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Kala Kahani’s Magazine

South Asian Arts and Literature



Spring 11

Charnwood Arts 31 Granby Street Loughborough Leicestershire LE11 3DU 01509 821035 Editor and Writer

Raakhee Modha

Project Manager Rebecca Abrahams

Technical Designer/Publisher Manuela De Castro

Technical Support

Anthony Parkes

Photographs Bhavpreet Ghai Front Cover/Main Images Raakhee Modha

Published by Charnwood Arts

The views expressed by contributors to Kala Kahani’s Rangoli magazine are not necessarily those of the staff or trustees of Charnwood Arts

Kala Kahani is a Charnwood Arts project funded by Arts Council England, East Midlands. Charnwood Arts is an independent community arts and media charity (number 505977). The work of Kala Kahani is the promotion and appreciation of South Asian arts and literature. All text, articles and images submitted for the Kala Kahani Rangoli magazine are the property of individual authors and no part of this magazine may be reproduced without the express permission of the authors or Charnwood Arts.


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CONTENTS A Forum with the Editor


Artist - Mr S. Jayaraj


‘Faces of Rural Folk’ - Canvasing the Agony and Ecstasy of Everyday Rural Life

Iranian Poet - Mohsen Jabbari


A Reader’s Love Affair with Indian Writing – Ross Bradshaw


A Western Perspective of Indian Writing in the UK

Photography - Bhavpreet Ghai


The Magic and Mystique beyond a Lens

Poetry - Basanta Kumar Kar


‘The Unfold Pinnacle’ - A Creative Illustration of the Many Lessons Learnt from Human Suffering, where each Tale becomes its own Poetic Case Study

Mixed Media and Printmaking Artist - Mythili Thevendrampillai


A Rebellious River of 21st Century Desi Gods and Goddesses Flows into a River of the ‘Ramayana’ Revamped

Kala Kahani Recommends Links



A Forum with the Editor Editor’s Greeting Words | Raakhee Modha

‘The calling of birds Inside, String the heart only With love As they dance in divine ecstasy In the infinite treasure Of the soul.’ by Rita Purkayastha

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With the birth of Rangoli, in 2008, we never imagined a printed copy of the second edition would be distributed here and across the globe, nearly two years later! We have been inundated with exceptional reaction from our supporters and esteemed artists all over the world. Energised with this love, Rangoli has been unearthing hidden creative treasures, and with the greatest anticipation we unveil them to our readers, in this third edition. To celebrate the latest publication, Rangoli ’s opening article interviews Chennai-based artist, graphic designer, photographer and documentary maker, Mr S. Jayaraj, as he showcases his ‘Faces of Rural Folk’ exhibition in Chennai, Hyderabad, Pondicherry and Bangalore. An observer of rural communities across India, Jayaraj is mesmerised by the Indian rural life and his art work captures fleeting expressions and multifarious moods of the people, especially women.


Jayaraj describes this series of paintings, as a sincere attempt on his part to capture on canvas, the agony and ecstasy of everyday rural life. Through documentary work aimed at increasing awareness of social and development issues faced by India, combined with his charity work, Jayaraj suffuses deep sensitivity and understanding into his poignant artwork. Pursuing his creative aspirations despite the hostility of the current political regime in Iran, poet Mohsen Jabbari considers his writing style as a journey from some familiar place to an unknown territory, a literary voyage he hopes to share with the readers. The uncontrollability of the meanings emerging out of the isolation and combination of words, the inherent deconstructive quality of language, also fascinates Mohsen. Steadfast in what he wants to accomplish with his writing, Mohsen believes this clarity takes nothing away from the magic of his poetry.


Ross Bradshaw runs Five Leaves Publications, a small publisher based in Nottingham, and in his article ‘A Reader’s Love Affair with Indian Writing’, Ross collates a brief history of Indian writing in the UK, from a western perspective. He mentions books written by non-Indians such as the ‘Raj Quartet’ by Paul Scott and ‘Passage to India’ by E.M. Forster. Although writers R.K. Narayan and Mulk Raj Anand were both Indian, they attracted a more specialized audience. Ross brings the reader more up-to-date with the Booker Prize winners Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai and Aravind Adiga, all of whom signaled the rise in popularity of books on the subject of India, written by Indians. Ross finally concludes this concise article with local multicultural writers Bali Rai, Debjani Chatterjee and the poet Mahendra Solanki. Our photography feature, ‘The Magic and Mystique beyond a Lens’, proudly presents Bhavpreet Ghai, a flourishing artist currently residing and working in Mumbai. After working in the graphics and photography industry in Delhi for 3 years, she moved to Mumbai in 2003 to join the 3D animation film industry. Over the duration of four years, Bhavpreet was involved in various esteemed international projects as a lighting artist. In 2007, a Masters in Creative Media Studies, from The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), took her across the globe to Australia. Whilst living in Melbourne, Bhavpreet organically nurtured her insatiable desire to take more photographs, resulting in a career as a fulltime photographer. Wholeheartedly dedicated to her art and pushing the boundaries of her creative development, Bhavpreet continues to take numerous workshops in various genres of photography. A widely published poet and holding a senior position in an international development organization in Delhi, Basanta Kumar Kar understands poverty and vulnerability in India and abroad. His third pre-published collection ‘The Unfold Pinnacle’ meditates on 65 real life stories of the most marginalized women, across eight Indian states. Inhabiting an abode of breathtaking harmonious beauty, these exposed women experience deep pain and an absence of love and support, leaving them with little human dignity. In this bounty and beauty of nature, Basanta eloquently captures the essence of an ironic susceptibility and each tale becomes its own poetic case study. Working in the development sector allows Basanta to share the unheard voices of these women and girls, through the unique medium of poetry, and this process has captured the attention of policy makers, readers and development activists. Rangoli’s interview with Basanta beautifully interlaces each woman’s account with poems from this recent collection.

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Mixed media and printmaking artist, Mythili Thevendrampillai marked the start of this year with her solo exhibition, Desi Gods and Goddesses for the 21st Century, featuring eleven collectable and signed edition prints. This modern interpretation of the Hindu deities draws inspiration from the lineage of her parents, fused with popular contemporary icons in the media, such as Barack Obama, Michael Jackson and Angelina Jolie, as well as her interactions with disadvantaged children, both in the UK and in India. This eighteen-month collaboration between Mythili and London Print Studio Gallery, aimed at engaging the younger generation, explored the bold concept that a latent divinity exists within each being and by recognising and channelling this potency, humans have the ability to physically represent a god on this earth. Blending findings from her intrepid journey thus far and utilising the great epic Sanskrit poem the ‘Ramayana’ as her new source of inspiration, Mythili is in the process of extracting a concept, which she will be able to explore imaginatively. Within the intricate tales of the ‘Ramayana’, men are portrayed as masculine superheroes whilst women dutifully make unbound sacrifices in the service of their male counterparts. Mythili wants to address the disharmony in the depiction of genders, which she feels still exists within divisions of our ‘modern’ society. Still in its infancy, Mythili’s twist on the ‘Ramayana’ may just reconnect the world with its understated and overshadowed superpower. Finishing on an interesting debate, Rangoli came across an article titled ‘South Asians Less Likely to use Chains’ ( This research conducted by Book Marketing Limited, on behalf of DCS South Asian Literary Festival, suggests that British Asians are less likely to use chain stores such as Waterstones and WH Smith, than the white population. South Asian readers

Raakhee Modha EDITOR


struggle to find books, which they can relate to and the findings demonstrate a real disparity in preferences between South Asians and their white counterparts. South Asian readers showed more interest for non-fiction books and spiritual/self help literature, whilst a higher percentage of the white population preferred crime and historical fiction. Further investigations into these findings may encourage a surge of high profile retail chain stores to fill a lucrative gap in the market. With this hint of promise, Rangoli eagerly awaits the potential constructive repercussions, which could reinforce support for South Asian literature and its readers. Kala Kahani is embodying technology and reaching out to the masses, through the social global network Facebook ( Those interested in the subject of South Asian arts and literature should come and join the online group, where members can dynamically interact with Kala Kahani, whilst receiving the latest information about events taking place. Rangoli’s foundation is cemented by the calibre of submissions we receive. Without the talent and relentless spirit of determined individuals and collective forces, Rangoli cannot inspire evolution. The creative powers beyond our control have unwittingly attracted artists from all parts of the world to come together and show how art can generate positive change, which can positively impact the development sector. Internalising the pain as part of the imaginative process, the artwork is an animated labour of genuine passion and compassion. Drawing impetus from this progressive movement of ingenious beings, Rangoli will continue to provide a forum and encourage the fearless efforts of these tenaciously spirited souls.


Questions to the editor Q: I am planning a trip to India this year and I would really like to write a travelogue. I have seen some examples online but I feel quite confused as to the format it should take. I have considered writing the travelogue as a journal, which may come across as dull, yet if I write it as a continuous piece, at what point does it become a short story or even a novel? Should I also add some fictitious segments for added excitement? I would be interested to know what you think as a traveller and writer yourself. Lucy Dove, London

© Kajal Nisha Patel

Raakhee: First of all I think you should clarify this confusion. By definition, a travelogue is a film or lecture on travel and what makes the writing interesting is the location of travel, especially if it is a remote or largely unexplored destination. In your situation, I would write a journal or diary and pack it with as much detail as possible, such as phone numbers, addresses etc. Talk to the local inhabitants about folklore and culture. If you are also a keen photographer, you can keep a photo journal. Once you return and digest the experience, you will have a better idea of how formal you want the travelogue to be. I feel that writing does not need to follow a strict blue print or structure. If you decide to write a factual travelogue then I would suggest reading the ‘Lonely Planet’ travel guides for ideas. I believe they balance the facts with interesting anecdotes really well. Otherwise be creative with the writing, without adding fictitious segments. If you are lying to yourself about your adventures then the sincere traveller is also being falsely sold experiences, which may not exist – we want to preserve your credibility as a writer! This is not to say that the piece, be it a travelogue, short story or novel, should be monotonous and dull... to me, art is a fearless dance with nature. Do not limit yourself to what is in front of you visually. Vikram Seth has written a travelogue ‘From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet’ (1983) or you can take a look at Pico Iyer’s works for ideas.

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Q: I recently came across an article called ‘The Bard in Bollywood! Shakespeare ReInvented’, which was a presentation by Gitanjali Shahani in San Francisco and I also came across Vishal Bhardwaj’s recent adaptations of ‘Macbeth’ (Maqbool) and ‘Othello’ (Omkara). I studied the Classics at University and love Shakespeare. I really struggle to understand or appreciate why writers insist on bastardizing Shakespeare with a modern take. Do they have no ideas of their own? Elisa Pinkerton, New Jersey

Raakhee: Whilst I understand your passionate plea, I believe that the learning process is simultaneously cyclical and evolutionary. For me, it is possible to appreciate work indigenized for a local audience, especially if I can walk away with the essence of the message reverberating within me. I feel that art is a communication of messages and these messages have to be articulated in a way, which can be understood by the intended audience, within a realm familiar to them, and this has to be done by persons of a credible background. Vishal Bhardwaj boasts a range of talents: from Indian film director, writer, screenwriter, music composer to playback singer. Coming from a Brahmin family, he also grew up absorbing Muslim culture, Sufi poetry and Qawwali music. Both Maqbool (2004) and Omkara (2006) are the first Indian film adaptations of Shakespeare to receive international recognition, winning numerous accolades. Watching these films myself, I appreciate how Vishal Bhardwaj uses the complexities of his own experiences and indigenizes the settings of Maqbool and Omkara, without diluting the intricate issues highlighted by Shakespeare’s plays. Describing his films as his mirrors, Vishal interweaves poetic violence into his adaptations and he has stated that Maqbool, inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, is not meant for Shakespearian scholars. Not everyone has the opportunity to study Shakespeare and this is a way to reach out to those audiences. I believe in this instance, it is more a case of being inspired by the timeless work of an esteemed artist rather than attempting poor imitations for personal recognition. Q: Writing can offend certain sectors of our community. As Editor of this fine magazine what are your thoughts on the editing/censorship of writings pre-publication? A good example of this would be Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play in 2004 titled ‘Behzti’, which outraged Sikhs even though it was written by a member of their own community. I must admit I rather admired her courage. I have recently read of other examples and find it just a little uncomfortable that fear can influence censorship of writing in this way. Kuldip Singh, Solihull Raakhee: I can imagine a tug of war between the offended community and those who campaign for an artist’s prerogative to exercise artistic freedom. I really wonder what Gurpreet’s intentions were when she wrote ‘Behzti’ (dishonour). This play is set in a Sikh temple (a Gurdwara) and portrays a tale of sex abuse and murder. The rapist, Mr Sandhu, who built the temple, is the perpetrator of the abuse. If Gurpreet wanted to highlight the issue of abuse within the Sikh community, and combat this highly sensitive issue with her work, then I am not sure this was the best way of doing her cause any justice. Again, this is speculation on my part, but I believe you have to communicate to your audience with mutual understanding on both parts, and there is particular etiquette one has to follow to



Questions to the editor make this process effective. I remember working on a script about abuse using personal sources of reference. I had to exercise extreme caution, to protect those subjects, whilst highlighting the ramifications of sexual abuse. In my thought process, I was interested in giving the victim a voice but also empowering her, by allowing the character to break beyond the ravaging silence, which was consuming her. Sex and religious controversies generate excitement and curiosity. If Gurpreet wanted a sensational script to publicise itself, she definitely succeeded and writers such as Rushdie (‘Satanic Verses’) and Manto (‘Thanda Ghosht’) became infamous in this manner. I find it hard to believe that this play has been written for entertainment only. As a member of the audience, I would feel compelled to do something. If this is Gurpreet’s intention then I cannot disregard her motive but in a bid to eradicate abuse without exercising sensitivity, has she offended the community she needs to work in conjunction with? I see art as a form of therapy, but at the same time art can cause damage on an emotional level too. In an attempt to be fearless, are these artists willing to take accountability for any counter-objective effects as a result of their work? In consideration of some points I have highlighted, do you still feel we should not have the option of editing literature pre-publication? I would like to know your thoughts… Q: Having written a collection of short stories, I am currently half way through my first novel and I am suffering from a serious bout of writers block. I was happily writing my novel and really enjoying the experience when I suddenly realised that I have a beginning, middle but I don’t have an end! Now I can’t think about it at all or write anything because there is no definitive end. I feel like I am crippled with indecision! Please help! Milan Desai, Mumbai Raakhee: I sense short stories are your comfort zone and in this instance you have stepped out of it without guidance. Writing a novel is no small task and requires a great deal of research. Most writers will tell you how imperative it is to plan before writing a novel because short stories and novels are two different forms, with different lengths. The structure needs to take the shape of a beginning, middle and an end. It might help if you ask yourself and answer the following questions: What story are you trying to tell? Who are the characters? What is the plot? And who is your audience? When you have an overview of the plot and the characters, you can start breaking them into ‘bite size chunks’, enabling you, the writer, to gauge and follow the direction of the story. At this stage, you can even make changes if they are required. This will give you the chapters and for each chapter, write a few lines, to summarise the content. In your current predicament, follow these steps again and try to reconnect with yourself and your story. Take your time and also get some support from local writer’s groups. Q: Taken from her own life experiences, Jasvinder Sanghera writes her novel ‘Shame’ with great passion. I have recently started writing and I am currently researching different genres extensively, a process recommended by creative writing courses. I find stories based on real life experiences far more interesting and I think I could write like this. The only problem is I have not had a tragic or particularly eventful life. I feel that if I tried to write fiction I would not be able to write with the same conviction as writers such as Sanghera because I have no real experiences to draw from. How do writers give such depth without personal experience? Do you think creative writing courses might help? Can I learn to be a good writer or am I just forcing a foolish dream when I feel like I have little imagination? Jamilla Das, Bolton Raakhee: It is difficult not to be moved by well written literature especially when the author is giving anecdotes from tragic events, which they have personally experienced. To summarise, Jasvinder ran away before she

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could be forced into an arranged marriage by her parents. She was ostracised from her family and community for her disobedience. Through an acquaintance, Jasvinder discovered the brutal news of her older sister Robina’s suicide. Robina was unhappy in her arranged marriage and instead of dishonouring her family, like Jasvinder, Robina set herself on fire. On the flipside I can give you an example of a bestselling book, ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, written in the first person by the American male author, Arthur Golden. Golden drew his inspiration from lengthy interviews with a real life Geisha, a female Japanese entertainer. You can conduct your research by spending time with people who have an interesting tale to tell. Also look at your family history or events, which may have taken place in the lives of friends. If this is not an option then volunteer with charities and hospitals, I am sure you can stretch your imagination to think of other sources of inspiration. It is possible to get a really good insight into another person’s life if you are an attentive listener and an observer...even mannerism and nuances have a story to tell. Pay attention to facts, such as the setting of your novel, historical events at the time etc., as this can add authenticity to the writing. There is a huge leap of faith involved when representing another person’s account, even if you are using it for fictional purposes, so exercise sensitivity here and take your time. Writing courses can help if you have no experience at all and need a mentor to guide you. Mentors can also help you polish a piece of writing. Some dreams have to be forced therefore take the risk! At least this way you will learn whether you can or cannot write. Remember to draw inspiration without imitation and all the best. Please e-mail me if you need further assistance. Q: I recently read an interview in ‘The Asian Writer’, (see with Robbin Yassin-Kassab, author of ‘The Road to Damascus’, and I want to share a useful comment he made, with the readers of Rangoli: ‘For many years I’d failed to write because I couldn’t find a story. What I didn’t know was that the story is created in the act of writing.’ I have also found this to be true. I find that stories often materialise out of a few scribbled notes, a moment of clarity whilst looking out of a train window, and more often than not, when I have been hosting a workshop to support and encourage other emerging writers…usually, when I have not been trying to ‘find’ a story. I do not know what other readers’ experiences have been but I would like to know your thoughts on this concept… Alimoddin Sheikh, Muscat Raakhee: Whilst I agree with this, I believe our stories manifest themselves from somewhere and certain situations trigger inspiration, whether they are feelings, scents, sounds or actions, mixed with experiences (in my case usually some form of nostalgia merging with the present). For you, this has happened during the writers’ workshops and perhaps the writers’ energies are the final ingredient in your writing process. When I take a visual image and start to write, trying to express a sentiment, other anecdotes just interlace into the writing and really there has been no rigorous planning involved. As an example, I recently looked at a small paragraph I had scribbled down, whilst on my travels to Mumbai, and as I started to expand on it, the work was transpiring into some lengthy piece of literature. I had to stop myself because I was completely submerged in the descriptive element of the writing!



ARTIST - MR S. JAYARAJ ‘Faces of Rural Folk’

Canvasing the Agony and Ecstasy of Everyday Rural Life

© Mr. Em Shivakanth

‘I am a professional contemporary artist. I specialized in human anatomy from the Government College of Arts, Chennai, which has inspired hundreds of my sketches and paintings. I am intimately familiar with rural India through my association with development projects, spanning more than two decades. I have travelled across the length and breadth of the country and closely observed the lives of rural communities in India. As an artist, I am mesmerized by the Indian rural life and I have captured fleeting expressions and multifarious moods of rural folk, especially women. The mud-plastered walls, uneven roads and bullock carts – all find a place in my artwork, along with the soulful expressions of people. I have created a series of paintings based on ‘Faces of Rural Folk’, which is a sincere attempt on my part to capture on canvas, the agony and ecstasy of everyday rural life. This series of travelling exhibitions has been showcased in Chennai, Hyderabad, Pondicherry and Bangalore.’ Mr S. Jayaraj is an artist, graphic designer, photographer and documentary maker, based in Chennai. Through documentary work, aimed at increasing awareness of social and development issues faced by India, Jayaraj’s projects, combined with his charity work, add deep sensitivity and understanding to his poignant art work. Whilst on a travelling expedition to India, Rangoli’s Editor Raakhee stumbled upon the ‘Faces of Rural Folk’ exhibition in Pondicherry, where she personally met Jayaraj...

© S. Jayaraj

Words | S. Jayaraj & Raakhee Modha Interview | Raakhee Modha

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14 RM: How do you find the time to manage all your professions and passions? SJ: ‘Managing all my professions and passions, along with my personal life has required dedicated effort on my part. My day starts quite early in the morning and ends very late in the night. The key is the time discipline I maintain, which I learnt in my childhood, especially during my Karate classes.’

RM: Is it important for you to be recognised as an artist, photographer and film maker in equal measure or are you more of an artist?

© S. Jayaraj

SJ: ‘I am an artist first. The other two talents are born out of the artist in me. It is also more important for me to be recognised as an artist than a photographer and film maker. When I first began drawing, at a very tender age of eight years, I knew my journey would somehow lead me to pursue a career as an artist. With the support and encouragement of my parents, my interest transformed into a professional course wherein I studied art at the Government College of Arts, Chennai, before graduating in 1985. Photography was one of the many subjects I studied during my art course hence I entered this field later. Initially, I worked as a model photographer, shooting portfolios of models, etc. I ran an advertising agency and I hired photographers and videographers to make product features and films. On many occasions I was unsatisfied and disappointed with the final results, which did not connect with my vision. This situation led me to experiment with a video camera and later, I started and completed projects by myself. Artists can radiate a different perspective through the lens of a still camera therefore I was able to understand the nuances of video shooting in a short space of time. In a nutshell, I would say it was experience-based learning, which later transformed into a professional talent.’

RM: What causes are close to your heart?

© S. Jayaraj

SJ: ‘Issues of rural women and their development, the endangered lives of fishing communities, who put their lives at stake to make a living, and children living on streets, are some of the many issues which move me profoundly.’

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Š S. Jayaraj


16 RM: Where did the vision for ‘Faces of Rural Folk’ come from? SJ: ‘After stepping into the social development field, I had the chance to visit most of the rural villages in different parts of India, including tribal areas. Even after 60 years of India’s independence, the lack of improvement in the lives and lifestyle of the inhabitants moved me deeply. I wanted to utilise my creative skills and document the lives of these simple people somehow. The concept of ‘Faces of Rural Folk’ was thus born leading to numerous illustrations and sketches of rural people in India. My paintings narrate the tales behind each face. Through the exhibitions, these accounts are finally reaching across the world, including the affluent city communities, and showing mankind the harsh realities of our ‘independent’ India.’

© S. Jayaraj

RM: How did you conduct research for the exhibition? Did you spend some time living with these communities? SJ: ‘I was born and brought up in a small hamlet in Tamil Nadu. From childhood, I observed the lifestyle and joy of rural life. With time and through my association with UN development agencies, I had the opportunity to work closely with the fishing, tribal and rural communities, and I was able to understand the difficulties faced by these men, women and children. Through my travels across the length and breadth of India and other South Asian countries, my horizon of thoughts and experiences broadened further, translating into images on canvases.’

RM: Are the rural folk an amalgamation of the rural communities across India?

All images © S. Jayaraj

SJ: ‘Yes, but not only India. The work is inspired by other South Asian regions too. In India specifically, the paintings feature rural folk of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, to name a few.’

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RM: In your work, you are particularly fascinated by women. Did you have or do you have strong role models in your life? SJ: ‘Women - the word itself sounds so powerful. I feel women are one of the most beautiful creations from God. Since eternity, women have played a more significant role than men and this is no exaggeration. The world would not be the same vibrant, adorable and liveable place without women. From an artistic point of view, I have always admired the forms and shapes of women as an expansion of God.’

RM: You are very well travelled. Is there anything in particular that shocked you, whilst conducting research for ‘Faces of Rural Folk’? SJ: ‘Of all my travel experiences across India, the issue which moves me the most is the predicament faced by rural women, who still have no voice, no choice and no exit, even after 60 years of India’s independence. Hence the artwork symbolises this lack of expression with sealed lips. Poverty often hits the female population hardest. As a result, these vulnerable women are poorer and more illiterate than the men within the same communities. For the majority of rural women in India, the wages grossly misrepresent the sheer amount of labour work they carry out. From dawn until dusk, these women work tirelessly to raise families, fetch water, cook, farm crops and tend animals; this effort is incomparable. Working under these conditions is more of a compulsion rather than a choice.’

RM: You use the medium of charcoal and sketch your subjects against a backdrop of earthy colours, yet sometimes the figures themselves exhibit vibrant colours. Why do you feel these are the most appropriate mediums/methods? SJ: ‘During my childhood, the school and street walls became my canvas. I used to scribble using a burnt wooden charcoal and make caricatures of my friends and teachers. After joining the art college, I became fascinated with charcoal because this medium offered so much depth in a drawing. I feel the black and white sketches, contrasted with earthy colours, are the best methods to bring out the moods and expressions of rural people in particular.’

RM: The subjects, for example the women, sometimes have distinguishing features such as open eyes and defined mouths; yet on other occasions they portray subdued eyes and no mouths. Can you elaborate on the reasons? SJ: ‘There is a myriad of assorted expressions with variations in my work. In some paintings, I draw clear features to give a different expression on the face. On many occasions, the open eyes and defined mouths of women, wearing ornaments, symbolises their happiness. In contrast, faces with subdued eyes and mouths denote the voiceless women who are unable to articulate their feelings; mainly feelings of sadness and suppression strongly embedded in their hearts.’


© S. Jayaraj

RM: What are the main differences in the difficulties faced by women compared to the men within these communities? SJ: ‘In these communities women are suppressed. They are deprived of their human rights, often as a matter of tradition. The women are generally perceived as entities incapable of generating meaningful incomes, and hence, they are relegated mainly to duties in the home and cheap labour. They put in enormous efforts to manage and support the family by working in the fields and earning a living, which maintains the household, and this is largely unrecognised by their male counterparts. Somehow, the men find it difficult to respect the contribution made by these women towards the family and society. Even in matters of sex and child bearing, women often do not have the ability to oppose the wishes of their men.’

RM: Your art has been used to increase awareness of social plights. Do you find the difficulties faced by women in rural life inspire creative work from you because you have some emotional understanding of the issues which affect them? SJ: ‘Yes. The hardships of rural women and the difficulties they face has definitely inspired my creativity resulting in hundreds of sketches. The issue stands close to my heart. In terms of the art work, my creativity comes from my experiences. I have closely observed these issues in various parts of India and I feel emotionally bonded to them.’

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RM: In retrospect, how has the journey of ‘Faces of Rural Folk’ changed you as an artist? SJ: ‘The realities captured on canvas have been widely appreciated. Some of the sketches of rural people were also seen by the subjects of my artwork and they expressed sheer joy. For the first time, the tales captured on their expressive faces are being revealed to the world. Honestly, I also feel that my connection with the rural communities has grown even stronger after ‘Faces of Rural Folk’. I am trying to incorporate more sketches into the collection from my experiences of different rural communities within India. In a nutshell, ‘Faces of Rural Folk’ did change me as an artist and my identity in the world of art.’

RM: Did you show the exhibition of ‘Faces of Rural Folk’ to the villagers? If so, what was their reaction? SJ: ‘The subjects of my artwork attended one of my exhibitions, held in Dakshina Chitra, Chennai. The folk expressed mixed emotions, a mood of happiness and melancholy, when they saw themselves in my paintings. On a deeper level, they were able to connect with the paintings whilst simultaneously feeling a sense of pride. My calendar on the ‘Fisher Folk of the Bay: Faces of Fortitude’ has travelled to various places in India and abroad. When a fisherman from Bangladesh saw his portrait on the calendar, he became speechless and had he had tears in his eyes. His expression left me spellbound.’

RM: Do you feel it is an artist’s responsibility to use their creativity/fame positively and increase awareness of social issues?


RM: What projects are you currently working on? What work do you have planned for the future? SJ: ‘Presently, I am working on a book titled – ‘Faces of Rural Folk’, which will be released by January 2011. I am planning on a series of paintings denoting rural life in the city of Chennai. Known as one of India’s metropolitan cities, Chennai has progressed a lot in the last few years, but still you can find glimpses of poverty, suffering and people dwelling in slums. I want to bring out these harsh realities through my canvases.’

RM: You were awarded the Rashtriya Gaurav Award in 2009, previously received by Mother Teresa, cricketer Sunil Gavaskar and renowned Indian film actors such as Dev Anand and Sunil Dutt, for your remarkable achievement in the field of art, photography and documentary films. What does an accolade as prestigious as this mean to you? SJ: ‘Yes, receiving this prestigious award has definitely boosted my confidence and given me immense encouragement. I am honoured by such a national recognition and simultaneously motivated to continue my efforts within India’s development sector.’ Rangoli also wishes to credit and thank Mr S. Jayaraj’s assistant Nivedita Mani, for co-ordinating this interview and supplying all of the images.

SJ: ‘Yes definitely! Artists, in my opinion, are the mirrors of society. They have a flair for viewing things from a different perspective. I fervently believe that having such unique talents, artists, especially in India, should portray the tough realities of the nation and bring awareness on a global scale; the goal should be one of progressive change.’

RM: Who inspired/inspires you? SJ: ‘The maestro of arts, M.F. Hussain.’ © S. Jayaraj


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Words | Mohsen Jabbari Mohsen Jabbari was born and raised in Zanjan, a city in north-west Iran. He is a self-taught English speaker, with a B.A. in English Translation (English-Persian). Mohsen has been writing poems for two years and his poems have appeared in magazines such as ‘Pomegranate’ and ‘Shadowtrain’. Remarkably he is able to pursue his creative aspirations despite the hostility of the current political regime. A fan of irony, Mohsen considers his writing style as a journey from some familiar place to an unknown territory, transporting him from one point to another; a literary voyage he hopes to share with the readers. The uncontrollability of the meanings emerging out of the isolation and combination of words, the inherent deconstructive quality of language, also fascinates him. Steadfast in what he wants to accomplish with his writing, Mohsen believes this clarity takes nothing away from the magic of his poetry.

22 Ride in a Taxi by Mohsen Jabbari The rain trilled on top of the taxi and the bearded driver, muttering words in Arabic, kept scrutinizing us in the rear view mirror. I leaned close to your ear and whispered, ‘You smell really nice what perfume are you wearing?’ You gazed into my eyes and murmured, ‘Nothing.’ The rain turned into a pouring hail and we watched the women rush their children to the roofed seats of the bus station; a guy in glasses stretched an oilcloth over the cheap batteries and scissors and tapes he was selling on the sidewalk. Icy white pebbles thrummed on the taxi and you squeezed my hand and pressed yourself against my arm and I thought about how my grandfather used to plant the white pebbly chemical fertilizers next to the seeds; how I used to lie under the great mulberry tree in the woods and shut my eyes and watch the reds and blacks pulsate mysteriously; how the streetlamps that night looked orange through the frosted windows of the car as I leaned against the cold black leather and looked at grandpa looking at me; how I knew he wasn’t at all pleased with me; how we had to wait before dad opened the door, grumbling, ‘Why didn’t you just sleep at your grandpa’s?’ And I didn’t breathe a word, though I knew I’d missed mom; how grandpa is gone… ‘What’s wrong?’ you whispered. I gazed into your eyes and murmured, ‘Nothing.’


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A Box of Dead People


by Mohsen Jabbari Teaching a poem by W.H. Auden to a bunch of ESL learners, I ask them the meaning of the word coffin. A girl of 30 raises her hand and replies in her staccato accent, “A box of dead people.” I correct her immediately, telling the students about the difference between a box of and a box for. “So we say a box of chocolates, but not a box of dead people,” I conclude with an uneasy chuckle. They burst out laughing And I’m comfortable. But then I think, why not? A box of dead people. “I’d like a box of dead people, please.” “Family, relative, acquaintance, or anonymous?” “Just a pair of parents would be fine for now.” “An excellent choice! Would you like me to wrap it for you?” Suddenly the temptation of letting the students taste this morbid joke reminds me of a galactic past: I start getting cinematic flashbacks of biting into the waxy skin of an apple that Eve had just thrown my way.

by Mohsen Jabbari Having just retaliated a caustic remark, I take myself off, mount the dinner table, and stand there naked with my arms crossed watching the gesticulations of my hands and the endearing twitch of your left eyelid. I sound like a rattle being waved by a baby; now as words jingle to and fro, I open up my skull; a few pebbles are still bumping into the bony walls, rattling the hollow tin can of my thoughts. I take them out and toss them out the window. I put myself back on: I have nothing to say.


A Reader’s Love Affair with Indian Writing From a Western Perspective, Ross Bradshaw Collates a Brief History of Indian Writing in the United Kingdom Words | Ross Bradshaw Ross Bradshaw runs Five Leaves Publications, the region’s “biggest small press” and jointly organises the Lowdham Book Festival. For ten years he was Nottinghamshire’s Literature Development Officer, and previously, Ross spent seventeen years working in a radical independent bookshop. In the past, every household with a decent book collection would probably have had at least one copy of Paul Scott’s ‘Raj Quartet’, E.M. Forster’s ‘Passage to India’ and Eric Newby’s ‘A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush’. Later there would be Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s ‘Heat and Dust’ which won the Booker Prize in 1975 (J.G. Farrell’s ‘Siege of Krishnapur’ won the Booker Prize in 1973, but I cannot remember seeing it around much then and I suspect, it is not read much now). And any hippy worth their salt would have had ‘Love, Siri and Ebba’, a famously stoned travelogue! During this period, books written by Indian writers were less read and many assumed Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was Indian, but in fact she was a German Jew married to an Indian. Although work by R.K. Narayan and Mulk Raj Anand was available, these authors attracted a more specialist audience. The Bengali poet

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Rabindranath Tagore, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, was long dead, though not without followers. V.S. Naipaul, the Caribbean writer of Indian descent, also won the Nobel Prize, however he has been criticised for his patronising view of the developing world. Perhaps the first Indian writers to have a big impact on the British reader were Anita Desai and, above all, Salman Rushdie, when his ‘Midnight’s Children’ won the Booker Prize in 1981. Rushdie’s protagonist is born, the moment India becomes independent (12.00am, August 15th, 1947), immediately setting the book in one of Indian history’s most significant periods, closely followed by the Partition of British India. Many people also bought Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ but were daunted by its length (I am guilty as charged). More recently, Arundhati Roy won the Booker Prize in 1997 with ‘The God of Small Things’. Roy has used her fame to campaign against inappropriate development in India. Other Indian writers to win the Booker Prize include Kiran Desai (2006) and, a couple of years ago, Aravind Adiga. I found Desai’s ‘The Inheritance of Loss’, more moving in retrospect than at the time of reading. Adiga’s ‘The White Tiger’ shows some of the seamier sides of Indian society, exposing the stark contrast between lives led by the lower class from rural areas, working in the city, and the new breed of very wealthy rich Indians. The sales of these books indicate that literary readers are keen to read

books on the subject of India written by Indians, but some of the major books promoted over the years by the Richard and Judy Book Club indicate that the general reader is equally keen on books from the Indian subcontinent. Every book club has discussed ‘The Kite Runner’, with most readers going on to read Khaled Hosseini’s second book, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’. I would imagine most have also picked up ‘The Bookseller of Kabul’ too, a non-fiction book written by the Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad. Asian writing in Britain has been slower to take off. In the 1970s, Amrit Wilson’s talks on ‘Finding a Voice’ attracted massive audiences and new writer, like the lesbian author Suniti Namjoshi, also enticed large numbers to her readings. Surprisingly, this was not sustained until Monica Ali wrote the break through novel, ‘Brick Lane’, which had the confidence to portray her Bangladeshi neighbourhood with “warts and all” and not quite the picture some of the Bangladeshi community leaders would have painted. Around the same time Daljit Nagra started winning prizes for his first full collection, ‘Look We Have Coming to Dover!’ Nagra came up through the small press scene, indeed several of the poems in this collection have been published by Fig Leaves in the Dutch/English anthology ‘By Heart/Uit Het Hoofd’. On a more popular level, the actress Meera Syal seemed to be prominent for a while, including in the bestseller charts for her variable novels, and now the Glasgow Sikh comedian Hardeep Singh Kohli can be found


everywhere, including in the book charts for his ‘Indian Takeaway’. The Pakistani-born journalist and novelist Kamila Shamsie, author of ‘Burnt Shadows’, offers a more serious twist in the literary mix. Big publishers are now prepared to get behind British Asian writers, though sometimes they misjudge the demand for specialized genres, written by these authors. Gautam Malkani was given a huge advance for ‘Londonstani’, a book about streetwise youth. This time they got it wrong and the book did not attract a large enough audience. The novel is very “urban” in its language, writes this gora (white guy), yet Malkani is a nice bloke working at the Financial Times. Locally we have: Bali Rai writing for young people, on the subject of our multi-cultural UK; Debjani Chatterjee, who is active in the National Association for Writers in Education; the Nottingham novelist Shanthi Sekaran; poet Mahendra Solanki (quiet at the moment but his ‘Shadows of My Making’ is well remembered) and B.K. Mahal, though she too is currently quiet. More would be welcome. This short article concentrates on creative literature, but amongst the alternative circle it is worth mentioning that Gandhi’s books were widely read in the UK, particularly in the wake of his 1982 Academy Award winning biopic. Also Satish Kumar (long time editor of the journal Resurgence) and J.P. Narayan, who was arrested at the time of the Indira Gandhi emergency, did a lot to popularise the work of Vinoba Bhave, of the land reform movement.


‘The artist is not a special kind of man, but every man is a special kind of artist.’ Ananda Coomraswamy (1877-1947)

PHOTOGRAPHY - Bhavpreet Ghai The Magic and Mystique beyond a Lens Words | Bhavpreet Ghai After working in the graphics and photography industry in Delhi for 3 years, Bhavpreet moved to Mumbai in 2003 to join the 3D animation film industry. Over the duration of four years, Bhavpreet was involved in various esteemed international projects as a lighting artist. In 2007, a Masters in Creative Media Studies, from The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), took her across the globe to Australia. Whilst living in Melbourne, Bhavpreet organically nurtured her insatiable desire to take more photographs, resulting in a career as a fulltime photographer.

© Bhavpreet Ghai

The Wait Sadhu (holy man), amongst a crowd, sitting peacefully by the Ghats of Nasik

She currently resides in Mumbai and teaches at the FX School, within the HOD Photography and CG Lighting department. A flourishing artist and wholeheartedly dedicated to her art, Bhavpreet continues to push the boundaries of her creative development by taking numerous workshops in various genres of photography.

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© Bhavpreet Ghai

© Bhavpreet Ghai

Motivated Tears Crying out for mother‘s attention

Beauty Without Fairness Cream Those few unreserved moments, a beautiful little girl who lives with her family inside the Borivalli National Park

© Bhavpreet Ghai

© Bhavpreet Ghai

Observer Old lady engrossed in conversation with another woman, completely oblivious of the camera’s presence

His Marketing Holiness Pretender, a fake holy man, donned with a beaded necklace, bracelets, black dhoti (loin cloth) and a jacket; his entire body is unusually marked


Š Bhavpreet Ghai

Reflections Bhartiyata

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© Bhavpreet Ghai

© Bhavpreet Ghai

A Random Nostalgic Moment Disparate from the cacophony of Chandni Chowk, seeking solitude in this lonely narrow lane lit with contrasting bulb and sky blue lights

Stoic Indifferent and unaffected

© Bhavpreet Ghai

Survivor Poverty on the streets of Chandni Chowk, scouring every corner for a morsel of food



Š Bhavpreet Ghai

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POETRY - BASANTA KUMAR KAR ‘The Unfold Pinnacle’ Words | Basanta Kumar Kar & Raakhee Modha Interview | Raakhee Modha

A Creative Illustration of the Many Lessons Learnt from Human Suffering, where each Tale becomes its own Poetic Case Study... A widely published poet and holding a senior position in an international development organization in Delhi, Basanta Kumar Kar understands poverty and vulnerability in India and abroad. The following poems are from his third pre-published collection, ‘The Unfold Pinnacle’, which meditates on 65 real life stories of the most marginalized women, across eight Indian states. Inhabiting an abode of breathtaking harmonious beauty, these exposed women experience deep pain and an absence of love and support, leaving them with little human dignity. In this bounty and beauty of nature, Basanta eloquently captures the essence of an ironic susceptibility and each tale becomes its own poetic case study. The pioneering poems have established their own niche in literary circles and there are many pre-published reviews with the greatest appreciation for Basanta’s accomplishments. ‘The Unfold Pinnacle’ has been described as a revolution in the literary and the development sector. Basanta Kumar Kar has also authored two previous collections titled ‘The Naïve Bird’ and ‘The Silent Monsoon’.

RM: You give a brief author’s note, describing the inspiration behind each poem. Are you able to elaborate a little more on the individual cases? BKK: ‘The poems were inspired by my journey in the aesthetic world. Let me tell you about my first creation. In 2005, I completed two collections of poetry, ‘The Naïve Bird’ and ‘The Silent Monsoon’. One morning, as part of my professional assignment, I was visiting a few sex workers to develop a strategy on HIV/AIDS. I came across a young girl who endured abuse and torture at home only to be forced into a life of prostitution, after the untimely demise of her parents. Despite her difficult circumstances, I found her quite charming, enthusiastic and energetic. Her story struck me in a way which exceeded my professional self; the author in me heard her unheard voices, unfulfilled dreams and her ‘romance in barter’. I wanted to understand the struggles she faced in an attempt to hide her abandoned grief and I wanted to unfold the underlying soft emotions buried within her. Let me share a few lines from her poem…’


Canvas by Basanta Kumar Kar Alone I am lonely; crowd begets monotony the inner war of chastity surges on dignity redefined buying the bond high risk I romance in barter. Was it a better living to earn and learn and to let the past burn?

© Bhavpreet Ghai

BKK: ‘This poem created ripples in many sensitive hearts and I received much support for it. In retrospect, I wish I had started much earlier. Now I see no end to this discipline and there is so much work that still needs to be carried out. There has been a deliberate attempt to provide an author’s note. I want to engage the readers with the women behind each poem and the places they inhabit, and I hope the readers are inspired enough to make donations.’

RM: Do you receive regular updates on the lives of the women you work with? BKK: ‘There have been staggered efforts to make positive changes to their lives and livelihoods but a lot more has to be done to ensure dignity. These women need love, care and support, and a platform to articulate their unheard voices. Most of these victims build bonds with nature. The women continue to draw inspiration from flora and fauna and the beauty nature beholds. Unfortunately, some have resigned themselves to their fate. I will quote a few lines from one of my poems where a tribal woman bonds with nature and re-creates her surroundings as her neighbour…’


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Neighbour by Basanta Kumar Kar I understand my neighbours tamarind tree, dates and nuts pigs and chicken, ghosts and spirits traditional healers. They never dream or pray for the unseen why should I? We are together no one more equal than others. Language they utter sounds of the wandering minstrels; we share, distribute and divide flows of the stream, colours of the pasture continue evergreen. Seasons change Seasonality affects. I cope live each day as it comes resigning to other’s control for life and death.

BKK: ‘Working in the social development sector allows me to share the suppressed voices of these women and girls through the unique medium of poetry and this process has captured the attention of policy makers, readers and development activists. I have heard and witnessed many compassionate beings facilitate scores of programs for these women and girls in their villages. In some cases, my work has influenced many like-minded individuals and organizations, contributing towards the positive development of these women. But poverty is a political process and it is perpetuated by politics. There is evidence to suggest a change in human conditions, through many development interventions; however, change in social position still remains a challenge. Interventions to tackle the loneliness faced by these women and the absence of love they feel needs to be addressed. There has to be sustained effort to deal with the underlying and structural causes of poverty.’

© Bhavpreet Ghai


RM: How do you write the poems? Do they come from your interactions with the women inhabiting the settlements? BKK: ‘I meet these women in their settlements during the course of my field work. The agony, lack of human dignity and voice often disturb me when I meet them yet, paradoxically, I see a milieu of beauty encapsulating these women. I find them more helpless in this bounty and beauty of nature. I hear the victim’s stories and scribble verses so the poems are created quite organically within this context. In the act of creativity, I believe each artist must internalize the positivity as well as the pain and predicament. But there has to be unification of sensibility, a merging of the head and heart, to produce a work of art. Let me share a few lines from ‘Faith First’ and ‘Flame’…’

Faith First by Basanta Kumar Kar Smoke and cloud work in tandem swings of snow peep hills draw lines, mesmerize they butcher; my earth’s paradise marred with hate crime.

Flame by Basanta Kumar Kar Swaying into mysterious alleys of lost old days, the valleys fraught into timeless faith, the beauty of Himalayas weave a divine musical magic, the flowing petals in a snow fed water create a vocabulary that heals. Budding oak purple white chestnut, a drive, exhilarating swimming in the lakes, luscious berries concealed in grooves, a mad rush to juices of rhododendron, tourists taste every inch of the moment; I taste the sounds of silence tying a knot with leaves of the stem.

© Bhavpreet Ghai

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RM: Do you spend a lot of time with the subjects? Are they part of the creative writing process? BKK: ‘Yes, I spend two to four hours listening to each woman’s story. I create a space where she feels free to share her experience. This environment requires active listening on my part and listening with selfless understanding, empathy and serenity. The creative writing process comes when she shares her softer emotions. I try to discover the underlying and structural issues. This synergy of sharing is reflective and deeply emotive. Many women feel a sense of relief after voicing their accounts. Through personal encounters with them, I now believe the silent killer takes the callous form of loneliness through an absence of love, care and support, not hunger, starvation or HIV. It is really an issue of mental wellbeing. I feel our society and development interventions need to provide practical solutions to these intangible but significant elements. Here is the story of one HIV positive woman, at the terminal stage of the disease…’

Outcast by Basanta Kumar Kar Blue visages listed in albums and catalogues I am outcast. Sellers increase, buyers bargain clients observe swollen eyes dry energy, smile deficiency syndrome body can no longer parade the most intimidating culture. Children’s destitution, death premonition, imperil each sexual act can no longer satisfy the needs of the flesh clients lose interest I reduce rate, branded old fashioned. I navigate risk after risk envy at other’s love bonding earn to trade off preferring children’s nutrition to my prescription. I am a mother. I suppress and hide the scars, smile at children and customers anti-retroviral drug provides the stimuli I cherish to paint my lost love, once, before the grave on the body, the canvas.



RM: Have you shown the women your work? If so, what feedback have you received from them? BKK: ‘I have shown my work to some of these women and girls. They have been surprised by the poetry, and some expressed an enormous sense of relief. I was listening to the story of a girl who stayed in shortterm accommodation because she was molested by her stepfather and suffered terrible abuse in her own home. I used the metaphor ‘hunter’s abode’. When I shared this metaphor with her, she felt a sense of catharsis and gave me permission to use the artistic expression. The verses gave her a much deeper point of introspection. I am sharing a few lines from that poem…’

Cage by Basanta Kumar Kar Kissed, caressed, bruised and blackmailed, that’s me. A caged bird in a hunter’s abode. my mother nods her head The custodian of trust asks pounds of flesh; nothing more depraved did she not know always? The prey of a cruel keeper; from bud to blossom, I hide, seek, and retaliate; enter into his claws over and over again; curse my youth the guilt burns, sin haunts subconscious; I read index of the public lonely and furtive can life be lived at all?

© Bhavpreet Ghai

Rangoli a kala kahani magazine


RM: Can you give Rangoli a specific example of how your poetry has been used in coalition with the social development projects? BKK: ‘The poems in ‘The Unfold Pinnacle’ created many sensations amongst social development professionals, development activists and readers. Many development practitioners have read and recited the poems to sensitise project participants and the work has been further utilized for educational purposes. In a bid to raise funds, the poems have created a deeper understanding of what is required in the proposals, resulting in successful fundraising and more project resources. Many development and academic institutions, including internationally reputed management schools, are considering using the poems as part of their curriculum. The writing has generated development debates to help understand poverty and the marginalization process and these poems have been used by development activists as guidelines, to facilitate the design process of aid programs. This relief work is not just about bricks and mortar or sand and clay. One has to go beyond, and understand what is in the heart and beneath the suppressed smiles. To illustrate, here is a story of one HIV positive divorced woman, married to another HIV positive man, looking for a new life. Development interventions can embrace this as one project intervention…’

Quest by Basanta Kumar Kar He is positive; I am positive, look for a new life, perennially negative; a re-beginning; new colostrums feeding, amidst amplifying networks of fellow positives, I imagine a line parallel horizontal in the land undulated. I forget the lines zigzag, vertical, linear, early monsoon flattens the Gomti* I enjoy night and day, scribble verses and couplets. compose poetry out of page. * The name of a river in Uttar Pradesh, India

© Bhavpreet Ghai

BKK: ‘Described as a pioneering piece of literary work, ‘The Unfold Pinnacle’ aims to creatively illustrate the many lessons learnt from human suffering. The work is an earnest attempt on my part to share unheard voices with the greatest sensitivity. To utilise this unique creative platform and continue the necessary developmental social work, we need the dedication and commitment from more artists, authors and poets. The world needs to know more about the predicament of these suppressed voices, which are often suffocated. Even in these women’s precarious situations, I am able to find optimism and a real hope for survival. With the utmost humility, I acknowledge all the women and girls who have exuded great patience, immense courage and unwavering conviction whilst candidly sharing their untold stories.’


Š Mythili Thevendrampillai

Angelina Jolie as Lakshmi

Š Mythili Thevendrampillai

Will Smith as Lord Vishnu


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© Mythili Thevendrampillai

Barack Obama as Lord Ganesh

© Mythili Thevendrampillai

Mythili Thevendrampillai as Kali


A Rebellious River of 21st Century of Desi Gods and Goddesses Flows into an Ocean of the ‘Ramayana’ Revamped

Described as a rebelliously spirited being, the emerging multi-talented British artist Mythili Thevendrampillai draws a wealth of imagination from a palette infused with Indian and Tamil heritage, contemporary iconic figures and her experiences with diverse entities. As a child, Mythili’s passion was evident from her desire to always paint and with an independent and a stubborn nature, Mythili’s parents, who also had a profound appreciation for the arts, could do little to redirect her, paving the way for Mythili to pursue her creativity.


© Mythili Thevendrampillai

Michael Jackson as Krishna

With an Art History and Design Technology background, Mythili went on to complete a Masters in Fine Art, from East London University, specializing in Mixed Media and Printmaking. After graduating, she worked with young offenders on an ‘Entry to Employment’ program in East London. The disadvantaged teenagers were allowed to indulge in rapping and were photographed in poses influenced by their favourite hip hop artists, provided these youngsters made a commitment to improve their poor literacy skills. Although Mythili was able to fulfil her role as a creative practitioner and teacher, she felt she lacked the necessary social skills to adequately deal with the emotional needs of the younger generation. In 2008, Mythili embarked on an evolutionary journey, which planted the seed for her solo

© Mythili Thevendrampillai

Arundhati Roy as Saraswati

exhibition, two years later. She volunteered in Northern India, with the London-based organisation Asian Foundation for Philanthropy. Mythili was placed over a period of five weeks with Udayan Care, an orphanage founded by the tenacious and compassionate Dr Kiran Modi, who worked tirelessly to create a nurturing environment for the staff and girls placed in her care. Embodying her inspiring milieu, Mythili worked diligently with 40 girls holding workshops, injecting fun and colour into the process of creating paintings, drawings and vision books. These books contained writings and images of places the girls wanted to visit in the future and the inspirations behind their aspirations. Mythili hoped the project would empower these young women to access their potential as individuals and contributors to the wider community.

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The girls were encouraged to make creative mandalas with different shapes, colours, patterns and sizes. A mandala is a square with four gates containing a central focal point encased in a circle, often used in spiritual or ritual practices of Hinduism and Buddhism. Combining the artwork with positive affirmations and utilising photos of the young women as a centre of creativity and beauty within these large scale mandalas, the finished work was placed around the care home. Coming from a disadvantaged background, the girls really cherished the time they were able to spend with Mythili. There was a genuine sense of deep gratitude shown with the greatest humility, which Mythili believes is really missing in the UK. Her experiences make Mythili feel that in the UK, children take the resources and opportunities available to them for granted, and hence they are not empowered in quite the same way. February of 2010 saw the unwavering Mythili host her solo exhibition, Desi Gods and Goddesses for the 21st Century, featuring eleven collectable and signed edition prints. This anthology is a modern interpretation of the Hindu deities, drawing inspiration from the lineage of her parents, fused with popular contemporary icons in the media. Originally created through a combination of traditional painting and printmaking techniques by Mythili, each print was edited and printed on cotton rag paper with archival quality inks. With the hope of engaging younger audiences, this eighteen-month collaboration between Mythili and London Print Studio Gallery explores the bold concept that a latent divinity exists within each being and by recognising and channelling this potency, humans have the ability to physically represent a god on this earth. The Hindu pantheon includes 330 million deities and each god has the power to bestow boons. Mythili fervently believes that it is possible for people to emulate a god of their passion/craft on this physical plane. She feels in an era where spirituality is more widely explored than religion, what makes Hindu mythology unique is its accessibility, without the practice of its ideologies. Mythili uses Barack Obama, the first black President in the history of the United States, to represent the elephant god Ganesh, who is the remover of obstacles. Elephants by their design are


strong creatures, which roam the land and have the power to uproot trees. Drawing inspiration from this link between mythology and reality, Mythili wishes to stimulate the imagination of young people, on a platform where the youngsters are able to envisage and engage with her ideas. Mythili wants her work to ignite and unleash an embryonic divinity, which she feels exists within each individual. Growing up in the era of Thriller and Bad, Mythili uses Michael Jackson as a modern day avatar of Krishna. An incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Krishna is treasured by His followers all over the world and Krishna also affectionately reciprocates this love in abundance. Krishna’s magnetic child form as a mischievous flute player enchants devotees and exudes playfulness. Similarly, irrespective of his appearance, Michael Jackson was adored by millions of fans globally and the magnanimous star showed unprecedented love for his fans by unconditionally entertaining for his craft. Interestingly Mythili uses the actor Will Smith to represent her contemporary take on Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the universe. She feels Will Smith is a story teller, which reflects in the roles he has chosen such as Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness. Mythili views Will as an actor who chooses inspiring work and when interviewed, he comes across as communicator of tales. Mythili elaborates that stories are a method by which one can preserve art and the present generation will connect to Will Smith more than Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela, who were both considered for the position. She superimposes the six pack of the rapper LL Cool J on Will Smith to add a little playfulness and take the edge off a very profound philosophy. Mythili is able to use a mixture of races, allowing her efforts to embrace a much larger audience. For example, the actress and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Angelina Jolie is the goddess of fortune Lakshmi. Angelina is described by Mythili as an extraordinary money making machine and a role model for philanthropic work, whilst the literary genius and author Arundhati Roy emanates boldness and articulates her ideas with great zeal. Consequently, the Man Booker Prize winning writer is superimposed on the goddess Saraswati, the patron of arts, poetry and writing.


© Mythili Thevendrampillai

© Mythili Thevendrampillai

Albert Einstein as Brahma

Benazir Bhutto as Durga

Through her intrepid journey, Mythili has discovered her truth, which intrinsically connects to the ancient wisdom philosophised by the founder of the Buddhism, Buddha Shakyamuni: ‘All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.’ Recently challenged by John Phillips of the London Print Studio to consider the ‘Ramayana’ as her new source of inspiration, Mythili is in the process of extracting a concept, which she will be able to explore imaginatively. The ‘Ramayana’ is an epic Sanskrit poem depicting King Rama’s journey as a noble king and has been popularised more recently by ‘Virgin Comics’ (‘Ramayan 3392 AD’), reviving the concept of masculine superheroes.

helpless victim, Sita is rescued only to be banished into exile by Rama when her chastity is questioned. Mythili feels that the implications of Ramafication have already been heavily dissected, but what are the repercussions of Sitafication? Using William Dalrymple’s critically acclaimed non-fiction book, ‘Nine Lives’, Mythili wants to extort the symbolism of Sita and draw parallels with the modern day Sitas of the world. In search of the sacred in a rapidly modernising India, one of the lives Dalrymple encounters is that of a devadasi, a sacred sex worker in Karnataka. These ostracised women live on the edge of society, vulnerable from threat of deadly sexually transmitted diseases. Often sold at a tender age, as young as six, due to poverty or some form of disability, the modern day illiterate sacred sex worker is a shadow of her former self; a literate artisan and courtesan. Mythili is fascinated by the courage these

Rama slays the powerful Yogi and demon Ravana, who kidnaps his virtuous wife Sita. Personified as a


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© Mythili Thevendrampillai

Neil Patel as Shiva

women display and how their aspirations mirror a fragile innocence. In spite of the difficulties faced by the devadasis, these women draw great strength and momentum by venerating the goddess Yellamma, the patron of the sacred sex workers. According to legend, Yellamma, like Sita, was falsely accused by her austere and powerful husband of illicit relations and he cursed Yellamma with boils, banishing her thereafter to roam the Deccan as a beggar. Mythili is also affected by the plight of the water carriers, the women who arduously travel long distances, often in adverse conditions, to collect water. To Mythili, these women represent pillars of their community, sustaining family life, even though they are seen as dalits, the lowest class of people in India. Interestingly, there is a water goddess Bentakumari, who is offered the first fish of the

© Mythili Thevendrampillai

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Hanuman

season. Mythili wants to analyse the role of a woman and how she conquers her deprived lifestyle, linking her ideas to the ramification of Sitafication. She also wishes to understand the two feminine energies of Yellamma and Bentakumari and how these forces infiltrate women in India. Armed with her sketch book of detailed research, Mythili hopes to travel to Bangalore, in search of the modern day Sitas. Still very much in its infancy, Mythili’s twist on the ‘Ramayana’ may just give the world an insight into the backbone, the real driving force, behind India’s superpower.


Kal ki Kala Recommends Links WritersBlock DSC South Asian Literature Writing Industries Network Voluntary Arts England The Bookseller Writing East Midlands The Asian Writer Kajal Patel Arts Council England

Rangoli a kala kahani magazine


Rangoli #03 ... Spring 11  

Kala Kahani's Magazine: South Asian Arts and Literature

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