Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Jaipur Blues: A Tale of Glazed Blue Pottery of India

This winter I was in Jaipur for a few days. Since I am a Dehli'ite, this was obviously not my first trip to the Pink City.

Therefore, I steered clear of the tourist circuit and went searching for local flavors in handicraft shops and decided to visit Blue Pottery workshops.

Blue Pottery meandered its way into India in the 1700s all the way from Egypt via Persia and Kabul through Mongolia and pretty much most of West Asia. There are many stories around this craft - some as colorful as the pottery itself and all available on the Internet. So, I'll not get into it at all.


The Mughals and the Rajputs took to them with equal fervor. Many mosques and mausoleums were beautified using these 'Turkish tiles' in 18th and 19th century India.

Blue Gumbad in Delhi at Humayun's Tomb crossing
If you have the interest in looking for the obvious, you can find it on plenty of domes and walls dating back from Mughal rule scattered all around.

Of course, the Blue Mosque in Afghanistan is the most spectacular of the lot and the most photographed as well. One cannot not close their eyes and not see that one shot by Steve McCurry that slays all shots taken of the mosque before or since. Everything clicked since come out looking like a fake of that iconic picture - if that is possible! :D

Steve McCurry's Iconic Picture of Mazaar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan

Anyhow, I took an auto-rickshaw from my hotel by the famous Jal Mahal and went to town and found myself in shop that also was a workshop owned by the Doraya family called, Blue Craft Studio. I met there, Anil Doraya who is a National Award winning craftsman and the ninth generation practitioner of this craft.


Now into the 10th generation, the entire Doraya family practices, designs, teaches and sells blue pottery. The place smelt more of passion than business as Doraya showed me how the pottery is made from scratch.

A funny fact about Blue Pottery - it is the only pottery in the word that is not made with clay!

The basic ingredients used are the same as was used by the ancient Mongols and Egyptians and in Persia and Mesopotamia.


A mixture of, ground quartz stone, powdered glass, katira gond (glue), eatable gond, Multani mitti (fuller's earth), Saaji (soda bicarbonate/bentonite), maida (wheat flour),  Borax, zinc oxide, potassium nitrate and boric acid and water is ground in a stone grinder (the same kind as used for wheat) to make the 'clay'. Hey! What???

However, since I love colors and glittery exteriors - I'm not complaining.

It is made almost the same way as it was in ancient Egypt. Go figure that!

The Blue Glazed Pottery is not only ancient, it is also immensely usable as crockery, tea service, water jugs, pegs and as wall tiles. Yes, it is expensive. But, I just told you how many ingredients are used to make the dough. After the dough is prepared, it is molded, cleaned, shaped, if required, a base is added using a potter's wheel, then, smoothed and coated with a layer of powdered glass, ground quartz and maida. Mind you, all the above steps are done manually!


Then, the product is hand-painted painstakingly.

Finally, the piece is glazed using a mixture of powdered glass, Borex or suhaaga, zinc oxide, potassium nitrate and Boric acid. This mixture is heated in the kiln till it melts. On cooling, it turns into small pebbles. It is then ground into powder in the grinding machine. This is then, mixed with water and maida (for an adhesive) and the solution is coated on the vessel - all by human hands.

At the end, the pieces are baked in a kiln.

That sounded like a long and painful process but, that is the reason why we need to pay for craft.

Another reason to buy Blue Pottery is of course fear of extinction. Like most other crafts, blue Pottery in India too has almost met with extinction more than once.



It came with the Mughals and flourished during their early regime. They used these tiles extensively to beautify the palaces and mausoleums they built across India. However, during the reign of Aurangzeb when all Arts came under the scanner, this craft also got the axe. However, it was the Rajput kings of Rajasthan, especially the Jaipur dynasty that gave it another lease of life hence, it is called Jaipur Blue Pottery now!

The Hindu kings invited the craftsmen from Delhi to come to Jaipur and work there. There are again many stories here and all available on the Internet. However, this craft was revived once more in the last decade since it had again gone into decline after the abolition of Royalty once India became a democracy!


And even if that doesn't make you want to stock some up, you obviously either don't like the color blue, art or you have skipped the paragraphs and only looked at the pictures.

If you have NOT gone, hopping, skipping and jumping and have loved all the pictures here and love history and art then, go and buy some for your home and get that Royal feeling.

For all those who are planning a visit to Jaipur this year, I'd suggest that you look into one of the Blue Pottery workshops that dot the city. It would be something new to do and off the normal tourist trap.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Confession of a Dreamer who Lost to a Toddler

Yes, yes and yes! Child is the father of man amd that is the truth universally accepted though we all have to learn this by burning our hands and egos. Believe me.

My little niece has picked up one phrase these days that defys all preconceived notions about age vis-a-vis intelligence. Losely translated, It goes this way, "I may be a kid but, I'm no fool!" or as she says in Bangla, "Ami bachcha kintu boka na!" 

I agree!

Today I tried to confuse her by making the doodle tree sprout an orange. Not a one to be taken up by any magical nonsense, she calmly picked up the orange, while I was busy trying to impress upon her that it had sprouted from the doodle tree, and ran with it to my ma saying, "oraaaaange!" 

Yes I should have known she'd see through this elaborate arty nonsense because she's the one who had actually spotted orange on a tree growing in our society while we were playing on the swing a couple of weeks back. I hadn't even dreamed of finding any fruits hanging from that dust-laden tree even if my entire life (whatever its worth) depended on it. It just so defied logic. You wouldn't too if you were me. I fib you not!

Yes babe! You are a genius. You may be all of 2 years and 3 months young but, you definitly outshine me in commonsense. 

Saturday, 24 December 2016

#5 Dear Me: Where I Question Life, Thank Virginia Woolf and Comfort Vincent Van Gogh

Dear Life,

I remember images. They stay with me. I have never been able to remember things for example, where I kept my glasses before hitting the bed or where I put down the book I was reading last. But, I can recall suddenly vivid images of places, moments, people... and they may not be great bookmarks in my life. Yet, I remember them clearly,

So, a few days back, I had this flash from the past. I remembered one afternoon in college. There was sunlight streaming through the windows. I saw myself sitting in a feminist haze of golden yellow that made everything around me opaque. I was sitting somewhere in the middle of a class full of students - I knew they were there though I never saw them in my flash of memory. But, I saw our petite and beautiful professor quoting Virginia Woolf to explain 'Stream of Consciousness':



“Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semitransparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.”

I was really impressed by the quote. To me with my perpetually hazy and myopic vision it may have hit a bullseye on my young and impressionable self. Who knows? Perhaps that is the reason why I suddenly remembered that day.

This quasi-opaque luminous halo has been chasing me around like a mist for a very long time. Some call me a dreamer, others perhaps worse. But, that has not changed a single thing for me.

Thanks to Ms Woolf, I always knew subconsciously that life would not be a straight and narrow path. She had indeed promised that life would be an adventure and I saw myself riding the rough waves and winning. It pleased my young self a lot.

It's therefore not strange that I remember that day and those non-descriptive yellow walls of the lecture theatre with such clarity.

In the years since, I've had my slips and victories and falls but, have pushed ahead and enjoyed the ride all through.

Dear life, today I suddenly wanted to thank Ms Woolf for that quote. Maybe she can read this post in her afterlife or maybe it will be conveyed to her by the universe in general. I have hope that after today, she will know.

Life is definitely unplannable. It cannot be put into neat little compartments to be opened at will or left to be incubated for the right time to hatch. Hell! I can't even hatch a plot by plotting it when I write a story! It just happens and so does life.

The other day I chanced upon an information so astounding that I was blown away. It seems that the Impressionist movement was spearheaded by artists who were actually myopic. The great French masters like Monet, Renoir and Degas, suffered from shortsightedness and thus drew from their - you got it right - impressions. Had they planned it, it could not have worked any better.


For once I was so glad to be a myopic since childhood. No wonder ma says I cannot smell danger even when it is staring me in the eye. I only see the deep green haze of jealousy, the red of anger and myriad other colours that all look so vivid to me.

I love colours. They fascinate me. That make me happy hence, I ignore all other signals that wish to emit. No wonder I trip and fall so often, but, I hardly take my fall badly. It's all good. It's all experience.

However, I sometimes worry about Vincent Van Gogh. His was the most beautiful mind that saw colours and patterns in everything around him. Yet it took a couple of generations to figure it out.

I wish I could also find him somewhere and tell him not to despair. I see his despair in his art - even in his most celebrated works. The decaying flowers, the scavenger crows circling ripe and harvested fields, the barrenness of the vistas, the gnarling of the branches, the claustrophobia that I can smell from his painting of his bedroom. I just want to shake his hands once and quote Ms Woolf to him.


I just want him to be happy. Wherever he is. Because despite his towering talent, he did not have my indomitable spirit thanks to Ms Woolfe's quote.


And here is what I worry about, dear life, that despite the spirit, there is a vital flaw in my thinking. It is self-criticism. I am always criticising the last thing I have created. I can never be happy with the end result of anything I have finished working on. I hate it when someone says they have read or seen my writing. I believe they are all making it up to make me happy.

I wonder at times if it is a big flaw or a small one. I wish someone could answer the question honestly.

I am my fiercest critic. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Should I not be proud and self-promotional in my attitude?

As an artist, I cannot be untrue to myself. My inner artist has very lofty tastes. It refuses to settle for anything less. It insists that I look at myself and rediscover, recreate and rework everything I make from food to hanging up a print on the wall.

It keeps searching for that elusive state called perfection that is practically impossible to achieve. Or is it? Because, it keeps telling me that it is possible.



I await your answer.

Get back to me soon.

Love,

Shoma

Friday, 25 November 2016

#4 Dear me! Letters to Myself: Happy Thanksgiving

 

Dear life,

Everyone's happy today in the US and eating Turkey dinners. Their outgoing President even pardoned a turkey and spared its life. How magnanimous!

You know how I love festivals and so, I thought of you and the journey of my life so far.

The long list of happy memories far outweighed the list of things that went wrong like, the time when as a teenager I and my cousin ended up watching a wrong movie at the theatre because we were too shy to ask for a ticket for the movie of our choice. Instead, we asked for 'a ticket' for the next show - which we were told was about to start. We never questioned what was playing assuming it was the new Amir Khan film because there were enough posters around us saying so.

I still remember waiting patiently thinking that the English film, Conan the Barbarian, was just a long-ish trailer and the Juhi Chawla film, Goonj, will start any moment. It didn't help that the morning show didn't have any interval.

We almost cried when 'The End' loomed up dashing all our hopes of redemption. Oh! The follies of innocence and youth.

I have till date not watched the movie in deference to the teenaged me who didn't have the money to watch it in the next show!

Anyhow, today is not about losses. Today is about gains. And though we may not get to eat a turkey tonight - it doesn't matter. I am still happy because I can count my blessings with you.

So, without further ado here is the list:

1) My Family - for their love, kindness and unconditional support - that was a no-brainer!
2) My Friends - for their patience and positivity - I am very poor at keeping in touch :(
3) My Teachers - for believing in me and nurturing my ambitions
4) Children - for sharing their unconditional love - especially three little girls I'll always remember
5) Books - for being the best medicine for every ailment I've had
6) Films - for eliminating boredom and keeping hope alive
7) Travel - for killing the blight called monotony, the bane of my existence
8) Star Trek - for making me believe in science
9) Harry Potter and JK Rawlings - for making me believe in magic
10) Rains - for making me believe in miracles
11) Ice Cream - for making me believe that cold is better than bearable
12) Sea - for turning me into a believer
13) Shakespeare - for just-in-time philosophy
14) Hand Creams - for helping cope with dry air conditioned offices
15) Table Lamps and Cushion Covers - for instantly refreshing home decor
16) Van Gogh - for filling me with curiosity and a different perspective
17) Tintin - for being an amazing role model
18) Cars - for making me self-reliant
19) Delhi - for making me curious about History
20) Bombay - for making me trust again

That was not a huge list but, writing it up made me smile from inside out. Happiness is not a thing that you can buy at the grocery store or a mall but, a feeling that stays in your heart pumping blood into the brains. :D

I remember when I didn't have the money to buy a camera, I would simply capture frames with my eyes and string them into poems. It was such a beautiful way to capture memories and keep them alive!

Today when I look at this list, I know that each point has several layers and memories accumulated in it. If I was to elaborate each one, I can fill pages till I run out of space to write and you the patience to read. But, there is no need for that. You already know what I know.

Happy Thanksgiving dear life!

Love,

Shoma

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

#3 Dear me! Letters to Myself: Coming of Age

Image Courtesy: Shoma Chakraborty

Dear Life,

This is my third letter to you.

I now start my day thinking what to write to you because there is so much I want to tell you. My head is full of reasons why I must thank you. I wonder why did I take this long to start?

This morning I remembered myself as a kid in school. I laughed thinking how I used to pray in the assembly hoping teachers would forget that they had given assignments if I had forgotten to complete mine, and how mostly my prayers were answered. I thought I was a lucky little girl.

How I wish dear life, that I had not squandered wishes away on unfinished assignments. I didn't know then that the genie only grants a limited number of wishes and we must ask for them only after careful consideration.

Nothing had really prepared me for sudden adulthood. Least of all, school or college where I was protected, cherished and given wings to fly.

Then dear life, came my violently ushered coming of age. It was sudden.

I woke up from a pleasant dream kicking and screaming with tears streaming down my cheeks to find that I was an adult who was untrained to deal with the real world. It was scary and I had no mechanism to cope with it.

Shame, loss, betrayal, illness... You name it and I had it shoved at me. In one stroke, my life was - I thought - ruined.

It was nothing like the lovely coming-of-age movies I had grown up watching, where, pretty boys and girls in beautiful dresses and hairstyles went through small confusions, overcame them and lived happily ever after.

Mine was all blood, sweat and the nasty realization that some people really hated me though I had given them no reason for it.

It was while flailing down a dark hole that I encountered others who were concerned and reached out to pull me back. I was so scared that I didn't know if I wanted to be saved. Did these people really want to save me? Why? Was it pity?

Eventually, I learnt that just like haters, there is no accounting for people who love you. There's no formula for this.

Thankfully I had you. My most trusted confidante. You were patient, understanding and allowed me to vent out my feelings.

I knew that you did not pity me.

You let me cry.

You helped me understand my pains, the reasons for them and gradually made me let go of my anger.

It is your most precious gift and I cannot thank you enough for it.

You stood with me on the shore of a friendly sea in a busy city. when I just said, "I give up my anger and pardon everyone who has wronged me!"

How I laughed and chuckled and jumped that morning. The gentle breeze fanning my spirit to soar, There was nothing weighing me down. I was free. Free to be an adult.

It was my most liberating moment and I can still touch the feeling as I write.

Thank you, thank you and thank you again.

With anger out of the way, you took me by my hands and pulled me inside. You showed me my heart. You introduced me to my spirit. You helped me put on my wings again and fly.

You also taught me to be kind and generous and to open my heart to other people and to help them.

I think that was a smashing gift! I know, 'smashing'! Funny? No? But, it was. It smashed all the boundaries around my heart.

Thank you for making me a better human being by allowing the light to pour in through the cracks of my shattered self worth. You made me glow with that light, put a smile on my lips and kindness in my eyes.

I now know that people spend a lifetime or a lot of money on cosmetics to get this look.

Thank you dear life for being my guide!

Love,

Shoma

Image Courtesy: Shoma Chakraborty

Sunday, 13 November 2016

#2 Dear me! Letters to Myself - Falling Leaves


Falling leaves
Image Courtesy: Shoma
Dear Life,

I know that this is a sudden spurt but, like I said, I had been wanting to write to me/ you/us for a long time. For years now I have been my own best friend and confidante.

Today, as October has turned into November and the dried leaves filled up the backyard, I did not clear it as I usually do. Instead, I sat down with you to think, to look back and relax.

You may have called me a few names for not getting chores done but, it did not matter. Just sitting there with feet dipped in sunlight falling across the threshold was enough to stop you from lecturing me in just a few minutes. Oh! How the mighty fall!

Rest and be thankful
Image Courtesy: Shoma
The thoughts were not too difficult to follow were they?

Remembering the raw and ripe mangoes filling up the place just a few months ago.

Raw mangoes were falling like the now dried leaves at one point and it was such a pleasant surprise to wake up and find them scattered all around waiting to be picked up.

Once the novelty wore off, I stopped picking them up and instead left them for the domestic and society help. Food's food, isn't it?

A few days later, the ripe fruits would start plopping down. It was a funny surprise.

Still sleepy, I thought it was the neighbours upstairs throwing down half or partially-eaten mangoes because most of them were somewhat eaten.

It took a few minutes to imagine what was happening. It was the birds, feasting on the fruits while they were still hanging up there on the branches!

It made me laugh so much. I looked at the fruits, half eaten and thought, "Wow! Organic! Innocent and sitting ducks."

Fallen
Image Courtesy: Shoma

And today, the leaves are falling, messing up the same place which it had once studded with fruits.

Dried leaves. Who wants them? Who needs them? And certainly, no one is burning them this winter.

It's after almost a month that we could actually open the door and sit out for a while. The smog had made it Hell for so long. 'No bonfires please, we are choking!'

Yes. Life is like that. One day you are raw, then, ripe, thrown around half chewed and then - gone up in smoke.

Death is not the end though because all those who have laughed with you when you were raw and ripe and cried for you when you were chewed up and thrown out will remember you and think of you when you are nothing more than a bunch of dried leaves being burnt into ashes. You will continue to live in their memories and perhaps only die when they are gone too.


Crumpled
Image Courtesy: Shoma
Dear life. I am happy to have you as a friend and companion because together we make a great pair. Especially now, when we have been through so much and seen life from such close quarters.

Grateful to have you around and, I promise to keep writing.

Love,

Shoma

Tree of life
Image Courtesy: Shoma

Friday, 11 November 2016

#1 Dear Zindagi - Love you Dearly!

Thank you Dear Zindagi! :) - Image courtesy: Shoma Chakraborty

Dear Zindagi,

I write to you today not because it is a contest that I want to win but, because, I have wanted to for long.

So many are born lucky and have envious lives but, thanks to you, my humdrum middle-class existence has never been short of surprises.

I think life is actually monotonous if it doesn't pack surprises at every step. Like a skating rink, it's slippery and slidey and oh so much fun and so beautiful to look at in a showreel once you get it right.

And you dear zindagi made me realise that "Hey! I am the heroine of my life!" Much before it became a famous phrase.

I want to thank you for all the crazy opportunities that you gave me that may look tough on the outside but, were actually a lot of fun to wrestle with - I look back on them with a sense of awe and a smile.

I remember me, lost and broken in a strange city by the sea. The sunlight was so harsh that it made my skin erupt in allergies. A city so lonely that I only had on and off conversations with the tree outside my window.

I remember a Diwali night when I was all alone in the house with neither friend or family, crying quietly sitting on the floor, taking comfort from the knowledge that the tree outside would be there to silently support my longings. In walked a large golden labrador and snuggled down next to me. I will never forget her kindness and I always stop to thank her every Diwali for those soft brown eyes full of empathy. I remember her waiting till my meltdown was over, to lick the tears off my face.

"Maggi, thank you till eternity and more."

This may have started sounding teary and soft but, life is all about blood, sweat and tears.

Of blood, I remember the first time I had periods as a preteen and the misery of believing I had some life-threatening disease and dying.

Dear life! I will never forget the gentle touch of my father who found the blood-smeared garments and me and told me that I was not dying. I will never forget the relief when ma joined him and tried to bring objectivity to the entire episode.

I will also never forget that for a few years from that day, I would pray each month that it stops forever so I could go back to my normal life.

Today, I pray for the exact opposite and laugh at myself.

Lastly dear zindagi, the day I meditated on the love I have received in my lifetime. I focused on all the episodes involving strangers, friends, family and acquaintances. Dear zindagi, I cannot tell you how I cried just within the fist one minute because I was so overwhelmed - I was precious. I was so loved.

That is when I knew that my life is a lovely technicolour dream to be enjoyed till the last breath.

Thank you dear zindagi!

Love you,

Shoma


“I am writing a letter to life for the #DearZindagi activity at BlogAdda”.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Creative Writing Hack: The Benjamin Franklin Method

This how Benjamin Franklin taught himself to write (and become rich).

Here’s one of his exercises:

Select a piece of writing that appeals to you. Franklin used his favorite magazine, The Spectator. You can do this anything that resonates with you.

Jot notes on each of the sentences. Read through again and jot short notes on the core thought of each sentence.

Let the notes sit for a few days. Let yourself forget about the structure of the original piece.

Reconstruct using only your notes. Use only the core ideas to try and recreate the writing with your own style.

Compare your “article” with the original to identify faults. Does it flow as well? Is it as beautiful as the original? What are the aspects that stand out? Write these down as focus points for later.

Repeat. Use the process over and over with different pieces of writing. Your flaws will become clearer (and improve) with each iteration.


Courtesy: Internet

Monday, 10 October 2016

Durga Puja: 5 Days, 5 Sarees Challenge

Durga Maa
Ever since the Dengue and Chickengunia have made it to the list of epidemics plaguing Delhi (others being rape and road rage etc.), I have started burning coconut husk and dhuno (Frankincense) in the evenings to banish mosquitoes.

It is something my grandmothers, aunts and mum would use in the evening for puja.

With the rains finally leaving us alone, the weather has taken a turn for the pleasant.

Blue as the water and the skies
Source: Pinterest


The combined mood-spinners - clear skies with wiffs of white clouds and profusion of white and aromatic orange-stemmed Shiuli flowers blossoming in my ma's garden - Durga Pujo time is here folks!

So, without wasting any more time - here is my wish list for Pujo shopping:
From Sushmita's wardrobe!
Source: Pinterest

Tangail Saree
Source: Pinterest
Konkona in Purple with dhoop-chaon border
Source: Pinterest
Red\Khadi
Source: Pinterest

Well for those of you who do not like ethnic Indian there is a whole world of fashion out there. But, for the likes of me, give me a 5 days - 5 sarees challenge and I am happy!!!






My Haul this year! :)

But, for those of you who like to swing a suit. Here are some ideas:
Courtesy, Banwarey
Black
Source: Pinterest



Monday, 8 August 2016

I Hold my Key to Happiness


There are days when everything feels dull. Even rain fails to raise your spirit and mile long traffic jams make resistance futile even for the most resilient among us.

By afternoon you are angst-ridden, irritated and wondering, why did you even get out of the bed in the morning? 

Often, such questions defy answers - especially if it is a Monday like today! 

So, I try going existential and ask myself questions like, 'Can a whole life be lived in a single Monday? Or Can one evening of your life be the most important and most exciting of your life?

The answer I feel is, yes.


These moments that pass us by at breakneck speed are ours to either fill with happiness and laughter so that they become framed in our memories as happy events.

Why else would I hold on to a memory from age three, where my ma after dressing me in a yellow T shirt with a couple of dancing foxes embossed on it and dousing me in baby talc, gives me a hug calling me "shonamoni"?

Or when at age 5 I had to clean up all the toys after my toddling sister who declared very grandly, "I know how to play, but not how to clean up." I was not angry. Mildly irritated but, immensely tickled by her attitude. She had just learnt to speak.
   
I keep getting these flashes from far away summer vacations when we had stolen sweets from my grandmom's larder and hidden them in the coal cellar. We were of course caught red handed eating the exposed sweets and told, 'now you have eaten what all the cockroaches and bacteria has already tasted..." We thought, we were going to die!

I also remember how someone from Delhi upon looking at the Juhu sea for the first time from the double Decker bus in Bombay exclaimed, "Look. I never knew there was a desert in Bombay!"

I had looked around wondering, "did anyone else in here hear what was just said?"

Life is nothing but memories. I firmly believe that they should be happy rather than sad.

I have always taken a mental broom and cleaned out bad memories from my mind. It is easy, just clean up and throw inside a mental strong box and lock it up.

Keep the key safe. Ensure that only you should be able to open it and  no one else.


And coming back to Mondays, I have a similar strong box of happy moments where I have lived an entire short life. I just open the box and let it rain happy memories when stuck in a jam, facing a hard-to-please client or almost dozing off in a boring meeting or something much worse. Happy memories and happy times make you feel life's easy.

Also, when you look up in a bad situation and smile at another miserable soul, you make that person happy as well.

I try making happy memories in even the worst of times. I keep one eye out for that silver lining that most of us miss because we are busy being miserable. You never know when you'll need to open this treasure chest and cheer yourself up because nothing seems to be going your way at all. So, keep this key handy.

It is easy to do. Just smile and look around and everything will change around you. You are free to look away from the reasons that are causing you heartburn, ignore them even. After all, it is your life. You need to call the shots not anyone else.