Waiting is a sculpture you chisel
day in and out. Shape and reshape
until you can release it to the earth’s
gravity. Winter, the tenacious
Woodpecker, chips away at my skin,
Keeping it fresh and hungry for spring.
In sterilized, naked corridors
outside intensive care units,
you hoist your waiting. This is
where you test its tensile strength.
Its brittleness. Doctors and nurses
hold it for you. Sometimes it still
gives in. Submissions, exams, job
interviews, marriage proposals, flight
intervals — the sugar rush of waiting.
The sculpture becomes a chemical
substance. You’re drawn to it more
than that which you once waited for.
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.
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.
Twenty Andrews Palli. Kinkarda lives in this house now.
He sits in the room adjoining a small veranda. He lives in this room; it is his living room as well as bedroom. The door is ajar; it is always like that.
[From My Days With Ramkinkar Baij]
I found the way to that door about five years ago. As it was ajar, I entered, though not without some measure of diffidence. The world of a towering genius called Ramkinkar Baij, Kinkarda to his loved ones, had opened up to me, but was I capable enough to navigate it? Gladly, printed words, not the actual, near-mythical persona of Kinkarda, paved my pathway. The hesitance started fading, like the lifting of a soft mist off an enormous mountain. This monumental (I don’t use the word lightly) sculptor-painter had me entranced–with his works, life. And words.
Yes, words, because My Days with Ramkinkar Baij, which I read as Shilpi Ramkinkar Alaapchari in Bengali, is Ramkinkar’s life in his own words. From a timid reader, I turned into a zealous admirer. In the five years that followed, the book took me to Norwich, UK (I received the Charles Wallace India Trust Fellowship to work on the translation of this book); I got married and moved to the U.S. and then to Canada; became a translator; my translation of Shilpi Ramkinkar Alaapchari found a publisher and became My Days with Ramkinkar Baij.
Even as author Somendranath Bandyopadhyay, through his smooth and sensitive narrative–based on his closeness to Ramkinkar–recounted his days with the awe-inspiring artist, the past five years enabled me to experience My (own) Days with Ramkinkar Bai–vibrant, many-hued, at times tumultuous.
For this, I couldn’t be grateful enough.