Sunday, May 2, 1999
SOME nights ago I was invited to an open air dinner at a place near Chattarpur. It was called Sanskriti Kendra and in its complex of buildings was an open air theatre, some 12 studios where artists could work, places for them to stay, and three small but select museums of crafts. Everything looked its best at night in the setting of the grounds and I felt a lot of admiration for O.P. Jain who had set up this very attractive home from home for artists.
When businessmen like Jain go out to establish something they are often more successful than mere intellectuals or academics. This is because they know how to raise and manage funds and also to run efficiently what they have started. What has been haphazardly set up often bears the mark of poor maintenance, bad financial management and internal quarrels.
Sanskriti Kendra offers an opportunity for Indian artists to live and work alongside foreign ones. That night I met a couple of young women from the Czech Republic and Japan. Some months ago I had been put in touch with a young couple from Lahore who were staying at the kendra. These artists from abroad can live quite economically at about Rs 600 a day including meals a rate they would never get even in seedy Delhi hotels.
With good management the Kendra is, I am sure, solvent, and how I wish there were more such institutions throughout the country. In two places that I know, for instance, Ranchi and Allahabad there is nowhere for interested group to meet in attractive surroundings and discuss things without having to pay the earth. Whatever there is in places like Bombay, Delhi or Calcutta are usually well outside the reach of young people. Often the facilities are tied to denominational strings and are infected with bad service.
Sanskriti Kendra must be very hot in the Delhi summer but I am sure if the artists order their life to adjust to the season they could be as productive as at any other time.
Compassion is what we most lack in this country, compassion for children, for women and for the elderly. In the last category myself, I often think what a farce we have made of socialism. In advanced countries, the elderly can travel very cheaply by train and bus they have concessions in medical treatment (that is if they are not nationally insured) many shops offer them concessions and, of course, they can do most of their business and pay their bills by post or telephone. If too old to cook their own food there are "Meals on Wheels" that came to their door. There are holiday times and good sunset homes for the old.
How different is it with us. The elderly person must go in person to pay the telephone, electricity or water bills because there may not be someone to do it. A cheque would be accepted but not if sent by post. In any event there would remain a great suspicion if it would ever reach and be recorded. If someone is unwell or away from town when the bill is due then the old person must trek to the regional office to pay and run the gauntlet of large and jostling queues.
A new telephone Directory for Delhi has just appeared. I have not seen the volumes yet but newspaper notices say I must carry the three old volumes (at least 12 kilos in weight I think) and take them along to the distribution centre along with certain paid receipts. Suppose I was 80 years old and lived alone with no full-time servant?
If our MPs would take on such monstrous inequities one by one and slapped them down they could be doing better work than invading the well of Parliament.
A beautiful story
Usha Narayanan, the Presidents wife, has translated into English the short stories for a Burmese author. This reminded me of the need for some translations in reverse, into Burmese.
The great novelist and short story writer Sarat Chandra Chatterjee spent quite a few years in Rangoon working as a clerk in the accounts department of the government. Burma and India were then part of the same country. Sarat Babu wrote some of his best stories from Burma. In fact some of his most famous novels are set partly in Burma like Pather Dabi, Srikanta and Charitraheen.
But few people know about a gem of a short story by him called The Portrait. The story has Burmese characters and is set in a time when the British had not quite annexed Burma into the Empire. The Portrait is about the daughter and son of two very fast friends. The two young people grew up together and were deeply in love. Their fathers died, the daughter, Ma Shwe, was left rich and the son, Ba Thin an artist not so. He was proud and did not want any favours from his friend but wanted to make this living as an artist.
Ma Shwe was both hurt
and peeved by this because she wanted Ba Thin to feel
this whatever was hers was his too. This caused a rift
between the two and Ma Shwe tried to go her own way. In a
fit of anger she even asked back the loan her father had
given to Ba Thins father. He was working day and
night to finish a portrait for the Royal Court in
Mandalay but he sold all he had and brought the money to
repay his fathers debt. In the meantime the
Kings agent saw the portrait and said that, though
it was a fine painting, the court would never take it
because it never accepted the pictorial representation of
any person. Ba Thin was amazed but the agent said
"You dont know but I know whose portrait this
is". With all his heart Ba Thin had painted the
portrait of the women he loved so well, Ma Shwe. Anyway
when he came to pay his debt and go away to Pegu he was
burning with fever. Ma Shwe realised how cruel she had
been and drew him into her home. A beautiful story that
should be translated into English and Burmese.
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