taking a walk in india: photos | stories | essays

17 June 2016

Monday morning Kolkata


Kolkata after a spell of heavy rain on the morning of 13 June, Monday. It started as a busy day, as you can see here.

11 June 2016

This Madhubani painter is creating great wall art at National Crafts Museum


Meet Ajit Kumar Jha. An artist who specializes in large Madhubani paintings. His current project involves creating an impression on a large wall, about the height of a passenger bus and the length of two cars back-to-back, at the National Crafts Museum (or Crafts Museum) in New Delhi.

The painting is not complete yet. Ajit has already put four months into it. He says it might take two more months before he shuts his only paint box.

"It's about the environment," he says, pointing at the wall. There seems to be a forest on the right, some traffic towards the left, people on wheelchairs and the sky in grey.

How did he end up at Crafts Museum? "My parents used to work here. We came from Samastipur (in Bihar). I used to play around with paints a lot," Ajit says. His 42nd birthday just went by.

He has received no formal training in Madhubani painting. He says it all comes from his head, made possible by years of plain old practice. He also rarely uses measuring tools.

"I don't know... I make a mental image of the wall as if it was a page. Then it becomes easy to apply the right scale on each object on the wall," Ajit says. His goal is to win a "national award". He did not say which national award though.

The Crafts Museum takes its artists seriously. It also takes great care to ensure the exhibits do not get damaged. Photography is not allowed on the inner premises where life-sized models of traditional Indian houses are on display.

But in giving an entire wall to a Madhubani artist who has never had wide exposure and formal training, to create something that he feels deserves to be created, the Crafts Museum comes across as an original place that cuts through the bureaucracy poppycock for the sole purpose of preserving Indian art.

If you are in Delhi, you might want to skip the mall at Saket and visit Crafts Museum someday.

And, by the way, Cafe Lota.





9 June 2016

This is what happens when you go out on a curfew day in Imphal






Manipur is going through another phase of protest these days. The epicentre of the agitation—likely to go on for some time—is Imphal, again.

A section of people in Manipur is asking the state government to enforce a rule known as the inner line permit system, or ILPS. The system would try to limit the entry of outsiders to Manipur in order to protect the indigenous people on matters of trade and population growth. It would be a kind of a document that says “no jaywalkers allowed”. Bangladesh is not very far away.

But it is also not exactly as blunt. To explain ILPS—or most things Manipur—is beyond the scope of this website. You may search ILPS on the Internet if you want.

Anyway, one day journey basket got to know that a “public curfew” has been called by some social (or anti-social, unclear) organization. But what is a public curfew?

A curfew is when the authorities enforce restrictions on the public. So a public curfew would mean a curfew imposed by people on themselves. Interesting.

Riding shotgun in a friend’s car on the day of the public curfew, it became clear that the day was as good as any lazy Sunday. At some places burnt tyres stuck to the asphalt on the empty road. But the tyres were small and the flame timid. Whoever set them up probably made a half-hearted attempt.

Other than that people went about with their lives.

And this is the thing in Manipur—nothing happens for a long time in between one lethal protest to another. Bandhs, strikes and the so-called “public curfew” are like the days of a week. They are as normal as Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday... until a new round of protest starts.

As we speak the ILPS bomb is lying dormant. It will go off any day. Until then, public curfew and peace.













8 June 2016

A garden of one's own, almost

 





Langol, on the outskirts of Imphal.

The area is dotted with unused private land. People at Imphal valley bought land here anticipating a boom following the state hosting the 30th National Games in 1999. The government had set up a large complex for sportspeople in the foothills at Langol, not very far away from the state zoo. But the boom never happened. Except for a large hospital, nothing of significance came up.

The people who bought the land also moved on. They left behind half-built shops and houses. The dream had ended before it even started.

So what they did was they converted the land into kitchen gardens. They hired caretakers to tend to the farms and they did not charge rent from the caretakers, mostly people with roots in Nepal who settled in Manipur a long time ago. The deal was the caretakers would grow anything they liked, sell half the produce and give half to the owner. The arrangement benefitted both parties—the landowners got someone to keep an eye on the property, and the caretakers got a nice solid roof over their head for free, better than the huts they used to live in before.

Kumari is one such caretaker of a private farmhouse. She grows stuffs with her husband, and the couple has two kids—a boy and a girl—who go to school. She says she came to Manipur from Nepal in 1985. She got married and along with her husband moved into the farmhouse in 2001. Over the years the couple has planted a variety of vegetables and made good money. They have got six cows now. But initially learning to keep the cows was not easy, Kumari says. The owner rarely visits the farmhouse, she says.

However, the family might be told to move out anytime. That’s something she has kept in mind for 15 years.

It’s the same story at most of the farmhouses at Langol. People who bought land are no longer interested in seeing their property, and the people who are looking after the land are obviously not interested in staying any longer than is necessary.

The wait for the boom continues even though the roofs of the quarters built for sportspeople have started showing rust.









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Journalist. Taking a walk in India. | Email to journeybasket[at]gmail | Special thanks to M.S. Gopal | All rights reserved. No commercial use.

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