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.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Why I didn’t write last week…


When I have to publish the blog on Thursday, I generally start thinking about what I would like to share this week from Monday. Last week also I was in a similar frame of mind. Having attended a poetry workshop on Sunday, I was thinking of talking about that. However, I wasn’t feeling very good inside. I procrastinated, not knowing what was it that was making me not want to write. I didn’t want to force myself and I still had time, but time passed. Tuesday—Wednesday— now Thursday… I wasn’t still feeling up to it. As Thursday passed, I let the day go and I didn’t write, assuming no one would notice. However, on Saturday, I got an email from a dear friend who castigated me saying “your thursdaything is getting more irregular than regular”.  I owed it to him to let him know what was happening within me.

That week, the country’s tally for new coronavirus cases stood at no. 1, surpassing the US. That week also marked one year of a change of status of Jammu and Kashmir and was a week when the PM of our country laid the foundation of the Ram temple at Ayodhya.

I was silent, reconciled to the new normal in many ways and woke up on Thursday with a sinking feeling. The time when all the resources in the country needed to be deployed at fighting the coronavirus, the country’s priority was a Ram temple. Millions in the country got affected badly due to the lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic, but the government was celebrating Ram. The medical fraternity in the country had been working relentlessly since February, fighting the pandemic and the people were celebrating a Ram temple. I had never before felt so helpless. We were almost officially a Hindu nation and that did not feel right at all. We had failed or almost failed the constitution because the religious and state boundaries were getting blurred.

The events of that week also brought back memories of my growing up years when I saw the rise of this Hindu sentiment up close, in my home town Kanpur. The run up to the Babri Masjid demolition, the communal riots that followed in Uttar Pradesh and Bombay and the 1993 Bombay Bomb blasts.  Over the years the politics of this communal game only got clearer with the innumerous terrorist attacks, Godhra accident, Gujrat riots, and so many more incidents. In those years, when my understanding of this country’s politics was taking shape, I had even written an open letter to LK Advani, saying we don’t need a temple; we need jobs and a stable economy. However, looking at the state of the nation today and the jubilation that was experienced last year when a part of us were locked in their own state while their fate was rewritten and then the celebration for a Ram temple amidst the world’s most severe health crisis, makes me realize that maybe the people of the country do need, just a Ram temple.

Every time an event like those of last week happen, the country and its people get further divided and polarized.  The division or the cracks are for all to see; it is right there in our face and cuts across the heart. That to my mind is the real partition that is being witnessed now and is much more frightening than the physical one of 1947. This rise of religion and in its name the ongoing and unending violence and bloodshed makes me numb almost akin to being in a sinking ship. I am unable to take any action in terms of writing or art and everything feels hopeless.  I guess that hopelessness is what gripped me last week.

However, stand up we must and speak we must and write we must and paint we must, for then we will know that in our despondency, we may not be alone, that there may be many like us. Through my actions then I may be able to give another a voice or hope and I may give myself a push to do that which I have promised to do, and so here I am  the next week writing, talking, sharing and hoping I am not alone.

#9 August 13th, 2020

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

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Drop that fear…


Have you ever paid attention when a child is drawing something that they see or imagine? Their version of a face, a chair, a house, a car or any scene from their imagination? Have you ever noticed the bold uninhibited lines? Their detailing, the visual stories? When was the last time you saw a child draw? Those who have kids at home or in extended family/circle would have seen a lot of art from kids, I am sure.

 I experience kids’ art very closely. For one, I have my nieces and a nephew in my family (all less than 10 years of age) but more than that I have more than a dozen kids I teach art to, twice a week.  I see their responses to an idea and how they take it to another level. Their stories and then their colours add magic to their drawing sheet.  It is sheer pleasure, a visual treat to work with them. There is a famous quote from Picasso, “Every child is a born artist” and I so believe in it. However, as kids progress in the education system, most of them shy away from the drawing that they so uninhibitedly did a few years ago. Somehow, I feel, the right and wrong, good and bad, this way and that way come in between. But the one reason I see—perhaps the single most important cause—for children to abandon art in general or drawing in particular is fear of mistakes and a loss of spontaneity.

I realised this even more so in the last two weeks, when I happened to attend a spontaneous drawing workshop by artist Gopika Nath. The 10-day workshop was conducted on WhatsApp and had exercises which were aimed at making one shed inhibition and experiment with different techniques and mediums and tools. For example, we had to draw to music with eyes closed, or we had to see video clips of dance performances and draw quick one-second sketches or draw directly with a pen without lifting  the pen from the paper, even draw with different tools other than pen/pencil/brush, like a jhadutilli (a twig from a broom) or a stone or a piece of cardboard. Whatever one fancied, one could use. The most interesting for me was drawing with the non-dominant hand and blind contour drawings.
This meant drawing with a pen directly with my left hand and also drawing without looking at the paper and without lifting my pen. These were timed exercises and I had such fun. The results were childlike and bold. Drawing directly with pen on my sketch book gave me such confidence that I had never experienced before despite drawing and sketching now for many years. The one thing that this exercise enabled in me was letting go of the fear of that line on paper. Whatever came out on the paper was spontaneous and actually the result of eye and hand coordination. The mind was asked to shut up and it was the intuition at work. We were asked to focus on what we felt when attempting the exercise. I felt one with children I teach. Suddenly I experienced their simplicity, their freedom, their intuition and their uninhibited bold strokes.

About a decade ago, I had attended a workshop on drawing and sketching with Mark Warner, someone who is considered the best in teaching the same, and I remember how he had asked us to attempt similar exercises then. I had loved the exercises even then, but I wasn’t awed by my own results.
I probably laughed at them and never saw what they were intended to make me see. Maybe I was not ready to let go of my fears or maybe I didn’t pay much attention to the lines and forms and feelings and just laughed at the crooked result. Maybe I was too caught up in the right and wrong or maybe the time had not come. I did not understand then, what I understood now. The importance of letting go of fear, the importance of attempting that which one is unsure of. The importance of discovering new lines and forms and expressions, the importance of introducing new things like these into your daily practice and then the confidence rubs off on all the different works that one attempts.

From the kids whom I teach and from the last 10 days of work, I learnt a whole new way to deal with my ideas. I learnt a lot about art, drawing, spontaneity, myself and my responses, but most of all I realised that anybody can draw.
If you can see, you can draw. All we need is to lift that pen from our table, take that paper and just draw what we see. Leave the judgement of right and wrong aside. Get into a childlike frame of mind and just draw. Sometimes with left hand, sometimes with right, sometimes without seeing the paper, sometimes to the tune of music and sometimes abandon that pen and just pick whatever you can find, dip in some ink or paints and just draw.

I am thankful to my mentors and my students (my children) for helping me finally see what it takes to draw like a child… Just drop that fear!

#8  July 30th, 2020

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

Saturday, July 18, 2020

How much is too much trust?


When I published my post last week, a friend responded, “It is always interesting to know what is happening with your life, Shubhra.”Well I won’t disappoint him, as I have an even more interesting tale to tell this week. My friend’s WhatsApp got hacked last week and the hacker reached out to almost all her contacts via groups, etc, impersonating her and asking for money. None of her hundreds of friends fell prey to the desperate call… except for yours truly. 

On one evening last week I saw a message on a group from my friend asking if I have Google Pay. I responded with a yes and then she came on a one-to-one WhatsApp and asked me if I can transfer Rs 4000 to her as she needed it urgently. To give a background, my friend and her husband—also a dear friend—are the sole care-givers to their elderly mothers. So, with two elderly moms in the house, lockdown and a night curfew, and all the fears that an anxious post-Corona mind can think of made me weave my own story when I received the message. I was convinced that one of the Moms was unwell and that her husband must be busy sorting some related issue and she needs to pay a vendor who at that hour can only be paid through Google Pay. The entire narrative was crystal clear and not in my wildest dreams did the thought cross that all this could be a fraud taking place. I did ask some relevant question about Google Pay and NEFT and then I made a call, unfortunately on WhatsApp. Since the WhatsApp was hacked, the hacker disconnected the phone, further confirming my story that something really wrong has happened and I must help.That’s what I did, I transferred Rs 4000 to a hacker thinking I was transferring it to my friend. And just as I finished the transaction, I got a message from her husband that her phone has been hacked. The face-palm emoji was hovering all around me but the deed was done.

What followed is what always happens post any accident, incident etc. Analyses, hind-sight, expert comments, advice, etc. Post the message about hacking, I called my friend’s husband and told him how I had already paid the money. Exasperated (since he had already been dealing with his wife’s hacked phone), he said, “But why would I ask you for Rs 4000? If I had to, I would have asked for more.” In my head, however, a voice prompted, “Because you know that I could give only 4000. For anything more, I am not the person to call.” Other friends in the closed group drew my attention to the English used. Some said, why would she ask for money on a group? I had answers for all as my story in my head was so convincing that stopping short of picking my car and going to their house I had imagined all possible support to offer them.

The next two days went in complaints to the bank and to the Cyber Cell. I wasn’t sure if I would get my money back. I was also relieved that it was only Rs 4000. However, I was intrigued at myself. So many people got the message, but I was the only one who took the bait. Why?  I guess I operated on trust. And in fact, something more than trust—the call of reason that should have made me call her husband when supposedly she cut the phone, or made me at least wait for a few more minutes, was totally overtaken by my imaginative fear that something was wrong. Do we all go through this when reason succumbs to fears? All the friends in the group laughed, conferring on me the status of the ultimate friend. I was told no one can come close to me in this one. I, on the other hand, was not so sure. I felt really childlike na├»ve and very foolish to have succumbed to such a thing when all around us there is news of how people get duped.

The ultimate validation to the whole thing (of being foolish and of being a great friend) came from the policeman who attended to my complaint. He called and asked me what happened. When I narrated the whole incident, his first point was, “Madam, itna padhe likhe hone ka kya fayda”(Madam, what is the use of being so educated?). I responded promptly saying how would I know that it is not my friend, what if she was in a genuine need? His next response hit the nail on the head, “Waise madam, isme koi shak nahi, bhagwan sab ko aapke jaise dost de. Par ye batao, itni jaldi emotional hone ki kya zaroorat thi aapko? Thoda pani peete, sochte, phone milate fir paise bhejte…”(There is no doubt, madam, that God should give everyone a friend like you. But why did you get emotional so quickly? You should have had a glass of water, thought a bit, made a call or two and then transferred money).

Probably in his Haryanvi accent he gave me a lesson for life, or food for thought. Making me realise that even when displaying empathy, one foot needs to be grounded in reason. Or that fear always gets the better of reason and one needs to be careful of that.

I got temporary credit from my bank for the amount I had transferred and the police told me no point trying to waste time on the hacker, just be careful next time. It indeed was an interesting and philosophical week. So much so that I needed a break after all this. I packed all my art material and came to my mother’s house along with my sister. Meeting my parents after 4 months of lockdown was definitely a balm and a much-needed break from the action back home.

#7  July 17th, 2020

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

Thursday, July 9, 2020



After 5 weeks of regular writing I missed #mythursdaything, last week. When I set out on this Thursday commitment, I knew a gap would come once in a while. But it came sooner than I expected. Let me start by saying to those who were waiting for it: I am sorry. However, the good news is that it wasn’t laziness that led to the break in momentum. I had a valid reason, which was that I got stung on my leg by a wasp. It was so bad and painful that for 3 days I was completely down. The sting was so strong that it led to mild fever and the anti-allergy tablets led to drowsiness. The result—I wasn’t able to write or paint or do anything much.

My house has balconies on three sides and come spring time, wasps and honey bees all start hovering around and building their hives. While the honey bees like the plants, which I have in plenty and look for the back of the leaves to start building from, the wasps go into the funniest of corners. I found them inside the AC, and inside the cooler’s water tank. Then once I found them in a wire opening in the roof of the room. I even found them in the side gaps of the balcony door. They are on all sides of the house and in all corners.  They just fly in and out of the house as if they own it. 

Earlier we would use the mosquito racquet to stun these wasps unconscious and throw them outside. Then I realised it was not appropriate and stopped attacking them. We made peace with their existence. We would just try and stay away from their way and if they came in our way we would use a broom or a newspaper to show them the door.

The honey bees, on the other hand, did not disturb us at all, barring making their hives on our plants and attacking if we tried to water them. Largely, though, I found my way around it by avoiding hitting their homes directly with the spray and sneakily water the pot.

All was okay till the wasps made their hive in my studio and the honey bees chose the lemon plant in my balcony where I sit and meditate and sometimes have my evening tea. Whenever in the morning I would take my seat, the honeybees would start hovering around. They were scared and disturbed by me and I was scared and disturbed by them. Cutting the leaves, shifting the plant, shifting my seat—I tried everything and then gave up. I mentioned this incident to my friend, telling him how I behaved like a real estate person by displacing the bees and breaking their dwelling. He mentioned how I am missing the opportunity to get organic honey by doing so. Honey or not, I just wanted my plants and balcony to be accessible to me. The dilemma was sorted when one day a monkey came to the scene and then when he was bitten by the bees, in his pain and anger he broke a couple of pots and also destroyed the hive. No honey bees since then.

No such luck with the wasps, however. I had to remove the hive from my studio and a few more corners and I am sure they did not like it… I let the ones away from me be—don’t come in my way and I won’t come in yours. But is life that simple? One evening last week, I was watering my plants. It was beginning to get dark and I was also on a video call with my friend who had just bought her first ever car. Suddenly around the same lemon plant, I felt a prick on my leg. I jumped a bit and shirked it away mistaking it as a thorn from the lemon plant. Little did I know that I had been stung by a wasp. I totally ignored the sting on day 1. I did not rub the area with iron (they say it helps remove the sting). I did not have an anti-allergy either. Next morning, I went for a walk and put my poor legs to some 8 kms of exercise only to come home in a lot of agony. I took a look at my leg—ugly, red and swollen. I knew the wasp had had its revenge for the hive that I had removed from my studio. Rest is history. It took 3 days of ointments and anti-allergy medicines to get back to normal.

The thought that this episode left me with was, who was in the right? The honey bees making their hive just on that very spot where I sit or the wasps making their hive right inside my studio? Or me trying to protect myself and my sister from their stings and all the pain. Who has the first right over these places?
In our homes, in the cities, in our villages, the fight is always around this. Who has the first right over the land, the resources etc. In the forests however, everyone exists together, they cohabit and the food chain also works in harmony. In our cities and homes however, both of us are in unnatural surroundings—the bees and us. And so we fight for the survival and our right to passage.

Currently in our home, all places outdoor are doubly checked before we stand or lean over them or water plants to avoid any more stings. Inside the house, however, we are still stuck with the question, To bee or not to bee?

#6  July 9th, 2020

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

… And have learned to be the clay

#MyThursdayThing After months of deliberation and planning one morning in March 2015, I took the plunge and entered the world of ce...