Thursday, 26 July 2012

Thank you for coming back

I just noticed that I've had over 40,000 visitors to this site, from over 8000 places around the world! And 300 of you liked my blog enough to become Followers! I'm delighted, and honoured, and encouraged. Thank you.

Friday, 20 July 2012

They're all dying.

Death has really been getting up in my face, ever since that day in March
last year. I suspect death is getting up in most of my friends' faces,
at least the ones who are around my age. Why didn't the middle-aged
people TELL us these things, back when we were pompous young
adults full of energy, full of alcohol, ideas and confidence, full of
ourselves? (Well, maybe THAT's why!)

This is my newest discovery about middle age. It's worse than
the aching knees and the accidental flatulence. It's even worse than
my breasts' new love interest (gravity). It's that people are dying. Yes,
I know they're dying all the time everywhere, but somehow in
middle age it really does seem, to borrow a phrase from paragraph one,
up in my face.

I think it's because most of the people we know who are dying are in
their seventies or eighties. That's a niceish age to go, after having lived
through many of life's seasons - but this is not about them, it's about us,
the middle-agers left behind, and what it means to us. Our childhood
heroes are dying. The names we grew up with. Elizabeth Taylor.
Ray Bradbury. Rajesh Khanna. Daddy.

It goes beyond losing the person. It's also losing what they stood for:
our childhood, our dreams and aspirations, the background music for
so much of our adolescent drama. They were the foundations upon
which we grew, as we turned into the us we are today. It's scary. It tells
us that something is over. It tells us what is coming. It doesn't tell us
how to handle it, though. That's what our childhood heroes were for.

But to every thing a season, as someone said in a book I once read.
And then someone else took those words and turned them into a song,
and added the refrain, "Turn, turn, turn." It makes sense when I think
of winters and springs, of harvests and sowing. Here I am, somewhere
between summer and autumn. I need to stop looking ahead at the winter
to come, and focus instead on the springs that will follow - springs
that will depend on my fallen leaves and dried seeds and my rested,
restored, turned-over earth.

I need to keep reminding myself that somewhere there are children
for whom I could be the hero mourned one day, and that the best way
to honour my dead is to be for someone new, what my old heroes were for me.

Monday, 16 July 2012

One toe in.

Yes, I have finally made a timid venture into the realm of art
collecting. Don't get too excited. And don't make plans to raid
my home when I'm out. I haven't bought anything over
a thousand rupees (that's like twenty US dollars). I have no
intention of being one of those people who "invest" in art.
I am a "cheap and best" person. And any art I collect will
be art that speaks to me.

This is what spoke to me on Saturday evening:

I had gone to 1 Shanthi Road for a performance and art exhibition
by Khadu and Radha Chitrakar, two folk artists from Bengal.
The art form, called Patachitra (painting on cloth), was
the quaintest exercise in multi-tasking that I've seen in a long
time. It's painting, composing, singing, story-telling, literally
rolled into one.

Long painted scrolls reveal a story - either one long image,
or a series of frames, almost like a comic strip. The artist sings
as she (or he) holds up the scroll to the audience, pointing out
characters on the scroll as s/he sings about them, and slowly
rolling the scroll up in her hands as she goes.

It's the story that sparks of the creative process, that inspires
someone to compose a song. Some of the songs we heard were
composed many years ago, shared and passed down from
one generation of artists to the next. The song then inspires
the painting. Together, they become Patachitra. It's a pity though,
 that although the scrolls may go on to dress someone's wall,
the song gets left behind, captured only on video or in a memory.

So I shall never know, when I look at my paintings, the story
of the cat. Did he get the cover off that clay pot? No? Is that
why he looks so resigned to the treat so near and yet so far?
How did he get hold of the pot and what was in it, anyway?
That delicious sweet curd that Bengal is famous for?

And what's with those two Bengali aristocrats? I mean, they
look Indian, but those minarets, the hookah and coffee pot
tell a different story. I shall just have to make my own stories
and sing my own songs when I gaze at my deliciously quirky
paintings. It will be fun.

 But back to Saturday's performance - their voices weren't
the prettiest I've heard, and they weren't fitted out flamboyantly
in feathers or beads or festive colours. They just sat there
in their everyday clothes, no make-up or special lighting,
and they sang their songs and showed their stories. They
didn't always stay in pitch or rhythm; they were unfazed
at taking a pause to clear their throat with a soft cough.
They just did what they do. And it was delightful.

If you haven't already, I'd recommend you zoom in on
the pamphlet for a closer read - and a closer look too, at
that painting in the middle. Does it look familiar? (Oh,
and Suresh, if you're reading this, thanks. I copied the pamphlet
image from your Facebook page).

Many of the Patachitras tell stories of Hindu mythology,
tales of gods, goddesses and demons. But the demons in
that particular Patachitra are the planes crashing into New York's
twin towers. These artists don't limit themselves to tales
of ancient traditions. They take in the world around them
as it is today, and make it part of their art. You'll find patachitras
on a recent flood, on the AIDS issue, the Babri Masjid, and
yes, that awful day one long ago September.

I couldn't follow all the words when they sang this Patachitra
(apart from the occasional "Boosh" and "Laden") but after
they were done, our host translated the Bengali and explained
the story that told, and showed, the planes, the towers,
the victim's families, the war on Afghanistan, and finally
Osama Bin Laden sitting cross-legged in a cave! And the theme
that ran through the song was the question that so many of us
must have asked the world over:  Why? Why did so many people
have to die?

They ask good questions. And they answer difficult ones too.
Khadu, Radha and their daughter Rabia (that's her in the picture
with the hanging scrolls) - who sang to us about everything
from a fish's wedding, the 9/11 attack, a snake-goddess,
and a story from the Ramayana - are Muslims.They just do
what they do. And they are delightful.