Friday, May 25, 2012

Opening Lines…

Writing this blog has been an enjoyable exercise – one that let me meander at will through a variety of experiences, almost like the many rivers that pass by the Sundarban islands. But in doing so, I have willy-nilly raised the expectations of my friends, who insist that I keep on writing. It is indeed an honour, but comes with a heavy price – it taxes my abilities as a debutant blogger. I hasten to add that I have never; even in my wildest dreams thought of becoming a writer and this blog was not intended to test the waters.

The demand made on me to continue writing has yet another fallout – my responsibilities increases manifold as I do not wish to disappoint. So, I kept searching for a good opening line to start this blog-post that, by and large would deal with the artists’ workshop and the run-up to the opening day. It has all the ingredients of becoming a mere reportage. I looked high and low to avoid such a disaster. Finally while searching the internet; I came across various listings of the ten best opening lines in English literature. These are some of the most amusing, sometimes outrageous, sometimes witty, as well as, poignant lines ever written. From amongst all of them, the quandary that I find myself in is aptly described in the lines by Felipe Alfau:

“The moment one learns English, complications set in.” (Chromos, 1990)

This is quite similar to the situation that I was in when I joined the Art College. While still in school, I was confident that I could unseat Picasso anytime! But, once I started learning how to draw in the academic manner – “complications set in”. Therefore the above quote not only illustrates my shortcomings, I cannot appropriate it as my opening line. So, how about…

It was 37 degrees in the shade, when I made myself presentable in a starched white shirt and khaki trousers to receive guests, who despite their discomfort, greeted me with broad smiles that seemed to say, “If you can do it, we can too!”

The usually strong and salty breeze from the south had dropped to a faint whisper (now, I can fully comprehend the term “Zephyr”). The solitary pedestal fan dictated that people fall in line and a rough queue of plastic chairs positioned themselves strategically to catch the generator driven breeze. Those that could not find space braved it out and consoled themselves by saying that at least it was not as hot as back home in Calcutta, which was going through a hell of a heat-wave touching the 40 degree mark. I remembered the previous weekend in the city – in summer my home usually feels like a sauna, but, this time it was like living inside a furnace! So, when we started calling up friends to drop-in for the “open studio”, we were faced with rejection after rejection. “It’s too hot to travel!” they complained despite our assurances that the heat was much more bearable here in Maheshpur than in the city. It made me wonder how urban comfort has destroyed that couldn’t-care-less spirit of our youth. Or is it the over dependence on electricity and air-conditioning that compels the urban middle class to adopt a sedentary life-style?

However, it was heart warming to note that many of our friends and supporters had arrived and had stayed on for a few hours despite the 37 degrees in the shade. “Yes, you can too!”

Dr. Livingstone & Other Notables…

“So long you were working alone here in Maheshpur, we could look after you. But, there will be other artists participating in the workshop and there will be visitors as well. The incidence of dacoities has gone up in the last couple of months. So, please let the police know you are here,” Amal Babu pleaded. I therefore reluctantly visited Basanti Police Station and handed over a letter to the Duty Officer, who put it aside and said “OK” without even looking at me. I too behaved as nonchalantly as I could and did not even bother to get an acknowledgement and thought no more of it.

On Friday morning, a village functionary came to me and said the police want me to visit them right away. That was bothersome especially with so much left to accomplish. I asked him to call up the police station and let me speak to them. The phone was handed over to me and in my most authoritative voice I barked, “Yes, what is it?”

“Sir, you had requested force…they are standing by. Please pick them up and also bring them back every evening.” said the Duty Officer.

“I did not ask for police guards, I just informed you that we are working here. There is no need for sending forces”, I countered.

“But Sir, force has been sanctioned…it is an order from above!”

“Does not matter. I don’t need force and neither do I have the time to ferry them around.Thank you”, I said hoping to close the issue.

“OK Sir, let us know if you need any other assistance” we exchanged numbers and he rang off.

This sudden interest in us baffled me. Half an hour later, there was another call saying much the same thing. I was irked, but then I realized that the first Duty Officer’s shift had ended and he had not left instructions or any record of our earlier conversation.

On Sunday morning just as I had finished dressing, someone told me that the police had arrived and were looking for me. I looked in the direction of the street and noticed two police jeeps standing there with their engines running. I guessed there business would be in connection with the order from ‘above’. So, I walked down to the waiting police jeep – a little irritated at this sudden and belated show of concern. An officer, an ASI sat in one of the jeeps, not bothering to get down – an obvious display of hierarchy. However, he smiled good naturedly and asked, “Mr. Abhijit Gupta, I presume?” I could not but help chuckle to myself at the obvious reference that flashed through my mind, a classic – “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

As I smiled back at him, he got down from the jeep and shook my hand. “What is your programme today?” he asked.

“Nothing. We are going to have a picnic. That’s all,” I replied trying to keep a poker face.

“The IG Railways is visiting you. What is his programme here?”

“I didn’t know that he was coming.”

“But, if he has no programme, why is he coming?’

“Look this is a free country...anybody who wishes to visit me is welcome to join the picnic. You too are welcome to join us for lunch!” I said, making a quick mental calculation of the number of invitees versus absentees.

He declined the offer mumbling something about duty hours and left.

Later on that day, the cook seeing so many rifle toting constables vanished from the scene. I was told that he has a criminal record and thought they had come to arrest him. Luckily lunch had already been cooked by then and it was quite delicious!

Dr. Livingstone? Am I getting delusional? Who wouldn’t be in this creative environment? My friend Chhatrapati’s story board “Hamilcharit” refers to Sir Daniel Mackinnon Hamilton's efforts to build an ideal society here, overlaps with the story of the Olive Ridley construction, he even uses my photograph. Abhishek refers to me as Titumir – the maker of the original Bnasher Kella (Bamboo Fortress). Piyali and Soumik’s touristy booklet on the “Bnasher Kella” prominently features me! I am in the company of notables and that surely stimulates delusional behaviour. I have done that many times before on lazy summer afternoons and it really feels good. For example, think of yourself as Tagore and Ms. Ocampo is looking up at you, sitting at your feet and you will know what I mean. Actually this example is not exactly to my taste. One of my favourite delusion induced reverie was when pretty women climbed out of the art books on my studio shelf in their birthday suits and just sat around me, as if that was the most normal thing to do! It felt so good that I lovingly painted this picture in 2004, but the text running across it read:

Though I had known them for a long time, their appearance in my studio had me flummoxed. “Let’s do it!” I exclaimed, immediately realising my mistake. They pounced upon this opportunity, “Look!” they chimed mockingly, “One more jerk!”

Posthumous conversations – IV, acrylic on canvas, 60” x 60”

However, I never exhibited this work - it seemed to betray the insecurities of a middle aged man. But, now it is not important anymore. So, whenever I feel that this humdrum life is getting on my nerves, I take a delusional trip.

In other words, I keep living my life through Casanova and his escapades, Dali and his kinky parties, Dr. Livingstone’s adventures, Hamilton’s pursuit of an ideal society, Beethoven’s music and much, much more. And in trying to tell you about it, I have drifted from the Matla in the west to Bidyadhari in the east completely ignoring the happenings at Maheshpur in between.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

While the Chief Minister of West Bengal (who is enjoying an enviable delusional trip sans the bothersome punctuations of lucidity) was branding everyone a CPM cadre or a Maoist in the Town Hall in Calcutta, Proshanto - our make-believe gunin (priest) was tying amulets on each visitor’s arm and reciting:

“Shaheb, chabuk, Aila, apod
Shabek bipod joto –
Thekabey shob bnasher kila
Rakhibey okkhoto.”

(“Sahibs, whips and guns,
And dangers ill and evil…
The bamboo fort will ward off all
Even Ailas terrible.”)

(The original Bengali text & English translation are both by Abhishek Sarkar)

The recitation of the poem and the faux-ritual of amulet tying was choreographed as a goodwill gesture – which was somewhat marred by the offer of money by a few, who thought that goodwill could be commodified. However, this marked the opening of the Olive Ridley shelter now christened “Bnasher Kella” (Bamboo Fortress) by popular demand, as well as, the Open Studio of the Khoj Kolkata workshop “Designs on a Delta: exploring the making of myths”.

The four day workshop went off smoothly…well almost. The digital printer had come without its driver. When a driver was found locally, the CD-Rom did not work. When a replacement laptop was found, it did not have a compatible platform. This went on until the very end, keeping everyone on tenterhooks. But, this did not dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. We worked, cooked, cleaned, splashed about in the beautiful pond next door and slummed it without complaint. This must have been one very different artists’ workshop - shorn of all the luxuries that artists are pampered with nowadays.

I had installed a signage similar to those that are found in front of archeological monuments, thereby underlining the theme of the workshop - exploring the making of myths.

Olive Ridley Update

I will let the pictures do the talking…

Detail of front door

Window under the awning
The Olive Ridley Shelter transforms into the "Bnasher Kella"
Detail of window

Workshop Pictures

Chhatrapati Dutta’s story board “Hamilcharit” displayed inside the Bnasher Kella

A page from "Hamilcharit"

Piyali Sadhukhan & Soumik Chakraborty’s photo studio

Piyali & Soumik's gift packet
Piyali Sadhukhan’s memorial to all the lost souls 

Prasun Ghosh’s interpretation of Noah’s Ark. 

The clay toys and objects were made by local children

For now, my work here in Maheshpur is over, but for a few loose ends that I must tie up next week. I shall also be going over now and then to check on how the Bnasher Kella is holding up. I will therefore travel at leisure and find the time to visit other places in the Sundarbans, as well as, find more stories on the Canning Local.

For those of you in Calcutta, we shall be organising a special presentation on the complete project and will inform you in advance. Please do attend.


Abhisek Sarkar said...

'In other words, I keep living my life through Casanova and his escapades, Dali and his kinky parties, Dr. Livingstone’s adventures, Hamilton’s pursuit of an ideal society, Beethoven’s music and much, much more.' awesome!! grand!!

Sush Sen said...

I don't know how my comments got rejected the first time, maybe due to erratic BSNL. Nyway, what I had on my mind was this: the confusion as to whether it is your story-telling or your pictures- which of it is more satiating! But you re-instill a new kind of thirst at the end, which I think will only be quenched once Stanley can follow the footsteps of Dr. Livingstone. Till then, enjoying vicariously and waiting for more.


Very interesting indeed ! Narrative and the photos - both.

The 'object' - O?L structure looks good.

Ranjana said...

I have been reading your blog for sometime. Its nice to see the Olive redley houses, with its really artistic windows. Hope to visit maheshpur someday. Congratulations to the team.

Laurent Fournier said...

“Shaheb, chabuk, Aila, apod
Shabek bipod joto –
Thekabey shob bnasher kila
Rakhibey okkhoto.”

(“Sahibs, whips and guns,
And dangers ill and evil…
The bamboo fort will ward off all
Even Ailas terrible.”)


May these words be true! They represent for me the greatest aim of a Sundarban builder or architect!

amu said...

Opening line, no matter! Please, just keep writing.

michele said...

Abhi, Laurent ... congratulations!! The Olive looks fantastic, it has been equally so to watch what was a model on the studio floor at Purna Das Road transform into a beautiful structure, and to follow its progress. I really hope that it is the first of many for the Sundarbans. warmest wishes to all!