Wednesday, January 28, 2009

'Where the mind is without fear'...........

Where the mind is without fear..........

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Immortal words! This is Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore's dream of a free and glorious India. This poem (no. 35, from Tagore's Noble prize winning literary work 'Gitanjali') is very inspiring and timeless.

Here is a link for an audio-visual version of the above poem read by Samuel Godfrey George:

Following is the link to the poem in its musical form (rendered by various artists):

One of my all time favourite poems. Despite the passage of time, infact nearly a 100 years, each and every word echoes our sentiments, what is in our hearts, in these trying times! Tagore's words weave their magic immaculately to finally take the form of this glorious poem.

Note on Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore: Tagore was born in North Calcutta (now Kolkata) on the 7th of May, 1861, into one of the richest and most progressive families of Bengal. Also known by the sobriquets 'Gurudev' and 'Kabiguru,' Tagore was a polymath: he was a mystic, poet, philosopher, visual artist, playwright, novelist, composer, political thinker and educator whose works reshaped Bengali literature and music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He became Asia's first Nobel laureate when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. In appearance, with his long, flowing white beard, a head full of white hair, and long tunic, he was like a figure out of a mystical vision. In over six decades Tagore gave the world some 2,500 songs, more than 2,000 paintings and drawings, 28 volumes of poetry, drama, opera, short stories, novels, essays and diaries and a vast number of letters. The enormity and sheer emotional power of his work have made Tagore the one Asian writer/poet whose work is widely known beyond the region and whose reputation has endured the test of time.

'Gitanjali' ('Gitanjoli' in bengali) is a collection of 103 English poems, largely translations, by Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore himself. He earned worldwide recognition with the English version of 'Gitanjali' in 1912. The word 'Gitanjoli' has been coined by the amalgamation of two 'bengali' words - 'git' meaning 'song' and 'anjoli' meaning 'offering' and thus means - 'An Offering of songs.' But the word for 'offering', 'anjoli', has a strong devotional connotation, so the title may also be interpreted as 'Prayer Offering of Songs'.

The English collection is not a translation of poems from the Bengali volume of the same name. While half the poems (52 out of 103) in the English text were selected from the Bengali volume, others were taken from the following works (given with year and number of songs selected for the English text): 'Gitimallo' (1914, 17), 'Noibeddo' (1901, 15), 'Khea' (1906, 11) and a handful from other works of Tagore. The translations were often radical, leaving out or altering large chunks of the poem and in one instance even fusing two separate poems (song 95, which unifies songs 89, 90 of naivedya). In retrospect, the book demonstrates why writers should never be their own translators!

These translations were undertaken prior to a visit to England in 1912, where the poems were extremely well received. A slender volume was published in 1913, with an exhilarating preface by the renowned Irish poet and dramatist William B. Yeats (1865--1939), himself the winner of the Nobel prize for literature in 1923. In the same year (1913), based on a corpus of three thin translations, Rabindranath Tagore became the first non-European to win the Nobel prize.

Following are a couple of links to these timeless poems from 'Gitanjali': (this contains the introduction by W.B.Yeats as well)

Tagore was also a cultural reformer who modernised Bengali art by rejecting strictures binding it to classical Indian forms. Two songs written by him are now the national anthems of two sovereign countries India and Bangladesh: 'Jana Gana Mana' and 'Amar Shonar Bangla' respectively. Tagore is the only poet till date to have achieved this feat.

Gitanjali, Kabuliwalah, Dak Ghar, Nastoneer, Gora and Ghare-Baire are among his best-known works. The best of Tagore's stories erase distinctions between the self and the other. 'Rabindra-sangeet' / 'Robindra Shongeet' or the 'songs of Rabindranath Tagore' holds sway over the hearts of the people, on both sides of the frontier in Bengal. The beauty and depth of these songs are immeasurable. They have secured a unique place in the 'musical culture' of Bengal, again on both sides of the border. Attempts are underway to translate some of these timeless songs into hindi so as to reach a wider audiance.

e.g., here is a link to the hindi version of the bengali song 'Aamaro porano jaha chaye':

........and the bengali version of this song is as follows:

Rabindra-sangeet with its sheer beauty and lyricism retains its flavour, the language does not matter.

Following is the link to a slideshow containing translations (from bengali to english) of Tagore's poems compiled by some students of Stanford to celebrate the legacy of the great Tagore on the occasion of Rabindra Jayanti 2005. It is no doubt amateurish but a good effort nonetheless:

Proves yet again that it is difficult, nigh impossible, to capture and transfer the flavour and punch of one language into another. Herculean task, indeed! Or perhaps, Her Majesty's language has not yet developed the depth and indeed the soul required to understand, visualise and translate the titanic intellect and imagination of one of the greatest poets to have ever walked on this planet. There goes my chance of ever getting a knighhood or an OBE or CBE!

Rabindranath Tagore was the youngest son of Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, a leader of the Brahmo Samaj, which was a new religious sect in nineteenth-century Bengal and which attempted a revival of the ultimate monistic basis of Hinduism as laid down in the Upanishads.

He was educated at home; and although at seventeen he was sent to England for formal schooling, he did not finish his studies there. Later in life, in addition to his multifaceted literary activities, he managed the family estates, a project which brought him into close touch with both nature as well as common people and increased his interest in social reforms. He also started an experimental school at 'Shantiniketan' in rural Bengal where he tried his Upanishadic ideals of education. It combined the best of Indian and Western teachings, with a strong emphasis on the arts. After his death it slid rapidly downhill, but before it failed, it educated, among others, Indira Gandhi, Amartya Sen and Satyajit Ray (whose best films were adaptations of Tagore's stories e.g., 'Charulata').

From time to time he participated in the Indian nationalist movement, though in his own non-sentimental and visionary way. Tagore was knighted by the ruling British Government in 1915, but after the Amritsar Massacre/Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in 1919, in which the colonial troops led by Brigadier-General Dyer killed unarmed people, he renounced this honour in protest. But he had strong differences with Gandhi on the direction the freedom struggle should take. He did not support Gandhi's 'Non-Cooperation movement' against the British. But he was no friend of the British. The most controversial and in retrospect, prescient, aspect of Tagore's political thought was his opposition to 'Nationalism'.

Monism in Hinduism: Monism is found in the Nasadiya Sukta of the Rigveda, which speaks of the One being-non-being that 'breathed without breath'. The first system in Hinduism that unequivocally explicated absolute monism was the non-dualist philosophy of Advaita Vedanta as expounded by Shankara. In short, Advaita declares - All is Brahman. It is part of the six Hindu systems of philosophy, based on the Upanishads, and posits that the ultimate monad is a formless, ineffable divine ground of all being.

Vishishtadvaita, qualified monism, is from the school of Ramanuja. Shuddhadvaita, in-essence monism, is the school of Vallabha. Dvaitadvaita, differential monism, is a school founded by Nimbarka. Dvaita, dualist monism, is a school founded by Madhvacharya. All Vaishnava schools are panentheistic and view the universe as part of Krishna or Narayana, but see a plurality of souls and substances within Brahman. Monistic theism, which includes the concept of a personal God as a universal, omnipotent Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, is prevalent within many other schools of Hinduism as well. Monistic theism is not to be confused with monotheism where God is viewed as transcendent-only. In monotheism, the notion of immanence or actual presence of God in all things is absent.

Monism in philosophy can be defined according to three kinds: Idealism, phenomenalism, or mentalistic monism which holds that only mind is real. Neutral monism, which holds that both the mental and the physical can be reduced to some sort of third substance, or energy. Physicalism or materialism, which holds that only the physical is real, and that the mental can be reduced to the physical. Certain other positions are hard to pigeonhole into the above categories.

In the English-speaking world, the writings of Tagore are no longer widely read. Nonetheless, for millions of Bengalis and even non-bengalis who live or have lived in Bengal, Tagore's songs, poems and writings continue to resonate.

Here is the link of Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna rendering the song 'Aguner Poroshmoni':

Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna is one of the towering figures in contemporary Karnatik (South Indian) music.

aguner porosh moni chhoao prane
e jibom punyo koro
e jibon punyo koro
e jibon punyo koro
dohon dane
amar e dehokhani tule dhoro
tomar oi debaloyer prodip koro
nishidin alok sikha jwoluk gane

adharer gaye gaye porsh tobo
sararat photak tara nobo nobo
noyoner dristi hote ghuchbe kalo
jekhane porbe setha dekhbe alo
betha mor uthbe jwole urdhopane……..
aguner poroshmoni...........

..................................................Beautiful song. Amazing lyrics.

Tagore left this mortal world on the 7th of August, 1941, at the age of 80, in the house where he was born.

Let me end by providing a link to Tagore's rendition of one of his own songs:

Photograph: Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore, Asia's first Nobel laureate - awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. He was also the first Non-European to win the Noble prize. There is also the e-version of his signature, in Bengali.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pottering about 'Pottery Town' and going nutty over pottery!

After I winded up my 'dekko' of the exhibitions I was on my way to the 'Pottery Town.' I was totally getting nutty over pottery! The word is 'pottery', mind you and not 'potty' (Cheeee!)

The 'Pottery Town' of Bangalore is the equivalent of 'Kumartuli' or 'Kumortuli' or the 'Potters Town' of Kolkata. But, smaller in area. Heaps of pottery of all shapes and sizes lay around. Pots of various shapes/sizes, plates, earthen cups or 'katoras' or 'matir bhand' as they call it in Bengal, and used for sipping tea; 'mitti ka chulha' or earthen stoves (I said 'Chulha' and not 'Dulha', no 'Dulha' is made of mitti!), utensils used for cooking and other household use, jars of different types, piggy-banks, lamps, other decoration pieces, apart from various figures/figurines. These came in the shape of elephants, horses (including the famous 'Bankura Ghoda') but were coloured a golden yellow. I was overjoyed to see the 'Bankura Ghoda' finally, after having searched for it in vain for a long time (in Bangalore), but was not too keen to get one that came with a 'Golden' touch. Not to be mistaken with the 'Midas touch'........I am all for the 'Midas touch!'

My interest in clay, terracotta and pottery led to the discovery that for most pottery stuffs, 'Pottery Town,' as the name suggests, is the best destination. The ‘town’ is a few rustic alleys choc-a-bloc with pottery raw material, local potters and their ware. On request they can acquire various qualities of clay by the kilos and if one looks around a bit it might be possible to rent a potter’s room with wheel and all. A lot of the finished pots and sculptures and terracotta artifacts that are sold here are fascinating and bears the 'personal touch' of the potter, while the designs stay within the lines of traditional pottery and local art. That way one gets 'the best of both worlds' so to speak!

Pottery Town was born when the Government gave 60 potters a designated area on a 30-year lease and 23 families are in business here. I have always been very fascinated by pottery, especially the 'potter's wheel' and was actually looking forward to visiting Pottery Town for a while. This is an integral part of the culture of Bangalore and by extension of India as well. I came away even more fascinated. Needless to say, I intend to visit again as I missed out on seeing with my own eyes 'a potter busy at work with his wheel.'

The great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned his thoughts on the wheel:

Turn, turn, my wheel! Turn round and round
Without a pause, without a sound:
So spins the flying world away!
This clay, well mixed with marl and sand,
Follows the motion of my hand;
For some must follow, and some command,
Though all are made of clay!
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Keramos (l. 1)

The potter's wheel in myth and legend: The 'Potter's wheel' has many a myth and legend weaved around it. In Ancient Egyptian mythology, the God Chnum was said to have formed the first humans on a potter's wheel.

Omar Khayyam (1048 - 1122), the great Persian mathematician, philosopher, astronomer and above all poet, wrote the following immortal lines in his 'Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam':

All this of Pot and Potter--Tell me then,
Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?
- Omar Khayyam ('The Tent-Maker'),
The Rubaiyat (st. 87),
(translated by the English writer and poet Edward FitzGerald - 1809-1883)

Khayyam is thought to have been born into a family of tent makers (literally, al-khayyami means 'tent maker').

And Men Became The Potters: Until the arrival of the wheel, women usually made the pots - by coiling. But, with many other responsibilities they could only be part-time potters. With the invention of the wheel, men appeared to take over from their womenfolk the task of making pottery in most ancient cultures. The villages of the Near East were now growing into towns, and this resulted in more demand for pottery. Probably this need for increased pottery production proved impossible for the women to cater to what with their considerable commitments to child rearing, food preparation and other aspects of family life. Although one person could make pots more quickly with a wheel, still more full-time labour was required to decorate, finish and fire these increasing amount of pottery. Clearly, in all communities many people became full-time potters from the third millennium B.C. onwards.

It appears that predominantly 'Matriarchal' village societies gradually became dominantly 'Patriarchal' as bigger urban communities became more organised and complex. Looks like the 'humble' pottery shaped the future of communities and culture and by extension the world we inhabitate today. So, if any of us have any complaints we know whom to 'blame!' If only Shrub Jr. had known this!

I am extremely tempted to add a note on 'Kumartuli' or the 'Potters Town' of Kolkata.

Kumartuli, the nerve centre of the clay idol-makers of West Bengal, is home and workshop to more than one hundred and fifty families of clay model-makers. Criss-crossed by a maze of narrow gullies men, women, children and even the images of gods and goddesses, alike, have to find their way out through these dingy lanes.

Kumartuli, the clay model-makers haven, is older than Calcutta (now Kolkata), which grew out of three little villages, viz., Gobindapore, Kalikutta and Sutanooti way back in 1690. The history of the Kumartuli potter can be traced back to Krishnanagar in South Bengal. To begin with, around the middle of the seventeenth century, potters in search of better livelihood came from Krishnanagar to Gobindapore, a prosperous village on the banks of the river Bhagirathi (now the river Hooghly), to eke out a living by making earthen ware pots, clay toys and cooking utensils for household use. When the land at Gobindapore was acquired by the British East India company for building Fort William, the inhabitants migrated further up the river to Sutanooti. The potters moved in at their new destination, colonized a vast area and named it Kumartuli, the term 'kumar' meaning 'a potter' and 'tuli' - 'a locality.' 'The Bengal Consultations,' a journal dating back to 1707 AD, gives an account of the presence of 'Kumars' who occupied 75 acres of land in Sutanooti, which is a constituent part of present day north Kolkata.

Just where history ends and legend begins no one is quite sure. The lines get blurred. Kumartuli's clay model-makers claim their descent from people who made images of Durga for Maharaja Krishna Chandra of Krishnanagar. However, many historians are of the opinion that the ancestors of the artisans were potters who had drifted in during the days of the British Raj but the power of the legend still overwhelms the ordinary visitors.

Kumartuli, densely populated, is a hive of activity from June to the end of January as artisans get busy making scores of images for the annual autumnal festival - the Durga puja (followed by the Lakshmi puja and the Kali puja). A potters colony ever since its inception and a model-makers haven now, it is the home of the finest clay-artisans in India.

Thereafter, I proceeded to have a look at some of the items displayed at the makeshift stalls selling pottery items on the road - 'roadside pottery' or 'rasta pottery.' I decided to also have a look at the 'Chhattishgarh Handicraft Emporium' to make up for missing out on the exhibition on crafts from Chhattishgarh. Here, too there was a sale going on. So far so good! Or thats what I thought. Once inside, I discovered that it was entirely a handloom and dress material show, no craft items were on display. I spent some time admiring the handloom products - they were colourful stuffs with attractive designs/needlework on them, some had mirror-work on them. I had no plans to buy dress materials, hence proceeded to my other destination - to have a look at the roadside pottery.

I visited a place in R.T.Nagar. This was (wo)manned by a tribal lady from Rajasthan along with her family, her children to be more precise. The pottery items on display took my breathe away! There were decorative jars of all sizes, lamps or deepas, elephants of various shapes and colours, clay wind chimes, pots and decorative pots of various shapes, a figure of Lord Ganesh on a Peepal leaf, utensils used for cooking and other household use, mitti ka chulha (earthen stove), other decorative figures like a statue standing with folded hands (as if in a 'welcome' gesture) , the Chinese 'Happy Man' and of course the 'Bankura Ghoda.' These 'ghodas' too came in different sizes. I was relieved to see that they were without the 'golden touch', instead were in black, brick red and silver-white. I liked the silver-white ones but they was too big for my terrace garden, hence settled for the black one (there was only one horse in black) and another a brick-red one.

My quest for the elusive 'Bankura Ghoda' (Bankura Horse) has finally ended. Yippee! They now proudly stand on my garden, facing each other, one near the Almonda and pink Anthurium plants, the other near the majestic bird-of-paradise plant. I have named the black ghoda 'Black Beauty' and am still name-hunting for the brick-red one. Any suggestions?

I bought the statue standing with folded hands (as if in a 'welcome' pose) and this has found pride of place in front of the main door of my house on the second floor. Keeping these statues clean is no problem at all. We just pour water on them every morning while watering the plants. Talk about 'two in one' or better still 'two birds with one stone!'

This roadside stall also displayed 'POP' items. No, these have nothing to do with Michael Jackson or Britney Spears or Madonna or anyone of their ilk! These are articles made of 'Plaster of Paris'. No relation with 'Paris Hilton' either! Thankfully!

I was very impressed with these POP items too. On display were a pair of peacock, a pair of parrot, elephants of various sizes, flower vase and decoration vases of various sizes, the statue of a girl holding a rose, the Chinese 'Happy Man,' among others. I wanted to buy some elephant figures (two big ones and the others smaller in size, to denote a family of Mama and Papa elephants and kiddy elephants), couple of decoration vases and the statue of the girl holding a rose. We all have heard of 'The Lady with the Lamp,' I decided to call this girl 'The Girl with the Rose.' Lack of space in the vehicle I was travelling in prevented me from doing so, which necessitates yet another visit to this place in the near future.

Needless to say that I am actually looking forward to making another trip to this roadside stall selling pottery items, besides visiting other such stalls, as well as to the 'Pottery Town.' And I will do so shortly.

Let me end by borrowing another quote from the great Khayyam's 'Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam':

Said one among them: "Surely not in vain
My substance of the common Earth was ta'en
And to this Figure moulded, to be broke,
Or trampled back to shapeless Earth again."
- Omar Khayyam ('The Tent-Maker'),
The Rubaiyat (st. 84),
(translated by the English writer and poet Edward FitzGerald - 1809-1883)

Photograph: A 'Potters Wheel' rotates.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever........

I am back to blogging after a break (or break ke baad) as has become 'fasionable' to say these days, courtesy the 'idiot box'. I did better be in tune with the 'fashion' of the times if I do not want to be labelled as a 'senior citizen' or 'auntyji' or horror of horrors 'a relic from the past' or more precisely 'antique piece'!

I have attended a couple of (what else?) art and crafts exhibitions and also had a look around the famous 'Pottery town' as well as some 'rasta pottery' or 'roadside pottery' stuff sold by some tribals. And came away even more enlightened than before. I was reminded of the words of the great Chinese thinker and philosopher Confucius, "Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it".

The first was an exhibition of 'Handmade Products' with the participation of craft groups from Manipur and Gujarat. On display were exquisite collection of basketry, tie-dye, lacquer, silver and leatherwork, bead embroidery, Shibori textiles, bamboo work, handmade paintings, Bodo shawls, jewellery, colourful kurtas and jackets, some brassware, bags and various showpieces among others. I was quite impressed with the bamboo and cane baskets, carry bags, handbags and garden cushions and mattresses. These were from Manipur. I ended up buying a couple of hand made paintings though. They have now found a permanent place on the walls of my home.

The next was an 'Annual Sankaranti Utsav Cottage Mela'.

I was extremely disappointed to know that I had missed out on the 'Chhattisgarh Handloom and Handicrafts Exhibition' at the same venue by a matter of only three days. I learnt that the main attraction were Kosa Saree, dress material, Kosa Malmal, salwar suit, Jackets, Cotton Saree, Suit, Bed Sheet, Cotton Suiting, Pillow Cover, Parda Cloth, Luhangi, Towel, different items of Bellmetal (Deepdan), Terrakotta, Wooden Craft and Bamboo Craft.

How could I miss this? Oh! How could I? If only I had known and been there three days early. 'If only'.........yeh 'if' bhi naa.............

The 'Cottage Mela' displayed a splendid collection of crafts for the festive season with over sixty craftspersons participating.

The mela has almost everything that one would expect — handloom textiles, decorative items and jewellery from different parts of the country under one roof, showcasing the art of over sixty craftspersons who have been the recipients of national or state awards.

Dokra brass craft from Bastar in Chattisgarh and Meenakari work from Rajasthan, Warli tribal art from Maharashtra, Madhubani paintings from Bihar were some of the most prominent stalls at the exhibition. There were stalls with Kutchi work and embroidered bedspreads, cushion covers from Bhuj, painted ceramics from Uttar Pradesh and some exquisite batik work from West Bengal. Block-printed kurtas and patchwork quilts from Rajasthan were also on display. Craftspersons from Jaipur displayed fine marble work embellished with gold and those from Karnataka showcased sandalwood and other wood carvings that were simply fascinating to say the least. A spread of silver jewellery and some very fashionable terracotta jewellery from Bangalore were on sale too. Along with this exhaustive line of items, furniture from Kashmir too was on display. A mini-India under a single roof! Really!

Needless to say that I had a great time going from one stall to another. I admired the Madhubani paintings, Dokra and other handmade paintings on display, but since I already have a good collection of these, courtesy my previous visits to other such exhibitions, I did not add to it this time. I bought a wall hanging depicting a village scene (farming). The entire scene was made of plastic and then coloured and framed. This was a local art. It was lovely to look at. Trust me! My next purchase too came from yet another local stall selling wood carvings. Here, I got to speak with the artist directly. He showed me his sandalwood works as well as carvings out of teakwood, sesame wood and other 'lesser wood'. These included images of Gods and Goddesses (Lord Krishna, Lord Ganesha, Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati among others), decorative items like pen stand, flower vase, animal figures, like that of the elephant, trinkets like key chains, paper weights, bracelets, necklace, letter openers, etc. These trinkets came in their sandalwood avatar as well. An aromatic encounter indeed!

There was an exquisite sandalwood carving of the Buddha. Such intricate carving! The artist explained to me that these carvings were to be done with great care and that even if a single arch went wrong, the whole figure will have to be discarded. It was simply marvelous. Truely a feast for the eyes! I bought a sesame wood flower vase and a teak wood version of the 'Ashoka Pillar' - the national emblem. "Satyameva Jayate!"

This means "Truth Alone Triumphs". Is 'officially' the National Motto of India.

Next was a stall displaying the famous Minakari/Enamelling work from Rajasthan. The gentleman at the stall did not make them himself in true sense of the word but had 'karigars' working for him and was quite knowledgable. He shared with me the process of making these 'Minakari' items. Learning via 'osmosis'. I was all ears!

These are done on a copper base. First, the copper base is oxidised, then the 'minakars' engrave the surface of the metal with intricate designs using a metal stylus which is then filled in with special colours called 'Mina'. The copper base along with the mina is then placed on a furnace where the colours fuse and harden to become one with the surface. The designs (done earlier with the metal stylus) become prominent. Then the whole metal is treated with lacquer (on either side of the copper surface, that is) that helps to highlight the lusture of each colour. And viola! you have beautiful minakari artefacts at hand. I bought one such piece with the design of a dancing peacock (amidst a background of brilliant colours: bright red, blue, purple, green and yellow) and several keychains displaying elephants, a peacock, the sanskrit symbol of the word 'Aum', as well as 'India' etched on them, among others. I am all for 'patriotism' and this was my way of 'PDP' - 'Public Display of Patriotism'! Did I just coin the word?

Well, with the way I am contributing to the enrichment of the English language, the British better honour me with a 'Knighthood' or an 'OBE' or 'CBE' at the very least!

There were other items on display too: pen stands, jewellery, fruit bowls, diyas, to mention a few.

Minakari work is 'low maintenance'. Water or dust do not affect the 'works' as such, they can be dusted with a cloth periodically. I plan to hang the one with the 'peacock design' on it on the wall. I also tried being innovative and tied the keychains together with a black thread and hung it up (where else again!) on our terrace garden next to the wind chimes! They add to the beauty of our garden!

To quote the great English poet John Keats, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever; its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness".

I was both intrigued and fascinated with this kind of work and decided to learn more about Minakari. Here is what I gathered.

This is a hereditary craft and it is rare that outsiders are allowed to acquire any knowledge of their craft. The process followed is long drawn and complex in which a single piece of mina may pass through many expert hands before being completed. The traditional process starts with the designer (nacquash, chitera) and moves on to the goldsmith (sonar, swarnakar), the engraver who engraves the design (kalamkar, khodnakar), the enamellist who applies the colour (minakar), the polisher (ghotnawala, chiknawala), the stone-setter (jadia, kundansaaz), and the stringer (patua), all of whom are ingredients of an important chain of craftsmen that create the finished product. However, due to paucity of skilled tradesmen often a single artisan wears many hats as it is the experience gained over the years that comes in handy to perform a multiplicity of tasks.

Enamelling or minakari is the art of colouring and ornamenting the surface of metals by fusing over it brilliant colours that are decorated in an intricate design. The Mughals invented the art of enamel or minawork metalcraft and it was popular with both the Mughals and the Hindu princes of Rajasthan where it was used for creating precious objects and enriching jewellery. Gold has been used traditionally for minakari jewellery as it holds the enamel better, lasts longer and its lustre brings out the colours of the enamels. Silver, a later introduction, is used for artefacts like boxes, bowls, spoons, and art pieces while Copper which is used for handicraft products were introduced only after the Gold Control Act, which compelled the minakars to look for a material other than gold, was enforced in India.

The 'minakars' engrave the surface of the metal with intricate designs using a metal stylus which is then filled in with colours. The mina is then placed in a furnace where the colours fuse and harden to become one with the surface. Thereafter the piece is then gently rubbed with a file and cleaned with a mixture of lemon and tamarind that helps to highlight the lusture of each colour. Enamel colours are metal oxides mixed with a tint of finely powdered glass where the oxide content controls the shade obtained The colour yellow is obtained through the use of chromate of potash, violet through carbonate of manganese, blue through cobalt oxide, green through copper oxide, brown through red oxide, and black through manganese, iron, and cobalt. The brilliant red is the most difficult of colours to achieve. White and ivory, though difficult, are achieved through a mix of antinomies of potash, hydrated iron oxide, and carbonate of zinc. The colours are applied according to their level of hardness, beginning with the hardest. Before the enamel is applied, the surface of the ornament is carefully cleaned. In their raw form these mixtures do not always show their true colours, which emerge only when they are fired in the kiln. The average firing temperature is about 850 degrees celsius. The enamel colours are bought either from Amritsar in the Punjab or from Germany or France.

Enamelling was practised in many centres in India and each region specialised in its own variation of style and technique. In Lucknow the speciality of the minakars was blue and green enamelling on silver, while in Banaras the dusky rose-pink or the gulabi mina was the dominant colour. The craft was also practised in Kangra, Kashmir, and Bhawalpur. It was, however, most vibrant in Jaipur (Rajasthan) and in Delhi, and these two centres continue to create minakari pieces of excellence till today.

Two forms of enamelling that are popular in Jaipur and Delhi are the champlevé style - where the metal is engraved to create depressions into which colour is embedded and the repoussé form - in which a thin metal plate is embossed over a prefabricated die which has the design etched on one of its sides. The metal plate is moulded over the die by stamping on it. Once this is done the grooves are etched with the help of a metal stylus that has its front flattened and shaped like a wedge to be used for carving and engraving the base metal after which the colours are filled into the areas created. The powerdered mina is then dispersed with a metal spatula into the palette and with the help of long pointed needles of different thicknesses the colour is applied on the carved or moulded metal plate. Tools for the final cleaning of the piece include an iron needle and a file. Creepers and vines, flowers (particularly the lotus), birds (especially the parrot and the peacock), paisleys, geometric patterns, and calligraphy are some of the more commonly used designs. The colours used are red, green, white, and blue. Minakari is not just confined to traditional jewellery but diversifies into more 'modern' products, often with a copper base, including bowls, ashtrays, key chains, vases, spoons, figures of deities and wall pieces.

Awesome, isn't it? We are 'Indians' but yet to 'discover India'.

Minakari art was a remarkable innovation of the Mughals in metal craft and can be rightly described as the Mughals' vision of 'Paradise on Earth'.

The great Lebanese-American poet, writer and philosopher Kahlil Gibran had said and I quote, "Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror". Eternal words, indeed.

'Minakari' work is truely enchanting! I was under a spell and still am.
The great French writer and philosopher Voltaire's immortal words came back to me, "It is not sufficient to see and to know the beauty of a work. We must feel and be affected by it".

Next, I moved on to a store selling wall hangings. These were quite unique. I was told that this was a craft from Varanasi. The wall hangings were made on a jute cloth/background and were of two kinds. One, in which numerous designs with silk threads were done on the jute cloth. Sceneries, animals, birds, etc., formed these designs. These usually took three days to complete, each design, that is. The other type was in which designs were done with jute threads on the jute background. These took four days to complete. Here again the designs were various sceneries, animals, birds, etc. The wall hangings came in different sizes and were lovely to look at. There were silk shawls, silk wall hangings on a silk background, zari work, bags, among other stuffs on display. I bought one wall hanging (with designs made with jute threads) depicting an elephant with two huge white tusks walking on dark green grass. I was told that these were washable. This now adorns yet another wall of my house giving it an interesting touch.

I moved on to a stall with Papier-mâché (French for 'chewed-up paper' due to its appearance) articles. These too were decorative pieces, with wall/ceiling hangings/ jewellery box, coaster holders, among others. There were wooden items as well, in which carvings were made on wood, then painted and finally given a lacquer finish for the shine. Brilliant! Flower vase, easter egg shaped showpieces, jewellery box, etc., were part of the latter.

Coming back to Papier-mâché. I was 'quite taken' with the wall/ceiling hangings. They came in various shapes: bells, shaped like a ball, heart-shaped. I finally settled for a couple of bells. They have exquisite carvings/paintings on them filled in with brilliant colours and finally with a lacquer 'finishing touch'. Très Bon!

So intrigued was I with Papier-mâché that I decided to do some research on my own and came away 'wiser'.

Papier-mâché (French for 'chewed-up paper' due to its appearance), sometimes called paper-mâché, is a construction material that consists of pieces of paper, sometimes reinforced with textiles, stuck together using a wet paste (e.g., glue, starch, or wallpaper adhesive). The crafted object becomes solid when the paste dries. Papier-mâché paste is the substance that holds the paper together. The traditional method of making papier-mâché paste is to use a mixture of water and flour or other starch, mixed to the consistency of heavy cream. While any adhesive can be used if thinned to a similar texture, such as polyvinyl acetate wood glue, the flour and water mixture is the most economical. Adding oil of cloves or other additives to the mixture reduces the chances of the product developing mold. The paper is cut or torn into strips, and soaked in the paste until saturated. The saturated pieces are then placed onto the surface and allowed to dry slowly; drying in an oven can cause warping or other dimensional changes during the drying process. The strips may be placed on an armature, or skeleton, often of wire mesh over a structural frame, or they can be placed on an object to create a cast. Oil or grease can be used as a release agent if needed. Once dried, the resulting material can be cut, sanded and/or painted, and waterproofed by painting with a suitable water repelling paint.

To quote the celebrated Irish novelist Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder". How very apt.

I winded up my 'dekko' of the exhibitions and was on my way to the 'Pottery Town'.

Photograph: A painted 'pot' - a craft item displayed at one of the 'Cottage Melas.'

Monday, January 19, 2009

My Encounter with the Unsung Artisans - the Lifeline of the Indian Cultural Heritage.

This is another subject close to my heart. Therefore, I am penning down, rather blogging my thoughts.

It is said that 'the Ganga is the Lifeline of Indian Culture'. I do not dispute that. We also know about the current state that this great river is in. Rather forced to be in.

To my mind, the Artisans are 'the Lifeline of the Indian Cultural Heritage'. Not unlike the great Ganga, they too remain unsung and neglected. Sadly.

Across the country, artisans and craftsmen are leading lives under extreme poverty. This, despite the fact that their products sell nationally and internationally at inflated prices. Artisans work hard to keep alive our traditional art, handloom, handicrafts and other artifacts. These products are immensely popular due to their 'ethnic' touch and 'antique' look and feel. This explains the growth of an entire industry around them. But sadly, the artisans and craftsmen themselves are the last to benefit.

Infact, they are at the bottom of the handicrafts 'Food Chain' or maybe the 'Heritage Chain'.

The culprits are the 'middlemen'. These middlemen buy the products from the artisans at a minimal price and sell them to the buyers at exorbitant rates, thereby siphoning off all or most of the profits. A la 'Satyam' but with many more zeros added to the figure, perhaps! This 'channel' needs to go.

Unless and until craftwork provides sustainable benefit to artisans, it will be hard for them to carry forward their skills. These artisans and their skills are the custodian of the art, culture and heritage, in short, the rich cultural heritage of this great land, the future generations will have much to lose and will be much the 'poorer' culturally or heritagewise/heritagically. I am not sure if I have just coined these two words and have just contributed to the enrichment of the English language in my own humble way (unlike the current occupant of the highest office of the sole super-power!) But, I guess they clearly convey my point of view.

In India, the handicrafts sector is still the second largest provider of employment after agriculture, and a number of agricultural communities depend on crafts for their survival during times of drought, famine and other natural disasters. However, till date, there is no official figure of the number of people involved in the handloom and handicraft sector. Probably there is no 'concensus' over this 'census'! Even when we are stepping into the 63rd year of 'Independence'. Mind you.

In India, which has a rich cultural heritage, the arts and crafts of the land can contribute significantly towards the national economy and in raising the standard of living of a vast majority of its people. Truely, India would be shining then! However, that can happen only if the artisans are confident and self-reliant, and are given the chance to interact directly with the buyers of their products.

Is that asking for too much!? Perhaps. The slogan 'Jai Jawan! Jai Kisan!' is firmly in place even though the fate of both is uncertain. No 'Jai Karigar!' Legend has it that the craftsmen who built the Taj Mahal preserved their names in stone. These unknown masons never received publicity for their work. Perhaps it was the craftsmen's own attempt to preserve their memory down the centuries and defy the ravages of time.

Half a millennium later, the fate and circumstances of the craftsmen echo that of their ancestors. They still remain unsung. Whoever said 'Change is the only constant?'

I have been attending a few of the Handicrafts and Art and Artefacts exhibitions lately. About half a dozen in the last five months. Not too bad, even though I would like to be a more frequent visitor and am looking forward to the next exhibition. These exhibitions showcase craft items and artefacts from all over the country.

Let me share my thoughts and experiences.

Various kind of paintings were on display: The Tribal 'Gond' paintings from Madhya Pradesh, 'Madhubani' paintings from Bihar, Palm Leaf Engraving/Etching of Orissa, Pata Chitra/Icon Painting of Orissa, 'Kalamkari' hand paintings of Andhra Pradesh, Straw picture craft and many more. Madhubani painting comes from the villages of Madhubani and Mithila in Bihar. The main themes of Madhubani paintings contain images of deities such as Krishna, Ram, Shiva, Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. One can also find beautiful Madhubani paintings of sun, moon and tulsi or the sacred basil plant. Scenes of royal courts and social events such as celebration of wedding, etc., are also beautifully depicted in Madhubani paintings.

I came across a stall displaying 'Madhubani' paintings, but unlike the ones I have mentioned above. These depicted birds and fish in different backgrounds. The lady (from Bihar) who was at the stall was the painter herself and appreciated my curiosity. Infact, indulged it! I learnt that she was a state award winner for her art. The paintings were all made on hand-made paper and I was told that only hand-made paper is used for this type of paintings, else the colour will not catch on. The drawings are done with 'Kajal' or 'kohl' and then painted with herbal colours and vegetable dyes e.g., colours extracted from beans, milk of peepal and banyan leaves, turmeric, rice powder, kajal, etc., and retain their shine and texture for a very long time. I was fascinated!

I also spoke with the persons at the stalls selling the 'Madhubani' paintings, palm leaf engravings and pata chitra. Needless to say that they too were the painters and engravers themselves. And yes, they too indulged my inquisitive behaviour. I feel that these artisans, craftsmen and painters appreciate queries on their art - something that they create so painstakingly. It is not just the monetary consideration which inspires them to do and carry on doing what they do - but a genuine love for their craft. And a pride in their creation. All the artisans I met and spoke with have been in this trade for generations and even now their entire families are devoted to these crafts. I am now the proud owner of several 'Madhubani' paintings depicting tales from our great epics 'Ramayana' and 'Mahabharata', some on mythological stories, village life/scenes, life under kings rule and tribal life and customs.

Palm Leaf Engraving/Etching of Orissa: It is believed that the craft emerged during the construction of temples and converted into hereditary craft for some families. Well known tales from the epics and other mythological stories are etched on palm leaf. I own one such painting depicting Lord Vishnu's 'Dasavathara', and some depicting scenes from our epics and mythology. The artist even showed me how they drew on the palm leaf. Usually, a needle is used for the purpose, since there was no needle in sight (even though we were not on a haystack!) he used a sharp-nibbed pen for the same. Once the drawing is done, the palm leaf is soaked in water, for the black lines or the contours of the sketch/painting to come forth and be visible. Once this happens, the leaves are dried and then colour is applied. Here again, herbal colours are used. These palm leaf engravings are sold even without colour and are equally popular.

Patachitras are known for their bold lines and brilliant play of colors. It is a hereditary art practiced by the family of the painters usually living in the vicinities of the temples of Orissa. The preparation of Patachitra involves a double coarse white cloth pasted together with an adhesive made with tamarind seeds. The tamarind seed powder is soaked in water overnight and then boiled to provide it with a gummy consistency. Sometimes, the artists adds rice powder to the mixture to give a stiffer feel to the canvas. It is followed by a coat of tamarind paste, which is applied on both the sides of the cloth and the cloth is then left to dry. On the front side of the dried cloth, a coat of soap stone powder mixed with tamarind paste is applied. Finally, the canvas is burnished by rubbing coarse grain and polished stones. When the canvas is ready, the artist marks the border area and outlines the central composition. The central colors used in Patachitra are red, brick red, yellow, white and lamp black. These too depict scenes from the epics and mythological stories (Sita haran by Ravana, Kalia mardan by Lord Krishna, Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Shubhadra, to mention a few). Today, the fame of the 'Orissa Patachitras' for their brilliant colors and designs have spread all over the globe and they are considered as collector’s item. I did my bit too and quickly collected a few!

To quote Rabindranath Tagore, " In Art, man reveals himself and not his objects". How apt!

Even toys: Coir toys of Orissa - The local artists collect the fine and the rough coir from the coastal areas of Orissa for this craft. Sometimes the coir are coloured to make them attractive. I saw these toys in different shapes: elephant, rhino, cow, Lord ganesha, etc., and they are washable too. Apart from being durable. 'Channapatna toys' from Channapatna (a town near Mysore in Karnataka) are a particular form of wooden toys and dolls. As a result of the popularity of these toys, Channapatna is known as the 'toy-town' of Karnataka. Ivory-wood was the main wood used in the making of these toys, though rosewood and sandalwood were also occasionally used. The craft has diversified over time; in addition to the traditional ivory-wood, other woods -- including rubber, sycamore, cedar, pine and teak - are now used as well. Vegetable dyes are used in the colouring process to ensure that the toys and dolls are safe for use by children. These toys come in various shapes: ships, bullock carts, cannon, engine, different type of dolls representing rural life and what have you! A bullock cart caught my eye and promptly made it to my collection!

Cloth and wire dolls of Karnataka were on display too. These dolls convey the traditions of Karnataka and also some of the figures are that of Indian legends. Dolls are made in many different patterns, such as wire dolls, soft dolls, cone dolls and stuffed dolls. The artists first make the frame of these dolls by bending wires, then the figure is wrapped tightly with cloth and stitched into a 'skin' of brown poplin cloth. Designing and decoration is done once the 'main dress' is put on the 'skeleton'.

Dokra: Due to lack of patronage and modern design ideas this is a dying art. What a pity! I love Dokra. 'Dokra', or 'Dhokra', indicates a nomadic group of people scattered over West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The term, along with the people, are now famous all over the world for the beautiful handcrafted metalware that originated out of their traditional craftsmanship. It is a typical tribal art form and practiced by tribal families. 'Lost wax technique' (one of the oldest form of metal casting) is used to cast beautiful designs of lamps, bells, carts, tribal figures, Gods and Goddess, various symbols of tribal folklore, exquisite tribal jewelry, and many more. The motifs are mostly inspired by the folk culture. Dhokra is an alloy of nickel, brass and zinc. When mixed in the right proportion, it gives an antique look to the interiors of our homes. This 'lost wax' process or ‘Cire Perdue' is implemented to cast brass, bronze, or any of the noble metals. We also call it 'Chach'. A replica of the desired product is made with wax on a clay core with all its finer details of designs and decorations. A few coats of finely prepared clay paste is applied over the model and dried in the shade. Then the core of wax is removed and replaced with molten metal by the traditional hollow casting method. The craft of Dokra is unique in that no two Dokra products are similar.

The craftsmen have eventually left their nomadic character and settled down in some areas of Burdwan, Bankura and Midapur districts of West Bengal. I met one such craftsperson at one of these exhibitions. He belonged to the 'Santhal' tribe and had come all the way from the Midnapur district of West Bengal. We chatted in bengali and he was more than happy to converse in his mother tongue. I was surprised as he spoke in 'proper bengali', like we in the city do, minus the tribal or village touch to it. On being asked, he smiled and said that he had studied till the tenth standard, had been to various places all over the country, apart from travelling all over West Bengal and had interacted with many people. Hence these could have left their mark. But, his parents spoke in the tribal lingo and lived the typical 'santhal' tribal life, where they sang and danced in the evenings, his father (who had passed away recently, even wore his dhoti high above his knees). This artisan wore trousers and a full sleeve shirt. He said that he too lived the usual tribal life albeit with some changes. He explained to me the process of making 'Dokra' in detail. His entire family and relatives are dedicated to this craft and his father was the recipient of the National award four years ago. He too was trying his best to follow in his father's footsteps. He was proud of his father's award/achievement and showed me the award winning works. The skill and aesthetic sense of these simple tribal people, untrained in any formal institutions, bowled me over. The great poet Rabindranath Tagore had said, "The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence". To quote him again, "What is Art? It is the response of man's creative soul to the call of the Real".

A very enriching encounter for me, indeed!

I bought quite a few Dokras - a bell, jewellery, tribal figures, the famous 'Bankura Horses' and other show pieces. I was doubly pleased to get the famous 'Bankura Horses' in Dokra. They are now the symbol of Indian handicrafts and famous in their own right and they came to me in their dokra form. Three Cheers!

Other items on display: Clay, terracota and ceramic figures, colourful masks, bamboo and cane artefacts from the north-east, sea-shell artefacts, filigree work, wood carvings, brass items, glass and wrought iron figurines, wood and cane furniture, paper and papier mache articles, fibre glass figures. Colourful stone, wood, sea-shell and terracota jewellery, jewellery made from jute as well as the popular lacquer/lac, fibre glass and wooden jewellery from Rajasthan. I bought a clay vase, with tiny ceramic tiles on it; sea-shell artefacts, one depicting a fish jumping up from the sea and about to dive back in. A few wooden articles from Rajasthan, a wrought iron figure of a villager and some terracota items, like, Goddess Durga's face, the Sun God, Lord Ganesha on a peepal leaf and a wind chime. Apart from these, I also bought some colorful masks and bamboo and cane artefacts from the north eastern states of India. I now have a flower vase, two pen stands, a flute, two fruit trays and other show pieces, in their cane and bamboo avatar. A cane side table, a wooden side table with an antique look and a fibre glass figure of a Rajasthani type turbaned man with a luxuriant moustache and beard, beating on a drum became a part of my collection. I have named this turbaned drum beating figure, 'Hukum Singh'. My nephew, all of three years and finding this name quite a tongue twister calls him 'Dummu Tata'. 'Dummu' is this three year old's version of 'drum' and 'tata' is the common kannada word for 'grandfather'. Cute, isn't it?!

Reminds me of yet another quote of the great Tagore, "Don't limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time".

Amazing Leather crafts as well. Leather embroidered footwear, Kolhapuri Chappals/Sandals of Maharashtra, Leather Mojari/Footwear of Rajasthan, bags, purse, diary, folders, et al. Shanti Niketan leathercrafts was yet another attraction. 'Shanti Niketan', an 'Abode of Peace' was founded by Maharishi Debendra Nath Tagore, father of the Nobel Laureate, Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore. Shanti Niketan is responsible for reviving many a craft forms and is the pioneer in making modern leather items which has a unique style of its own. Though most Shanti Niketan leather products include footwear and ladies hand bags, other items like ornaments, diary, folders, are also available in contemporary designs and colors. The style of the shanti niketan footwear is like the open sandals, but their modern footwear is beautifully colored with sophisticated designs. The designs made on products of Shanti Niketan leather have geometrical patterns or in batik. At times the designs are motivated from alpanas and embroideries.

Handloom: Different types of garments and other handloom products were on display. Pashmina shawls, Cashmere shawls, the red and black Naga shawls (each denoting the design of a specific tribe), colourful shoulder bags, dress materials (with 'bandhni' print among others), kurtas, colourful bedsheets with 'block print' on them, sarees of all types; silk sarees, printed sarees, zari sarees, batik sarees, bhandhej sarees, shanti niketan sarees and more.

I am not a 'connoisseur' of any kind of sarees. Hence, bought some bedspreads and a couple of colourful, hand woven, cloth jackets from the north east stalls.

Copper Coated Wind Chimes: The stall selling them had them in various shapes and sizes, e.g., the sun, in the shape of the sanskrit version of the word 'Aum', etc. Each wind bell had an antique finish. There were bamboo wind chimes too. I preferred the former and bought four of them. Simple and tasteful, these wind chimes add a lovely background sound/music to (where else?) my garden. My Terrace garden! Now, with just the slightest breeze, each of our wind chimes sing a beautiful song to us! One of them has taken pride of place right outside our main door.

Tribal artefacts from Uttaranchal: I was also intrigued by the stall selling tribal artefacts from Uttaranchal. Musical instruments used by various tribal groups in Uttaranchal were on display, apart from the wood and bamboo crafts. Bamboo wind chimes, wooden axe with patterns and drawings on them, wood and bamboo carvings, metalware, etc., were on display. The musical instruments are very unique: tambura, bansuri (flute), thali, drum, dhol, hurka, to name a few. The tribes here believe that these instruments increase their crop produce besides helping them in keeping wild beasts at bay.

There were other 'unique' crafts on display here, made out of the 'outer skin' of vegetables, like pumpkin and gourd. The outer skin of these vegetables are dried and treated to prevent decay. Thereafter, it is treated with fire or burnt. Finally, on this 'vegetable canvas' the artists draws or sculpts beautiful sceneries, depicting village life, scenes from everyday tribal life, tribal festivals and social events, etc. I bought one of these and have hung it up outside our window.
There was another bamboo item resembling a rectangular cylinder, a little over a foot long. Both ends of this 'instrument' were sealed. On being tilted to either side, one could hear a sound. The sound of rain! The gentle pitter patter of the rain drops! The light tapping sound of rain drops on a window, on dry ground, on tiles or on sheets. Fascinating!

I try not to miss these exhibitions. Handicrafts and tribal artefacts fascinate me. These exhibitions are like a one-stop shop to experience the rich cultural heritage of this land. By interacting with the craftsmen and artisans, one can learn so much, no book reading, visits to the library or classroom lecture could ever teach.

But, I am still looking for the terracotta version of the famous and popular 'Bankura horse'.

Photograph: Terracotta versions of the famous 'Bankura horse' from Bishnupur, district Bankura in West Bengal. The 'Bankura Horse' is also the logo of All India Handicrafts. It was the Kumbhokars or potters of Panchmura, 16 miles away from Bishnupur, who started to make the famous Bankura horses. On close observation, it is found that the Bankura horses have more erect neck and ears and look more dynamic. Their jaws are wider, their set of teeth can be seen, eyebrows are drawn and their forehead is decorated with Chandmala. These horses are of different sizes ranging from 6 inches to 4 feet. Biboda, Kamardiha, Bishnupur, Jaikrishnapur, Nakaijuri, Keyaboti are some of the places were terracota horses are made regularly. Besides terracota, these artistic horses have been cast in dokra and wood because of their growing demand.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The name is Bond. Ruskin Bond!

I am already on my third blog.

I am getting to be quite a prolific blogger now. Which surprises me. It took me three months to get the better of procrastination and here I am writing my third blog in less than three days! Not bad at all!

The great tennis player John McEnroe once said 'I'll let the racket do the talking'. Taking a leaf out of his book, I'll let my blog do all the talking!

I have been choosing diverse topics for my blog. You see, "Change" is the buzzword these days. Infact, Barack Obama made "Change" the Numero Uno word for the year 2008 and he has yet to become the official President of the US of A. Hence, even though officially 'Change' is yet to replace yet another word, rather alphabet 'W' (Dubyaman still rules), "Change has come to America" to quote Obama again. To quote the celebrated actor, director, environmentalist and Hollywood Icon Robert Redford, "Change is in the air. Change is, of course, inevitable. It could bring good times. It could bring bad times."

We all know, America is the sole super-power. Therefore, I conclude that even I have been bitten by the "Change" bug! Its no longer 'its easy to catch a cold', rather 'its easy to change!'

I have chosen to write about Bond in this blog. No... not James Bond. This is the other bond, Ruskin Bond, and he is quite famous in his own right. Yes Sir, he is! Well, in the same breath, Yes Madam, he is! I am all for equal opportunity/affirmative action!

Infact, I will write about his book published last year - 'Book of Humour'. It is a book I can read over and over again. And... so can you.

I think it was published in January/February 2008 and like a true blue fan, I immediately hot-footed it to the nearest book-store to grab a copy. Talk about exercising the mind and body together or should I say 'multi-tasking?!' Or even 'Time management!'

Ruskin Bond was born in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, in 1934, and grew up in Jamnagar (Gujarat), Dehradun and Shimla. In course of a writing career spanning forty years, he has written over a hundred short stories, essays, novels and more than thirty books for children. He has also published two volumes of autobiography, 'Scenes from a Writer's Life', which describes his formative years growing up as an Anglo-Indian in India. His first novel 'Room on the Roof', written when he was only seventeen, received the "John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize" in 1957. Quite an achievement for a teenager! 'Vagrants In The Valley' was also written in his teens and it picked up from where 'The Room On The Roof' left off.

He received the "Sahitya Akademi" award for his publications in English in India and was awarded the "Padma Shree" in 1999.

Ruskin Bond is one of my favourite authors. His work is published by Penguin Books India. It is common knowledge that it is every authors dream to have their work published by Penguin.

He is one of the greatest storyteller/writer and I do not mean in the Indian context only. I feel, he has not got his due. Generation after generation of people have grown up and continue to grow up and still read his books. There is an invisible 'bond' between him and his readers. He is quite a poet too. I would say, he is our resident "Robert Frost" or "William Wordsworth" in prose.

His 'Book of humour' is actually divided into 5 parts/sections, all of them inter-woven with the narrative. He is not named 'Bond' for nothing!

'Crazy Relatives,' 'Crazy Creatures,' 'Crazy Places,' 'Crazy People' and 'Crazy Writer' are these five sections.

Playful tigers, elephants, crows, ghosts and old favorites like Uncle Ken, Miss Bun, the author's slightly eccentric grandfather and Bond himself weave in and out of the pages of this wildly eclectic, thoroughly delightful and absolutely irresistible book.

Uncle Ken is quite a character. He leads a charmed life and has no worries about earning a living. Having been blessed with several doting sisters, he is a frequent unannounced 'guest' at the author's grandmother's place too. That way, he never quite has to earn his keep either! The author's grandmother nevertheless is concerned about his future and tries to get him some job every now and then. Quite easy ones at that. But, Uncle Ken manages to 'lose' them all with such alacrity that everyone seems to have given up on him as being a 'fool'.

But is he really?

The author's slightly eccentric grandfather cannot be missed either. With his penchant for 'collecting pets' of all shapes and sizes, hiding them away from the ever-watchful eyes of the author's granny. He is another enduring character. Ruskin Bond must have had a very interesting time growing up in the hills, moving from one adventure to another surrounded by these 'characters' and much more. Most of us would have gladly exchanged places with him.

Marked by the signature charm and underplayed humour of one of India's best loved writers, Ruskin Bond's 'Book of Humour' succeeds in making even the hardened among us crack a smile. A delectable offering from a writer who not only knows how to make us laugh but also knows how to laugh at himself. The reader will have a gentle smile that will never cease all through the book and will linger on ones lips even after the last page has been read.

Bond's subtle wit weaves its magic again!

I am now looking forward to reading 'Ruskin Bond's Book of Nature'.

Photograph: The cover page of Ruskin Bond's 'Book of Humour'.

My Reflections on 'Malgudi Days'.

This is my second blog and I am enjoying blogging already!

I guess blogging came about when folks moved away from their 'Dear Diary' moments onto the web. I wish Anne Frank had lived to see this day.

I read somewhere that if you own a blog, it better be something special. I have also read that if one is not putting up something useful or interesting, they are not blogging, they are 'blagging'. Needless to say, I have no intention of doing the latter! Who would want to read about boring and sub-standard stuff? Not me, for sure. I feel thats a criminal misuse of sacred space.

But, this being my blog, I will write about things/events/situations that affected me.

I want to write about 'Malgudi Days' today.

Last year, Sir Jeffrey Archer, the well known English novelist, playwright and short story writer was on a trip to India to promote his latest book 'A Prisoner of Birth'. During one of his interactions with the press and public, he mentioned about his regret for not having read R.K. Narayan's works before. I am sure he must be doing everything within his powers to get himself acquainted with the same, including the classic 'Malgudi Days'.

The 'creator' of 'Malgudi Days' - R. K. Narayan (October 10, 1906 - May 13, 2001) shortened from Rasipuram Krishnaswami Ayyar Narayanaswami at the behest of Graham Greene, was one of the best-known and widely read Indo-English writers. He created the imaginary town of Malgudi, located on the banks of the river Sarayu and surrounded by the Mempi Hills, where realistic characters in a typically Indian setting lived amid unpredictable events. These characters have proved to be timeless. 'Malgudi Days' was my introduction to R.K. Narayan... and I love this classic author! I really enjoyed this collection... they are the kind of stories that will stay with you for several days after reading them.

There is a saying 'Don't judge a book by its movie' or for that matter, serial, if I may say so. 'Malgudi Days' proved to be an exception. The serial was directed by the late Kannada actor/director, Shankar Nag in 1987, and was shot entirely near Agumbe in Shimoga district of Karnataka. Who can forget the famous 'Ta na na tana na na naaaaaaaa'....the title song/melody (by L. Vaidyanathan) of the serial? It was as popular, if not more, than the stories dramatized by the serials themselves. One could almost feel the aroma of the lyrics!

Here is the link to this evergreen song:

Although television had arrived in India in the 1950's, albeit in its black and white avatar, it wasn't a mass media due to its high cost, logistics and other technical issues. The Government of India undertook several steps to popularize the medium. The 1970s and 1980s saw a boom in television programming. The Ministry of I & B - Government of India... invited independent producers and directors to shoot TV serials on a regular basis. 'Hum log', 'Buniyaad', 'Neem ka ped', 'Waghle ki duniya', 'Mungerilal ke haseen sapne', 'Nukkad', 'Karamchand Jasoos', 'Byomkesh Bakshi', 'Office Office', etc., were some of the memorable serials of this era. These serials have eluded the calls of father time. 'Malgudi Days' was also one such TV serial which left an indelible mark on the Indian television scenario.

The stories revolve around the protagonist, ten-year old Swaminathan. 'Swami'... to his friends and family. Swami portrays the growing pangs of a boy who despises school, as he makes excuses and roams around Malgudi with his friends, playing cricket and day dreaming along the way. Swami's father works in a government office (of the British Raj era) and his mother is a housewife. At home, Swami shares his adventures with his aged granny, who lovingly addresses him as 'Chamy'. Swami also has two close friends - the hotheaded Mani and the son of the Police Superintendent, Rajam - a cocky, brash, rich kid. Master Manjunath enacted Swami's character while the sketches for the serial were done by R.K. Narayan's younger brother and acclaimed cartoonist, R.K. Laxman. There were about 39 episodes in all. 'Swami and Friends', 'Vendor of Sweets', 'The Undelivered Mail', 'A Hero', 'The Hoard', 'Leela's Friend', to name a few. No one has captured the essence of rural India like R.K. Narayan and 'Malgudi Days' is a glittering example. Each story stands out for its simplicity, innocence and Indian ness. A must and a thorougly enjoyable read. The TV series of the same name... has done complete justice to the original book.

Following is the link to these episodes for everyone who would love to relive their happy childhood and keep it for posterity:

'Malgudi Days' has been an integral part of my growing up years. I still remember the excitement and the scramble to grab vantage spots in front of the television everytime the serial came on air. As they say... 'Old is gold'. Does that mean 'New is silver' or 'new is bronze' or 'new is brass' or 'new is carbon?'... Hmmm. Food for thought. What say?

After the liberalization of the economy, with the advent of the cable TV, we were flooded with channels and thought we would be spoilt for choice! Since a mere DD telecasted so many good nay great serials, not to forget the two mythological epics 'Ramayan' and 'Mahabharat' we were about to see several high quality ones from every channel, each vying for the viewers attention.

Or so we thought. And were quickly brought down to terra firma, left to reminisce about the past glories of television serials. 'Quality' and 'Quantity' do not go hand-in-hand any more. Sadly.

Photograph: The house in which 'Malgudi Days' was shot in Agumbe, Karnataka (India).