‘Art’y Science

Jayant Gadgil’s dad was in the state government. Jayant’s basic education happened in a village where classrooms had short walls – and you could listen to whatever lecture seemed to interest you, unless the teacher got wise – and called you out to get you back mentally into his classroom. Jayant was the quintessential all rounder in school. Interested in History, Science, Theatre, Drawing and Sculpture. In order to resolve his confusion about a vocation, his dad asked him to take a three day vocational guidance test conducted by the State Government cell in Pune. This used to be free of cost then. It was supposed to show you where your vocation should be. The test did not help too much – he seemed to be good in almost everything. His mentor asked him about what he wants to do in life. He was clear, like his dad, all he wanted was a good job. So his mentor pushed him into science, where jobs are easily available. When he was in his 3rd year, he was more interested in botany, but again on mentor employment first advice, he chose chemistry.

Jayant went on to do his PhD from the National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, in the area of polymers. He worked on polymers which dissolve in cold water, but solidify in hot water! He also has had a stint for a few months in Paris. There he worked in the same lab where Marie Curie had worked. This is a small lab built on a 1 acre campus, sponsored by the Paris municipality. Yet, it has produced more than 6 Nobel laureates in the last 110 years. Moral of the story: knowledge does not require huge infrastructure. The question that I wanted to ask him, but couldn’t, was can school children do basic research? This is one of my dreams for the schools that we run.

Jayant creatively combines his education with his interest areas. In Japan, there are colouring techniques for brass items – patination. Jayant has been working on chemicals which can be used for patination in India’s bidri work. The current technology allows on only black and white work. He is experimenting with different chemicals, which can react with brass and create products of different colours.

Another ongoing project is on recycling of Plaster of Paris. Maharashtra generates a lot of PoP waste after every Ganpati season. PoP’s main advantage is in productivity of Idol makers. Two people working together can make 4-5 Shadu Maati idols in one day. But the same labor can be used to produce more than 200 PoP Ganpatis. Hence the popularity of PoP. He has come up with a process, whereby PoP can be reused after heating.

Another application area in sculpture is related to shelf life. Artists have to keep sculptures wet till the time that client approval is got. Sometimes clients can take months for their approval. Lata Mangeshkar took more than 3 months to approve is statue of Dinanath Mangeshkar which is currently in the eponymous hospital in Pune. Usually clay sculptures are sprayed with water everyday during this period, so that they remain workable. Jayant has has come up with a new mixture, where it is moldable even if it is kept for a few months. And no daily spray is required.

The process of creating a statue involves three steps. In the first step, the clay model is made. Then this is converted to a PoP cast. This PoP cast is being used for making a wax statue. And this is used for making a brass statue, using the lost wax process. Jayant has come up with the design of a flexible mould, which ensures that peeling of the mould is not very complicated. In PoP moulds, the number of elements of the mould had to be a lot, to ensure convexities are taken care off.

We discussed the threat of three-dimensional printing to sculptors. Jayant feels that the first copy will be as expensive in 3D printing as the artist has to put her mind to the posture and dimensions, But the second one will be much cheaper. My contention was that when you have automated scanning, even the first may not be expensive. The artistic input is in getting the right pose for preservation unto eternity. Anything which reduces manual labour, turns out to be less expensive in the long run.

We then did our usual Q and A with teachers. Omkar’s question was our kids don’t have chemistry till 7th standard, then how do we introduce chemistry to our kids before that? Jayant’s suggestion was to not call it chemistry. When you eat Jamun, whose pulp is usually reddish, it turns your tongue blue. This is because the mouth is alkaline. Or specifically, the saliva in the mouth is alkaline. If you add soap solution to Jamun pulp, will you get the same thing? What happens when you add nimbu? The assignment to students is to find out what else changes colour when put in Nimbu or soap? By the way it does not happen in beetroot, but it happens in coloured cabbage. Another interesting experiment: if you keep something which is written with a sketch pen in the sun for 7 days, the ink vanishes. Find out why. Kaizen: Good for paper reuse!

Nilam’s question was about wax museums. Jayant said that nowadays is not just wax in the statues, but also polymers like polythene. He gave a very interesting historical perspective to London’s Tussaud wax museum. Madame Tussaud left France after the French Revolution. A lot of her friends were killed or beheaded that time. So she started making wax sculptures in their memory. That hobby turned out to become a roaring business!

Rohini wanted to know how much a statue costs. Jayant used a story to make his point. One of his sculptor friend’s rich patrons wanted a sculpture in his Garden. It was to be modelled after Rome’s famous Fountain of Neptune. Even this rich patron could not afford brass, he had to settle for fiberglass! Moral of the story, cost depends most on the material used!

Anjali wanted to know what Jayant finds interesting in sculpting? He likes working with Shadu Maati. As a student of science, he teaches students about balance and Centre of Gravity through their sculpting. He feels that 3d art should be a compulsory part of every school education. There is a shop in Somwar Peth, near Kamla Nehru Hospital, which stocks everything that a sculptor requires. You can get a 30 kg bag of Shadu Maati for Rs. 200. One other material option for sculpting is to use paper, mixed with flour, salt and methi powder. The methi powder is used for its antifungal properties. Advantage of paper is that it is easily available, and cheaper than Shadu Maati.