Friday, January 13, 2012

Tough to chew

Q. What do you call an omelette  with bits of chicken in it?

A. A momlette.

I sense some very hateful avian vibes.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Odds Are...

Here's introducing you to the very private lives of the folk who live in my spiral pad.
Some of them are a little cooky and a little odd, but they're not shy of visitors.
(click on the image to view in lightbox)

Well, the whole point of putting them in one spiral pad was to frame them in neat squares but there, I ruined it by scanning them and cropping them in various sizes. As soon as they were on my screen, I couldn't help but include the spiral edge and a little of the grey scanner bed. And yea, all that scratching and overwriting looks like a mess too. All this makes me rather hesitant when I think of making my work public. I should just give up on being neat. Or try harder.

 But in any case, you should come see them in the spiral pad where they spy on
one another under the pretext of keeping each other company. And it's always nice weather in the spiral pad.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Paradise Unsoiled

There is a foetus in a jar in the bio lab of my school. Students come and go and dust settles and glistens and is blown away from his glass case in golden puffs but he doesn't move. He shares space on a shelf with other non-fussy and brooding specimens of the living world, so I am not afraid that he will be lonely. In fact, something tells me he would have grown to have changed the world. Something always tells me that. Maybe it is the amount of time he has spent in that lab, which is longer than any of us.

Does he have any fears? The catfish looks threatening but his eyes are closed, whether in nap or in meditation, it is hard to tell with the Shinto devout. The chameleon looks friendly and a little silly even. He seems to get along well with the catfish,his whiskers like tell-tail smoke of  last night's conversation. The frog is,well,dissected and looks accusingly at you. And all the other animals have too many legs to bother with this little person. Or with the students who come and go. The human skeleton is harmless, he's plaster cast and has no life. The foetus cannot fear drowning, there is nothing else he has known, before or after the jar. He cannot fear dark. He cannot afford to fear prying eyes and gaping mouths. But his head and his body is bent inward in the shyness of his translucent, revealing self.

Or he is self-absorbed in the act of learning all that he must know before he steps into the bright, loud, white and yellow scrambled egg din of  a life, before he paused in unripe confusion. To follow the simple command that ebbs from himself to grow into a unique self with amazing clarity and understanding of the human  design, with little regard to mis-form and mal-function. For that is for the people who look at him to question and mock. As if a mis-form of his body matters, as if the act of having created himself is a lesser wonder.

His arms,slender, breakable chopsticks,end in determined little fists. His fists and all the little crooks of his body that like all foetuses bend, to slowly sketch the lines on our palms, behind our knees, around our neck,encircling our toes for a period of nine months, that stay engraved for the rest of our lives. To sketch the lines that some say, spell our fate. The foetus knows what to sketch. Perhaps we are born wiser than we think, it is fascinating how quickly we lose our senses in the world. But this foetus is 5 months unborn, taut and no lines. I think that's what it is, not fear or shyness, but the weight of his wisdom that bends him into himself as if curling into a benzene ring.
From and of and back to the hydrocarbons that make our essential self, beneath all that we possess. From and of and back to, except the pickle solution that keeps him from going back. So he can be looked at with the questioning eyes that hover on his indifferent little self, unwilling to spill a single secret.

Thank you for keeping me company and keeping the secrets of all who sat by you in wonder of you to forget for five minutes how simple and complex life and school and what-after-school and such can be. I'll come by and visit soon, if that's ok with you. Just five minutes or so of your time and then you can proceed with your unending introspection and bemusement at all who come and go. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Pullover

images from The Pullover, a project that looks
at the varying levels of human empathy,
through the lens of self-induced abortions.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Masks of Majuli

Since my father's work has brought my parents to Jorhat, Assam for the past three years, I've made four visits to our home in Cinnamara, on the outskirts of Jorhat. And though Jorhat is more of a small industrial/educational hub and quite like any other town, there are places around it that have taught me much about the culture of the Assamese life.

Driving in and around Jorhat is such a pleasure.On either side of the road, as you dodge cows (the size of dogs), ducks, geese and chickens, you get an idea of how self-sustained and satisfied the people are in their environment. Everything in the country household, including the home itself is woven out of cane, which  is an art that the average man out here is adept in.  A little drawbridge will lead you inside a fence into a house with plantations and poultry and happy pigs. Postcard perfect.

Majuli is an island on the Brahmaputra, infact the largest river island in the world and is home to the Mishing tribe. We visited Majuli one summer afternoon during my vacations. The only way to get there is a ferry ride.

the brightly painted bow of the boats

all aboard! (even cars)

the Brahmaputra. The most beautiful
river  delta I've ever seen from an airplane.

If a boat should pass us by, this is the moment
when we all gasp and realize how unsafe and
overloaded these boats really are.
I saw beams almost giving way.
No kidding.
The dwelling of the Mishing tribe, traditionally, is a house
on stilts to prevent the home from being swept away
or getting waterlogged, by the Brahmaputra.
Wooden stilts are replaced by concrete posts
in modern structures. Often the house is
accompanied by a cattleshed on stilts = )

Though one is made to feel very welcome on this Island, there's very little to do, and as much as I'd have liked to sit and stare at the homes and lives of the tribals, it's a rather impolite thing. But thankfully, my parents had heard of the Mask makers of Majuli. There's very little heard/seen/written about this craft. I got really interested because last year we experimented with mask making techniques in college. I was fortunate to be invited to the workshop of Mr. Dharma Kanta Goswami, an elderly mask maker and artist from this island.

I wish I knew Assamese, that's the only language he speaks. Infact he hardly talks, he just shows you around  the workshop with a grin that reaches his ears. And with such pride and passion that it'll make you feel like sitting down and taking a lesson. The masks and costumes he creates are for Bhavanas, traditional Assamese folk theatre that revolves around mythological themes such as stories of Krishna and the Ramayana. Here's some of Mr. Goswami's work:

a costume for Vishnu's avatar

a very large scale mask of a demon with a
mechanism that moves the jaw
Garuda mask

a book and incense stand in wood

a mask portraying Sughreev from the Ramayana

Here, one can see the cane framework

Some of what goes into the mask

The ferocious Narsimha mask, my favourite

The making of a mask begins with a cane framework which is coated with cow dung and left to dry. It is then bandaged with papier mache or cloth and then dried in the sun. Then it is coated with a paste of very fine grey mud from the river bank and again, left to dry in the sun. Once it's dry, it's ready to be painted. (Takes about a week to make a mask). The technique followed is not very different from the Durga Puja idol makers. There were beautiful wall carvings, murals and pillars in Mr. Goswami's home. But these really caught my attention:

faces in the window grill

a room on the roof with a spire

drying kernels

old doors

The Satras, or Vaishnavite monasteries on Majuli are another part of the culture of the Island that lives on. 
Most Satras have documented and preserved their rituals in small museums that display relics, garb, prayer instruments and tribal artifacts. Quaint, humble and informative. I wasn't sure whether to click pictures in the monastery, but I couldn't help taking a picture of this: 

This is,as they say, a stalk of a basil plant
that floated down the Brahmaputra and reached the monastery.
It measures atleast a meter thick in diameter.
Very hard to believe it's basil.

If you chance to visit around the Bihu festivities, you will be able to catch a glimpse of the tribes in all their reverence for the culture. We were barely able to scratch the surface but I felt this visit was pretty insightful. Things out here are changing pretty fast.