For the Sheer Love of Art
We had met as mothers, recently, at a Birthday party hosted by a mutual friend. Predictably, our conversation primarily centered round the children - of very different sizes - milling around us and what a challenge online schooling has been for all concerned. We had so much to rant that we almost forgot to talk about ourselves... until dinner was served. A wonderful, home-cooked chicken and fried rice with a salad.
We had been served such an endless variety of snacks before that this simple meal came as a relief. An additional delight was the mango cake that was specially baked for the occasion - full of the freshness of the fruit, minimal cream and the softest of crusts. I hadn't tasted a cake like this before, and given my weakness for the dessert, shamelessly helped myself a second time.
The person who baked it was in the party - a friend of my friend - who I was told did this, with utmost love, for the entire mom-gang of that building! (How I wished I lived there)! That she ran an online business of the same.
A very short conversation at the fag end of the party and Facebook-wall browsing after returning home (of course the friend request was instantly accepted) told me this of her: that though she studied Science, she has a natural inclination towards the Arts. And her creativity finds expression in a myriad forms - in baking, painting and dance. She told me how she found rhythm and harmony, balance and proportion, to be at the heart of it all; that that is all she aimed at, in what she did - a harmony of colour, flavour, form and movement.
Browsing her wall, I found a moving post about how art has been her continual therapist during the pandemic and a striking portrait of an Orissa dancer that spoke to me for an odd variety of reasons.
She had made an impression on me that evening: her lovely face and smile, her combination of talents and her massively contrasting children - one a tiny tot of 5, all frills and cackling laughter; and the other a tall, veritable young man of 14, with everything about him screaming adolescence. (When she had walked into the party in a pretty summer frock, I initially took her to be a College/University student. Her daughter tripping in after her immediately changed that story; but boy, I was just not prepared for her son)!
A month after we met, I remembered her just before a dear friend's birthday... and promptly placed an order for that mango cake I couldn't forget! We joked about it over the phone. I told her I would have remembered her in another week's time, anyway, when the poster of the Art Exhibition, 'The Legacy of Loss: Perspectives on the Partition of Bengal', at the Kolkata Centre for Creativity would be out. I remember the whole world prior to a Kolkata Partition Museum event! But the mango-cake preponed the remembrance for me.
The Exhibition poster and video were duly sent to her, but honestly, I didn't expect her at the Inauguration! The day was the most appropriate for the Exhibition - it was on 17 August 1947 that the Radcliffe Line that divided India and Pakistan was officially announced - but being a weekday evening, it wasn't a very conducive time for most people to attend, certainly not for a mother of two school-going kids.
She attended the Inauguration right from the start, though I saw her only at the end of the ceremony - when I met so many people all at once that I couldn't talk properly to any!
What she told me - in the very little time we could speak and manage to take a photograph - has stayed with me this past one week: "Ritu, THIS is my passion. I had to come"!
In the past two weeks - in the run-up to and the first week after the Inauguration - I have received countless texts/ phone calls/ emails, either enquiring about Exhibition details or giving me personal feedback of the visit with images. It has been extremely rewarding to see this interest of the people of our city (and beyond) as also that of the media in our Exhibition.
I particularly cherish the personal feedback as it functions as a barometer of the general 'public engagement' with the Exhibition. I have been posting a short series of 'Visitor Reports' on our KPM Facebook page, to honour these feedbacks.
Most of the ones that were shared with me are of long-time friends/ colleagues/ associates, many of whom - given my background and current work - are academics or practicing artists themselves.
Ranita Mitra is an exception to this: she is neither a friend nor a colleague or associate. Her presence at the Inauguration thus filled me with a very different kind of joy: that of seeing a non-professional artist come to indulge her passion, alone; and an incipient friend honour an invitation!
I can't thank Ranita enough for her presence that day. It is the visits of more people like her - coming for the sheer love of art - that will determine the true success of the Exhibition!
Meanwhile, I hope to get to know her better...!
(NB - I am the Initiator of the Kolkata Partition Museum Project (KPMP) that aims to establish a Partition Museum in Kolkata, focussing on the experience of Bengal).