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Matching Olive Green with Art

The Indian Army is all about valour, discipline, toughness, hardships and so on but a little known fact is that it is also quite a storehouse of art. A total mismatch you will say but not easily seen are their art treasures and not to miss the plethora of sensitive artists hidden behind the olive green facade.

>It is a pity that there is no documentary record of all the art objects that the Army possesses. Here, a small attempt is being made to draw the attention of the reader to this interesting collection. Maybe, next time you visit a friend in the Army a little more curiosity would be there to see more. Virtually all units possess something worth viewing; older units possess a great deal more. Since this organization is blessed with a unique sense of tradition and culture, all the art objects are invariably well cared for. The other aspect of army life that helps is their penchant for detail (young officers are perpetually coaxed to hone their "eye for detail"), therefore, one comes across well planned gardens, tastefully decorated entrances, huge rangolis (floor paintings) to say welcome and so on.

Where does one look and what does one look for? it is not easy to get rid of the bias that "art and fauj don't match". Officers' messes and information rooms and occasionally the Commanding Officer's office will yield positive results of your search. Ante-rooms in the Mess normally display the silver trophies, oil paintings and major shikar trophies (this is, of course, with only older units); in addition, captured flags could also be displayed. Being short of space most old units cannot display all their trophies and art pieces. Verandahs are normally adorned with minor shikar trophies, cap stands, etc. Very often you can see regional art from various parts of the country and also from abroad (in case the unit has been on an assignment abroad) -- the army man is a great collector. The bars are, in many cases, so well designed and decorated that they can qualify to be pieces of art themselves and you can see the most exquisite decanters and glasses of different shapes and sizes; but, traditionally, cartoons are displayed only here. Some units possess really good collections of these. The dining room displays some more silver and vintage crockery. In the ladies' room (on a number of occasions ladies do not enter the mess proper) and in the guest rooms one can find the overflow of paintings or items of comparatively recent vintage. The Quarter Guard (the cynosure of units) displays captured weapons, bell, etc. and really well maintained metal boards that display all the orders. The information room shows the innovative and creative side of the people in the presentation of various types of information. Medals honour board is also normally displayed here. Lest one forgets, one must mention here that sand models made for tactical discussions are pieces of art by themselves and are made by the soldiers.

Units have to take lots of care with their art pieces given the frequent moves; and when units move to field areas all these items stay packed for three years. Credit has to be given to the folks in olive green for being able to maintain their stuff despite moves, frequent packing and unpacking and varying degrees of humidity in different locations.

Art will manifest itself in many ways in the army, so you have to keep your eyes open all the time .... from napkin folding to menu stands at barakhanas; from the pouch belt the Havildar Major wears to using inner portions of banana trees as lamp shades; from war memorials to rock gardens; the lush green of cantonments and the list will go on and on Everything is planned and executed but the army does not make much of them. Lots of institutions and headquarters also possess art pieces and sometimes they have asked for them to be made as per a plan.

Individually, the talent available within the Army is astounding. They are not very visible, because generally people are reluctant to seek permission to go public (though it is not at all difficult). Painters, sculptors, photographers, landscapers, designers, ikebana specialists, bonsai makers, and so on are available in plenty. They think nothing of contributing their expertise and talent that become a part of the army.

The army is a huge reservoir of art; and surely, they deserve credit for protecting what they have held for years. They continue to do a good job of preservation despite the lack of expertise. So, think again, when you brush aside suggestions of linking art to the army as unlikely.

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