This week’s weighty photo challenge had me jumping with delight. A perfect excuse to share this picture I took at Anandagram last month.
Anandagram offers a beautiful and serene environment to visitors. It houses 3 private museums housing traditional Indian household objects, terracotta and textiles from across the country. The buildings, styled like traditional houses, are surrounded by vast manicured lawns with discarded objects turned into art installations! Kept spotlessly clean, this leaf was about the only item which ‘littered’ the place – and it too was pretty 🙂
As the sun prepares to visit this part of the world, a few of its rays have jumped ahead, trying to take a peak at our front entrance. While most of the city is either asleep, or busy getting ready to take on the day’s work, my mother opens the door and thoroughly cleans the floor with water. She then opens a small box and picks up a pinch of the white powder that it contains.
She rolls the powder between her thumb and index finger and makes a series of dots. They are perfectly arranged in a symmetrical pattern – drawn with pin-point accuracy. She picks up more powder and with a steady hand, draws several even lines – some connecting the dots, others, encircling them.
Ever since I can remember, my mother has performed this fascinating ritual, every single day, without fail.
Earlier, the only source of obtaining the kolam podi*, was relatives who visited us. Our trips to Chennai would be incomplete without buying the white stone powder, which she used for making the designs. Now the powder is available more readily. Kolams are not common in Delhi. Here, elaborate ‘rangolis‘** are made with colourful powders and flowers, that too only on Diwali, or special occasions. Some other migrants like us make the kolams with a more long lasting wet ‘paint’ made using rice flour. Others use ready-made stickers.
Visitors often ignore the kolam at the entrance and sometimes step over them. Some mischief makers deliberately destroy them. And on several occasions, the sweeper sweeps them away. It infuriates my mother… “Kolams are swept away only when the family is in mourning… Wiping it away is a sin”, she would shout. But nothing has ever deterred my mother from starting afresh the next morning.
In Chennai, though, kolams are found everywhere – at the entrance of every house, temples, and even public buildings. Friday belongs to Devi, and so, the kolams are extra special on these days. On festive occasions, the red stone comes out of the shelf. The stone is dipped in a little water and the kolam is painted with a deep red colour.
Celebrations like marriages present a much larger canvas for the ladies. Rice flour kolams are prepared the night before the auspicious event, and, covering large areas, they are grander than what one can imagine. That they will be hidden beneath the holy flame, does not matter to the artists.
As the years have rolled by, my mother’s kolams have evolved. They are no longer limited to the strict geometrical patterns. Nor are the materials restricted to the traditional ones. The kolams are now more abstract, and created spontaneously. On special occasions, she adds more colour – something that she has adopted from the North Indian rangolis. There are times when she is unable to make it early in the morning, but even today, she does not allow anyone to step out of the house before the kolam is drawn. And we don’t mind – the entire process takes just a few minutes – the years of practice have made it second nature to her.
It is this art form, and my mother’s interpretations and designs, that inspired me to create something of my own. Based on the traditional paisley motif – the ‘aam‘, or the ‘mangai‘***, it is a tribute to the millions of women who practice traditional art forms as part of their daily lives. It is a tribute to the art form that encourages everybody to become an artist.
But above all, it is a tribute to my mother – who expresses her creativity and skill through patterns on the floor every single day, only to sweep it away the next morning.
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* Podi – powder
** Rangoli – Hindi term designs made on the floor.
*** aam – Hindi for mango
mangai – Tamil for unripe mango
Last weekend, I had been invited to attend a cultural programme. It was the Annual Day Celebrations of a social organisation, which provided foster care for street children.
The course of the programme seemed to follow the pattern of the lives of the children taking part in it.
The show began with a group of children singing the anthem of the organisation, an old Hindi classic film song – ‘Aa chal ke tujhe…‘* They seemed nervous as they missed a few beats and struggled with the correct notes. As another group sang, their voices revealed their state of mind – hesitant and unsure.
Young children then came out in their colourful attire, and enlightened the audience about real life examples of women’s entrepreneurship, and staged a play about rural life.
As the evening grew, the atmosphere became more lively. The children in the audience cheered loudly during the award ceremony, as their caretakers, and some older children, were being felicitated.
The convocation ceremony showed how contrasting our lives were. For us, attending school was as integral a part of our lives, as eating and sleeping. But for the children of the home, simply clearing the examinations was a huge milestone. They weren’t as lucky as we were – abandoned by their own parents, left to fend for themselves at a tender age, victims of various types of abuse.
As the older children began their dance performances, their eyes glowing with pride, their movements synchronised, and expressions filled with confidence, it was clear, that they had put their past behind them and were now ready to embrace their new lives.
The event was nothing short of being grand – and I’m glad I was there to witness it.
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*Aa chal ke tujhe, mai leke chalun, ik aise gagan ke tale, jahaan gum bhi na ho, aansu bhi na ho, bas pyaar hi pyaar pale…
Come, I’ll take you to a place so beautiful, where there is no sorrow, no tears, only love…
The summer has already set in and the heat is becoming unbearable. If its this hot in April, I fear to even think about May and June.
The past couple of days, have been a little different though.
Today, the wind is blowing hard. The sky is overcast, but there are some rays of light, which have managed to sneak past the clouds to get a glimpse of the world.
In the balcony, the plants are having a ball. For the past few weeks, they’ve gone crazy. Everyday they’ve been dressing up in their best outfits. The Nandiyavattai*, the common purple Flowers*, Hibiscuses, Loudspeaker* Lilies, and even Jasmine flowers, have come out in large numbers after a long, long time.
Today, also happens to be the Tamil New Year. Although there isn’t much we do to celebrate the new year, our mother draws a special kolam** at the entrance of the house, and prepares a special dish.
This dish has all flavours – sweet, salty, sour, bitter, spice, and pungent. The dish represents life, and its ingredients, its different flavours. In life, some moments are sweet, others, bitter. We experience a wide variety of emotions. On the first day of the year, this dish is prepared to remind us, that the future will be filled with varying emotions. We must, not only prepare ourselves to face life, but also learn to enjoy its different flavours.
Puthandu vazthukal (happy new year), and a happy Baisakhi to all.
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Nandiyavattai – The Tamil name of a plant, whose name I did not know – till now. Called ‘Moonbeam’ or ‘Wax Flower’ in English, ‘Chandni’ in Hindi and ‘Tabernaemontana coronaria’ in Science.
The Common purple Flowers – Another plant whose name I found out today. Called ‘Madagascar Periwinkle’ in English, ‘Sadabahar’ in Hindi and ‘Cantharanthus roseus’ in Science.
Loudspeaker Lilies – They look like a pair of loudspeakers, hence we call them that. The internet world does not seem to recognise that name. So its just plain old lilies.
**Kolam – Patterns drawn with stone powder at the entrance of the house.
This post belongs to the original post titled ‘Letting Go‘
I pulled out the scrapbook from the bottom of the cupboard with the intention of scanning a few pages. The paper has yellowed, the edges of the paper are torn, and damp hands have removed some of the colour. But as I flipped through it with my mother, we fell in love with it all over again! So I decided to scan the whole book!
A part of me wanted to retouch it, but the better part of me (read lazy) thought it best to upload it untouched – yellow and torn. The scans don’t reveal how beautifully well preserved the actual photographs are, though the newspaper clippings reveal their age. Hope you enjoy!
The images are the property of their respective owners. I apologise for being unable to mention the sources (I was just a 12 year old kid who didn’t really care about intellectual property). It is very very very old! Some that do come to my mind are – The Hindu (Newspaper supplements), Brochures from The Sanskriti Museum and India Habitat centre.