Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Speak Space: A story of two painters

An excerpt from Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red ; Chapter 51

They tell a story in Bukhara that dates back to the time of Abdullah Khan. This Uzbek Khan was a suspicious ruler, and though he didn’t object to more than one artist’s brush contributing to the same illustration, he was opposed to painters copying from one another’s pages—because this made it impossible to determine which of the artists brazenly copying from one another was to blame for an error. More importantly, after a time, instead of pushing themselves to seek out God's memories within the darkness, pilfering miniaturists would lazily seek out whatever they saw over the shoulder of the artist beside them. For this reason, the Uzbek Khan joyously welcomed two great masters, one from Shiraz in the South, the other from Samarkand in the East, who'd fled from war and cruel shahs to the shelter of his court; however he forbade the two celebrated talents to look at each other's work, and separated them by giving them small workrooms on opposite ends of his palace, as far from each other as possible. Thus, for exactly thirty-seven years and four months, as if listening to a legend, these two great masters each listened to Abdullah Khan recount the magnificence of the other's never-to-be-seen work, how it differed from or was oddly similar to the other's. Meanwhile, they both lived dying of curiosity about each other's paintings. After the Uzbek Khan's life had run its long tortoiselike course, the two old artists ran to each other's rooms to see the paintings. Later still, sitting upon either edge of a large cushion, holding each other's books on their laps and looking at the pictures that they recognised from Abdullah Khan's fables, both the miniaturists were overcome with great disappointment because the illustrations they saw weren't nearly as spectacular as those they'd anticipated from the stories they'd heard, but instead appeared, much like all the pictures they'd seen in recent years, rather ordinary, pale and hazy. The two great masters didn't realize that the reason for this haziness was the blindness that had begun to descend upon them, nor did they realize it after both had gone completely blind, rather they attributed their haziness to having been duped by the Khan, and hence they died believing dreams were more beautiful than pictures.

Malavika Rajnarayan


  1. Yes, it is. The book has many more such stories and parables which I'll post on the blog.

  2. If you substitute real blindness or cataract with blindness caused by the hazy curtain of dogma, ossified 'tradition' and plain cussedness, we can see how this story is so relevant even today. And not just in painting but in every field of human activity.