Rameshwar Broota graduated in Fine Arts from the Delhi College of Art in 1963 and joined that institution as a lecturer soon after. He has served as Head of the Art Department at Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi, since 1967, and has been based in the city for much of his career. Starting out as a portrait painter, Broota soon moved on to freer, less realistic figurative paintings in which he depicted people from marginalized sections of society that he encountered on a daily basis in Delhi. Works from this early period foreshadowed the artist's decade-long series of satirical Ape paintings of the 1970s that took his commentary on socioeconomic injustice and corruption in society to another level.
This monumental painting from 1966, an existential meditation titled What to Do, was inspired by Broota’s personal experience as a struggling artist and by the challenges of the laboring class. "When I was doing this, I was concerned with the struggle of the people. I was young and I didn't know what to do or where to go. When you are in college, you have a support system and then you come out and you are alone. At the time, there were not many artists and not many galleries and life was difficult. I was going through a very bad period; my whole family as well." (Artist statement, R. Dean & G. Tillotson, eds., Modern Indian Painting, Jane & Kito de Boer Collection, Ahmedabad, 2019, p. 244)
Here, the malnourished and skeletal figures represent starving laborers, dehumanized by bureaucracy and economic inequality. Employing scale to emphasize the helplessness of these withered beings, Broota makes it hard for viewers to ignore them or their plight. Their hollow, withdrawn forms further establish them in the viewers' conscious, creating a rare platform on which their subaltern voices might be heard. Just as the artist makes his concern explicit in the title of this painting, he visually represents his plea for those who are struggling and have nowhere left to turn through its imagery. Painted before the motif of the humanoid ape became a visual and social metaphor for the immoral and entitled social elite, the figures here are representative of the oppressed and silenced. "At that time I was concerned with the labour class, those hard-working people, and I thought they were suffering because of politicians [...] I was working very directly, drawing the labourers who were just starving and who didn't know what to do or where to go." (Artist statement, Ibid.)