Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Kolkata connections- old and new : heart and art.

A week or so ago, the family started gathering in Kolkata. My husband has two siblings and ever since we all dispersed (almost twenty years ago) in different directions, the clan hasn't had a chance to eat a meal together at the same table.  Somehow, without too much forward planning, it all worked out and I found myself on board a plane escaping the relentless heat of Doha.

Who would've thought that this impromptu reunion would bring me face to face with a dear old friend who is organising an event to raise funds for her beloved Nepal.

The fund raising event is called Kolkata to Kathmandu and the details are here:

Nisha Bhatia and her daughter, Anaina are the hearts behind this event.

Meeting Nisha after 23 years felt like meeting Nisha after 23 days- thanks to the internet and our 'likes' for each other's facebook status:)

Some of her Buddha must've rubbed on to me when we hugged because the next day turned out to be magical, almost surreal.

It started early.

My sister- in -law had arranged for Kalpana Chitrakaar (Chitrakaar means maker of pictures or artist) and her husband Khokan to come over to her house. She had met them at a local exhibition, liked their work and mentioned them to me. I was curious to see if I could meet them as well. A few phone calls were made and received. They arrived early next morning carrying their art.

Maa Saraswati- Goddess of knowledge- Khokan's work:

Tribal scenes- Kalpana's work:

This is Kalpana's award winning work. They unfurled it and I fell for it- hook, line and sinker.

The award is called Adivasi Jeevan Kahani Purushkaar. 
She got first place in her district.
Her art was chosen out of 40 districts to reach the state finals.
She managed first place in West Bengal.

If it had been me, I would've shouted  to the whole world - texted, updated my status and done everything in my power to advertise my achievement.

And there she was- a demure smile played across her face when we complimented her. 
Humility, grace and so much talent- maa Saraswati incarnate.

A lot of undoing needs to be done on me, for me and by me to sample the stillness humility brings with it. That's why I love these moments when humble souls like Kalpana throw a few learning tips my way.
 I grab at them greedily and hug her.

Drum roll please....
Khokan's voice rang out into song, taking us all by surprise. Desperately, we gestured to him with our fingers on our lips to sing a bit soflty as none of us were ready to face the wrath of a house full of teenagers being woken up that early!

So he sang slightly softly.
He sang tales from the Ramayana.
He sang about Ram and Sita and Lokhman.
His voice - clear and confident.

You may like to scroll down the pictures while listening to his song. I was too spellbound to even think of taking a video. My sis-in-law recorded his song on her phone. 

She also became my translator. Khokan conversed in Bangla.
I took turns to gape-
first at him, then at my sister-in-law; taking in the tennis of translation.
 Bangla volleyed into English.
I took notes.

'Traditionally, we earned our living from singing. We would gather around- one of us would start with a verse, then the next person would take over and so on. We painted for ourselves. All of us- my baba, my ma. Now my sister and both my sons paint with us.'

I don't know about you, but doesn't it all sound surreal, almost Utopian?
Sing for a living and paint for pleasure- wow!

It was time to wrap up. As the scrolls were being folded, Khokan's visiting card came into sight.

I read his name and commented, 'so you are Muslim and Kalpana is Hindu, how did you meet?'

This comment shows my perception of India- i.e. inter-religious marriages may be fine in the metros but surely Kalpana and Khokan had to fight a few battles in the depths of West Bengal to break the norm.

His reply left me speechless.

'Religion is religion. Art is everything.' he said.

Divine energy was present in my sister-in-law's living room that morning in Kolkata- it needed no name to bind it or describe it. It had flowed from the tip of Kalpana's brush on to a piece of silk cloth. It shone through the pigments picked by Khokan and his son to fill out the folds of a red curtain.

A sabih and bibi portrait painted jointly by Khokan and his 16 year old son:

The colours used by them come from natural sources, such as:
kohl or kajal, burnt clay, red brick powder, the clay sourced from the bottom of ponds, beetle leaf, raw turmeric, aparajita (butterfly pea)  and hibiscus. He mentioned a few other names, too, which I'm not familiar with- local names of flowers, I think. They use the pulp of bhel fruit (also knows as wood apple or Bengal quince) to mix the colours. 

It all sounds fascinating to me. They invited us to visit their village and I think I'll do just that next time I am in West Bengal. Almost all the sources of colours they mentioned (including the mixing medium of bhel) are used as offerings to gods and goddesses in Hindu rituals.

I would've loved to research  more about  Patachitra artists to share with you but I'm keen to publish this post before the fundraiser kicks off on July 2nd, 2015. I guess I'll have to travel back soon to carry out the research:)

The magic of art and artists continued to fill me with awe that day because a couple of hours after I had hugged Kalpana, I was sitting across Dithi Mukherjee-being mesmerised by her eyes. A couple of hugs would follow and the rest my dear ones will be revealed in my next post- she is a goddess: beautiful, enchanting and oh so unforgettable.


  1. Such great energy here, Arti. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. I attended a program in Guwahati couple of years ago when another couple (can't say if it was these two, because the v card looks v familiar) did a lectures demonstration of their Pata Chitra and another person showed us how they made the Chhau dance was amazing...the Pata Chitra couple also sang and told us a tale with their pai ywd story board...but this one was on the 9/11 incident in America!!!...that was surreal....listening to them tell the tale in their way...

    1. It's lovely to see you here Ketaki after a long gap. Hope things are good with you. The more I read about the Patachitrakaars, the more in awe of them I get. They work without gender bias, religion bias or age bias and paint and sing about current issues and myths with the same passion. I am keen to visit their village one day. Maybe, you can join me? eh?

  3. i always wanted to go to india, sooo badly!! =) these paintings are beautiful arti!! i would love to watch them paint one day!! xoxo

    1. I hope one day you will be able to Ananda...meanwhile, I'll share as much as I can when I visit. I'm hopeful that I can visit their village one day to watch them paint, too. hugs. xx

  4. Wow must have been 'An Experience!' I can understand how it feels!
    I had a similar experience of meeting a 'Chitrakaar' in my native town and I had the amazing opportunity to hear her mesmerizing Patergaan! It was a fantastic, out of the world experience for me! :)
    This is the link though the patergaan couldn't be loaded.
    Thanks for emailing and sharing the info! Do share many more :)

    1. I had come across your posts about artists in India who don't necessarily get a platform to share their amazing talent, so I thought you'd like to 'meet' Kalpana and her husband. I'll check this link out now. Thank you:)

  5. How i loved this Arti. Visiting you here is the next best thing to being in India myself. My jaw dropped when I saw this artwork... and that quote: "Religion is religion. Art is everything." Oh yes. It is obvious that art is everything to these two precious souls. Absolutely captivating. Thank you so much for sharing this Arti. xx

    1. LOve sharing the joy I feel when I meet such souls, and when someone like you gets the essence of these meetings- it boosts me to share more. love. xx


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