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Chandigarh by Esther David

It was just by chance that I discovered the Chandi-Temple, a few kilometers from Chandigarh; in a tree-lined forest; full of birds. I had not expected that the name of this very modern city designed by famed Swiss architect could be connected with the Mother Goddess. According to the plaque affixed there, it is said that after the Goddess had defeated the demon, she had stopped in the vicinity, where the temple stands now and was spotted by a ‘Rishi,’ who made a small temple for her. Later, it is said, a local ruler made a walled city nearby, with a fortress meaning ‘Gadh.’

After India became independent, it was decided that Le Corbusier would build Chandigarh.

Excavations in this area have revealed that objects from the Indus Valley civilization have been found and exhibited at Le Corbusier Center in Chandigarh.

Last month, while I was at IIT Ropar also known as Roop-Nagar to give a lecture, I discovered another Indus Valley site there, which has a very well maintained small museum.  On the way back, I saw a narrow gauge station, from where a tiny train can take tourists to Simla, passing through winding hills, tunnels and forests. This charming railway station reminds one of a Bimal Roy film-set, like the one in Bandini.

When, I was there, preparations for Baisakhi were under way, so I decided to spend my evenings at the Tagore Auditorium with its brick and glass façade, where I saw Bhangra,  heard vocal and instrumental music with other dance forms.

This lush green, well planned city of gardens and manicured trees also has a National Museum, which houses an amazing collection of miniature paintings, sculptures and a few pieces of modern Indian art.  

While I was in Chandigarh, Le Corbusier Center and Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademy inaugurated the “Open Hand – Art Studios,” to commemorate Corbusier’s cousin’s Pierre Jeanneret 122nd anniversary, as he was architect, designer  and close associate of Le Corbusier on many projects. His chairs are on display at the center. The air was festive, as installations were displayed on the lawns, like a painted auto-rickshaw and many more. So, I went to see

Le Corbusier’s; “Open Hand Sculpture,” which can also looks like a bird.

It is a mobile and according to the wind direction moves slowly in all directions, standing amidst mango trees, as the fruit was just beginning to ripen, the most tantalizing moment was at sunset, the golden orb of the sun, could be seen suspended on the horizon from the tall rectangular pedestal of the Open Hand.

On the way back, I stopped at a sector known for its “Phulkari” shops and saw a Corbusier bus-stand. I marveled the use of verticals and horizontals, which are a beautiful mix of art and geometry.

Right then, a bright magenta-pink car overtook my cab, I noticed it was painted in floral designs all over. A young woman was in the driver’s seat and on her car door, there was a yellow signage, “CAUTION-WOMAN DRIVING.”

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Assam – Esther David

They say; Assam’s river Brahmaputra is one of the longest rivers’ in India and known to be one of the few male rivers, as most Indian rivers have feminine names. On landing at Guwahati airport, one could feel the whiff of fresh air and, while driving to the hotel, we saw colourful houses with sloping roofs on hillocks, as some women and school girls could be seen on the winding streets; dressed in the Assamese two-sari ‘Mekhla.’ Reaching the hotel, from the large glass window in my room, I could see the river flowing bank to bank, almost resembling a sea dotted with boats. One can take rides on barges from the many jetties and remember scenes from Satyajit Ray films, set against hills, mist, a light rainfall and beautiful landscapes. From here, it is important to see the Kamakhya Temple. It is said, when Lord Shiva was in a fury, he salvaged the body parts of Sati, his wife, who had immolated herself. He threw these all over India. And, it so happened that her pubic or ‘Yoni’ fell; where the temple stands. So, in a way, the temple resembles a womb or ‘Garbh-Griha.’ The temple winds downwards, like an inverted well. The temple is on a hill top, which can be reached by driving through winding roads, which have stalls, from where women buy bamboo articles, ritualistic offerings, along with red and white bangles.

 

We were in Guwahati for a literary event, where we were greeted with ‘Gamchas,’ white stoles woven with red designs, as a mark of respect, these were draped around our shoulders. Everywhere, there were conical ceremonial objects in metal, accompanied with statues of Rhinoceros. So, we made a quick trip to the Zoo, where we took a buggy-ride and saw Indian and African Rhinoceros, Thamin Deer, a white Tiger, Gibbons, massive Assamese Bisons known as Mithun and innumerable birds. Back at the conference, we had a taste of Assam with chicken curry, brown rice, parval cooked in a light sauce, crispy fried karelas, Rosogollas and red-Assam-tea. In the market place, we saw bamboo hats, brown poha or flaked rice, fresh vegetables and mounds of gourds; amidst Momo-stands. But, I could not take my eyes off, a fabric shop, where a sari border was woven with designs of Rhino and Deer.

At that very moment, I understood how art, life and nature can be woven together by an imaginative artisan.

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The Scars Remain

Last week, most Jews all over the world celebrated Passover, in memory of the Exodus and freedom, when they were slaves in ancient Egypt. Most Jews all over the world remember these days by laying a Seder table, specially with unleavened bread and retelling the story of the parting of the Red Sea. And, as it often happens in the Jewish calendar, festive occasions are followed by memorial services like Yom Hashoah, meaning Holocaust Day. The word Shoah in Hebrew means calamity and is almost always referred to the Holocaust memorial day by Jews. It is observed by saying the Mourner’s Kaddish, in Hebrew, which means prayers to the dead, a solemn remembrance day, when memorial candles are lit for those who perished during the Holocaust. Today, observing this day is done in different ways by Jewish communities all over the world, like reciting poems, reading letters, diaries like that of Anne Frank, narrating real-life stories of survivors or families relive the happenings in the lives of relatives, like grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, friends or neighbours, they lost in the Holocaust, when six million Jews were persecuted or died in Nazi Germany under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler.

In my younger days, I remember, my grandmother, uncle and some others of the family fasted, wore white clothes, as though they were in mourning. In the evening, they lit a candle and said the Kaddish. As Primo Levi said, “…it happened, so it can happen again… this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen and it can happen anywhere.” Those who followed Levi’s work know that he could bear his own dark inner labyrinths of terrifying memories.

The scars remain.

While traveling abroad, often one meets Jews, whose families were victims of the Holocaust and slowly, like old books, whose pages have either been torn or stuck together with their tears, they remember those who were theirs but had never met or do not even know what they looked like. Often, they try to trace resemblances in the physique or facial features of those they lost and are now part of their nightmares.

I have also known some old friends, who try to understand themselves and why they behave in a certain way, wondering if this is how one of their ancestors was, could have been. And is that why they are who they are?

In France, I befriended a survivor, a woman, who was hardly five or six years old when she lost her entire family when the ghetto they lived in was burnt down. Somehow, she was taken to safety and is a grandmother with a large family. Yet she lives in two worlds, of darkness and light: When the memories crowd her, of the yellow star stitched as a patch on shirts; of how she would often dig for potatoes when hungry, which her mother roasted or made soup with, and feels she is falling into an unknown void, from the balcony of a burning ghetto.

Or meeting an old friend, when he came to Ahmedabad and over dinner, told me, that he was a young boy when Hitler hoisted the swastika on the Eiffel Tower. His family had left for America. He was to follow them with an aunt in a car via Portugal, from where they were to take a ship with their meagre belongings and some valuables, abandoning their home, business and everything they owned. He was afraid and felt greatly responsible for his aunt’s safety. On reaching New York, they realised that all their valuables were stolen. They had to start all over again and the trauma of those days never left him, although he has done very well in his profession and is a great-grandfather. But, all his life, he was haunted by his cousin sister, shot in Belsen. He always had nightmares of seeing her in a ditch, face down, legs drawn up, arms outstretched, mouth open, dead, the yellow Star of David stitched on her breast like a wound. He told me that he had spent a lifetime trying to wipe out that particular image from his mind, but could not. Much later, he had read about Dachau, Treblinka, Wolzek, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Ravensbruck, Mauthausen, Belsen and Auschwitz, looking for her.

Then, I have also met some readers from western countries, who came to meet me, first on the pretext of meeting an Indian Jew, to understand that India was the only country in the world where Jews had not faced any form of persecution. After long conversations, they opened up, just to tell me that their ancestors had gone through the horrors of the Holocaust and had dropped a curtain upon the past. Yet, oft and on, they wanted to return to an area of Jewish life they had denied for themselves. Sometimes, they wanted to see an Indian synagogue, sometimes wanted to be there for the Friday evening Shabbat and participate in a festival, as they felt comfortable. On return to their countries, sometimes they went back to a liberal Jewish community or did not, but stayed in touch with me.

This evening, as I sit writing about Holocaust Day, from my window I can see the waning moon rising and I would like to quote a line from a psalm. “… they walked through the valley of the shadow of death…”

So, let us remember, “…lest we forget…”

 

Courtesy : Indian Express

 

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Father Erviti recognizes Outside Art and its Creators – Esther David

(This chapter appeared in the book CREATING CITIZENS: Fr. Ramiro Erviti in Ahmedabad, India. 1956-86. Eds: Howard Spodek, Fr. Chakranarayan, SJ, Vanessa Nazareth-Dalal)

Illustrations by Esther David 

 

Years back, even before, I went to study art at Vadodara’s Faculty of Fine Arts at Maharaja Sayajirao University, I liked to watch our sweeper’s son, who looked after his siblings, while his mother swept the garden. While sweeping, she collected flattened out tooth paste tubes, empty cartons, colourful plastic bags or pieces of scrap, which she gave her son, who fashioned toys out of them to amuse his brothers and sisters. My heart went out to children who could not afford toys, but made their own in clay or other found-objects.

As an art student for the annual art-fair, my Guru Sankho Choudhuri encouraged us to invent new forms with various materials, to help us de-learn some of our education in art.

Later in life, as a practicing sculptor, this formed the base of my work with Outsider Art. I started questioning whether it was possible to be creative without formal education. I felt the spontaneous images of untrained artists were original and intense.

For example, as an only child of working parents, our cook Mani, told me the most fascinating stories. She was a natural story teller. Much later, I was to meet, many more such men and women, who were to strengthen my beliefs in natural artists and intuitive art, because they had no conditioning in art, yet surprised me; with their unusual creations. 

So, I did a small art project with Majoor Mahajan Sangh and SEWA in the early seventies. I worked with children from the Devipujak community. The response was enthusiastic and it was fascinating to see the clay toys made by them. Often, their parents helped them to make the forms, but were shy to admit that they; as adults had made toys, although their hand was visible in the clay modeling, so  daringly spontaneous. 

It was while I was searching for a potter on the riverbed to fire the toys, I met Lavingben, a widow with eight children. She made a living by selling old gunny bags, but her tin shack was decorated with masks of Tiger-heads. During the festivals she sold colourful clay bowls. She had learnt the technique from her grandfather of making a mixture of clay collected from the Sabarmati riverbed, cardboard soaked in water, ashes, powdered crystals of glue and ground fenugreek.  After a lot of persuasion she agreed to make masks for me in the same technique that she made clay bowls. She also made, mini boats, small figurines of animals, birds, scorpions, reptiles, fish, crocodiles and Elephant God Ganesha,

An exhibition of these works was organized at an art gallery and Father Erwitti of St. Xaviers Social Service scheme had seen it. The next day, he came to meet me and asked, if I would like to organize women’s activities at the Community Center at newly constructed Sanklit-Nagar for flood-hit hutment dwellers.

I agreed.

On day one, as I opened the window of the office allotted to me and I saw a veiled woman standing there asking me, to find work for her. All I had was paper and paint, so asked her to paint. Slightly raising her veil, she said, “How can I draw, when I cannot write.” I have often heard this term in villages and slum areas.

This was Pushpa Rajaram, from Mathura, who had come to live in Sanklit-Nagar with her handicapped husband and four children. Her husband had lost an arm in an oil-pressing machine in Mathura and they had come to Ahmedabad, looking for work.  Her husband sold assorted snacks at the Lal Darwaza bus-stand and had set up home in a tin shack on the Sabarmati riverbed. But, after the floods, they had received alternate accommodation in Sanklit-Nagar.

In our weekly meetings, I discussed Pushpa Rajaram with Father Erviti. He encouraged me to use art for development, make a group of women artists and also help them learn other skills from the tailoring teacher Kalaben, which would lead them towards economic independence and empowerment.

I started work with Pushpa and twenty other women of all communities living in Sanklit-Nagar, which is now known as Juhapura.

Pushpa was a natural artist and worked with me for many years.

Slowly, I gained a greater understanding about untutored art, which led me towards my passion for Outsider Art.

Pushpa is the perfect example to showcase Father Erviti’s vision. She started earning well by transferring her paintings on fabric with appliqué-work. Her designs were used by other women of the group, which was growing, and Father Erviti decided to pay Pushpa an extra amount for her designs. In a few years, she started doing well, became self-sufficient, went to craft workshops, craft-melas, attended adult education class, opened a bank account, took a loan and bought two sewing machines. Eventually, she returned to her village with her family, where she started her own unit of tailoring and patchwork.

Father Erviti commented that through art, she went back to her roots. Pushpa’s forays in the art world had strengthened her; she no longer covered her face, learnt to read, write, sign her name on application forms for loans and was respected in her society as a Mastrani or teacher. With this success story, in a few years, I started a small association to promote Outside Art, which was known as Action through Art.

My interactions with Pushpa, Lavingben and many other women artists, inspired me to write a collection of short stories, which were published by Penguin India, titled By the Sabarmati. 

The illustrations in this book are interpretations by the women and their daughters who worked with me at Sanklit Nagar. They depict Father Erewetti’s work, personality and vision, as seen through their eyes…

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The Tagorean Path – by Esther David

(Written for Prof. Sankho Chaudhuri’s centenary year celebration was held in Varanasi at Ram Chatpar Shilp Nyas Museum by sculptor Madan Lal from 24-26 February 2016. His family donated 100 sculptures and 70 drawings to the museum, as a permanent gallery will be made there in memory of Sankho Chaudhuri

( 25 February 1916 – 28 August 2006)

It is said in the Bible, that in times of difficulty ¨…help cometh from the Lord …¨ Something like this happened to me, when I was a student at Vadodara’s Faculty of Fine Arts and was denied admission to the painting department . I was in tears. My drawings were spread out in the studio and while I was collecting them, I saw a thin middle aged man, maybe a new professor; with a bird like face entering the room. He was looking for a cigarette, as his packet was empty. He borrowed a cigarette from one of the professors, lit it, stood there, smoking thoughtfully and looking at my drawings. Then, with compassion writ large in his be-spectacled heavy lidded eyes, he said. ¨You have a good hand.¨

My spirits soared. But, I did not even know who he was.  He asked me, ¨would you like to study sculpture.¨ In a shaky voice, I said, ¨when, I cannot be a painter, how can I be an artist of any sort.¨ He burst out laughing. I looked up startled, as I had never heard such a happy, loud, resounding laughter. He smiled affectionately; saying, ¨come with me, I will make you an artist.¨

He led me to the sculpture studio.

I hesitated.

Reluctantly, I stood there, saying, ¨…But, I don’t want to be a sculptor.¨

Tears were running down my face, so he asked the peon to bring service tea from the canteen, sat on the steps leading to the sculpture studio, telling me, ¨you don’t have to be a sculptor, just learn the basics and you can become an artist like Tagore.¨  Surprised ; I sat down on the steps opposite him, as he told me about his years in Santiniketan. By then, the tea had arrived, so with great finesse he poured it and offered me a cup of tea, which calmed me. I listened attentively, as I had grown up reading Tagore. He referred to Tagore as The Poet and patiently recounted events from his life, which cast a spell over me.

That day, I came to know that he was Professor Sankho Choudhuri, the head of department of sculpture. As, he was friendly; I took courage in my hands and told him, that sculpture bored me. So, he decided that besides the syllabus, I would have to write a diary with 500 words a day and as I was interested in reading, I had to spend all my spare time in the library. He also asked me to become a member at a cine club in Vadodara, where I saw films about the Holocaust and Satyajit Ray.

And, he also gave me the profound sermon, which I follow to this day, that – ¨Creativity is like a room with many doors, open any door and you will find it…¨

He came into my life at the most unexpected hour and feel blessed that I met him, as today, I can lead a life, where art is my soul and writing is my life.

Soon, I realized that Sankho Choudhuri was my Guru, as I believe that one always needs a Guru to guide us, when we are confused.

He was a fascinating, interesting and whimsical human being, who could laugh suddenly; while stamping his feet, then roll up his trousers, jump into the clay pit and knead clay with his feet, sit in silence for hours, contemplating about his next work, over a cup of tea or have animated conversations with guests like Mulk Raj Anand or other well known artists and writers who may have come to Vadodara, then decide to sculpt a portrait in clay, like the one; he made of my father in an hour; working with thumb and side of palm; creating an incredible resemblance in a technique similar to Rodin’s impressionistic application of clay; as he was a master of portraits. Sometimes, he liked to sit on a packing case in the foundry with his tea tray and tell me about his trips abroad, when he had met Henry Moore and Giacometti. He often talked about the time he had spent in Paris, where I was to eventually write my first novel and organize an exhibition of untutored art at Unesco.

He also knew how to celebrate life, as he made the campus lively, with his rendition of Rabindra Sangeet, encouraging students to play Holi, asking Kumudben Patel of the pottery department to teach me Garba steps and planning study tours along with the Fine Arts Fair.  And, whenever he did bronze casting at the foundry in the sculpture department, which went on till late night, Iraben brought us tiffins of home cooked food.

In today’s world when student-teacher relationships are indifferent, I was lucky to have been in Vadodra in the sixties, during the era of the Gurus.

Sankhoda, as I affectionately called him was a dynamic live-wire human being, who touched my life and gave me the gift of the Tagorean Path.

 
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Chocolate Dreams – Esther David

Often, I go to a Café near my home, for a cup of tea with my Laptop, where I write for a few hours. Sometimes, when it is crowded, I go to another coffee-shop, which is known for its cakes and chocolate dishes. One day, on my way to this cafe. I noticed that, another auto stopped there, and as I went inside the café, I saw that the auto-driver of the rickshaw also entered the same café. He looked like a simple man; and this café had a smartly dressed clientele, so, I assumed he had come there to pick up a cake for someone else. I found a table for myself, opened my Laptop and noticed that he was a young man, sitting at a table, telling the puzzled waiter that while driving past, he had been fascinated with the image of a certain chocolate dish, displayed on the hoarding, which he wanted to taste.

I was interested.  

I ordered my regular masala tea and watched this amazing scene being enacted in front of me. The auto-driver was uncomfortable, as rather impatiently he sat there, waiting; while watching a Bollywood song on the TV in the cafe. When he saw the waiter approaching him with a chocolate pancake in hot chocolate sauce, he gave an ethereal smile and ate hastily, as though he was in heaven. Then, stopped; as he could not finish it, so leaving behind a large portion in the plate, he stood up, to leave with a sad face, maybe he did not quite like the rather bitter taste of dark chocolate. He asked for the bill. The kind-hearted waiter saw the look on his face and with bill in hand, said that he could pack it for him. The auto-driver waited, till the remains were packed. Then, with a victorious look, he left with the packet and a big smile on his face.     

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The Jewish New Year and Navratri – By Esther David

As the new moon rises in the sky and Gujarat prepares for Navratri, the small Jewish community of Ahmedabad welcomes their New Year or Rosh Hashanah, as they remember the Genesis. Besides that, it is also the beginning of the ten days of penitence. For the New Year, apples dipped in honey are offered to sweeten the year. A day before, the New Year, the Bene Israel Jews of western India, make a sweet known as `Chik cha Halwa’. This rather rubbery sweet is made with coconut milk, wheat extract and sugar. It is cut into diamond shapes and decorated with nuts and rose-petals. This delicious pink `halwa’ captures the true essence of Indian Jewish cuisine.

new-yearJews celebrate their New Year by blowing the Shofar or Ram’s horn in Synagogues all over the world, to welcome the New Year, leading towards the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. These are also days of self-examination, when prayers are said to seek forgiveness from God; for wrongs done during the year, which is followed by Succoth or the feast of tabernacles, observed by dwelling in tents at the Synagogue. It is symbolic of the forty years of wandering, before the Jews returned to Israel.

And, as it often happens, according to the lunar calendar, Indian and Jewish festivals are often celebrated together. So, as Ahmedabad, reverberates with drum-beats and raas-garba of Navratri, mingling with the Hebrew chants of the Jewish New Year emitting from the Synagogue, where the eternal light spreads an aura around us. Around the same time, for Navratri; a clay lamp is lit and placed in the garbo, a perforated clay pot and both become symbolic of the universe, spreading a message of peace and harmony.

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Nilgai – By Esther David

It had been raining for two days. The garden had a carpet of fresh Borsali flowers. Their fragrance mixed with the whiff of roasted peanuts and makai from the roadside four-wheeler. When father built our house in the suburbs, there were fields all around. In the seventies we could see peacock, sarus, a mongoose family, which lived close to our wall and we could hear the partridge and lapwings. kingfishers and hoopoes were a common sight with about twenty species of birds. That night, with umbrella in hand, father opened the door and saw a strange animal sitting there. At first, he thought it was a cow. Then he noticed the large but delicate ears and saw new horns shooting out of the head. It was a young blue bull, a nilgai sitting still at the door, blinking its enormous long lashed liquid-doe-eyes.

Father said; there was something about her eyes and colour, which said that she was a female. She also looked tired.

The night, before father had heard the dogs, they must have been chasing her. He had assumed; they were after the stray cattle as usual. At the door, there is a Banyan tree and a weather shade. Father named her Neel. But, knew that he must not interfere with the law of the jungle; as Neel had to learn to live in the wild. She appeared to have strayed into the city, looking for shelter from rain or dogs. The Acacia forest near the riverbed had been recently cut down for a garage on the highway.

That must have been her home. So, during the heavy downpour, Neel did not know where to go. In the past, other Nilgais had strayed around the house. Some were sent to the zoo, others just disappeared. Father kept checking on Neel all day long, and instructed everybody not to disturb her. Father was worried that she was injured and perhaps could not stand on her fours. Perhaps he should call the vet from the zoo and he kept checking on her, until midnight.

Father could not sleep and was sure that the stray dogs would harm her. So, he called the zoo staff and asked them to bring a trap cage and some rope. When they arrived, Neel did not move, but allowed the men to throw a rope around her, as they put her in the trap cage and transported her to the zoo in a municipal truck. From her frightened eyes, father said, Neel would be safer in the zoo, with other Nilgais with similar stories. And, before Neel, there was the incident of another Nilgai, which had been caught in a thorny bush. She had been sedated with tranquillizers and taken to the zoo, where she lived for years in the Nilgai enclosure.

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Bring back the matka

When the mercury rises in summer in Gujarat, some people set up cold water counters known as parab or serve free butter-milk in kiosks set up all over the city. This tradition is part of a quaint Gujarati ritual, because as a form of greeting, we first offer water to guests. So whenever I ask my guests if they will have cold water from the fridge or matka, clay pot, they invariably ask for the latter with a surprised look, asking,“How come you have a matka? Isn’t it a lot of work to wash it every day and fill it?” This question never stops to surprise me as I cannot imagine life without a matka. It has a pride of place in my kitchen, covered royally with a brass lid, which has a charming peacock shaped knob, and I tell them that matka-water is cooler and better than fridge water; because,during summer,we tend to drink chilled drinks and end up having a sore throat.

It saddens me to face the fact that since the last few years, clay water pots have disappeared from most homes, maybe because the design of the filter water machines or water purifying systems are not conducive to fill the same water in a matka.Yes, it is a little more work to wash it, adjust the water- filter-pipes and fill it, that is if you are in a hurry.

For me, any object made in clay conjures up images of earth,water and fire.The matka is a symbol of our earth-and-crafts-based culture. It is also our inheritance of terracotta, which has come down to us from the Indus Valley Civilisation. Terracotta objects are a visual delight. They are not heavy, neither big nor small, but have the correct size and I start wondering, why we cannot revive the use of clay pots or even a kulhar culture; not only in Gujarat but all over India. With the disappearance of the clay pot, I have noticed that one rarely sees potters in our cities.

But I am hopeful, as Ahmedabad still has small village-like-clusters known as gaams and puras like Vastrapur or Jodhpur gaam etc,where there was always a resident potter. It was a normal sight to see the potter working on his wheel, sitting hunched upon the earth under a tree, and like a magician, creating innumerable pots from just one lump of clay. He also creates kulhars, diyas, ritualistic articles, idols of mini gods, pot-bellied piggybanks and the beautiful garbo or perforated clay pot for the Navaratri festival. These articles are then dried on rooftops, under the sun and moon. When completely dry, these are coated with a red-ochre dip by the women of the house and arranged in an earthen kiln dug in the ground nearby, covered with fodder,wood shavings,cowdung cakes and fired till done, so that one could play a beat on the matka like a ghatam player!

 

Courtesy : Speaking Tree

 

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The man-eater lion of Gir

Slowly and steadily, in the name of development, we are encroaching upon the lawful space of wild animals and birds. Recently, it was distressing to read about a Gir lion attacking a young boy in a village near Amreli. Immediately, one of these lions was proclaimed to be a man-eater. That very day, a concerned authority of North Gujarat made a frightening statement that since such incidents were increasing, people living in these areas should be allowed to keep firearms to kill the lions; if necessary. Any wild life enthusiast would dread this idea, as it is bad enough to have poachers and now, should we have armed villagers?  Immediately, what came to my mind, was my zoologist father Reuben David’s statement, “When a man kills an animal it is called bravery but when an animal kills a man it is called man-eater.”

This is exactly what is happening, soon after this incident, the entire Pride of Lions in Gir was caged, as the authorities were not sure, as to which of the ten lions was a man-eater. We agree that human life is precious, but the earth and certain habitats belong to other species, which inhabit the earth and they also need preservation. Maybe, they were caged as a form of punishment. In one image, there were seen in a trap-cage with dead cattle as food. To this, any wild life expert will tell you, that this act of confining these lions to cages, will only bring their ferocious instinct to the fore. So, with a sense of helplessness, we read another statement, where the lions are branded as blood thirsty. This is in a contrast to a programme, which appeared on a popular television show; few months back, which showed how well the Gir lions are looked after; and besides the usual forest staff, a group of women rangers were also employed there; so the show was titled “The Lion Queens of Gujarat.”  

Now, the question is; how do you identify a man-eater lion from the rest, so, it’s best to end this mystery with this quote from Jim Corbett, which is about tigers, but could be used for Big Cats in general and also our Lions,” Tigers, except when wounded or when man-eaters, are on the whole very good tempered…occasionally a tiger will object to too close an approach to its cubs or to a kill that it is guarding. The objection invariably takes the form of growling and if this does not prove effective, it is followed by short rushes accompanied by terrifying roars, if these warnings are disregarded, the blame for any injury inflicted entirely rests with the intruder.”  Other known reasons are that Big Cats become man-eaters when they cannot hunt due to an injury, old age, broken teeth, damaged claws, disturbance of habitat with construction work in the name of development and provocation. So, the question is, which one is it, that immediately a statement is issued that – fourteen lions are SUSPECTED of killing humans.  

Is this going to be the fate of the last of the endangered Asiatic Lions of Gir and how long are we going to encroach upon their territory in the name of  development projects, which are coming up in this area and push them into the list of extinct animals. Because, even if they are shifted to Madhya Pradesh; will they be able to withstand the tiger population. So, here, all we can do is quote Rudyard Kipling, “Words are, of course the most powerful drug used by mankind…”

In this context, I would like to raise a question – a news report on 29th November 2016 says that another person was attacked by a lion again, but the person survived, The question is, if the SUPPOSED MAN EATER LIONS are caged, which one is this lion? Is there a lack of natural food for lions that, they are attacking human beings? If wild life enthusiasts are reading this Blog, we request, please do whatever you can do…

(Esther David is founder member of the group – Friends of Reuben David)