Reena talks about life with the artist Jitish Kallat, who is the curator of the Kochi-Muziris
By Shevlin Sebastian
One day in February, 2005, artist Jitish Kallat went to the Khandelwal Nursing home in Bandra, Mumbai to see his wife, Reena. She was nine months pregnant.When he entered the room, he saw that his wife was in deep pain. As he reached forward to console her, Jitish fainted and fell on the bed. It took a while for Jitish to be revived.
The pregnancy had been an overwhelming experience for him. “I remember how wonderstruck Jitish was when he saw the first sonography,” says Reena.
And despite the fainting fit, Jitish was present when Reena gave birth to a boy called Ahaan. “The birth of Ahaan was the high point of our lives,” says Reena.
Jitish and Reena had been classmates at the JJ School of Art in Mumbai. But it was not a typical romance. “It was about sharing our interests and spending time, more in libraries than anywhere else,” says Reena. “We would visit galleries, and meet friends from the theatre and art worlds. There was a lot of learning, growth and mutual understanding.”
But Reena did not agree with all that Jitish said or did. Inspired by the classic manifesto on art by American sculptor Claes Oldenburgh, Jitish and a fellow student did a performance in the class, where they mocked the JJ School and insinuated that it was 20 years behind, in terms of creativity and outlook.
“I disagreed with Jitish about how it was carried out,” says Reena. It was during their intense arguments about this that they realised that they had deep feelings for each other. But it was not going to be easy. While Jitish is a Malayali, Reena is a Punjabi. “Luckily, our families did not oppose us when we decided to get married,” says Reena.
It took place on September 12, 1999, three years after they graduated from the JJ School. Because Jitish's father had passed away, a year earlier, it was a low-key wedding, which was held at the Kochu Guruvayur temple at Matunga, Mumbai. “But my family was worried about our economic prospects,” says Reena. “In the 1990s, the art market was very small. In fact, we began staying in a one-room flat, and expected to make a modest living for a long time.”
But things have worked out well, thanks to a booming art market. Today, the couple live in a 2000 sq. ft. apartment in upmarket Bandra. Both Jitish and Reena have thriving careers and have exhibited all over the world.
So, they have been to places like Havana, New York, Venice, Gothenburg in Sweden and the Laurentian mountains of Southern Quebec, Canada.
“Those mountains were special,” says Reena. “Spending time in nature was wonderful, because it is a rare experience when you live in a city like Mumbai. We are very grateful for the opportunities life has given to us.”
But, as is well known, it is not easy for two artists to live together. “A lot of people ask me whether there is an intense competition between us,” says Reena. “Honestly, we have our share of disagreements, but the fact is that we have learned so much from each other, shared so much, and wished the best for the other. And that has helped us to preserve the relationship.”
Asked about her husband's plus points, Reena says, “Jitish is a sensitive person. He has been actively involved in the parenting of our child, Ahaan. For example, if our son is not eating, Jitish will invent a game and Ahaan will be so engrossed in playing it, that he is unaware that he is gobbling down the food. Jitish has the ability to make tasks very playful for Ahaan.”
Jitish has also been supportive of Reena. “In fact, he has been very respectful of my own career,” she says. “When I was focused on motherhood, Jitish would keep reminding me that I was far too talented, and that I should remain in touch with the art.”
Jitish, who is the curator of the 2014 Kochi-Muziris Biennale, is also a passionate man. “He invests his heart and soul in whatever he is doing,” says Reena. “What also helps is that Jitish has strong will power and determination. And that is why he has been successful.”
But Jitish is not very successful in keeping the house clean. “He is clumsy, and throws things about, but I have got used to it,” says Reena, with a smile.
Finally, when asked to give tips for a successful marriage, Reena says, “Do not have too many expectations before a marriage. What you sow in the marriage that you will reap. If your attitude is to only take from a relationship it will not work Lastly, you should enjoy all the challenges that life throws at you.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)