.
More info on Van Gogh’s Sunflower:
The sunflower paintings had a special significance for Van Gogh: they communicated ‘gratitude’, he wrote. He hung the first two in the room of his friend, the painter Paul Gauguin, who came to live with him for a while in the Yellow House. Gauguin was impressed by the sunflowers, which he thought were ‘completely Vincent’. Van Gogh had already painted a new version during his friend’s stay and Gauguin later asked for one as a gift, which Vincent was reluctant to give him. He later produced two loose copies, however, one of which is now in the Van Gogh Museum.
(Source: https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl )