This GIF captures a bit of how each color is painstakingly layered one at a time to create the final image. That is more than 400 pulls for an edition of 100 prints. Anybody who screenprints takes it on for the love of it. Its truly backbreaking work.
We observed my mother’s Shraddha. That day is blurry but I am sure that we blindly went through the rituals that had been codified more than two thousand years ago.
What is not blurry is the day leading up to her death.
Her sprightly chatter had fallen into near silence during the week leading up to her death.
My father had bathed and changed her, just like he had done every noon since the time she had gotten too weak to do it herself.
I had taken to brushing her thick long black hair. I liked how it felt wet, cool and heavy in my hands.
Like the past few weeks, her head rested heavy on her hand. Her eyes – sad, soft, downcast and faraway, even though we were sitting right in front of the mirror she had used to energetically adorn herself with a little gold and sindoor for about 32 years.
“কি ভাবছ, মা?” (What are you thinking about, Ma?)
“ধুত, কি আবার?” (Oof! What else?)
she replied distantly and irritably.
I loosely braided her hair even though her voice stung. Did she know that was going to die?
She ate a bit and lay down to rest.
I laid down beside her and stroked her still spotless, golden, beautiful back. I can’t think of a time in my life when I didn’t love stroking her back.
She was falling off to sleep.
Suddenly, she sprang up to sitting on the edge of her bed, her words tumbling rapidly into one another as she desperately tried to keep pace with her sudden burst of delirium.
“Can you hear them?”, she gasped.
“Hear what, Ma?”
“Those bells… the evening bells. Can’t you hear them? They have started to practice their dance. What are you doing here? Why aren’t you there, practising with them?”
“What bells? What dance, Ma?”
“There! There! Can’t you see them?” pointing to a corner of the room.
“Ma! There’s nobody there!” I was beginning to get very frightened as I looked into a pair of eyes that I could no longer recognize.
They looked manic, puzzled. Why couldn’t I see what she could see? She dropped her arm, let out a deep sigh and fell into disappointed silence.
For twelve years of my life, I had practiced dancing every evening. It was evening alright. But those practice sessions were long gone.
As my husband and brother frantically tried to get a hold of her doctor for advice, my father and I sat next to her, not knowing what was to come.
Little did we know that we would be watching death unfold.
Perhaps it was an illusion created by the emotional center of my otherwise pretty logical brain, but it wasn’t like she was alive one moment and dead the next. It felt like her life had become into its own being and was wrestling to set itself free from its physical binds.
How long did that last? A few minutes? A few hours? We weren’t scientists trying to study death with a stop clock. We were watching my mother die, and it felt like a really long time.
Strangely enough, the closest thing I can compare it to is birthing. Just as time, space and cognition collapse into one incomprehensible dimension when a baby is on its way to be born, this was no different.
Just like a baby forcefully and determinedly squirms and twists its way through the birth canal in no predictable pattern till the head, shoulders and the rest of her body slithers out into one slimy, bloody mess and a loud wail, my dying mother’s life was corkscrewing its way out through her death canal, a bit at a time to no set rhythm.
Like a baby unregrettably leaves the womb that had kept her alive for nine months, my mother’s life finally broke free from the body that had nurtured it for 51 years, leaving behind slightly parted lips, a stony blank stare, and a loud wail – my father’s, ” আর নেই রে! তোর মা চলে গেছে!” (She is no more! Your mother has left us) as he continued to stroke her limp but still warm shell of a body.
Dec 12, 2015: 196 nations agreed to respond to climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Jun 1, 2015: President Trump pulls out of Paris agreement
Dec 4, 2017: President Trump reduces the size of two national monuments in Utah by some two million acres, the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history. Patagonia’s headline the morning after reads “The President Stole Your Land”.
30% of profits from sales will go towards supporting the project, 30% to HeadCount, a non-partisan organization that uses the power of music to register voters and promote participation in democracy, and 40% to me.
Buy a poster, spread the word, and take the planet to the voting booth in 2018!
On Nov 19, 1965 two strangers got married, yet it is the best marriage I know of. Those strangers also gave birth to me, my brother and my sister. They, at the very least, showed us how to love. I miss my parents and their wisdom everyday. More on their marriage at “An Arranged Marriage, a Lifetime of Love”.
Before October is all but gone, here is one for #inktober – even though it is from 27 years ago! I had just started architecture school and quickly got involved with anything that needed an illustration. #SPICMACAY (Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth), was one such organization founded by #PadmaShri Dr. #KiranSeth. I ended up making a lot of posters for them – they all had to be exceuted quickly in black and white for quick reproduction and dissemination. Here is one I did for a musical night by #RajanMishra and #SajanMishra. Rajan and Sajan Mishra are part of a 300-year-old lineage of #khyal singing of the #Banarasgharana
Maa has returned to her heavenly abode, as did mine, almost 20 years ago.
When we were little, the joy of pujo lay in waking up at the crack of dawn to Birendro Kishore Bhodro’s rendition of Mohaloya broadcast over All India Radio. It lay in the anticipation of more than a week off from school, wearing new clothes, eating bhog, and most of all meeting friends and family.
After I had moved to Delhi, pujo was a time to be with my parents, who had moved to Kolkata by then. Kolkata was a big change from the small town I had grown up in. The pandals of Raurkela were neither as creative as Kolkata, nor were they as crowded. The madness that grips Kolkata during pujo is not something anyone outside of Kolkata can understand or imagine.
This night was pujo’s biggest night – Ashtami. After offering our morning Anjali in the paaraar pandal, we decided not to venture out in the evening.
“Knock, knock, knock!!!” It was Monoronjon, our local rickshaw puller.
Those who are familiar with Kolkata, know that rickshaw pullers are our solution to getting to various modes of an otherwise efficient public transit system. Within every few blocks is a “rickshaw stand” marked only by a huddle of rickshaws. If you live in that neighborhood, you start using the same rickshaw puller to take you places, or to run errands. In our case, that man was Monoronjon.
“Ki Boudi, pujo dekhbeyn naa?” (Brother’s wife, don’t you want to go and see pujo?)
“Naa, eyi bheedeyr moddhey aar beyrotey bhaal laagey naa.” (No, its too crowded to be enjoyable)
“Sheyki??? Oshtomir din, protimaa dekhtey jaabeyn naa. Ey ki kothaa? Cholun. Aajkey keyu baadi boshey neyi. Cholteyi hobey.” (How can that be? Its Ashtami, Pujo’s big night. How can you not want to see Mother Goddess. No one stays home on Ashtami. I will take you through the backlanes. You have to come.)
And, so we did. Through the narrow back lanes of Selimpur to all the pujos in Jodhpur Park, Jadavpur park and even as far as Santoshpur. My sister and I hung on to our mother for dear life as Monoronjon expertly swerved his way through the winding streets and impenetrable crowds. A good three hours later – we were home.
“Eyyi jey, Monoronjon. Eyto ghoraaley. Koto holo?”(you took us around quite a bit. How much?)
“Sheyki baudi? Pujor din. Aami aapnedeyr ghora tey niyey gaychhi. Aapni to amaakey daakeyn ni.” (How can you even ask me that? Its pujo. I asked you to come with me. You didn’t ask me to take you.)
And with that, Monoronjon, our illiterate, dirt-poor rickshaw puller reminded us that pujo is so much more than new clothes, food or commerce. It is about sharing joy.