He fixed water purifiers, while building castles in the air. He now creates 20–feet tall sandcastles– an incredible tale of life and luck
He was a water-purifier serviceman; but beads of sweat would wash his tools clean. He would carefully cocoon his tools in shreds of paper lying around, to pack them and take them home – for his living depended on them. He would mostly go about his days comfortably numb. But, all it took for him to crumble inside was the sinking realisation that now, all he was armed with to take on the world, were those tools.
Little did he know that his trusty tools will lead him to fruition.
It was just another one of those days, the kinds that were as exhausting as they were unrewarding. He proceeded to tear a section of a newspaper to wrap his tools, when something pierced through his despair to catch his attention. Suddenly, a montage of his childhood and his life’s happiest moments began to play out, lighting a spark in his weary eyes.
Most of us are made of mitti, but not this Narayan Sahu. Every inch of his body is a manifestation of golden flakes of sand.
A young and elated Narayan was home in the land of legend, Orissa, on thelocal beach along his village. He’s holding his life’s first trophy for creating a stupendous sculpture of their Lord Jagannath. It was the cynosure of all eyes as it stood tall for four days. And Narayan was as ecstatic at winning the local competition, as he was chiseling away at mounds of sand for days and nights before that, to bring it to life. It was all he knew.
Soon, that local tourney turned into regional championships, but Narayan never let the increasing scale intimidate him. He countered it instead, with increasingly glorious sculptures. If anything, the trophies got bigger, but hardly the size of competition. In Orissa, sand sculpting was a precious talent to have. The likes of Sudarshan Pattnaik themselves are sons of the sand, and have carved many a fine sand sculptures and sand sculptors alike. You were gifted if you knew how to entertain with sand in Orissa.
And this young villager harboured a secret – a dream as big as the grand sculptures he was so agile at creating. Immensely proud of his talent, and with good reason, he wished to unveil it in those – crowds the big bad world of the west. Never having been out of Orissa, he hadn’t a clue what he was taking on, but was confident that his talent wouldn’t fail him.
Staring at that piece of paper, it all came gushing back to him – why he had come to Mumbai in 2005, the hope he had pinned on the city of dreams, the career he had dared to imagine, and the life he had yearned to construct, around his dream of becoming a sand sculptor.
As I said, most of us are made of mitti, but not that Narayan Sahu. Every inch of his body is a manifestation of golden flakes of sand. But stripped of his tools and the luxury to caress sand, he felt like nothing but a mass of superfluous sand. That is the plight that the city of dreams rendered him in.
The city of dreams told him that all artists like him can do, is make sandcastles in the air.
Narayan had tirelessly knocked on the doors of artists, art galleries and malls alike, only to be told that his talent was worthless, and he’d be better off waking up and smelling the coffee, if he wished to be able to afford his place in that city of dreams.
He took up odd jobs that would pay him Rs 2500 a month initially, only so he could hold on to his vision a while longer. But the next four years were spent chasing cold trails, until he reached his breaking point. The sad demise of a dreamer in the city of dreams gave birth to a realist. A realist who serviced water purifiers convincing himself day after day, that maybe, this was the purpose of his life. Until that September day, when he wrapped his tired tools in a lucky piece of paper – with an article about Sand Cult, India’s Largest Sand Sculpture Exhibit in Goa.
The man behind it was Jerry Jose – and he was on a mission. A mission similar to Narayan’s, to show the world there is ‘gold in sand.’
“I had a cushy job at a leading communication consulting firm, a Nariman point office, the works. But I quit my job to rekindle my love for different kinds of art – installations and sculptures. I went to the J.J. School of arts, to meet fresh talent, but met a sand artist instead. Admittedly weirded out, I asked him to email me pictures nevertheless. That moment led to something amazing. I got curious and explored a whole new world,”
The world he had stumbled upon was still small, and one with few patrons. Sudarshan was and is synonymous with sand art. Even as his hands were worshipped and kissed internationally, back home, his art was yet to find a place in the mainstream.
Jerry couldn’t fathom that. There were so many talented artists Jerry found, yet, no means for them to realise their ambitions. “I conceptualised my venture. My artists had the passion, not the know-how. I endured to hone their talent.”
He rounded students from Mumbai and Pune to Goa–a strategic decision considering it attracted crowds which were more accepting towards quirky art-forms.
The Goa Tourism department gave him the nod to set up shop at Candolim. “That’s the story behind my first great exhibit. We put up a show and my sand artists created grand castles that grabbed some major eyeballs. Many sand artists emailed me from across the country – they have been wanting to come down to India for a long time, but didn’t know who to approach.” Without any sponsorship, Jerry invested his heart, blood and soul into sand art, artists and their mettle.
When Jerry met Narayan
Right when Jerry was about to embark upon his journey, Narayan,back in Bombay, was struggling to find a nexus to Jerry. Just Dial got them together, and Narayan pinned his last shred of hope on that conversation. Although it was too late for Jerry to include Narayan in his upcoming exhibit, he promised to meet him on returning to Bombay after wrapping up.
True to his word, he asked Narayan to meet him at a mall upon returning. He noticed how frightened he looked when he arrived.
“I never imagined that I would be allowed in a mall. I was so used to being driven out of all these upscale places,” shares Narayan. It didn’t take much time to discover that this was a marriage of one’s burning passion with the other’s heartfelt efforts.
Narayan wouldn’t have to service another purifier again.
They went on to work together with some of the greatest names in sand art from around the world – including Simon Smith –‘world’s master, people’s champion,’ as he is fondly referred to. The world’s premiere sand artist hailing from London had been spending his winters in Goa for many years. On learning about Jerry’s efforts, Simon paid the exhibition a visit, and was swept off his feet.
Simon instantly pledged to associate with Sand Cult and offered to train their artists. In India, due to a dearth of resources and know-how, the artists would mostly sculpt ‘soft-pack’ sand – easily available, economic, but not durable. Hard-pack, a superior quality of sand, was the choice of sand artists all over the world – but was sold at no less than Rs 80,000–90,000 a truckload. Sculptures made out of hard-pack would easily survive for months.
“With my previous salary of Rs 2,500 a month, small-time artists like me couldn’t even dream about working with hard-pack. Sand Cult has given me so many things. Including the chance to meet my role-model, Simon Smith,” says Narayan.
These exhibitions continued year after year, and Simon Smith trained Narayan to perfection. Smith put up a six-month long sand sculpture exhibition, India’s largest, as Narayan watched and learned in awe.
Smith’s strong suite was making magnificent castles, standing at 20 feet. Simon was so moved by Narayan’s devotion that he volunteered all his trade secrets to Narayan in a heartbeat – in return for nothing but a promise from the relentless artist that he work tirelessly to become the world’s foremost sand castle artist. His parting present to Narayan? Simon’s own ox-tool, that he had created masterpieces with for decades. Narayan’s life had come full circle, and in such a serendipitous manner.
Their castles were a sight one would never forget, Jerry insisted, but unfortunately, the audiences’ wonderment wasn’t proportionate to their respect for the art.
“I want to change this perception towards art. Art can’t be free. A great deal of hard work, time, and money has gone into putting this together.”
Far from respect, the quintessential drunkards and hooligans would often throw bottles and stones at the sculptures. But these sticks and stones never managed to break their bones.
“I would keep a donation box. I would encourage people to donate, especially if they were taking photographs.”He invoked kindness out of the most unexpected people, he jokes. Such was the response that Jerry keeps a staff and two security guards, comfortably.
Apart from his ingenious donation box, event management companies, hotels, and malls sought them out on various occasions to put up assemblages. But such projects weren’t easy to come by.
At 93 windows, the outcome was phenomenal. Narayan himself was zapped, but that’s Narayan for you. Everything he does is better than the last.
In fact, Jerry is only too willing to give, the second he feels he can – and that’s what inspired Sand Castle For A Cause. It had two causes, in fact– one is the cause they associate with and the other one is supporting the art. One lucky Saturday, he recollects, was when all expectations were surpassed – their usual Rs 7000–8000 a day revenue crossed a whopping Rs 45,000. They have pledged their proceeds to the cancer patients at Cancer Patients Aid Association at multiple occasions in the past. This cause was also one close to Simon Smith's heart, and he had also put up a solo exhibit for Sand Cult to do his bit.
Currently, the kingdom of sand art is at R-City Mall, Mumbai, under the name 'Sand Art Square'. Narayan's signature castle complete with an Alice in Wonderland photo-booth awaits the chance to thrill you.
“I might be the first guy who made a living out of sand here. If I hadn’t taken this step, talent like Narayan wouldn’t have gotten to live the dignified life they deserve,” says Jerry.
A deeply grateful Narayan agrees. “I was heartbroken, destroyed until I metJerry Sir. Had it not been for him, I would have been living a half-existence. I owe my life to Sand Cult, and today, I can confidently advice every artist to never stop dreaming.”