Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Our culture and child abuse

I was deeply moved by the significance and beauty of Nathdwara Pichwai paintings (See post and link to complete article in previous post below). What touched me most was how devotees worshipped Lord Srinathji as a divine child; a sweet, adorable, mischievous yet loving child.

In a land where the divine child is worshipped with such affectionate devotion, why are countless children being abused in various ways? The recent deaths of Baby Falak and Baby AfreenThese child abuse cases are only the tip of the iceberg in our society. Not only
fathers, but even mothers and other close relatives can be the active
perpetrators. Some people are simply not fit to be parents. Producing a child
can be a social fashion statement, and there are cases of even educated parents
who perceive their children as chattel/expendable extensions of their own egos.

However we may squirm at the attendant media hype, sensationalising cases such as Baby Falak and Afreen's do serve a
purpose by drawing public attention to such issues. Only a few years ago,
Indians refused to even acknowledge that child abuse exists in our own society. We
liked to bury our necks in the sand and aver that this was some figement of
Western imagination. Indian parents and families were unchallenged authorities
for children. Recently, a young girl in Mysore was forced by her father to beg
because she did not perform as per his expectations in exams. Even in the recent
past, society would have turned a blind eye to underlying issues, and people
would have said it is a family matter, and the parents have every right to teach
their kids a lesson. Community leaders would have supported this.

Child abuse in India goes far beyond such sensationalised cases . Social malaise covers middle and upper classes, from female infanticides
and sex determination tests to 'honour' killings of young lovers . Too many
people have kids just to prove a social point, they dont want them or love them.

When will people like us realise the futile anomaly of worshipping the divine spirit of childhood in temples, and then turning a blind eye to the abuse of real children in the dirty streets outside?

Pichwai paintings of Nathdwara

Paintings from the Nathdwara School occupy a special place in Indian art. Many are in the form of pichvais, which were created to be hung behind the idols in the temples of Nathdwara in Rajasthan. Each pichvai painting is considered to be a seva or offering to Srinathji, the seven-year-old balaswarup or child manifestation of Lord Krishna. The artists paint with a sense of deep devotion. The paintings usually depict scenes from the life of Srinathji, expressing the moods of different seasons and festivals.

Their deceptively simple style hides layers of spiritual significance and symbolism. Using basic colours, concepts and compositions, these paintings show how the whole world, including all living creatures, birds and animals, is Lord Krishna’s leela. It is imperative to trace the historical development of the Nathdwara School of Painting and study the factors responsible for its distinctive imagery, holds eminent contemporary artist, scholar and author Amit Ambalal. Delivering the Tasveer Foundation Lecture, he points out the importance of delving into cultural background, the philosophy of the sect, its colourful rituals, festivals and legends.

Nathdwara literally means the gateway to Lord Srinathji. According to legends, the idol of Lord Krishna was transferred in the 17th century from Vrindaban to protect it from the destructive wrath of Emperor Aurangzeb. When the bullock cart transporting the idol reached what was then a tribal village in Rajasthan, the wheels sank deep into the soil and could not be budged. This was taken to be the Lord’s chosen spot, and a temple was built there. Since then, Nathdwara has been home to Srinathji, the chief deity of the Pushtimarga sect. The Pushtimarga sect (The Way of Divine Grace), founded by Shri Vallabhacharya in the 16th century, is based on Bhagwata Purana scriptures.
Pushtimarga does not stress on asceticism, and holds that the way to spiritual salvation is through a celebration of earthly life.

To devotees, the idol of Srinathji is not a stone image. It is a living, vivacious divine child, who is regularly fed, bathed, dressed, sent out to play, and gives darshan to devotees eight times a day. The haveli is symbolic of Braja, and places all around it in Nathdwara are named to symbolise places important to Lord Krishna. Thus, Govardhan Chowk symbolises Govardhan Mountain. All the areas and dimensions of the temple complex are built as a miniature palace, so that child Krishna can feel at home.
My detailed article is published in Sunday Herald

Sunday, April 08, 2012

caucasian tribal carpets

 Viewing a recent exhibition of antique Caucasian
tribal carpets set me thinking. These beautiful and enigmatic patterns created by nameless nomadic tribal women can cast a spell on viewers. They  are silent witnesses to times gone by.

 Warm natural colours woven into striking geometrical patterns distinguish traditional carpets hand woven by tribals from the Caucasus region. The art of weaving vibrant, artistic carpets is considered to have originated on the plains of Central Asia or the Caucasus region nearly a millennium ago.
 The nomadic tribes needed something more manageable than their traditional sheepskin wraps to ward off the harsh winter chill. They used wool from their sheep and goats to spin yarn and weave it into carpets. Bright patterns and colours also made these carpets lovely decorations for their tents. Smaller carpets were woven as door coverings, or used as bags. Long, narrow carpets would be used as decorative bands circling the felt tents.
Other carpets were used for sleeping. These colourful carpets added welcome flashes of liveliness to the bleak, desert-like environment. With the passing of time, the tribes have settled into a less nomadic and more modern lifestyle. The creation of beautiful and unique carpets hand woven in the traditional way is now a dying art. Antique tribal carpets over a century old are now rare and prized as collector’s items.
tradition Weaving carpets is a way of life for women in the Caucasus region.

Carpet weaving was once an important part of tribal life. Traditional weavers were usually groups of women who gathered to share stories as they wove magic on their looms. The women wove abstract patterns representing things from nature into carpets.
The men usually sheared, carded and spun the wool from their sheep, and dyed the wool. Vegetable and mineral-based dyes such as indigo were used in the earlier tribal carpets. These colours have retained their rich, mellow beauty through the centuries. In the early twentieth century, weavers also used chemical dyes, says Indian collector Danny Mehra. Some of these early chemical dyes were called fugitive dyes because they changed colours or faded in the course of time.

Traditional tribal carpets were spontaneous compositions and not copied from a pattern or picture. The designs emerged from the weaver’s heart, gradually taking shape on warps (vertical yarns) strung on simple wooden looms. The looms were easily dismantled and carried along with partially woven carpets when the tribe shifted camp. These movements and variations in dye tints and yarns caused shifting lines in the weave.
These lines are called brushes, and they enhance the beauty of handmade carpets. As the weft or horizontal yarns were woven in and knotted one row at a time, dazzling patterns took shape. After the carpet was woven, the pile was sheared evenly. Then it was washed, says Mehra, and the colours were fixed by applying iron filings and other substances which remained on the surface and did not bond with the wool. Each carpet took months and even years to create, and they were symbols of the pride and joy of the weavers.

My  detailed article is published in Sunday Herald

Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Yellow Emperor's Cure

DH Graphics: Ramu MI recently had the pleasure of reading The Yellow Emperor's Cure by Kunal Basu. In this engaging historical novel, Kunal Basu takes us into China over a century ago, teetering on the cusp of the Boxer Rebellion. Exotic sights, sounds and tastes, the political equations and clash of cultures of the past play out in the backdrop as Dr Antonio traverses the world seeking a cure for a deadly disease.

Basu brings to life with finely crafted language the western hills hanging low “over the tiled roofs of pagodas, over palaces of lacquer and gold…children caught dragonflies on the banks of canals, and lakes brimmed with incandescent lilies.” The well-researched and vivid details strike the right balance, without miring the story in verbosity or slowing the pace.

The dashing and highly accomplished Portuguese surgeon Dr Antonio Maria is blessed with “the most precious pair of hands in Lisbon”. His friends consider him to be “rock steady with the scalpel, but a prize idiot when it comes to women,” for, while he is adept at flirting, he evades
settling down with a suitable lady. As this most eligible bachelor of Lisbon prepares to enjoy the bacchanalian feast of St Anthony, he is jolted out of his world of wine, women and gaiety. His dear father is losing his mind and body to syphilis, which in those days was an incurable scourge...
As the novel comes a full circle, Antonio says, “They’ve taught me to look inside the doctor to know what makes him suffer for his patients, what gives him hope and how to go on living even when he fails.” In the end, we love and admire him for his sincerity, for weeping “for all those he’d loved but failed to save.” As he emerges through the many upheavals of his life, Antonio evolves as a man and as a doctor. “Whereas in the past he’d worry over curing a patient, it troubled him now to think of those who must somehow go on living with the burden of their loss.”

A large and varied cast of characters animates the novel, from Portuguese aristocrats, western diplomats, merchants, spies and intrepid Christian missionaries to decadent Chinese rulers and nobility, concubines, Chinese doctors and a pair of palace eunuchs. Many however, come across as uni-dimensional rather than fully rounded personalities throbbing with a unique inner life. ...
As for the historical backdrop, the Boxers and their cause remain sketchy till the end. A more detailed and involved portrayal of the individuals and events related to this upheaval would have added to the overall immediacy of the novel. Despite these factors, the book succeeds as a striking and memorable read

My detailed review of this book is published in Sunday Herald