Of faces and portraits: Ramkinkar Baij

I recently had the opportunity to read from “My Days with Ramkinkar Baij” on the occasion of the launch of “Could you Please, Please Stop Singing?”, Sabyasachi Nag’s book of poetry at the Art Gallery of Mississauga.

In this excerpt, Baij talks about the essence of portraits and the fodder faces can provide to an artist. He also discusses his own treatment of Tagore for sculpting a bust of the poet.

Here’s a video recording of the reading.

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Call for submissions: The Everyday and Other Tagore

Tagore addressing his tenantsCAFE DISSENSUS

UPDATE: The issue is now available here.

Issue 19:  October 2015: The Everyday and Other Tagore [Last date for submission: 30 September, 2015; Date of publication: October, 2015]

Send submissions to: bhashwati@gmail.com

There is the Rabindranath Tagore we all know – the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, the founder of Visva-Bharati University, the grand literary canon of India, and the towering figure without whom Bengal just can’t do.

And there’s the other Rabindranath Tagore, the one who forms the leitmotif of the activities of a social worker working with children from marginal communities in Delhi. Tagore shows up in their handcrafted embroideries, in the food they make, in their art and craft projects, in the plays they enact, and in the worldview they imbibe, unbeknownst to themselves.

Tagore comes alive in the song an unknown Baul fakir sings in a village in Bangladesh, “Jawkhon porbe na mor payer chinho ei baate,” (When my footprints are no longer seen on this path). The words haunt the listener with the singer-poet’s elegiac visions of a time after he is gone. It’s penned and composed by Tagore, yes, but the fakir makes it his own, with his distinctly carefree, unchained rendition.

In a very urban school in Delhi, a principal strives to give her students a taste of Tagore’s inclusive education paradigm. She doesn’t have the space to provide the open-air classrooms of Visva-Bharati, but she opens the doors of art, literature, music, dance, and drama to her pupils, so they can breathe free beyond the confines of a book’s pages.

In one of his most powerful poems (Patraput, 15), Tagore declares himself an outcast, one who has renounced the bondage of religion and ritual. He likens himself to Bauls and their search for the man of the heart, a quest to find divinity in humanity, not in external or imagined symbols.

This is the other, everyday Tagore – internalized in universes that don’t often feature in scholarly discourses.

This issue of Café Dissensus invites fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or multimedia works on the theme of The Everyday and Other Tagore.

Along with written pieces, we are also open to audio-visual content. If you would like to do a short interview (5-15 minutes), please feel free to send that to us. If you send us the rush copy, we can edit. However, it would be better if you do the editing and send to us.

Your submissions should not exceed 1500 words. If a particular piece deserves more space, we are willing to go beyond the word limit. Please email them to bhashwati@gmail.com. Also, provide a brief 2-3 line bio at the end of your piece. Submissions will be accepted until 30 September, 2015.

Photo courtesy: http://permacultureambassadors.blogspot.ca/

Alien Winter — II

“Let my love like sunlight surround you
and give you illumined freedom.”
~ Rabindranath Tagore

Sunshine isn’t an easy paramour.

In my hometown,
it spills over in
volcanic excess–
scorching land,
human bodies,
cattle and crops,

even as it gently
rocks the hills
with its undulating dance
on terraced tea gardens.

Yet in this frosty city,
it plays hard to get.
Deaf to pleas,
appearing on whim,
the hometown beau
avenges yesterday’s curses
by spurning today’s
advances.

Sunshine is a tricky lover.

Also see Alien Winter — I

Alien Winter — III

The Alleyway, by Rabindranath Tagore

One day, this concrete-laden alleyway of ours set out—twisting her way right and left again and again—to find something. But she would get stuck at every move–a house on the right, a house on the left, a house right across.

From what little she could see by glancing above, a streak of the sky revealed itself—as narrow and as skewed as herself.

She asked that filtered slice of sky, “Tell me sister, of which city are you the blue alley?”

In the afternoon, she would catch a glimpse of the sun for just a moment and think, “I couldn’t understand any of that.”

Thick monsoon clouds cast shadows over the two rows of houses, as if someone had scratched out the rays of light from the alleyway’s notebook with a pencil. Rain slid through the concrete, swooshing the snaky stream away with a snake charmer’s drum beats. The road became slippery, the umbrellas of pedestrians hit each other, and the water from an open drain suddenly splashed up to an umbrella, stunning its carrier.

Overwhelmed, the alleyway uttered, “There wasn’t any problem when it was parched dry. Why this sudden pouring trouble?”

                                                                                                   ***

At the end of spring the southern wind looks delinquent, raising swirls of dust and sweeping torn pieces of paper. The alleyway says, bewildered, “Which god’s drunken dance is this?”

She knows that all the garbage that gathers around her every day—fish scales, stove ash, vegetable peels, dead rats—are reality. With those around, she never thinks, “Why all this?”

Yet when the autumn sun slants itself on the balcony of a house, when the notes of Bhairavi float from the puja nahabat*, she thinks for a second, “Perhaps something big really lies beyond this concrete track.”

The day yawns; sunlight drops from the shoulders of the houses to rest in a corner of the alleyway, just like the slipping away of the end of a housewife’s sari. The clock strikes nine; the maidservant walks by, tucking to her waist a basket of vegetables she bought from the market; the smell and smoke of cooking envelopes the alleyway; office goers get busy.

And the alleyway thinks again, “All of reality is contained within this concrete road. What I had thought of as something big must be just a dream.”

* Music room or a tower from which live music is played/performed during festive occasions.

Translated by: Bhaswati Ghosh
Image courtesy: Flickr