|HER WORLD||Sunday, February 16, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
Combining art, architecture & aesthetics
ART, they say, is commercially not a very rewarding area. Although exceptions mark this observation, it has been largely seen that managing a market for creative talent is a difficult thing to do. With consumerism still calling the shots, everyone is concentrating on achieving "value for money." In the given circumstances, art may not be a very sensible field to pursue. Crossing boundaries
From Kamala to Suraiya: As faith decrees
THE name on her door bears another name - Suraiya Begum. It is not a new apparition as I expect but the same old Kamala Das who emerges to meet me: the same exuberant laughter, the characteristic wicked humour, the irreverent revelations that one least expects spouting out of the mouth of a suitably veiled begum.
kay paar tum ho...
ART, they say, is commercially not a very rewarding area. Although exceptions mark this observation, it has been largely seen that managing a market for creative talent is a difficult thing to do. With consumerism still calling the shots, everyone is concentrating on achieving "value for money." In the given circumstances, art may not be a very sensible field to pursue. However, Chandigarh-based entrepreneur Sonia Dhami chooses to differ. For over four years now, she has been involved with projects that draw strength from the richness of Indian architecture. Not only did she switch on from her original area of business management to become a landscape consultant, she later acquired the knowledge of Sikh scriptures and architecture to become a concept coordinator for cultural projects that have earned her a great deal of distinction.
Despite the fact that Sonia's background has had little to do with art and design, she went on to execute intensive work in the field of Sikh art, particularly in context with gurdwaras. An MBA with specialization in Finance from Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, Sonia worked in the business sector for a while before settling down in what she now calls, "designing to preserve heritage". For some years she worked as an executive officer with the CII but later she found herself completed absorbed by the idea of landscaping open spaces. From Markfed to Hafed, she landscaped office spaces for a number of private and public enterprises.
Garden designing came next, followed closely by sculpture and art work. After getting an insight into the world of art, Sonia began diversifying by accepting projects under her newly floated company Terrier Utility Services. She also has a full-fledged designing section of her own, where she coordinates design concepts for gurdwaras and other heritage sites. This section is called "By Design."
In 2000, Sonia Dhami was commissioned by the government to landscape the entrance gates to the historical city of Anandpur Sahib. The project formed a part of the Tercentenary celebrations of the birth of the Khalsa. Three years down the lane, Sonia has at hand three prestigious international projects, the most significant being the designing of panels and palkis for the largest gurdwara of Europe, which is coming up in the heart of Southall in England at the whopping investment of about 16 million pounds. The other two, equally challenging, include the creation of a model for the largest gurdwara in the USA to come up at San Jose and installation of a special water feature in another gurdwara at Elsobrante, located close to San Francisco, USA.
Sonia’s international career took off from the excellent art and architectural work she executed in Anandpur Sahib. When she took the files of her project to England, she garnered respect in the Sikh community living there. Not only was she interviewed by various television channels about the concept and execution of the Anandpur Sahib project, she was later awarded the coveted National Museum of Natural History Award during the Museum’s Asian Pacific American Heritage month in May, 2001.
Talking about her gradual transformation from a next-door business management graduate to a concept coordinator for the Southall gurdwara project, Sonia says, "I always wanted change. As I moved on to become a landscape consultant for many public and private firms, I realised that the world of art had a lot to offer. It was then that I bagged the Anandpur Sahib project."
Currently, Sonia is busy working on the modalities of the Southall gurdwara project. Interestingly, she managed to replace an English architect who had been originally hired by Shri Guru Singh Sabha, Southall, for the said project. She informs, "The gurdwara will have two huge panels. The ones which the English architect had designed had a very colonial look. I intervened with my designs, each of 15 feet by 30 feet. The design of one panel (to be installed at the landing near the staircase of the main hall) draws from five symbolic patterns, all emerging from a khanda batta, used to prepare the holy amrit. We have used saffron in all these patterns. Both our panels were reflective of Sikh religion and were instantly approved."
Apart from that, Sonia and her team-comprising architect Sukumar Jeirath and Annu Bains, has also designed two exuberant palkis, one in gold and the other in silver. The pedestal on which the palkis, will rest has been decked up with beautiful artwork done with precious stones. The designing has been done keeping in mind the immense religious significance of the palki. Traditionally, the palki is envisaged as a structure that would echo the strong symbolism of Sikh architecture and at the same time have a contemporary manifestation. Both the palkis have been despatched to Southall where they are in the process of being installed. The panels have also been sent.
The model for San Jose project (located in the Silicon valley) has been designed on the theme of the Anandpur Sahib gurdwara. Sonia and her team has also been roped in to develop the area around the gurdwara into a heritage park. Informs Sonia, "There is a lot of unused area in the proximity of the gurdwara and since that area is hilly, it has immense scope for landscaping. We are utilising slopes of the area to give it a beautiful look. The idea is to create a slice from Sikh history all around the gurdwara so that it serves as a place for worship and also offers an insight into the events that made the Sikh religion worthy of reckoning."
The third project
revolves around a special water sculpture, which is being designed for
the gurdwara at Elsobrante, near San Francisco. Titled parivar
vichoda, the water feature relates to the historical crossing of
the flooded Sarsa river by the army of Guru Gobind Singh after he left
Sri Anandpur Sahib. "We are using waterfalls to create the speed
of a river in flood. The water sculpture will feature all historical
details and will serve as a means of information for visitors."
From Kamala to Suraiya: As faith decrees
THE name on her door bears another name - Suraiya Begum. It is not a new apparition as I expect but the same old Kamala Das who emerges to meet me: the same exuberant laughter, the characteristic wicked humour, the irreverent revelations that one least expects spouting out of the mouth of a suitably veiled begum. Dressed in a long white gown, a white makkana, a white muslin square scarf tied over her head, she apologises for her late appearance. She was busy with Allah. She was performing her 'maghrib' namaaz she says naturally. She has aged I tell myself. Her physique is frail, her eyes look hazy and distant. "I am going blind," she says in a voice that ripples. Though persons now appear before her like shadows, she does not stop from telling me that I look rounder than I was when she saw me as a younger woman, more like a bamboo. Bursting with stories that sound like fantasies which they often are, Kamala begins:
"I was in Trichur at a Sahitya Akademi function. A VHP man threatened to pull away my makkana. I told him if he touches me I will collapse and die right there. There were twenty men sitting on stage. Not one came to my help. Maybe all of them are eating eggs for breakfast. They all seemed like hijras." She goes on to explain her theory behind this impotency. Fertility in Kerala, she tells me, is disappearing because of the estrogen being injected in the poultry to make the birds look healthy. Giving such eggs to boys will take away their virility. The upper class boys all eat eggs and they will grow up like the men on stage she believes. Women will go on longing for babies. They will have to take the semen from men who are above fifty who have stayed virile. After twenty years, a girl will go to the semen bank as there will be no virile men left, Only those who cannot afford an egg will stay virile."
If they are no longer virile how do they still manage to rape women young and old I wonder. I tell her the stories I have heard in her native Trichur. Kamala waves her hand and bursts out: " I want to tell the women of Kerala that it is not such a taint. It is like somebody touching your toe. It is also a part of your body, not more sacred than your feet.. You can wash it off with Dettol and go on with your life." The telephone rings. It is a journalist asking her opinion about the fatwa just passed prohibiting the women to go out. Does she agree? "What they are promising women is security," says Kamala as I listen to her surprised. "I would any day sacrifice the so-called freedom for a life where a man offers me security and affection. It is a shabby thing, this women's freedom. You go in a bus and you get pinched. I was married to a man who was considerate and thought I was too delicate to go out alone. Take an umbrella, don't stand in the sun he would say. He wanted to protect me. Women need to be protected, safeguarded, even coddled. We are not like men. There are women like me who fit into the religion of Islam."
Changing names, not even changing a faith changes the essential nature of a person I believe. Though Kamala professes that she has finally found her Allah and is soaked in the rain of Islam. She tells me a story from her childhood drawing an analogy.
"When I was a child we used to walk on a battered beach near our house and listen to a story about Baputi, a man who had gone mad by that sea. He used to tell everyone that he would one day find the golden fish which lived in his sea. Unlike other fish that are caught at dusk and sold in the market his fish believed only came at midnight - as big as a human with eyes of gleaming emerald! So he would bring out his little boat and his blackened nets and go out into the sea. One day he came back shouting that he had caught the fish. When he walked into his hut his mother asked where it is. The other fishermen asked him in the morning where his boat was. "I have already caught the fish. I don't need the net. I have got the fish I wanted." That's what I have found - the god I wanted. I don't need the religion. It has lost its relevance. Maulvis may attack me and threaten to expel me. Who can expel me from Allah's presence? I have left everything at His door. Islam means absolute surrender to God."
It is all a question of asking for signs and being able to decipher them. Kamala is among the few who sought and found what she believes is the ultimate. It happened on an evening when she was travelling back from Calicut with her friend, the man who was the love of her life. "I suddenly saw a huge red ball beside me, by the window. Do you see what I see I asked the driver. He said he did. So did my friend. When will the sun become normal again he asked. Probably at that painful moment when I leave you I said. And it did when we reached his gate. It paled and became white. At that point I was ready to accept Islam. When I came back I was filled with bliss . I saw Allah everywhere - in the falling rain, in the surging sea, in the moonlight that fills my room when it is pitch dark outside. I feel Him like a woman feeling a child coming out.
The next morning when she met T.Vasudevan Nair, she felt his face was different. The plate in front of her was different. The whole world was different. He wondered what had happened to her. "Go fall in love. Crash," she told him.
Kamala Das cannot still separate love from desire. "I think of love as a flower and desire as the fragrance. I think of love as a chariot that is rushing forward with banners of desire. Nobody else can ignite the desire than the man I have loved. He brought me close to my Allah. I am now like a child prepared to go to Paradise. I cannot think I will go anywhere else." She recites her new poem…
The last tarward is yours Tamburan
And I have reached that
All the granaries are full
And there is not a place you have not slept
kay paar tum ho...
HERE is my humble tribute to Kalpana Chawla. What she achieved during her short visit to Earth should inspire future generations to banish gender discrimination. Her remarkable life should see us work for evolving a more egalitarian society in which the youth of India shall break the boundaries of gender discrimination. I hope to see them march in step towards the one and only goal of seeking knowledge and fighting bigotry born out of ignorance.
Kalpana is paar yadein,
Kalpana kay paar tum ho,
tum nay jivan ko diya arth,
maut par upkaar tum ho.
Vigyan ki titli ho tum
akash mein urtee hai jo,
is nai pirhee say poochho,
gyan ka adhaar tum ho.
Tum ho us mandir ki devi,
jis ka sapna humnay dekha,
andhvishwason say hutt kay,
satya ka akaar tum ho.
Tum sitaron say bhi agay,
Us jahan say hum ko dekho,
hum tumhey dekhein gay usmein,
ab hamara pyar tum ho.
Kalpana is paar yadein,
Kalpana kay paar tum ho.
(On this side of imagination are memories.
And you are now beyond imagination.
You gave meaning to life, and did death a good turn.
You are the butterfly of science
that flies in space.
And to the new generation,
you are the foundation of knowledge.
You are the goddess of the temple,
about whom we had dreamt.
You have risen above false beliefs,
you are the outline of absolute truth.
Now from lands beyond the stars,
you look at us,
and we shall try to see you there,
for you are now our love.
PROBLEM-solving is a useful adjunct to your happiness but if you know that given your inability to resolve a particular concern you can still choose happiness for yourself or at a minimum refuse to choose unhappiness then you are intelligent because you have the ultimate weapon against a nervous breakdown. Choose happiness over depression.
(The writer is a
practising clinical psychologist)