Thursday, January 20, 2022

50 Years and counting…

Their match was arranged.  They did not meet or even see each other before their wedding. Even on the day of the wedding, they did not see each other as my mother had a long ghoonghat  (a veil that all brides were supposed to adorn). They first met two days after the wedding when they reached my father’s house.

My parents come from a time when marriages were fixed considering the household more than the boy and girl themselves.
“Rishta pakka ho gaya, ghar kafi achcha hai, achche log hain, ladka bhi  achcha hai” is a familiar phrase especially for people from the older generation. That was the priority list of fixing matches in those days. Both my grandfathers were men of repute in their communities. My paternal grandfather was a learned man, an engineer and professor of engineering by profession and a scholar of history, philosophy, literature by choice.  A self-made man coming from a humble background.  My maternal grandfather on the other hand was a hard-working man, self-made, took care of a large family. Both the grandfathers had lost their fathers at an early age and both of these were raised, and guided by the elder siblings or uncles. Both knew the value of giving, of kindness, of extending help and of education.  Therefore when suggested by a common aunt both readily agreed to the marriage of their children.

My mother and father got married on a cold winter night of 21st January 1972. The Bangladesh liberation war had just ended in December 1971. Both houses have tales of how they prepared for the wedding hiding under tables with a candle lit faintly as the blackout sirens would go off.  My mother’s sister, my aunt got married on the same day. It was common those days, two weddings in one setup.  The wedding happened in Gwalior, my mother’s town and she came to Kanpur, my father’s city. In Gwalior, her house was much smaller than the house she went to in Kanpur.  She recalls how she got lost on her 1st morning in the house because she didn’t realize who led her where on the evening she arrived.  As she sat on the stairs unable to find her way, my aunt and her sister-in-law came to her rescue.

She was only 20 years old when she got married and my father was 24. They meandered into the institution of marriage and their journey culminates into 50 years of togetherness, today. In these 5 decades, they went through a million challenges, coming from very diverse backgrounds adjusting to each other’s tastes and personalities were the most challenging of these. In the initial years, as is usually the case or was in those days, more adjustment happened from my mother’s side.  My grandparents were more aristocratic in their living than what my mom was used to and adjusting to those rules was the foremost on her plate.  In this story of adjustment and readjustment, she found, in her sisters-in-law and my two aunts her perfect friends. More than my father, in the initial years it was my Buas who often came to her rescue and acted as her guide. She developed with them a bond that she cherishes till today. The three of them are a team and best friends. They also are, our local news network in the family. They keep a tab on the well-being of all of us.

However, the story of adjustments was not just limited to the household norms or the family rituals. My parents in their personalities were very diverse. My mother was a social magnet, my father was an introvert to the core. My mother loved to sing and dance and my father’s love for music was limited to Kishore Kumar songs. My mother loved to cook, my father would eat only a few things and the same menu day in and day out.  My father was an organized man and my mother had her things all here and there. My mother then was docile and my father was known for his temper. However, they did unite over the love for old Bollywood movies.  But then they did change and how…

In these 50 years, the two of them became 8. They had three daughters, one son-in-law and two grandchildren.  My father learned to be a little more social. If mother would ask him to go out with her 10 times, he would say no 8 times but then she would be able to convince him the remaining two times. At the start, the ratio would be 0-10, then improved to 2-10 and today the ratio is almost 9-10. He has accepted my mother’s way and realized that it is important to meet people and socialize. My mother also learned that my father does not enjoy everyone’s company so she made her little groups and learned to do her things when my father was not interested. My father got a little more experimental with food and my mother tried to get a bit organized but hasn’t gained much in that area. The biggest change however that we girls witnessed was, how my father mellowed down his temper and how my mother learned to voice her opinions and become a bit more assertive.   In the growing-up years when they would fight, with my father dominating the argument most of the time I would often wonder (siding with my mother most of the time) if this is what marriage is all about? Today when I see my father and mother looking out for each other in their daily life, like my father sorting out the medicines for my mother each day post breakfast, my mother making the besan barfi or chole bhatoore for my father the way he likes, is when I realise maybe this is what marriage is all about.

We three have inherited a lot of things from our parents but each one in a very different way. I have inherited from my mother her social skills. My sisters, Shachi and Shruti have inherited their introvert nature from my father.  Love for food and spices and cooking has been inherited by all of us  from  our mother and so has a love for music and dance. Like a friend says that “kalakari tum behno ko virasat mein mili hai” (You sisters have inherited art). Organization of papers, clothes, finances is what we have inherited from our father. While our mother’s influence has been in the sphere of art, food, gardening my father instilled in us the value of helping the needy, the virtue of kindness and the two of them always taught us how we need to be there for people known or unknown. My parents would be the first people to be there whenever there was any kind of a situation with family, friends and extended social circle. It is these virtues that stood us in good faith as we left our home and pursued our careers and paved our way in this world.

My mother is 70 years old and my father 74 and as they complete 50 years of companionship we are only thankful for whatever we got from them. Unconditional love, good values, education and most of all a good way of living life. 

These two years have been full of anxiety, with the advent of the coronavirus, with respect to old people. We had intended to throw a big party to celebrate this milestone anniversary, just like how my mother would like, surrounded by loved ones. However with what life has been these two years, all such celebrations have been postponed to a future date and instead, we intend to celebrate just being together,  being well and being alive.

Cheers, dear papa and mummy to 50 and many many more…  :-)

© Shubhra 

#16 January 20, 2022

#MyThursdayThing is published every other Thursday, on my blog and shared on my social media handles.


Monday, December 7, 2020

And 30 Years Later…

The time must have been around 5 pm, some 30 years ago, on the road in front of our house in Kanpur. I was walking down the road to the house of the lady who used to stitch our clothes. I was about 17 or 18 years old. It was an empty road though not a desolate one. It has been 30 years or so and I still remember what I was wearing. A high neck full sleeves kurta and salwar. As I walked on I saw a man coming on his bicycle from the opposite side. I continued walking on the side of the road and then without warning, he crossed the road, came towards my side. As he crossed me, he groped my breast with all his might and sped off. I screamed in pain and shock and when I looked back at what had happened, I saw him looking back too with a smirk on his face. He was a man in his late 30s or 40s.

That was my 1st ever encounter of sexual harassment in a public place. I remember coming home and going straight to my room and crying and crying. My sisters were too young then, to confide in. And I never told my mother, for the fear that she will henceforth stop me from going out.

30 years later, at about 8 am, I am out for a walk on the main road in front of the farm estate that I am currently staying in, in a small town of Sawantwadi I encounter my latest sexual harassment case in a public place. This time I was wearing my jogging shorts and a t-shirt and this time it was a young boy of 17-18 years on his scooter. Seeing me walk, he turned his vehicle, came from behind and hit me on my backside with all his might. I almost fell and thought maybe it is an accident, but realised what it was when I saw the boy speeding off. He was looking back with a smirk. I screamed, picked a stone to throw but he had sped off. I was in shock and I was angry as I walked back. I stood by the road with a stone in my hand for long, just in case the boy turned again. He didn’t and I finally went home.

When I reached home (the farm stay), my friend was sitting on the porch at his usual place and he wished me loudly “Good Morning, how was your walk?”, I smiled and went inside. I didn’t tell him. 30 years later, the narratives didn’t change. I was angry, ashamed and I wondered, what will he think, will he make fun of me. 5 minutes later I came out of my room and I narrated the incident to him. Red in the face, tears streaming down my face. He was in shock, all he could say was “this is so sad and shocking. Sawantwadi is a safe city, and I have seen women walking, riding even late in the night”. There was no way to track the boy. I didn’t note his vehicle number and I didn’t see him again.

Between the 1st and the last such encounter, there have been many. In DTC buses, in Indian Rail compartments, at the Trade Fair organized each year at Pragati Maidan, in office space, and even in the safe heavens of my home. Endless encounters.

Each time something happened, I wondered what I was wearing, what I did to invite the action, what were my reactions like? The narratives never changed. I never questioned what kind of a man was he? What kind of pleasure did he derive? What kind of parents brought up these men etc? I only questioned myself. I only looked at my shame, clothes, time of the incident, place of the incident, anger and angst. I found it so difficult to share the incident with family and friends. Some incidents I never narrated at all. Now when I am 47 years old, hair grey and white, having seen the world, a lot wiser, able to comprehend so many more nuances of the society, of people behaviour etc, I wasn’t able to change this narrative. I wasn’t able to come to my friend and tell him what happened without a feeling of doubt on myself or being sure of his reaction. Any sane man/woman will condemn this kind of incident yet I felt what if and held back. If an informed and aware woman like me felt like this, I shudder to think what millions of other girls and woman must go through in their head each time something like this happens to them.

The days following the incident when I went for a walk, I was looking more behind me than in front of me. My heartbeat was high not on account of the walk but the fear and most of all I looked at all men with suspicion. Which of these will come over and attack?

When I was 17, a man in his 40s attacked me. I was vulnerable and he saw that. Now when I am in my 40s, a boy about 17/18, did the same. He thought I was vulnerable and though I didn’t feel like that when I head out, maybe I was.

And 30 years later, the narrative in my head never changed… Sad but not shocking anymore...


© Shubhra 

 #15 December 7, 2020

#MyThursdayThing will be published every other Thursday, on my blog and shared on my social media handles.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

What do you see?

What comes to our mind when we think of art? Maybe MonaLisa hanging in Louvre, or maybe the billion-dollar painting by Picasso or back home say by Hussain hanging in a rich man’s house, maybe the Taj Mahal or the temple art in Khajurao or churches in Italy, the Sistine Chapel the list could go on. Art means different things to different people. However, the one thing that is common in all art form is how it engages with the audience, the viewer. 

The Jan-Path- Janpath Station
Art is a means of self-expression. While there is no denying that the artist speaks to the world through the medium, however, when art is on a smaller scale for private viewing, it is largely artists narrative which has been appreciated and bought by an individual or a museum or a collective. Artist when painting mostly doesn’t think who is going to buy this work. Public art on the other hand is also about who is going to absorb or consume this work. That to my mind is also the biggest differentiator between Public Art and Art which hangs in private homes and museums.

From 2010 till now I got an opportunity to create art for the various stations of the Delhi Metro. (

You Are Here-Central Secretariat Station
). Along with fellow artist (Vibhor Taneja and Vishwesh Sant), I have conceptualised, designed and executed artworks for 5 metro stations so far. The experience of making art for an urban space, at that scale, with different materials for varied target groups was not only challenging but an eye-opener. Before the first project, I had never gone out of my studio and done anything of this nature.

Khwabon ka Karvan- Jamia Milia Islamia
The artwork in a public space like a metro station is viewed by varied kinds of people, a tourist, a worker, a vendor, a businessman and a student of an elite college alike. The visual language has to be powerful and yet simple so that all can understand it. That is the beauty of public art, it brings out art from elite spaces to the masses. Everyone can enjoy, reflect and try and make sense of it. It is also an opportunity for the artist to say that which could go out to a larger section of society. So in one of our works “You are Here” at the Central Secretariat Metro Station we thank the Delhi Metro for making our lives so easy like time travel one enters the tunnel in New Delhi and within minutes comes out in the Old Delhi, the Delhi where our heritage still thrives in the mosques and the forts and the bazaars. In another work at the Janpath Station, we have brought out how the common man and along with the monuments in the vicinity of the station all come together to give the city its characters. Recognizable forms, big scale and colour all make the viewer stop and see the work. Taking a selfie in front of the work is a new thing. At the work in Indira Gandhi Domestic Airport Metro Station, we gave the audience a tour of Delhi. If anyone comes to Delhi for the first time, what is it that they will find here? Calling it “Delhi Hues”, this was also our chance to make people stop in their everyday rush and see and recognise what a great and rich city they live in. To engage with the academic community, our work at the Jamia Milia Islamia Metro Station, “Khwabon ka Karvan”, gives tribute to the education system and how dreams get nurtured in an academic place and that the dreams do come full circle. The artwork is lively and colourful as should be in a place like a university metro station. Fortunately our client, the Delhi Metro, never interfered in the creative process, once they approved the idea.  

However, in public art, the concept at drawing board and working at the site can be far from each other and this we learnt the hard way. Working at the site with workers can be a different experience and full of happy anecdotes for later on. In our first project, one day, at about 1.30 am the toughened glass that was to be fitted on the artwork shattered, leaving us all shocked, hassled and delaying our work. In another station, the room at the station where our fabricated work panels were kept got locked. The key broke in the lock. These were some sophisticated locks from a Japanese company and it took almost 10 days for the door to be replaced and the room and panels to be accessible. We came up with happy phrases for the occasion, our favourite being the dialogue from the TV series CID, “Daya, darwaza tod do”
Delhi Hues- Indira Gandhi Domestic Airport
  (Daya break the door). At another time, once at a site, we took a foldable chair with us to sit. While we were gone for tea, our chair vanished and just to be found with the security guard who insisted that it was metro property and therefore his and that he won’t give it to us. In our last project at Jamia station, we went wrong in the calculation and the metal cutouts that reached the site were 4 times than the actual sizes. We realized our mistake only when the cut-outs reached the station and you can imagine what must have happened to us, post that. Most stations we worked on are underground and are only lit artificially. In our enthusiasm, the first set of works we created were backlit, side-lit and we created drama with light to ensure that it catches the viewer attention. It did catch attention for sure but with time the lights went out and were not replaced or sometimes the people forgot to switch on the lights and without light, the artwork hardly appealed. We learnt our lesson for future projects, which is to provide as much as you can with ambient lights and zero maintenance.  

The Heritage Saga- Jama Masjid
An idea in the head goes through a journey of paper, computer, workshop, CNC machines, hammers and drills and paints and sprays and screws and bolts and then after several months takes birth. When we sit down to ideate, think and visualise what we want to see out there and then when at the time of installation we see our little forms grow big and get up on the wall the feeling is akin to a parent seeing a child graduate. Believe me, there is nothing more satisfying for an artist.

It feels even better when in front of your work, strangers stop and take a picture and then post it on social media or when you meet someone you don’t know and they say yes we have seen your work at the such and such station. That feeling is overwhelming and the moment is priceless.

This October, we complete 10 years since our first public artwork got completed and when we got complimented by none other than Mr E Sreedharan. This post is to commemorate the journey since then. 

© Shubhra
#14 October 22, 2020

#MyThursdayThing will be published every other Thursday, on my blog and shared on my social media handles.

Excerpts from the above post were written for an online exhibition currently on in Paris

Friday, September 25, 2020

To do (list) or not…


It is the third week of September, almost the end of the month and I know that I am already booked till mid-November, which is around Diwali. Post that another 45 days and we have the end of the year. Where did the time go? Where did this 2020 go?

Life these days is booked in advance. Each day is lived as per the scheduled meetings, assignment deadlines or self-assigned goals. Each day has already been planned, way in advance for most of us. For me, I know between classes, art deadlines, miscellaneous tasks and Diwali, my time will all vanish. I am even hoping to take a break post-Diwali. In a year like 2020 where everything can be divided into two phases pre-Corona and post-Corona, to imagine that you are still planning—a break, new classes, new assignments and even Diwali—seems so unreal. But plan you must, how else will you book a ticket or book a class or work on an assignment deadline? So plan we must.

When I started Vacation Hues (art retreats led by me) last year, I was advised that I should plan my retreats for the entire calendar year as it makes it easier for people to decide when they can take their arty break. So I got my act together for 2020 and my first Vacation Hues was in Goa in January, the second one I was in Delhi in February and the next ones were planned for the hills in April around the long weekends. I already had plans of where I would go in the summer and monsoon months and so on. October 2020, I was supposed to have had a solo show of my paintings at the India Habitat Centre, the booking for which had been confirmed in 2019. However, we all know what happened post March 2020.

When a friend of mine received my Vacation Hues alerts last year, he told me he wanted to take a family break with his wife and son and planned to attend my retreat during the summer vacations. However, at the end of April 2019, one Saturday evening while standing in his balcony, having his evening drink, he had a massive cardiac arrest and died instantly. I didn't know about his retreat plans till many months later, when his wife told me about it and how she was keen on fulfilling his wish. She kept planning to join one of my retreats with her son, but the school holiday schedule never matched. At last, she had almost booked herself in the April 2020 Vacation Hues that was scheduled to happen in Satkhol. But alas…

Yet, we have to plan, because if we don't, then a lot cannot be done. Everything can’t happen on an impulse. There are bookings and tickets to be done, there are deals to avail, work to be planned, life to be planned and yet we don't know what tomorrow will be like. So what do we do? Do we plan or not? Should we invest in that house for which we have to pay an EMI for the next 20 years when I don't know if I will have my job tomorrow? Should I continue living in a rented house and after 20 years realise that I paid more rent then I would have paid in an EMI? There are no answers to these questions. There are simply no straight answers.

I was seeing a guy once who had huge commitment phobia. Whenever I talked of the future he would tell me “who has seen tomorrow, let’s live in the ‘here and now’. You are with me and I am with you today, and let's enjoy this moment.” I believed him because my heart wanted to believe him but it was short-lived because he really never had an intention of taking it far. So, at some point of time that ‘here and now’ ended and the tomorrow did come. A tomorrow when he was not a part of my life, when I woke up alone in that tomorrow, when my heart tore at places like an old muslin cloth and it was so difficult to just hold it together. At that point in time, I thought about those days when I was preempting this moment. The man was telling me that I was worrying about things that had not even happened. So what do we do? Isn’t there a constant struggle between living in the present and planning for the future? How much is too much planning?

I feel people are forever living and balancing the tightrope of living in the present, enjoying the ‘here and now’ with an eye on tomorrow. They plan towards tomorrows, meeting deadlines, taking up assignments, building dreams and having hope. Every time something unfortunate strikes in the today they realise the futility of it all, how they have no control over today or tomorrow or even the next moment. I was thinking of all this today because I hadn't realised only 3 months are left for this year to finish, of which the next 45 days are taken and at the same time, given the COVID-19 situation, I have no idea what the next week is going to be like, what tomorrow is going to be like. Yet, I have no option but to plan and look ahead. This everyday balancing between today and the distant future is extremely draining. This fatigue takes a toll for sure.

Am I the only one feeling claustrophobic at this act of balancing that ha
s become the story of our times? I do not have an answer. Maybe you who is reading this may have an answer. For now, I am happy that I am in a situation where I have too much work, too much to do, and I am busy. As compared to a situation where I would have no work and nothing to do. In these pandemic times, we need to be careful and we need to be grateful for whatever we have. The lockdown time allowed us to think, ponder and reflect on where we are and where we wish to go. To make our to-do lists or live one day at a time, to plan or to just let it all unfold… Today's blog post is a result of one such reflective moment of mine.

Photoart by Shubhra Chaturvedi

Nine out of ten times, things are normal and the regular pace of life goes on, dreams get fulfilled, plans get materialized, assignments get completed and somehow time passes, we survive and live to tell the tale. But it is that tenth incident that leaves you wondering.
At such times, I imagine myself many years from now, and tell my future, successful self, “you are there because I survived here.”

#13, September 24, 2020

#MyThursdayThing will be published every other Thursday, on my blog and shared on my social media handles.

Friday, September 11, 2020

… And have learned to be the clay


After months of deliberation and planning one morning in March 2015, I took the plunge and entered the world of ceramic. As I walked on the plush grounds of Sanskriti Kala Kendra I had no idea what this new world had in store for me. I met my teacher (now friend), Aniruddh, an incredible artist from Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal, who had joined Sanskriti’s Pottery Center as an instructor. The first task he gave me was to wedge a handful of clay and then to make whatever I wished with it. As I shaped and coiled and made slabs of my clay, I was reminded of the childhood days when we played with play-dough. It was a good experience indeed, but only when I sat at the wheel and put that lump of clay on the centre did I realize the world of clay that awaited me. The first feel of clay in my hands on a speeding wheel, me trying to tame it, pulling it and then centering it—all this is etched in my memory for it gave me an insight into a potter’s life. “Ye mat samjho ki tum clay ko centre kar rahi ho, balki dhyan rakho ki ye clay tumko centre kar rahi hai (Don’t think you are centering the clay. In fact, it is the clay that is centering you.)”, said Aniruddh as he helped me. So true this is, for the clay to be centred, the body, the mind, the breath, the entire focus has to be aligned with each other. This was the first and the most important of the several lessons I learnt.

The world of ceramic is very different from the world of painting. I have been painting for many years now. Most of my works generally take shape in my thoughts and then ideas get formed and firmed sometimes in a sketchbook and sometimes straight on a canvas. Layers upon layers and several iterations later, the work finally gets ready. I do not consider it complete until I feel satisfied, and until such time, it stays on the easel. Should an idea come up while the work is in progress, the entire work is capable of being altered. Whenever my students feel afraid to try something new I tell them, “go ahead, try it, it’s just a painting, not life. If you don’t like it, paint over it and start afresh.” However, there is no such luck in any ceramic work. This was the second lesson I learnt.

While centering the clay or throwing* our pots and plates on a wheel is a challenge, it can still be mastered. It is a skill that needs to be acquired, practised and then mastered. Daily throwing and then destroying all that we made was how the first few days on the wheel went. The real challenge is not even ideating what to make or glazing it after it has been bisque** fired. The real challenge is much deeper and much harder. It is to let go of all attachment, all ego and disappointment.

Sculptures by Shubhra Chaturvedi
As a ceramic artist, we face these challenges on a daily basis. The clay needs to be just right—not too dry and not too wet. It needs to have been wedged properly, for if there are air bubbles, the work will crack on firing or may not even throw properly. If the clay centers, the work needs to be thrown properly. If everything goes right, the work is dried and then put through a bisque firing (low-temperature firing).This hardens the work a bit and enables for the glaze to be applied. Post glazing, the final firing is done, which is a 3-4 days’ process. You load the items properly and then start the kiln and keep watching till the temperature reaches the desired reading. Then you wait for 24 hours or more for the kiln to cool down. The most exciting process is when the kiln is opened and you wait to see the result of all that you did from the start point till now. The results often throw in a surprise even for the best of the artists and definitely dramatic ones for all those who are new to this game. When the work goes in the kiln and the glaze reacts with heat, what exactly will happen no one knows. The glazes if not applied properly could melt and the work could be stuck to the bed of the kiln and may also break while taking it out. There could be a lack of oxygen resulting in reduction (which means more carbon inside) and that reduction could lead to different results. There could be cracking of work inside the kiln if the pots were not thrown properly or glazed properly. What all could go wrong is endless. For artists like Aniruddh, who has now been working in clay for more than 25 years or so, the final result can still be predicted. They have now learnt what to do and what not to do for the desired effect. For people like me each time the work comes out of the kiln there is joy and trauma at the same time.

Contrast this with the world of painting where the desired outcome can be controlled and or worked around in case things do not go the planned way. In the realm of the clay world, if something goes wrong, it needs to be destroyed and abandoned and fresh work needs to be done. Not only this, once a painting is finished, it can be packed and stored or hung on a wall. A work in ceramic or stoneware as it is also called, needs to be handled with utmost care all its life, while storing, while exhibiting, while transporting and even when it is bought/sold, with the new owner.

Broken Bowl
A bowl that I made a few years back, one that was perfectly thrown and beautifully glazed and fired, suddenly fell from my hands and broke. Shattered in many pieces and along with it, it shattered my ego, my heart and taught me to let go. I was so disappointed and when I shared it with Aniruddh, he calmly replied, “koi baat nahi tum waise 10 bowl aur bana sakti ho(doesn’t matter, you can make 10 more like that)”. Is this why ceramic artists have no attachment to their creation? They know they can make it again. I wouldn’t know it for sure. There definitely is a formula and if all is done to the T, similar works can be produced. In painting, I doubt if I can replicate my own work again.

So if there is so much risk, pain, uncertainty in working with clay, why do we work in clay? Why are there so many ceramic artists, why are the potters in the village churning out earthenware like matkas, kulhads, surahi, gamla (crock, ewer, cups, planters)etc? I don’t have the answer for all, but for myself and a few I know, working with clay means being connected with the earth. Moulding the clay, shaping the clay to me means shaping a part of me and my world. Looking at the cracks in pots and plates enables me to accept the fragility of art and of life. It also gives me confidence that I can do it again. To break the work if it has got spoilt is the most devastating and yet the most grounding experience an artist, especially a beginner, can go through. On the other hand, the surprise that the kiln offers each time is the biggest joy. To hold in hand a work that sometime back was shaped on a wheel or by hand gives a high that no other intoxication can replace.

However the lessons of detachment, flexibility (to be moulded and shaped) and the endurance (to get fired), that clay teaches are those that stay throughout life and are more deep-rooted in life’s philosophies than the art of ceramic work.

Working in clay always reminds me of Harindranath Chattopadhyay’s lines in his poem Shaper and Shaped …
Bowls by Shubhra Chaturvedi

In days gone by I used to be
A potter who would feel
His fingers mould the yielding clay
To patterns on his wheel;
But now, through wisdom lately-won,
That pride has died away:
I have ceased to be the potter
And have learned to be the clay.

Inspired by these words and my own experiences in my studios, my aim is, to cease to be the painter/potter and learn to be the paint/clay...

#12,  September 10, 2020

* Throwing: The process when the clay on the wheel is given shape into the desired form
** Bisque firining: A low temperature firing is done prior to final firing to harden the work and enable glazing

#MyThursdayThing will be published every Thursday, on my blog
  and shared on my social media handles.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Home: Far Away and Long Ago…


A friend once told me that there are a cat and a dog inside each one of us. He said the dogs are attached to people and the cats are attached to places. For me, I think this statement holds because the cat in me is very attached to places. The houses I have lived in and the places I have visited and the cities I have toured. Anyplace I have stayed in for more than a few nights have often been etched in my memory. (That is also a joke in our house because it doesn't take much for things to get etched in my memory says my family, always in awe of my big fat memory)

So last month when artist, Sareena Khemka, with whom I was doing an online workshop, asked to do a mixed media project on the concept of home, homelessness, migration, etc  it got me thinking of what Home meant to me and was it this current abode where I am comfortably tucked in, in these Pandemic times or is it my parent’s house, or is it my 1st house (when I started staying on own) or my childhood home…  The answer I guess is a little of all of the above but the most share of the pie goes to my house in Kanpur. The house I was born in and left for higher studies and kept going back to in every vacation. The house which after my grandparents passed away was sold off. The house that still comes in my dreams.

Located in a well off part of the city, our house in Kanpur was built in the 1950s by my grandfather, on a  unique corner plot. It was circular in parts and then rectangular. It had a red brick exterior on the circular part and the rest of the house in white and grey. The uniqueness had made our house a landmark for the Rickshaw guys. The way to describe our house to them often would be kone wala lal eit wala ghar(The corner, red brick house).  My grandfather was a tree lover and a fruit freak so we had about 5 Mango trees, several varieties of Lemon, Gulmohar, Neem, even a Chandan (Sandalwood) tree. There were Ashok trees, grapevines, and a whole kitchen garden in the back yard. My mother had a love for flowers and gardening and she took care of the potted plants, flowering plants, and the lawn. Between them, the place was green heaven.  My grandfather had hundreds of books and he thought all the house needed was bookshelves and so each room had shelves and shelves and more shelves. The rooms in our house had funny names, I guess like we have in all old houses. So there was as usual Dadi ka kamra(Grandmother’s room), Mummy ka Kamra (mother's room), but for some funny reason, the kids' room was called the Radio wala kamra (Room with a Radio). There was a big radio that my grandfather had and it used to be kept in that room before we were born. There was a beech wala kamra(middle room) that connected to all rooms. This room had a fireplace where we all gathered at the end of the day on a cold winter evening, where many endless story and later gossip sessions were held. The second floor was called Timanjala (a word I never heard anywhere else apart from in Kanpur). The mezzanine floor was Duchchatti, a place where only my grandfather's excess books were stored and which we all were scared of.  Even though the house was constructed in post-Independent India and with quite a modern design on the exterior, the insides of the house had an old-world charm to it acquired also by the furniture it hosted which was all brought from my grandfather's service days in Roorkee.  The most prized possession in the house was an antique indoor wooden swing, kept in the balcony. It bore witness to many secret talks and thoughts and tears and laughter, as it was the place where we sisters and cousins hung out the most when we had to do our stuff away from the elders. We brought that swing with us when the house was sold and it has a proud place in my mother’s house.

The house in Kanpur was not just a house but a treasure of memories, of good times and bad, of our childhood and our youth. It was a house I loved to go back to in every break I could get when I came away from Kanpur.  Even today so many of my dreams the house I dream of is the Kanpur house. I often wonder if we were rich enough we would not have to sell the house or how would it be if the house was still there and I could fix it and use it as my studio and home. There in that house, there were more rooms than people and the result was there was scrap collected in every room.  Now I live in a house (big enough) with so much art that this house has fallen small too and to imagine all this in that house seems dreamlike.

So when Sareena, asked to do a Home Project, I decided to give tribute to my house. The house that bonds me with my childhood, with my sisters, my cousins and my childhood friends. The house that my father nurtured along with my grandfather,  where my mother married and came to, where the three of us were born and grew up and the house that made us all cry when it was sold and on the last evening before leaving, the house I so wanted to hug and say I don’t want to leave you. 

So I went down the memory lane and took out pictures and letters and thought of words and flowers and colours and maps and made this accordion-style book collage to pay tribute to my non-living (yet alive in my heart) best friend from the days gone by. I call this artwork, Home: Far Away and Long Ago (Yet so Near...)

My sister always used to ask me to make a painting of the Kanpur house and I had always wanted to do so too but never got around to it. I guess this home project is a far better and fitting tribute to our home. While working on this project I even wrote a poem for the house but that is for another post and another blog.

#11 September 3, 2020
#MyThursdayThing will be published every Thursday, on my blog  and shared on my social media handles.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Jai Ho…


“Guruji, Pranam! Aapne pehchana hume?”“Bilkul, tumne aur maine, dono ne amma ki sewa ki hai, tumko kaise nahi pehchanuga? ”This was my last interaction with Guruji, Pandit Jasraj, at the Nehru Park, in March 2019 after his performance. He was performing for Spic Macay’s, Music in the Park series.

Ever since I came to Delhi for my graduation, I have listened to live concerts from all genres. Specially, Hindustani classical music, thanks to Spic Macay. I had a chance to listen to Pandit Jasraj also a couple of times at Spic Macay events in college or with my uncle at elite gatherings in places like Ashoka Hotel, Siri Fort Auditorium, etc. However, my real introduction to Pandit Jasraj and his music happened about 15 years ago, when I met my Guru, Mrs Som Tewari. She was about 5 years older to Panditji and they were both disciples of Panditji’s elder brother Pandit Mani Ram, a stalwart of the Mewati Gharana. Amma, as she was called by all of us, including Panditji (she had adopted him as a son), played an important role in his musical journey. There are many stories from those days that she used to tell us, including the fact that when Amma started Sangeet Shyamala in (then called) Calcutta in 1952. Panditji was one of the first teachers there. Their connection was deep and they nurtured a bond that lasted a lifetime. Even when his career soared and his life in Mumbai got busier, Amma would always be a part of it and whenever he was in Delhi, he would make it a point to visit her at her home.

When I met Amma in 2005, we had an instant connection. She was the most progressive and spirited woman I had come across. She had an unmatched zeal for life. Every time there was a concert in the city, we would call each other and make a plan to go and see it together. I have seen so many live performances of Panditji with her. Being her chaperon at such outings, I would get to sit right in front and occasionally meet Panditji before or after the performance.

I remember an instance when he was in town for a performance and I learnt about it from a friend. I assumed that Amma would be aware of the same and I called her up, “Amma, aap aaj Panditji ka performance dekhne chalengi? Hum aapko pick karein?” (Amma, will you come for Panditji’s performance, should I pick you up). She replied that she wasn’t aware of the performance and replied, “achcha, Jasraj ne to humme bataya nahi…”. Since the venue was far or because she was upset, she didn’t come for the performance. I, however, went in the evening and then at the baithak, when there was a break, I went to meet Panditji. I introduced myself, “Guruji, Pranam, hum Amma ki shishya hain, Shubhra, aapse mile hain pehle unke saath. (Guruji, greetings, I am Amma’s student, Shubhra. I’ve met you with her earlier.) He at once reacted, “to tum ho jisne meri chugli ki. Arre maine socha, amma kahan itni door aayengi, kal subah airport jate samay unse milta jaunga, to phone nahi kiya…mujhe kya malum thaki un tak khabar pahunch jayegi… tumne daant padwa di mujhe.”(Oh, so you are the one who told her. I thought this would be too far for Amma to travel so tomorrow I would drop in to meet her on the way to the airport. How was I to know she would find out. You got me a scolding.) I also responded, “Sahi to hai guruji, ab aap phone nahi karenge to daant to padegi, mujhekya malum aapne unhe nahi bataya, hum to hamesha ki tarah unhe la rahe the apne saath.”(Well, if you don’t call, you deserve a scolding. How would I know you haven’t called her? I was going to bring her with me like always). He touched his ears and said that he vows that he will never do this again. Held my hand and had a good laugh and said “tum to meri guru behan hui, hum dono hi amma ke shagird hain”(you are my guru-sister, since we are both her students).

I met him several times post that and I was surprised he still remembered me. When Amma was unwell and in the hospital, he came to Delhi and would visit her in the hospital (though on a wheel chair himself) every other day, including on her 90thbirthday, which was unfortunately celebrated at the hospital. He would hold her hand and sing to her in the ICU room. Her passing away in 2015, was a personal loss to him.

A year later, on Amma’s death anniversary, he called from Mumbai. I had his number on my phone but I had never spoken to him. To see the number flashing had me all nervous, but he softly said “Shubhra bol rahi hain?”(Is that Shubhra?) I said Ji Guruji, and he replied, “Aaj Amma ki punya tithi hai aur amma aayi thi mere yahan”(today is Amma’s death anniversary and she came to me). He narrated an incident when he found her photograph kept on his pillow when there was no one in room to have moved it from where it was displayed. He called me because he knew that my bond with Amma was special and one that is etched in my memory. Each year after Amma’s demise, on her birthday, Vasundhra (her daughter, my mentor and now the Director of Sangeet Shymala) would organize a remembrance with either an exhibition or a performance and Guruji, blessed the occasion. That was his bond with Amma and with all who were close to Amma. He was special for Amma and Amma was special for him. If there is an afterlife, then he must have united with her and they must be singing Raag Nat Narayan, a signature raag of the Mewati Gharana.

Guruji passed away in the US on the 17th of August at the age of 90. His remains were brought back and yesterday, on the 20th of August, he was bid goodbye with full state honors.

I am fortunate that I got a chance to get to know these stalwarts of music. From Amma, apart from learning music, I learnt a lot about life, art, culture. I hope to carry forward her legacy, if not through practicing music (which I feel has gone away with her), at least through art, culture and appreciation of music. From Guruji, I learnt about how an artiste never retires. At the age of 90, he was still at it and singing. He had many performances lined up and would have been performing, had the pandemic not struck. But this was not meant to be. The show ended, the curtains came down and with him an era of music of the Mewati Gharana has come to an end.

Yesterday evening the sun set on the world of Indian Classical Music.

Jai Ho, Guruji!

#10 August 20th, 2020

#MyThursdayThing will be published every Thursday, on my blog  and shared on my social media handles.

50 Years and counting…

Their match was arranged.   They did not meet or even see each other before their wedding. Even on the day of the wedding, they did not see ...