Cutting Through Mountains to Build a Statue

An excerpt from Somendranath Bandyopadhyay’s My Days with Ramkinkar Baij where the sculptor and painter shares with the author his experience of sculpting the Yaksha-Yakshi statues that stand outside the central bank in New Delhi.

Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh

Kinkarda’s innocence amuses me. He is oblivious to the gigantic cost of cutting through a mountain. I know that once he had to pay the price for this inexperience. Recalling the incident I say, ‘You did do a major work by cutting stones later, though. In front of New Delhi’s Reserve Bank.’

‘Yes. The Reserve Bank governor had provided me with a lot of conveniences. Their only request was “Do something”.

‘I made Yaksha-Yakshi. Many people call it ‘Kuber’. Arre, why should it be Kuber? It’s not Kuber. It is Yaksha. They aren’t even husband and wife, but brother and sister. Yakshi. Had it been the wife, she would have been called Yakshini.

‘In Bharatpur and Sanchi, I had seen ancient Yaksha-Yakshi statues. Their limbs were broken. I also studied a few of those at the Patna Museum.

Yakshi holds the territory of land and agriculture. And Yaksha reigns over wealth. Kuber is above them. You must have read Coomaraswamy’s book; that contains everything.

‘You might have noticed that I’ve placed a discus in my sculpture’s hand. That was my idea. Addition. It’s a modern-day machine and is symbolic of industry. I got the idea for the flower and paddy cluster in Yakshi’s hand from the old statues. You know what Yaksha held in the ancient statues? A mallet. And a bag in the left hand. I have placed that too. Money bag. My Yaksha is completely modern – with a machine and a money bag. And is it possible to have the money bag and not have a fat belly? Yakshas do have protruding bellies, my dear. You must have seen ancient Yaksha statues. My Yaksha has it too.’

Read the rest in The Wire.

 

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Who is Abani, at whose house, and why is he even there?

[In the words of Brajendranath Mandal]
Samir Sengupta
Translated from the Bangla by
Bhaswati Ghosh
Originally published in Parabaas

Half-dissolved, I slide into sleep
Amid the heart’s distant pain.
Suddenly, the night rattles my door,
“Abani, are you home?”

[‘Abani, are you home’ by Shakti Chattopadhyay]

I never got to know Shakti Chattopadhyay in person. Until the other day, I didn’t even know who he was. I’m a villager and make my living by growing potatoes and gourds. This year I planted tomatoes and chili peppers — the tomatoes did really well, I got about two and a half quintals per katha (720 square feet). Honestly, I didn’t expect such a good yield. Although it didn’t get me a good price in the end, I still recovered the cost and even made a bit of profit.

Kolkata is far from our village. You have to first walk nearly four kilometers through the fields. Despite many efforts, no roads have come to the village. Newly-wed brides have to enter the village on foot; the sick have to be carried to the hospital on cots like the dead to a crematorium. Even though our village is in the Hooghly district, it’s on its northern edge, bordering Bardhaman. As I was saying—see, this losing track of what I was talking about is a sign of my getting old—after walking the four kilometers, you’d better sit down at a teashop to catch your breath.

Next, you need to get onto a bus that’s usually so packed that even the roof is crammed with people and luggage. If you can somehow stay inside the bus by hanging onto an overhead rod for an hour and a half, you’ll reach Gudup station, and from there to Kolkata in another two hours.

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But tell me, where do I find the time to visit Kolkata? A farmer’s life is a busy one. My day starts early. People like you who only eat chilies probably have no idea what it takes to cultivate them. Imagine harvesting all the peppers from the plants. This is a young man’s job. But if you hire someone like that, you need to pay him well. The price one gets for the chilies doesn’t cover the cost of labour. So we have to get young boys for the job. These days one hears a lot of hullabaloo against child labour; apparently, it amounts to exploiting children. But if I didn’t hire them, the boys would starve that day. On top of the wage, I also give them a basket of muri and lunch. Is that worse than them going a day without work and food? Can one get education on an empty stomach? I don’t know. The politicians in our village say a lot of big words like “literacy” and such.

I didn’t study much — didn’t get the opportunity. You see, I had to accompany my father to the fields since I was five years old. I know my soil well. By placing a mere fleck of soil on my tongue I can tell you what would grow on it. I’m familiar with hundreds of weeds and can tell at least 70 types of insects. Back in the day, when it would start raining at the end of Magh, I would go to the field in the middle of the night to get drenched. I can’t do that any longer — the womenfolk don’t allow me to. But I’m a farmer’s son. My father used to say that if the farmer doesn’t bathe in the season’s first rain, the field doesn’t absorb enough moisture to hold the plow. One doesn’t use the plow that much these days; power tillers rented by the hour do the job. Still it makes me sad to miss bathing in the season’s first showers.

Read the rest in Parabaas.

 

Komal Gandhar by Rabindranath Tagore

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I call her Komal Gandhar

in my mind.

She would sit stunned if she learned about it,

“What does it mean?” she’d ask smilingly

That it is unfathomable is its most certain meaning.

The world is about work and vocation,

about different shades of good and bad—

Things that connect her to others.

I watch, sitting by her side

how she infuses her surroundings with a peculiar melody.

She knows not her own self.

At the spot where her Beloved’s altar is placed

an agony-incense burns by His feet.

From there, a shadow of smoke engulfs the eyes,

like clouds enveloping the moon—

masking the smile a little.

Her voice carries a fading strain of melancholy.

She is unaware that it’s the same strain that

binds the strings of her life’s tanpura.

The notes of Bhairavi permeate all her

words and actions.

I cannot conclude why.

That’s the reason I call her Komal Gandhar

It is hard to comprehend why

teardrops glide into the heart

when she lifts her eyes.

Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh

On Birthday by Rabindranath Tagore

River-nurtured is this life of mine.
The bestowals of various mountain peaks
run through its veins,
its terrain, carved by many different alluviums,
life’s enigmatic nectar
transfused, from several directions
grain by grain.
Web-streams of music from the East and the West
envelop its dream and arousal.
The river that’s the world’s envoy
bringing the distant closer,
and the unknown’s invitation at the doorstep
Created my birthday —
All along my boundless, flowing abode
has floated in its current
from shore to shore.
I am an outcast, a wanderer
my birthday platter brims over
again and again, without fail
with grains of unrestrained kindness.

(Translation: Bhaswati Ghosh)

River View by Gaganendranath Tagore

জন্মদিনে

২৮

নদীর পালিত এই জীবন আমার ।

নানা গিরিশিখরের দান

নাড়ীতে নাড়ীতে তার বহে ,

নানা পলিমাটি দিয়ে ক্ষেত্র তার হয়েছে রচিত ,

প্রাণের রহস্যরস নানা দিক হতে

শস্যে শস্যে লভিল সঞ্চার ।

পূর্বপশ্চিমের নানা গীতস্রোতজালে

ঘেরা তার স্বপ্ন জাগরণ ।

যে নদী বিশ্বের দূতী

দূরকে নিকটে আনে ,

অজানার অভ্যর্থনা নিয়ে আসে ঘরের দুয়ারে ।

সে আমার রচেছিল জন্মদিন —

চিরদিন তার স্রোতে

বাঁধন-বাহিরে মোর চলমান বাসা

ভেসে চলে তীর হতে তীরে ।

আমি ব্রাত্য , আমি পথচারী ,

অবারিত আতিথ্যের অন্নে পূর্ণ হয়ে ওঠে

বারে বারে নির্বিচারে মোর জন্মদিবসের থালি ।

Death’s Grief by Rabindranath Tagore

Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh

Note: Recently, I lost a loved one to cancer. Though not born into our family, the person had become family for us, and the death only showed me how attached I had been to him without ever realizing that when the person was around. As I grappled with this loss, almost unable to accept the reality of it, I turned to Tagore for some solace. The piece below, part of Tagore’s autobiography, reflects how he himself felt the depth of grief following his sister-in-law’s death, and how his heart finally found acceptance and even peace. Worked as a balm for me in these difficult moments.

That there could be any gap anywhere in life wasn’t known to me at that time; everything seemed tightly knit within the ambit of laughter and tears. As nothing could be seen beyond that, I had received it as the ultimate truth. Suddenly, when death emerged out of nowhere, and, within a moment, created a hollow in the middle of this very manifest life, my mind was totally puzzled. All around me, trees, land, water, the sun, the moon, the stars, and the planets firmly continued to be as they were, yet that, which amid them was just as true as themselves—in fact, which, the body, this life, the heart had, through a thousand touches known to be even truer than all these supernal entities—when that loved one dissolved like a dream in an instant, it seemed to me an utter collapse of the self! How could I reconcile what remained with what was no more!

A darkness emerging from this pit attracted me all the while. I kept circling around and returning to the same spot, looked at that same darkness and searched for something in place of what had been lost. Humans can never entirely believe in nothingness. Whatever isn’t there must be untrue, and whatever is untrue cannot be there. That is why the effort to see within what can’t be seen and the search for acquiring that which can’t be had never stops. Just like a sapling, when bound inside a dark fence keeps growing upright on its toes in a desperate attempt to get past the darkness and raise its head in light, all my heart and soul, when suddenly fenced by death’s ‘not there’, desperately kept trying to emerge into the light of ‘is there.’ There’s no greater misery than to realize that the path to cross that darkness isn’t visible within that darkness.

However, in the middle of this despairing grief, a breeze of happiness would flow in my heart every now and then, taking me by surprise. The sad fact that life is not absolutely and inertly definite lifted a load off my chest. I felt joyous thinking that we aren’t imprisoned within the stone walls of unmoving truth. That which I had held on to had to be let go of. When seen from the perspective of loss, this evoked pain, but when I saw it from the angle of freedom, I felt spacious peace. That day, I, for the first time, realized like a strange truth that this world’s enormous weight balances itself with the give-and-take of life and death and flows in every direction thus; that weight won’t crush anyone with suppression—no one would have to bear the tyranny of a sole master called life.

This apathy made nature’s beauty even more intensely exquisite for me. For some days, my blind attachment to life nearly disappeared—trees swaying against bright skies would rain a burst of delight down my tear-washed eyes. Death had brought about the distance necessary for viewing the world with completeness and beauty. Standing detached, I watched the world’s image against the vast backdrop of death and knew it to be beautiful.

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For a while at that time, a carefree attitude took over my heart, which was also reflected in my outward actions. I found it laughable to conform to the society’s courtesies by accepting them as truths. All that didn’t touch me at all. For a few days, I was completely oblivious to who thought what of me. I would just drape a thick shawl over my dhoti and wear a pair of chappals to go to Thacker’s shop for buying books. My meals were also characterized by haphazardness. For some time, my bed, even during rains and winters, remained on the balcony of the second story; there, I could see the stars eye to eye and meet the light of the dawn without any delay.

On the terrace of our house, alone at night, I would run my fingers like a blind man all over the night, in hopes of seeing a flag atop any peak in the domain of death or a letter or even some symbol etched on its black stone gates. Then, the next morning when light filled my bedding on the balcony, I would open my eyes and find the covering of my heart clearing away; I would find that the expansive view of life appeared as dew-fresh new and marvelous to my eyes as the way in which the world’s rivers, mountains and forests dazzle with the lifting of a fog.

Not that any of these was an austerity for practicing detachment. This was more like a holiday for me. When I found the cane-wielding teacher of this world to be a deception, I ventured to taste freedom by trespassing even small controls. If one fine morning one woke up and found out that the earth’s gravitational pull had lightened by half, why would one want to carefully tread the official path? One would, most definitely, wish to jump across the four-five storied houses on Harrison Road, and if, while enjoying the breeze in Maidan, one came across a monument, one wouldn’t even want to walk past it, but rather  lep over it. My condition was similar—the moment the pull of life loosened under my feet, I was eager to completely leave the beaten path.

Photo source: http://blog.bikeridr.com

 

Pagol or Madman by Rabindranath Tagore

Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh

A small town in the west. At an end of the big street, five or six palm trees rise above the thatched roofs like a mute man’s signs to the sky. Next to the derelict house, an ancient tamarind tree puffs up its dense, glistening foliage like clumps of green cloud. Young goats move about on the ground of this roof-less house. Behind them, the lushness of the forest range spreads across the horizon of the afternoon sky.

Today, rain has completely withdrawn its dark cloak off this town’s head.

I have a lot of important things to write—those remain unwritten. I know this would be a cause of regret in the future; let that be; I would have to accept that. One can never know or stay prepared for the moment when or the form in which wholeness emerges, but when it does, one can’t welcome it empty-handed. At that moment, the one who discusses loss and gain must be a smart calculator and would do well in the world; but dear vacation of light in the midst of glum ashadh (1), in front of your momentary bright, cloud-less glimpse, I put to dust all my important activities—today, I won’t make calculations about the future—I am sold off to the present.

One day follows another, none of them demands anything of me; the calculations don’t go wrong then, all work happens smoothly. In such times, life progresses by linking one day to the next, one task to another; everything is uniform. Suddenly, when a special day appears without informing, like a prince from across the seas; a day unlike any other, all the trail of the days past is lost in an instant—that day, it becomes difficult for routine work to proceed.

This day, though, is our big day—this day of irregularity, this day of ruining work. The day that comes and defeats our everyday is our day of joy. The other days are for the intelligent, the careful, and this one day is for giving ourselves completely up to madness.

Mad isn’t a hateful word to us. We worship Nimai (2) because of his craziness; Maheshwar (3) too is our lunatic god. The West is debating as to whether talent is only a form of developed craziness—but here, we don’t feel ashamed to accept this as true. Inspiration is, of course, craziness, it is an exception to the rule, it comes only to upset order—it emerges all of a sudden—like today’s haphazard day—and destroys all the work of working people—some curse it, some others go crazy, dancing and delighting with it.

Bholanath (4), who remains as the joyful one in our scriptures, is one such oddity among all deities. I see that mad lord amidst the flood of sunshine shining through this day’s washed blue sky. His tabour plays steadily within the heart of this thick afternoon. Today, death’s naked pure face stands still in the middle of this work-filled world—with beauty and peace.

Bholanath, I know you are strange. In every moment of life, you have appeared with your begging bag. And completely wrecked all calculations and measurements. I am familiar with your Nandi (5) and Bhringi (6). I can’t say that they haven’t given me a drop of your intoxicating beverage; these drops have inebriated me, everything has been upset—today nothing is in order for me.

I know that happiness is an everyday item, but bliss is beyond every day. Happiness remains constricted, fearing it may get dirty; bliss rolls over dust and shatters its separation with the universe; that is why to happiness, dust is inferior, but for bliss, dust is an ornament. Happiness is afraid of losing something; bliss is delighted to relinquish everything; for this reason, to happiness, emptiness is poverty, but to bliss, poverty is abundance. Happiness carefully protects its grace within the confines of order; bliss openly expresses its beauty in the freedom of destruction; this is why happiness is bound to outward rules, but bliss breaks those bounds to create its own rules. Happiness waits for nectar to arrive; bliss drinks the poison of sorrow with ease. For this reason, happiness is partial to only good, but for bliss, good and bad are no different.

There’s a madman in all of this creation who brings in everything that is inconceivable for no reason at all. He is the centrifugal force who is forever pulling the universe outside rules. The god of rule is always trying to put all the world’s paths into a neat orbit, and this madman overturns all this and twists it into a coil. At his whim, this madman creates bird in the clan of snakes and man in the family of apes. There’s a desperate attempt in the world to permanently protect all that has happened and all that is; he plunders all of that to carve paths for what is not yet there. His hands don’t hold a flute, harmony isn’t his tune; his pinak (7) rumbles, all orderly yagna (8) is ruined, and out of nowhere, something wonderful appears on the scene. Craziness and talent, both are his creations. The one whose string breaks at his pull goes mad, and the one whose string plays in an unheard melody becomes gifted. Mad people are outside the range of the ordinary, and so it is with talented people. The mad, however, remains on the fringe only, while the gifted take ordinary people into a new realm, thereby increasing their rights…


It is not as if this mad lord of ours appears only at certain moments; in creation, his madness is always at work; we only get a glimpse of it in certain moments. Death is forever making life new, bad is brightening good, and the inconceivable is giving value to the trifle. At the moment we get such a glimpse, the freedom within the form becomes evident to us.

Today, amid this cloudless light, I see that amazing face. That road across, that thatched-roof provisions store, that broken house, that narrow by-lane, those trees and vegetation—I used to see all these with the pettiness of everyday familiarity. That’s why these had confined me—had kept me in house arrest within these daily images. Today, all of a sudden, all the pettiness is gone. On this day I see that for so long I had been viewing the unknown as familiar; my seeing wasn’t clear at all. Today, I can’t finish looking at all these. Today, all of these things surround me, yet they don’t imprison me, they all make way for me. My madman was here only—that spectacular, unknown wonder, who did not ignore this thatched-roof provisions store—only, I didn’t have the light before my eyes with which to view him. What is amazing about today is that these nearby images have acquired for me the glory of a far-off place. The impenetrability of the snow-capped Himalayas and the impassability of the wave-ridden ocean express their fraternity with the madman.

In this way, one day we suddenly realise that the one with whom we had established a familial relationship remains outside our family. The one whom we had taken to be readily available in every moment is actually rare and hard to get. Those, around whom we had drawn a boundary thinking we knew them well, appear to have acquired a marvellous mystery by crossing all boundaries. The same one who, when viewed from the side of rules and balance, appeared rather small, quite regular, very familiar, when viewed from the side of breach, from the angle of that graveyard-roaming madman, turns me speechless—amazing! Who is that! The one whom I have always known is now this, who! The one who is part of the home on one side belongs to the heart on the other. The one who is important to work on the one hand is completely outside all necessities on the other. The same one whom I touch on the one hand is, on the other, beyond all grasp. The one who has managed to fit well with everyone is, at the same time, a total misfit, absorbed in self.

Today I saw the one whom I don’t see every day. In so doing, I gained freedom from every day. I thought I was bound by the everyday rules within the fence of familiarity surrounding me. Today I see, I have been forever playing on the lap of grand wonder. I thought that I had been making my daily calculations under the sharp gaze of a big officer in the office. Today, at the roaring laughter of the miscalculating madman—who is bigger than the big officer—reverberating through water, land, sky, air and the entire universe, I heave a sigh of relief. My workbook remains untouched. I lay down the pile of my important work at the feet of that capricious madman—let the blow of his Tandava (9) smash it into pieces and blow it off as dust.

1. Ashadh: A month of the Hindu calendar

2. Nimai: A prominent saint of medieval Bengal and the founder of Bengal Vaishnavism. Also known as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

3. Maheshwar: Another name for Shiva, a major Hindu deity. The god of destruction.

4. Bholanath: Alternative name for Shiva.

5. Nandi: Shiva’s vehicle, a bull.

6. Bhringi: Originally a demon who was transformed by Shiva into a humble devotee and admitted into his force as a commander of his armies.

7. Pinak: Shiva’s bow.

8. Yagna: A Hindu ritual, dating back to Vedic times, carried out to please gods. Oblations are poured into sacrificial fire, as everything that is offered into the fire is believed to reach the gods.

9. Tandava: In Hindu mythology, Shiva’s Tandava is a vigorous dance that is the source of the cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution.

On a Cloudy Day by Rabindranath Tagore

Every day is filled with work and people. At the end of each day, one feels the day’s work and exchanges have said all that needed to be said. One doesn’t find the time to grasp that which remains unsaid within.
This morning, cluster upon cluster of cloud has covered the sky’s chest. There’s work to do today as well, and there are people all around. But there’s a feeling that all that lies inside cannot be exhausted outside. Man crossed seas, scaled mountains, dug holes under the ground to steal gems and riches, but the act of transmitting one person’s innermost thoughts and feelings to another—this, man could never accomplish. PartlyCloudy On this cloudy morning, that caged thought of mine is desperately flapping its wings inside me. The person within says, “Where is that forever’s friend who will rob me of all my rain by exhausting my heart’s clouds?”
On this cloud-covered morning I hear the inside voice rattling the closed door’s fetters again and again. I wonder, what should I do? Who is the one at whose call my words will cross work’s barrier to journey through the world with the lamp of song in my hands? Who is there whose one look would string all my strewn pains into a garland of joy and make them glow in one light? I can only give it to the one who begs it of me with the perfect note. At the bend of which road stands that ruinous beggar of mine? My inside’s ache wears a saffron robe today. It wants to emerge into the path which, like the innocent single string of an ektara, chimes within the steps of the ‘heart’s person.’
Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh