Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Brick Lane

Images of children running across a paddy field, chasing a butterfly, playing in the rains or splashing in a pond are too universal to be just personal, but they evoked memories of a lost

childhood. My childhood, the part of which I remember, was not spent in a village, but the innocence and the joy of living rang a very personal bell.

These images of a lost and carefree childhood in her native village in Bangladesh form a recurring theme which captures the homesickness of an exile which Nazreen feels she is in the film Brick Lane. It also symbolizes, along with the letters from her younger sister who has chosen her own life, her yearning for freedom from an imprisoned womanhood which has been conditioned to accept fate and endure.

The film, based on the novel by Monica Ali, tells the story of Nazreen, a girl from a village in Bangladesh who is married off at the age of seventeen to a much older man and goes off to live with him at Brick Lane in London. She is now a mother of two teenaged daughters, locked in a loveless marriage with a pompous man who takes his male superiority as well as his position as a husband and a father for granted and is totally insensitive to the feelings of either his wife or daughters. Nazreen lives the life of a housewife totally subservient to the needs and whims of her husband.

Into her life comes an opportunity. To earn on her own by sewing jeans, and also comes Karim, the young man who brought her work and then love. We notice her slow transformation into a new woman. The docile silent Nazreen, who never used to go out of her home except for shopping, gradually finds her feet, refuses Karim’s proposal of marriage and stands up to the old woman, the money lender, who was fleecing the family. And finally, she talks back to her husband of twenty years and refuses to go back to Bangladesh with him preferring to stay instead at Brick lane with her daughters.

She rediscovers herself and emerges from the shackles of the past.

The film’s movement is subtle and never forced. Never melodramatic. It uses narration at times to supplement the limited dialogue which accentuates Nazreen’s silence and the emptiness of her life. Tannistha Chatterjee’s portrayal of Nazreen is simply superb. She has acted through her very expressive eyes. One jarring note I feel is the character of Charu, which could have been less of a caricature though Satish Kaushik did his job well.

I liked the film, but I was wondering about the coincidence. A similar village or a village-like small town in Bangladesh (then East Bengal ) was in my mental landscape when I wrote the last post and this film came along.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Refugee, but the lucky one

Our family hails from a village called Damodardi in the district of Faridpur in East Bengal, now Bangladesh. This village was lost to us, particularly our parents, for ever with the Partition in 1947, which affected millions of lives in Bengal and Punjab.

I was too young then to feel the pangs of partition. Barely three years old, my life moved within the confines of the family and did not extend much beyond the house. No relationship grew with the place we lived in to leave any permanent imprint in my mind, though vague memories persist. Memories of trees and ponds, and of monkeys jumping from one branch to another, sometimes even intruding into the verandah to the consternation of us, children. Also memories of a stream and a makeshift bridge made of two coconut palm tree trunks which I crossed on occassions on an uncle’s shoulder.

May be these memories have been reinforced a bit by stories I heard later from the elders.

The land we lived in was free from the communal violence that gripped many parts of Bengal in the pre and post partition days leaving a trail of unprecedented bloodshed . Thousands died and many more had to flee their homes clutching whatever little they could of their belongings. They fled under cover of darkness, avoiding gangs of marauders and rapists and crossed the border to an unknown future. We were lucky we did not have to face this trauma. Even if any insecurity was felt by the adults, it did not percolate down to the chidren.

We had to leave eventually but were fortunate on another count : our father was a Doctor in Govt. medical service and could opt for a transfer to Basirhat, not far from Kolkata in what came to be known as West Bengal in Independent India.We came to Basirhat and then, after a year or two, to the city of Kolkata. We did not have to live on the streets, or railway platforms or in jabar-dakhal ( forcibly occupied) colonies, fighting poverty, hooligans and the police for sheer survival. We were refugees but luckier than most and didnot have to face the insecurites that many had to live with.

And how lucky for us to be thrown into a culture that was our own ! Yes, there were those initial years when we were branded as ‘Bangals’ (from East Bengal ) with our distinct dialects which varied from district to district. There were rhymes to depict us which were not really complimentary, but these did not last long. The Bangal and ‘Ghoti ‘ ( the originals of Kolkata) rivalry was mostly played out for years in the football leagues where the teams East Bengal and Mohun Bagan ( Kolkata’s own) were the major contestants.
We got integrated into Kolkata life easily enough. But having grown up listening to the stories of our land, its rivers, paddy fields and monsoon rains along with the stories of its abundance, some of which might be a little exaggerated, all of us, people of my vintage, carry our ‘desh’ in our hearts, deep in our souls.
I love rivers, in fact any water bodies and today I like to think that this love connects me to the ‘desh’ that we lost.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mona Lisa Smiles

No, I am not talking about the Julia Roberts film. Though I liked it very much.
I was surfing the net some years back and came across Mark Harden's Artchive, an extraordinary storehouse of digital reproduction of great works of art of all times.
Well, to be frank, it was not idle and random surfing that led me to this site. I was wondering for sometime whether I could ever have a look at the works by the great masters of yore and it struck me that even if the originals are far beyond the reach of ordinary folks like me, I could try and locate some prints in the net. Google was not my favoured search engine those days. In fact I don't think Google had yet come of age. I am talking of more than ten years back. So, I tried Yahoo and it did not disappoint me.
I found a treasure house. I could look up Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Picasso, Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Rembrandt, da Vinci, Michelangelo and so many others.. You name any of the old masters and he is there with some of his collections well catalogued and well documented.I must admit, before anyone jumps to a wrong conclusion, that I am neither an artist nor an art connoisseur. Nor a student of art history nor even a millionaire looking for prospective buys. I don't own a gallery nor do I intend to have one. Not that I can afford. I am just an ordinary person for whom I believe the masters painted . I just wanted to have look at these paintings.
The site allows you to download the pictures. Many of which I did. In fact, I was again browsing through some of them when the idea of writing this post was born. I did have have print outs of some of these works and framed them to hang on the walls of the small flat I live in. But no one visiting me have so far noticed them though I have a Renoir or a Picasso or a Michelangelo, even if it is only a print. Sad truth is that the prints are not large enough, nor are the walls. After all, it is not a millionire's wall.
I had an opportunity of visiting some parts of Europe later and stay in in Paris for two nights. The tour around Paris in the package that I had to opt for did not include a visit to the Louvre.So, I decided to drop off at the Tuileries to pay a visit to the museum. Alone.

It still towers over the city!
The palace which Louvre once was, is magnificent , but its view, in my opinion, has been marred by a modern monostrosity, a glass pyramid at the entrance to the underground lobby, which, by itself, could have been beautiful but just did not fit in the landscape. I thought we only had the distinction of spoiling the beauty of a heritage building or an ancient piece of architecture !
Once inside, I could have spent hours, but I had little time. So I had to content myself by visiting one or two wings. My priority of course was to see the the smile that has intrigued people of many generations. When I reached there, I saw most visitors had similar priorities. It was almost a Kolkata scene. A crowd eager to have a look and a snap. Even with my Kolkata expertise I could not push through the crowd to get a frontal picture with my camera.
Much better images of Mona Lisa or for that matter of Venus de Milo shown below, are available in the net , but I thought why not get my own 'labour of love' in my post.
Both these works of art, one a painting and the other a sculpture, are perhaps the most easily recognisable to the common people, because they have been most often reproduced, one in print,the other in replicas throughout the world. People of my vintage would remember the replicas of Venus de Milo sold in Rather Mela (Fairs held on the occassion of the Rath Yatra festival ) year after year, possibly even now.
Since I started with the search of Van Gogh paintings when I used Yahoo, I should include one here for whoever wants to have a look. I don't know why I have always liked Van Gogh. Is it because of the paintings which appealed to me, the abandon with which he painted and the strong brush strokes and vibrant colours he used or because of the life Van Gogh had to live ? I don't know but I regret I missed going to the museum which store his paintings at Amsterdam.
Olive trees !
I should have concluded here, but I can not resist the temptation of putting up one piece of art which defined the times that the artist lived in and possibly continue to define ours.