Welcome to my blog friends!

Life fascinates me! I savour every single facet it presents. The sheer cadence of events that unfold its varied hues, textures, forms and flavours, makes me delirious. Every day, I experience range of human emotions that leave me overwhelmed, excited, blissfully joyous, pained, unsettled, engulfed, intrigued yet invariably always entertained and inspired by circus of life that keeps changing its acts.

Each day brings in new promise. Seemingly abstract events suddenly transcend into experiences that make sense, things align and my journey of exploring world at different levels changes something subtly in my beautiful world within. This sheer anticipation of new discovery, is the ultimate dope that keeps me going and makes me feel "alive"!

What happens around me in my microcosm, permeates deeply in my body, mind and soul and resonates with many people around me. It is incredible experience to know, share, interact and connect with people from diverse backgrounds and find a glimpse of my own self in them sometimes!

Join me in this journey that I call, "Rendezvous with life".

June 30, 2020

Stepping into the "new normal" !



The lockdown has finally lifted. Life is slowly getting out of the oblivion after almost three long months since the COVID outbreak. The initial panic has subdued, and a sense of surrender and acceptance has set in. The new "normal" of work, business, travel, and life, in general, is being written each day while the economy is slowly limping back.

Our struggle for these past few months to emerge strong has taken its toll. While we make efforts to cope with the new normal, thinking about the basic survival going forward in this changing world that looks completely different in a matter of just a few months! 

Amidst these extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, we all have changed in our outlook towards life; in the way we perceive, act, and respond. We may not realize, but we are witnessing an epoch-making moment; a history in making, a turning point that has altered our lives forever!

Who would have thought that simple, routine tasks like venturing out to buy essentials would feel nothing less than an adventure! With the masks and gloves on, fingers crossed, and our hearts filled with trepidation, this is how we would go out henceforth in this "new" world. 

One feels a bit of anxiety about maintaining a safe distance during interactions. A sense of unease is evident in the eyes of people as there is an awkwardness about not being able to extend simple courtesies like shaking hands and hugging. The pandemic has pushed these very basic human gestures into a "danger" zone, and we have no option but to adapt and change the way we interact and socialize.

The normalcy of the past is quickly fading away. As the days blur into one another, laced with all-pervading anxiety, it gives a sense of living in a time warp. Having lost a sense of continuation of the time, we are losing track of the calendar. 

The streets have opened but are bereft of their soul. There are few people on the roads and the rhythm of life on the streets seems to have lost its balance.  That quintessential, fascinating hum and din, that constant clamour, the strong smells that assail all the senses, all these features that serve as the background and look like neverending scrolls of life have gone blank!  

While we struggle to come to terms with our new reality, there is a deep longing for our seemingly mundane, old routines and simple joys of life like;

taking a walk on the beach with bare feet, 

inhaling the smell of the ocean, 

visiting art galleries and museums and witness art that grows over you, 

moving about freely at the public places and smiling at complete strangers,

spontaneous conversations that forge new friendships,

take a stroll around the city for street photography,

long drives with family on the weekends,

travel to different places, 

visiting the spa, 

meeting friends for lunch and gossip,

a warm hug from a special someone on a date, 

lying on the grass, covered with fresh dew, just because

sitting on a park bench, exhausted, after a long walk and observe people passing by

being part of a crowd, 

going for a movie, play or cultural event,

words that warm your heart, 

lines from the books that stay with you,

music that keeps playing in your mind,  

making a list of "things to do' for the day and fussing over it...

Yes, what would one not give to resume all that we love doing,  just like the times before the COVID paralyzed our life? 

As we adapt to the "new normal" and heal ourselves from this experience, let's not forget that life is driving this monumental shift as a sign of something bigger, much significant for us to realize. We are given this rare opportunity to pause and reflect on who we are, where we are headed, and reconnect with our inner self and life and find our true purpose. 

  

May 22, 2020

Reflections during the Covid 19 lock down


Historian of medicine, Charles Rosenberg said, 
“Epidemics start at a flash in time, proceed on a stage limited in space and duration, follow a plot line of increasing revelatory tension, move to a crisis of individual and collective character, then drift toward closure.” 

Rosenberg's argument stresses how epidemics put pressure on the societies they strike. The sudden strain makes visible fault lines in latent structures in societies/nations that might not be evident otherwise. As a result, epidemics end up serving as sampling devices for social analysis. They reveal what matters to society and whom it values. 

What is happening around the world since COVID 19 epidemic has struck, has caught us all off guard, exposing many lacunae in the way we live and function with painfully misplaced priorities as society/nation.  It has been more than two months and the ugly truth of repercussions on the economy and human costs of the epidemic and the lockdown have started to emerge with gut-wrenching stories of migrant workers, starvation, death, appalling neglect of right to basic sanitation facilities, public healthcare policies, unemployment and complete loss of income taking an increasingly serious turn disrupting life with scary uncertainty. 

The world outside is nothing like we have experienced before being engulfed by covid and as we continue our secluded lives from homes, the coronavirus continues to play havoc with the world. 

These are frustrating times we are living and working under varying degrees of social restrictions. We do not know when and how the Covid-19 pandemic will end and all that is left at present is to speculate about the seismic shift in geopolitical power and its long term economic impact the epidemic will enforce globally. 

We're in the midst of paradigm-bending times and whether we like it or not, we are making history. We are all redefining the way we live; by force, design, or by choice and the way we instill significant changes and transform as a society will have a great impact on the kind of world we will experience after this epidemic is finally over! 

What kind of world that would be I wonder!

Our routinely fast-paced modern lives are stressful. We have plenty of options and diversity than ever before yet we go on with life as if running after some insatiable chase; moving like addicts into an unheard, unseen rhythm of uncontrolled chaos! At home or work, we are constantly working and multitasking. 

These last two months have suddenly granted us that "alone time" we seem to always yearn for. Ever since the lockdown was declared, social networking sites have been buzzing with various challenges. It is fascinating to observe how human beings adapt even in the toughest situations and find coping mechanism; be it posing in front of the camera in fineries, posting travel pictures, sharing recipes of homemade exotic food, post pictures of pets or write poems/stories or create videos and interact with the world, social media has served as a boon for many.

One of the greatest inspirations has been from seemingly ordinary people, many unsung heroes who have gone out of their way and beyond their means and capacity to reach out to people in need.

My mailbox is flooded with invitations to join webinars, talks, lectures on every possible topic under the Sun. People have been acquiring new skills, joining new courses and there has been constant bombarding of "productive things to do" and turn "struggle into greatness" as the cliche goes on various platforms. I have ended up doing none of it simply because I didn't feel the need.  

While juggling work, household chores and other things I have stayed withdrawn in my shell; silently observing the world, each day as it goes by, admiring the bluer skies, cleaner air, empty, greener streets, listening to the chirping of birds and connect with myself and family, making the most of the time together. This blog has been in a stupor of a sort since the last two months as the circumstances demanded my priorities change too. 


We have a long way to go before the new "normal" sets in and we are back to our routines, free to go out and socialize the way we used to. But let's not forget, as a race we have reached this tragic stage because while chasing our dreams, somewhere we completely forgot to take care of ourselves, our society, our nations and above all, our beautiful blue planet! We became callous about our natural resources and environment. Blinded with ambitions, we simply forgot that Nature always finds a way when its balance is threatened. 

All we can do to come out of this calamity safe and alive is to pause and ask ourselves, "what were we chasing all this while? Was it worth all the pain?" If we answer these questions truthfully and mend our ways, we can hope for a rainbow at the end of a distant horizon.  


March 26, 2020

Chanderi, the historic town of warp and weft!

During my heritage tour to Madhya Pradesh last month, I visited weaver cluster of Chanderi; a small town near banks of Betwa river in Ashok Nagar district and my dream of meeting weavers of saree finally came true! There is something alluring about witnessing a weaver immersed at the loom, transforming cotton/silk pods/threads into one of the most celebrated traditional garments; a handwoven saree! Visiting Chanderi weaver cluster was an eye opener for a passionate saree lover and handwoven sari collector like me.





The echoes of sound made by looms from every house of the "bunkar moholla" (weavers' colony) makes one realize that Chanderi is a town of weavers and livelihood of majority of the population is dependent on centuries old traditional business of textile weaving. The artisans of Chanderi weaving are predominantly Muslims from Julaha community, Kohlis and a few are from other backward class communities. There are groups within the various weaver clusters of Chanderi that continue to preserve exclusive traditional knowledge of art of weaving passed down upon them through generations. These weavers have great lineage of craft, skill, creativity and experience which is unique and difficult to recreate in power loom versions of Chanderi. 


A Weaver of Chanderi working on his pit loom 

We live in times when the markets are flooded with cheap power loom/machine made reproductions of almost all the traditional handwoven sarees and textiles, a hazard that has put survival of traditional hand loom industry on the brink. 


That's me flaunting my Chanderi saree 
Traditionally, Chanderi cloth was woven using hand spun cotton thread that were brought from other parts of the country. The practice of using hand spun cotton thread was discontinued when mill spun threads became commercially more viable. The mill spun silk threads were used to keep the sheen of the sarees, its inherent characteristic intact. It is a visual delight to watch a weaver create "butti/butta" manually inserting the motif in the body of the saree, using extra yarn, that reminds one of embroidery.   
  

Chanderi as a town has played a pivotal role in history of Indian handwoven textiles since centuries. Its geographical advantage of being located between the trade route that connected the town to ports of Western India from Gujarat, Mewar, Malwa, central India and many regions from Deccan, opened up great opportunities for the textile weavers to thrive. Chanderi came under rule of various dynasties like Bundela Rajputs, Malwa Sultan, Mughals and Marathas who patronized hand woven textiles of the region. Chanderi thus started being considered importnt economic zone flourishing with business, a conglomeration of weaver communities adapting with time, producing one of the finest handwoven textiles of India known world over for its super fine, soft, sheer fabric with gold and silver threads, the world famous "Chanderi saree". 

History of Chanderi weaving:

Madhya Pradesh was one of the most significant places for hand woven textiles from 7thcentury and 2nd century BC. Thanks to different rulers and their influence and patronage, promotion from royal families of Baroda, Indore, Gwalior, Kolhapur, Nagpur and beyond and the boom in finest quality raw cotton, (Gossypium arboreum - Cotton native to Northwest India and Pakistan. It is said this variety of cotton was used by the Harappan civilization of the Indus valley in the production of cotton textiles*) exquisite hand woven Chanderi reached its zenith earning its due place in world of Indian handwoven textiles. The lustrous weave became renowned outside India and was exported to many parts of the world winning hearts of textile aficionados. Chanderi became part of celebrations and festivities and important mark of nobility. 

Chanderi sarees, fabric and Geographical Indication 


Protected under Geographical Indication of Goods (registration and protection), Chanderi sarees and fabric (its unique design and fine silk yarn used for the weaving) cannot be copied.



Current status of Chanderi weaving  

Unlike a few handwoven sarees/textiles in India, demand of Chanderi has been on decline. There have been instances when due to lack of demand, many weavers were forced to take up other employment options. The high cost of handwoven products and exploitation by the middlemen ruined life of many traditional craftsmen and artisans.  



The central government, the state government of India along with a few NGOs have joined hands and started initiatives to promote this heritage weave. "Bunkar Vikas sangh", "Tana Bana", "Mission Chanderiyaan" not only train the weavers on various aspects like demand estimation, design intervention, marketing, order generation and distribution of finished products  but also aim to bring digital literacy in lives of weaver community to enhance their skills and reach to the wider markets.  


Every time a loom is shut out of desperation of a weaver, significant part of our heritage disappears forever. That one piece of fabric/saree that we admire is a result of decades of practice of special techniques, evolution of design, cultural history and refined aesthetics. If Chanderi weavers don't get our support, it will be one more precious weave fading away with time. Should we allow Chanderi weave to meet such sacrilegious consequence? Let's wake up before it is too late.   

* Information source : Wikipedia

February 29, 2020

Bhojpur Shiva temple, an incomplete marvel etched in stone

Perched on a small hillock on the bank of river Betwa about 30 kms from Bhopal city of Madhya Pradesh, stands an incomplete yet majestic Shiva temple; Bhojeshwara Mahadeva. Surrounded by acres of lush green fields, this unique edifice is a testimony to the era gone by and accords peek into cultural significance, techniques of temple architecture, heritage, construction style and practice from 11th century A.D. The Bhojpur Shiva temple is attributed to the legendary King Bhoj Deva of Parmara Dynasty who was not only a great scholar but also patron of arts, renowned author and an avid learner. He reigned the province and the surrounding region from 1010 A.D. to 1055 A.D. 

On the rocky platform near the entrance of the Bhojpur Mahadev temple 

At the very first glimpse of the structure of Bhojpur temple, one feels awestruck! The 106 feet long, 17 feet wide and 17 feet high platform on which the temple is raised, takes one's breath away with its towering size! I was pleasantly surprised by the Braille information kiosk at the entrance of the temple for visually challenged people. (It surely did win some brownie points!) 

View from the slope of serpentine entrance to the temple 

As one walks in from the serpentine entrance towards the temple, the resemblance to the Greek style of temple design immediately comes to mind. There are three levels on which the temple is built; the wide, huge steps leading to a higher level, an open place of worship outside the temple and the main temple. Interestingly unlike the typical Hindu temples where the proportion of sanctum sanctorum is invariably small compared to the space around and at point of complete harmony with over all structure as embodiment of a microcosm of the Universe, at Bhojeshwara temple, the huge Shivalinga contains majority of the Garbhgriha, leaving barely much space around. 

Entrance of the Bhojeshwara temple

The original ceiling of the Garbhgriha of the temple was broken and has been covered with fiber glass sheet in shape of inverted lotus flower just like the original design. The roof is supported by four enormous pillars and twelve piers. The pillars portray intricately carved sculptures of Uma-Maheshwar, Lakshmi-Narayana, Brahma-Savitri, and Sita and Rama.  The door-jambs are adorned with figures of river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna on either sides and Kuber.
A finely polished Shivalinga (the abstract personification of the deity Shiva), 2.35 meters high with a circumference of nearly 7 meters enshrines the square sanctum. Around the linga there are carved columns and above it ornately carved sculpted ceiling. The entire temple is said to be carved out from locally available solid sandstone, a reflection of un-parallel artistry of the time! One can't help wondering how the artisans who built the temple must have raised huge stones of that size and scale.  

The sanctum sanctorum 










  

Sculptures of River Goddessed Ganga, Yamuna and Kuber 
The fascinating aspect of the Bhojeshwara temple is the that the Shivlinga along with the beautiful Yoni Patta (the biggest I have ever seen) rises to the height of almost 20 feet, making it amongst the tallest Shivalingas in the world! The original architectural designs carved in stone show that the temple complex was aimed on much larger scale and engraved on stone before the construction. In the compound of the temple, one finds engraved stencils on the rocks that explain detailed plans of architectural design for entire temple complex. 
Engraving of the temple construction and design plan 
My heart skipped a beat when I spotted many beautifully carved sculptures; some half-carved statues, unfinished materials and decorative designs with the masons' marks strewn all around, completely neglected in the area of temple complex. 

Engraving on the rocks of temple plans 
There is no clarity on why this temple was left incomplete. However, there are some theories that suggest different versions. One theory says the temple was supposed to be constructed in one night and since the herculean task could not be finished, it remained the way it was. Another school of thought says Bhoja Deva had to rush to Gujarat as the Somanath temple was attacked by Mohammad Gazni and his support was needed. He diverted all the resources thus Bhojeshwar temple remained abandoned.
Sculptures strewn all around, neglected in the temple complex 

Small temple outside sanctum for people to perform pujas 
One may not find the Bhojeshwar Temple in list of popular tourist trails but for lovers of history and archeology, this temple provides perfect material to study examples of medieval, Indian temple architecture.  It is designated as "Monument of National Importance" by the ASI (Archeological Survey of India).
Intricately carved culptures lying in the temple complex 

Temple plans etched on rocks 

Damaged sculpture of Goddess Parvati 


February 13, 2020

Gond painting; the art of visual storytelling through lines, dots and colours!

Some travels linger on our mind long after coming back home. I have just returned from a heritage tour to Madhya Pradesh and am still soaked in overwhelming experience of studying some of the finest architectural expression of Buddhist and Hindu temple art and philosophy, ancient cave paintings and my rendezvous with weavers and tribal artists during the visit to their homes has left me spellbound! 

India, with its diverse customs and traditions from different states is one melting pot that assimilates rich cultural practices. As one goes into interior parts of the country, interesting narratives unfold layer by layer and one can't help but deeply bow to the immense treasure of folk/tribal art forms that are carried forward for centuries through rituals and oral traditions without any documentation. These ancient customs, traditions and art practices are meant to celebrate life in all its hues and are seamless part of everyday life of the artisans. 

Traditional Indian folk/tribal arts are the testimony of rich Indian heritage of centuries. Unfortunately, they are yet to get their due. These art forms rarely get toasted at high profile art events that are reserved for crème de la crème or get the attention, respect and remuneration like contemporary art. There is lot to learn from tribal people. While we often use terms like "sustainable living", "environment conscious" or "mindful living" as fashion statements, the indigenous people have been walking the talk since centuries and it is high time we take some lessons from them not only about life but art and culture too. There is beauty in their rawness, spontaneity, rough lines and  vibrant colors and forms that are born out of continuous dialogue with Nature. But to understand that, one has to be in touch with Nature and have sense of reverence the tribal people practice in their everyday life.  
This article is about tribal art form of painting from Madhya Pradesh, known as Gond. I was fortunate to meet some celebrated, traditional Gond artists at their homes and get a glimpse of their work, life and fascinating stories from their indigenous culture.
   
The Gond painting: Magic of lines, dots and colours!  

Gonds are one of the major tribal communities in India predominantly from Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgadh, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and are immensely gifted people carrying on legacy of extraordinary art and crafts. The Gond tribe is closely connected with Nature and their art is as pristine as the lush green land they hail from. 
The history of Gond tribe tells how over period of time, with Mughals conquering their lands and later with Britishers plundering their source of income, support for the tribe’s oral traditions started dwindling. Forced to live life of penury, the Gonds were compelled to take labour work but the stories that were passed down through generations remained in their hearts and found voice in visual medium through auspicious designs on their huts, entrances, walls and floors. Like most indigenous tribes, Gonds are blessed with great sense of aesthetics and strongly believe that perceiving/viewing a good image brings in great luck.
The Gond paintings were originally made with help of natural colours obtained from coloured soil, minerals, charcoal, cow dung, plants and flowers. With the change in surface on which painting is done and natural colours becoming bit difficult to procure, the Gond tribe has changed the medium to acrylic colours, paper and canvas. However, their themes still remain the same; folklore, daily life, creation myths, festivals, celebrations, major events of life, harvesting, legends and Gods, Goddesses and demons. The narrative is beautifully rendered using dots, lines, dashes, curves and spectacular colours with perfect harmony and balance. It is amazing how the style changes with each artist displaying inherent signature genre with her/his own vocabulary. Once the subject is decided, the outline is drawn and then filled with dots, strokes and vivid colours adding interesting perspective to the imagery.
Presenting here some of the artists I had honour to meet during my recent heritage tour to Madhya Pradesh. 
Award winning Gond artist, Durgabai Vyam. at her residence in Bhopal  

Durgbai Vyam, sister of legendry Gond artist Jangarhsing Shyam has a distinct “mahura” style of her own, which is inspired by jewelry. Her paintings are about simple, rural daily life while her husband likes to draw “dhigna” which is traditionally geometrical in nature and drawn on all four sides of the painting. Their immensely gifted daughter is a force to reckon with in contemporary art world. A graduate from NIFT Banglore, Roshni has a very refreshing perspective on importance of indigenous visual traditions and has unique colour palette that can cater to contemporary as well as traditional art lovers.    
Gond painting by late Gond artist,  Jangarhsingh Shyam's daughter Japani 

Like her celebrated late father, the legendry Gond artist Jangarhsing Shyam, Japani works with bold colours that delve in themes like trees; significance of Nature, creation myths, flora and fauna, Bara Dev, animals and birds and abstract concepts like dreams. Her imagery and rendition of the concepts is simply mind blowing!
Family members of  legendary artist Jangarhsingh Shyam
Mayank Shyam, son of pioneering artist Jangarhsingh Shyam has created his own beautiful style of Gond painting. His forms are comparatively very different (androgynous) and large, his strokes bold yet fluid, colours tweaked and one can almost see the context evolved with his visual grammar that is result of exposure to the contemporary art world and a shift in socio-economic dynamics. 
The best thing of meeting all members of Jangarhsingh Shyam’s family together was understanding how each artist is uniquely different when it comes to  interpretation, ideation and rendition despite using the same traditional techniques of the art form! 

A playful work, depicting what happens to people after consumption of liquor, by Sukhnandi Shyam 
Sukhnandi Vyam’s Gond paintings have fascinating fluidity. His themes are playful, his colours and strokes have lyrical quality to them. Sukhnandi also sculpts and works extensively with multiple mediums like clay, canvas, metal and wood. His wooden sculptures won him great recognition with Madhya Pradesh State Government award in 2002.

Venkatraman Singh Shyam with his wife and son 
Venkat Raman singh Shyam’s work is vibrant and mystical. There are interesting stylistic influences and one can see how he is finding his space in world of modern Indian art. Awarded the Rajya Hasta Shilpa Puraskar by the government of Madhya Pradesh in 2002, his paintings are about legendary fables associated with Gods and demons, beasts and reptiles, recurrent themes from everyday social life. Venkat Singh Shyam’s colours are bold, imagery fascinating and language both traditional and contemporary. He bemoans lack of respect for environment and his concern is evidently visible in his themes and talks.

Gond work by Venkatraman Singh Shyam 

Depiction of the tales from the folklore being explained by Sukhnandi Shyam 

A scene from  village, work by Sukhnandi Shyam 

Gond painting by Nankusia Shyam, wife of Jangarhsing Shyam 

Work by Sukhnandi Shyam 

Painting by Gond artist Mayank  Shyam 

Gond painting by Nankusia Shyam, wife of Jangarhsing Shyam

Gond paintings by artist Sukhnandi Shyam 

 Gond painting by Nankusia Shyam, wife of Jangarhsing Shyam

Gond painting in ink by Nankusia Shyam, wife of Jangarhsing Shyam 

Gond work by Mayank Shyam

Gond painting in ink by Nankusia Shyam, wife of Jangarhsing Shyam

Gond painting by Nankusia Shyam, wife of Jangarhsing Shyam

Gond artist Mayank Shyam showing work at his Bhopal residence 

With Gond artist Sukhanandi Shyam 

Gond work by Mayank  Shyam 

Gond paintings by artist Mayank  Shyam