Friday, 23 May 2014

First draft...straight from the heart

                                                                 Las Dos Frida

“The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer ,despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is “what does a woman want?”” This is the great Sigmund Freud for you, a baffled psychoanalyst who in-between smoking innumerable cigars could not figure out the fairer sex. A man’s perspective I concur which I beg to defer, it’s not what a woman wants but what she gets as she goes through life that determines the evolution of her soul.

Many words are thrown at your face when it comes to describing women, beauty, grace, strength, persistence, patience….. but when I look for a visual confirmation that encapsulates the reality of what it means to be a woman, I look at the paintings of Frida Kahlo!

Las dos Fridas or the two Fridas is the painting I am presently staring at on my computer screen, there they sit the two Fridas with matching unibrows, forlorn expressions in their eyes and a faint shadow of a moustache above thin pressed lips, but when I look away from the face I see the poignant difference between the duality of the same woman. One is Diego’s Frida in her Indian garb with a choate heart while the other is the Frida, Diego discarded through divorce, a torn wedding dress and a dissected heart, representative of two different stages in the artists life interlinked with an artery in-between. Na├»ve art is what they call her style but she chose be her own muse and captured the reality of her own life on canvas. This is a painting not about love lost and dejection but about taking control, where one stops the bleeding and holds on to their better self, never letting go. As two Fridas hold hands and stare back at me, it makes me wonder about all the women I know living their lives parallel to mine. Some of them battle career woes, others broken hearts, some struggle to come in terms with motherhood while others yearn for a child as the clock ticks by.  The alternating duality of their souls has been bruised by tough times but they hold on to the wholesome version of themselves ,taking control and never letting go the essence of who they are meant to be. So I revert back to re-iterate that it’s not what a woman wants but what is thrown at her in life that she moulds herself around…malleability being the key word here but which can be done with flair and flamboyance....the Frida way….A fiery comet is what Frida Kahlo was, a woman before her time, crippled in body but not in spirit, the very portrait of the feminine soul.

                                                          The Broken (in body not in spirit)

Monday, 12 August 2013

I see a doll's house!

                                           " I see a doll's house" (in sign language)

                                                      Dolls made by souvik.

He sits on a bench gazing as water ripples on the lake in front of him. It feels the wind as he does, its surface tingles as his skin does. Silence has always been a part of his life but calmness is something he had to work on. Watching the water now gives him a sense of peace. Then the ripples on the water turn into indented dots as the calm surface of the lake is assaulted by monsoon shower. He continues sitting on the bench taking in the sight, soaking in the rains. The lake becomes an ally, a kinship is formed, storming of the water becomes symbolic of the constant onslaught he had to incur as a deaf man trying hard to lead a normal life….. A creature of habit, Souvik learnt early on life that the only way to normality is uniformity. A routine life made things easy to handle, perseverance being the key to it all. Hence, every evening he puts on his favorite blue cap and walks down to Lake Gardens in an attempt to escape the morbidity of city life.

 As a boy, being accepted by his peers was a huge problem for Souvik, his inability to communicate within a group made it difficult for him to play games, so he kept away from the madness of playgrounds and would often spend his evening play hour hiding in a Japanese monastery nearby. At four o clock, a monk would start drumming a taiko (drum) announcing the start of prayers and chanting filled the shrine as other monks would pray and beat fan shaped taikos in unison. Souvik, being indifferent to the music generated would usually sit in a corner and watch the uniform movement of sticks hitting animal hides on drums making it quiver on impact. Then one day things changed, from being a soundless listener he was handed a taiko by a monk so he could be an active participant in worship, wide eyed and unsure of himself he followed the movement of hands around him striking the drum with all his might till there was a rhythm to his drumbeat. Tears of joy ran down his face, his orison was heard; he finally found himself among those monks and felt like he belonged, being able to function in a group brought some sort of meaning to his existence. It was his first lesson in life teaching him that his deafness could not be a handicap as long as he used his gift of sight to hear the inaudible giving him the confidence and ability to blend into normal life . His eyes right then had become his ears and he could feel the music in the shrine.

It is expected that anything you lose comes around in another form, so a hearing impaired souvik developed phenomenal sight, but to define this man sporting a blue cap as just that would not be enough. Yes, silence has been a constant companion through life’s inconsistencies but a perceptive mind and creative hands are what led him through. Among the other things he does, souvik is also a doll maker. He makes dolls  because it brings him joy, stitching, gluing up tiny miniature beings, he builds a love parade of bride and grooms reflecting different cultures from all over India. ‘A Doll’s House’ is how he describes the world, where people romp and play with one another in the name of love, devotion and every other fallible emotion that makes one want to build worlds of pretence permanence. A perfect manicured life of people coming together and aspiring for bigger brighter things unable to see the fleeting nature of it all and weighing their happiness in their designed lives. “A moppet existence” are the words he uses to describe his life and many others around him. He cannot help it, but people with so called normal lives sadly continue their moppet show by binding themselves to lives of compulsion whether it is an unfulfilling job, filial ties or simply a sense of duty, they continue a life of pretense burying their deepest dreams and desires and continue exhibiting a doll like make belief existence.

 Thus with a strange all knowing smile, a man who is heedless to all the noise this world is making, steadily lives a familiar life between work during the day and stitching dolls in his free time. A man who meticulously views the kaleidoscopic humanity overflowing around him and captures it in his dolls, a man who realizes that though his handicap may be inflicted by fate, his will to live a wholesome life shall not diminish, an undeterred spirit gazing out at the lakes awaiting his day of reckoning when he shall look back and realize his time on earth was not in vain.    

                                                             Mira the doll.

                                                   A bengali bride and groom dolls.

If you would like to purchase the dolls made by souvik, kindly contact us on

Monday, 28 January 2013

The Wind Flute

                                                                              Lord Krishna in Brindavan

                                                                  Tribal motifs on the wind flutes

Lo behold! amidst the lush green foliage of Brindavan stands a blue complexioned man with his eyes like lotus petals, half closed as he plays his flute entrancing the living with his music. A lustrous peacock feather flutters in the crown adorning his head, a celestial divinity standing amidst men, women and beasts transforming the forest into an ethereal paradise….... As I open my eyes and let go of my vision of Lord Krishna, I utter….......   "Om namo vishva-rupaya \Vishva-sthity-anta-hetava\ Vishveshvaraya vishvaya\Govindaya namonamaha"(I offer my humble obeisance to Lord Krishna, who is the giver of pleasure to the cows, whose external form is the form of the universe, who is the cause of  maintenance and dissolution of the material universe, and who is the Lord of the universe)

Gopalpriya, Dayanidhi, Vasudeva, Narayana all names of Krishna is the God of love, a celestial cowherd, he usually stands with one leg bent in front of the other raising his flute to the lip in the ‘tribha mudra’ emphasizing his position as a divine herdsman.

In the hills of Chattisgarh roam earthly herdsmen swinging wind flutes as they watch their cattle grazing in the forest lands. They belong to the Gond tribe, the oldest tribe settled in these lands, well-known for their love for art and music. A singing minstrel (Pardhan) passes them by, announcing his arrival to their village playing his stringed “banas” (fiddle). The Pardhan is one of the last revered story tellers entrusted to spread folklores of magic and mystique through songs. The village is abuzz with the news of Pardhan's arrival, the “cheliks” (boys) and the “motiaries” (young girls) leave their youth dormitory and run to assemble under the great mango tree. Hand in hand the courting couples listen to the fiddler as he begins his story about “The Peacock and his ugly feet”. With a toothless grin, the Pardhan begins singing in a throaty voice describing the fourteen days God took to create the universe. After creating the earth, skies and everything in between in seven days, God decided to create something spectacular and of unimaginable beauty- the peacock! It took God three and a half days to design the peacock’s feather and the rest was spent on creating the birds body. Realizing that time had run out, God created the bird’s legs in a hurry and such a magnificent bird of beauty was given ugly and ungainly legs. Thus, even now when the peacock unfurls its feather and struts about in pride, the sight of his repulsive feet humbles him. The story then comes to an end but the fiddle continues to play accompanied by the muted notes of the wind flutes swung by the shepherds nearby. An idyllic scenic atmosphere, Brindavan recreated in this rustic earthly borough of the Gonds.

Now, the Gond tribesmen are known to use all available natural resources to its optimum level. Their artistic skills honed and perfected through generations transform utilitarian objects into pieces of aesthetic value. The wind flute is one such example, its mains purpose being to control the cattle from wandering around and to scare away animals while trekking in the forests, but one can’t help marvel at the artwork done on the bamboo stems or appreciate its musical notes as it is swung around.  The artwork comprises of tribal motifs of simple drawings in straight lines of fish, leaves, deities and so on which are engraved by a hot iron rod on the bamboo. Gond paintings and metal art are well-known and appreciated but their music which is intrinsic to their heritage is slowly fading away. Pardhans or singing minstrels are abandoning their inherited legacy of being singing chronicles of Gond literature and taking up other types of work to sustain themselves. We at Kriya Kalash want the musical journey of the Gond tribe to continue and are promoting the wind flutes made from bamboo by the Pardhans in our blog. Our sincere wish is that you join and support us in this venture.

                                                              Krishna-Radha painting by Jamini Roy.

                                                                   An illustration of Gond Tribals

                                                          A horizontal view of the wind flute.

If you would like to purchase the wind flutes made by Gond tribals kindly contact us on

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Light up the darkness!


                                                       Scenes from Kumartali.

                                                Potters of Kumartali busy with their art.

Let there be light! Light on various strands of existentialism, light on a nation that’s withering away in corruption and finally light on our very souls caged in a body of flesh and blood which forms the basis of our conscience. O lord this is my prayer on deepavali!(festival of lights)

In Vedic cosmology sattva is a guna(fundamental quality) which stands for light, purity, goodness. It is the embryonic emergence that shapes the other two gunas which are rajas and tamas. To put it more coherently, sattva (light) is what shapes and brings balance to dark inanimate objects. Light from the sun permeates through all objects on earth and has created a system of reckoning for all forms of life. All creation is governed by the manifestation of light and a whole universe revolves around it.  However, metaphorically the meaning of light can be refracted through many a prism. Often life has been described to me as a long journey through a tunnel trying to reach the light at its end, and for each one that light has different connotation, it’s the culminating point where the reason of existence meets their expectations. So life becomes a long exodus towards the promised light of fulfillment.

Leaving behind the outer manifestations of light when I look inside myself, I realize that there is a different sort of light---a subtle spiritual mechanism hidden behind the bodily structure, a science of the soul .It is said that all living beings are made in the image of God therefore our souls are anchored in the Divine, which is why a new born baby smiles as it sleeps because its connection to the omnipotent is undisturbed. As an adult, spiritual realism has lately been occupying my thoughts and I turned to the science of yoga to learn about the laws ruling the realms of consciousness so that it would rekindle the light in me and help me comprehend the true nature of matters in my life. My practice of the inner science of yoga continues with the hope that everything in the future will improve by making a spiritual effort in the mind.

Auburn leaves slowly fall from trees above, autumn is here and nature is shedding its old attire to prepare for the new. After hectic months of making idols for durga puja, the potters of Kumartuli in Kolkata have no respite. Blue idols of goddess kali have to be created, the fearful and ferocious dark mother is to be revered on the day of deepavali. The potters wheels are furiously churning, clay is being shaped into the mother goddess and at the same time “diya” or lamps are getting baked to brighten homes in Kolkata. Deepavali  meaning” an array of lights” is a festival that marks the victory of good over evil, darkness being consumed by light and the potters have to work hard to supply the enormous demand for diyas  so that the city can outshine any eclipse. To witness an ancient craft that is passed down from father to son, I arrive at Kumartuli as an insect is drawn towards the light but this time it’s the light of art and creativity. At a time when my nation is passing through trying times politically and economically, I witness a working class of artists employing their skills for survival. Through the exercise of power, vision and work these potters are liberating themselves from poverty which has shackled majority of the masses in India. Their efforts are not futile, the world now recognizes them as the potters who create beautiful idols of goddesses, but  kriya kalash is working on displaying their lesser known creations. I sign off from this blog with the hope that as we work towards creating light for others, we will naturally light our way through life.

                                                    Diyas being painted .

                                                     The finished product.

                                    Different types of diyas (lamps) made by the potters of Kumartali.

If you like the diya or lamps made by the potter community of kumartali, kindly contact us on

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Bamboo Reinforced

                                                   A "pandal" in Kolkata.

                                                 Bamboo mugs from Assam.

                                               Deities carved into bamboo roots.

It’s that time of the year again! Goddess Durga has left her celestial abode and come down to earth to visit her maternal home. The city of Kolkata is exhilarated with joy as it welcomes the eternal mother, a magnificent woman with ten hands, a symbol of the divine purging out all evil .Every ‘para’ or lane in the city is constructing a decorative “pandal”, each proclaiming to be better than the other, specimens of artistic ingenuity for their beloved mother to reside. As I drive home from work, each day I witness the cityscape transform, from  skeletal bamboo constructions, lit up high rises to ostentatious ‘pandals’, Kolkata is shinning and alive. It is at this time of the year that the bamboo forms the basis of compound art in the form of “pandals’.

 ‘Uttare charu?/Dhakkhine garu/pube hah/pashime bah’…(kitchen on the north, cow shed on the south, pond/duckery on the east and bamboo groove on the west)…Nayan Gogoi recalls an ancient assamese wisdom that emphasizes the importance of bamboo in homestead planning. Bamboo is his source of livelihood. For years, it has been subjected to his contemplation and been turned to beautiful artistic decorative pieces. Bamboo has been his canvas of expression and the basis of his small business in the village of Dhubri in Assam. The bamboo mugs he makes are a specialty and in demand during the festival of Bihu when “sujen”(alcoholic beverage) is made and drunk in great quantities.

Tucked in the lower ranges of eastern Himalayas is Ziro valley(Arunachal Pradesh), home of the Apatanis. A tribe of nature worshippers , they have mastered the art of land cultivation which has enabled them to be self sufficient through centuries . This unique tribe has developed an indigenous method of growing bamboo that never flowers thus making it immune to rodent and birds. Naturalist and conservationists in their own right, the Apatanis use bamboo in various spheres of their lives. The women are excellent weavers and bamboo is used to make baskets, haversack bags and even kitchen utensils. Bamboo here is a source of utilitarian art that helps the tribe to function through their daily chores.

Three different states,…three different usage of the sturdy bamboo. An object of utility, it is contributing in the process of making beautiful art. Whether it’s the foundation of a pandal or being skillfully carved to make it ornamental or even woven into exceptional utensils distinctive to an isolated tribe , the bamboo has surpassed its role of simply being a poor man’s timber.

                                                         An Apatani tribal woman.
                                                       (photograph courtesy wikipedia)

                                                    Apatani bamboo utensils.

If you would like to purchase the bamboo products on display and help Kriya Kalash promote artisans from the northeast of India, kindly contact us on

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Bollywood's Painted Posters

                                          Artists pay tribute to their city on the walls of Matunga railway station.

                                                           Chor bazaar in Mutton Street.

                                               Hand painted poster of the movie "Guide"

Mumbai---City of dreams? City of persistence? City of hustlers ? Every one arrives here with their bag of ambitions and wrestles it out with this giant mammoth of human deluge to either make it or get swallowed. I rolled into Mumbai, one wet morning unsure about whether I should brave the traffic and set out to look for the famed hand painted Bollywood posters of yesteryears. Since I had read that this eclectic dying art form is still found in the lanes of chor bazaar in old Mumbai, I was desperate to find it. I got out of my hotel in Juhu and walked down the street looking for a cab driver who would help me navigate this alien city. After a few minutes of haggling on transportation fares, I was sitting in a black and yellow fiat stuck in traffic, conversing with my cab driver.

Now, Mr. Vibhushan Gupta (the cabbie) is a true blue blooded ‘Mumbaikar’. An old timer of kashmiri descent, he migrated to Mumbai and made it his home decades back. Ever since he has been driving a taxi and could proudly name all the celebrities he has ferried around. The drive was long but conversation colourful, he spoke about his love for classic Bollywood films, shiv-sena and politics, scarcity of  water followed by paralyzing rains. I could sense the amount of love and pride this non Marathi heart had for the city he called home- a city that soars and stinks, inflicts innumerous adversities on its denizens but keeps them going because it never lets them stop dreaming. The dream machine is ever churning pulling more people towards it each day.

Speaking of dreams, bollywood is an industry that sells it and has our nation hypnotized. Mad scientists, hard boiled detectives, sensuous starlets, murderous robots, vengeful goddesses, saucy heroines, super human men-are staples of bollywood movies. It’s an ever evolving genre of motion picture that is constantly swinging between fantasy and realism. Unlike the aggressive marketing propaganda of movies today, bollywood of yesteryears employed simpler tactics. As a child I remember seeing colourful hoardings outside movie theatres depicting the actors in their various facial contortions, from trade mark expressions of romantic nuances, angst from tragedy to violent rage, images all hand painted and pasted above making us mere mortals look up and gape at these celestial beings of cinema. This art form is now scarce. Cinema halls have switched over to cheaper digital prints leaving poster artists with no option but to change their means of livelihood. Most of these artists have disappeared and chor bazaar in Mumbai has the last of these posters. That’s why ,I was on my way, eager to get my hands on this rare form of art.

Chor bazaar which literally means “thieves market” is aptly named since all stolen goods eventually finds its way here. It’s famous for antique items including vintage bollywood posters. As I entered its narrow lanes hopping and skipping trying to avoid pot-holes filled with rain water, I saw the iconic “Mother India” poster on display in one of the shops. Arif is one of the last hand-painted poster sellers on Mutton Street. Like most old things find their way to Chor bazaar, bollywood posters of every decade carefully wrapped in plastic adorn the walls of his tiny shop. Business is slow but Arif has not lost faith Apart from posters there are old gramophone records , movie pamphlets  and even song books. It is a store house of bollywood’s legacy. He still has a few poster artists working for him but orders are not coming in abundance these days .On learning that Kriya Kalash is interested in promoting poster art, Arif  agreed to be a part of the process ,thus enabling us to give new lease of life to this dying art form. Change is a good thing, but to preserve the old even better .Why should an art form this unique fade into oblivion? People like Arif and his poster artists need to get their due. Someone once told me that acceptance and neutrality to matters offers solutions, I now realize how wrong the logic is, because when there is a chance to make things right one should go ahead and be proactive about things and that’s what we at kriya kalash want to do by being in the process of preserving these hand made posters.

                                                              Some other iconic posters

If you would like to buy hand painted bollywood posters kindly contact us on 

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Beads of lore.

                                            Aka men in tradzy beads

                                    Women with painted faces in all their finery.

                                        Haggling over bride price using twigs.

Sleepless  roosters crowed, stray dogs barked ,cool winds gusted into the mountains making Nimasow shiver as he sat collecting the ritual items: a tigers claw, a pythons jaw, a crystal quartz and other objects that are a part of a Shaman’s kit. He has a ritual to perform today since the village is abuzz about the spirits being unhappy. The harvest has not been good this year.

Nimasow , as his father before, is the Shaman in the tiny village of Palizi, a rustic hamlet on the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh. He belongs to the Aka tribe, which is one of the last isolated tribes of these hills .They are a community of self sufficient set of people who have certain similarities to other Buddhist tribes of Arunachal. The tribe grows its own rice, vegetables, fruits , rear their own hogs and breed cattle, build their houses on silts and speak a unique dialect. It’s a utopian setting untouched by the outside world where life is still primitive and unengineered.

Nimasow is affectionately referred to as ‘Mucrow’ by his people-a term of endearment and apart from his shaman status, he is well known to have a collection of necklaces of yellow stone beads. Now, the Aka have more than 26 words to relate to the beads. Beyond being objects of adornment, beads are a status symbol and even play the part of currency for purchase or exchange. In one of its varied important forms , it is the dowry parents will give their daughters when she becomes a bride, and men of this village will adorn themselves with beaded necklaces on special occasions to show off their status- as Nimasow today. These necklaces are simply made out of yellow stones that used to be found in the river nearby. But now those stones are no longer found and the necklaces have become a precious commodity that the Aka people have inherited from their elders. They believe these necklaces embody the deified spirits of their ancestors.

When I first saw an Aka necklace, I could see certain design similarities to the prayer beads we Tibetans wear but looking closely I realized that it’s a unique artifact having symbolic representation. It stands for a way of life centuries old. The way our ancestors lived when the world to them was flat and sustainability was got from ones immediate surroundings. There has always been a huge connection between people and their landscape and the beads represent that connection by beautifying and also running the economy of this tribe. At a time when rest of the world is committing ecocide, I sit writing about a tribe where men and nature exist in harmony-a race so precious that I had to document them in my blog so people can read about the Aka tribe and their precious beads.