Thursday, January 27, 2011

Here now in Santiniketan wher Rabindranath Tagore's presence is still felt.

Am finally on a Broadband at Martin Kampschan´s computer. It`s a bit strange as he´s German and the letters are different.

Anyway, here I am, finally, in Santiniketan. Very happy to be here. Being very welcomed. I will be going to the Shantali village that Martin has been shepherding for way over 20 years and where I did a mask workshop with his "boys" in 1993. He now has 90 students and half are girls. Oftentimes they go on to college, and to the Khala Bhavan and do successful work afterwards while remaining loyal to their village. He's so enriched the lives of those villagers. I now will be doing a Secret Future Workshop there on Friday. Delighted to be doing this. It has so much more meaning here than in the States where such an event is merely one addition to a plethora of opportunities.

Got an Email from a man who is very disappointed that my presentation at the American Center in Kolkata was cancelled. He is working with orphans in Kolkata and wants to use masks to impart nutritional knowledge, and for street theater I told her to call me tomorrow and that I am now on the Fulbright Specialist Roster for South Asia so maybe I can come back to work with her group. Wouldn´t that be something!

So happy to now be in Satiniketan, the site of my Fulbright - at the art school, the Khala Bhavan. Am being so wonderfully received. Jeanne Oppenshaw met my train and stayed with me until I was settled in the Monorama Guest House. It`s perfectly fine, and where this noon I had a wonderful Thali lunch. The town is more trafficked than before, but of course a mere fraction of what it is like in Kolkata.

I visited Deepa Roy here, the woman I rented a cottage from in 1993, and again stayed as her guest here in Santiniketan in 1995. Her dear servant Shubodi recognized me immediately and I her. Deepa had a stroke three months ago and in this last week has happily made great progress in getting back her speech and mobility. I also visited her sister-in-law Munia Roy next door and tomorrow will be seeing Jogen Choudery who lives nearby and can arrange for my film being shown at the Khala Bhavan. I'll perhaps stop by the school tomorrow to look around. Of course I'm feeling a lot of sentiment as memories of my time in this town flood back to me with great vigor.

So, goats on the street, chickens housed in a cage, fresh, still flopping fish lying out in the open air on a counter for sale to passing folk. I bought two important things at the market this morning, bottled water and toilet paper. Now, I am secure. How wonderful that such small things can settle me down in no time at all.

Just called Bishu, my favorite student from the Khala Bhavan in 1992. He is now an art teacher, married and with a daughter. His wife and daughter are in town and I will lbe meeting them likely tomorrow. Bishu and I did lithography together, sometimes staying at the school until midnight. One night as I left the school, likely around midnight (having always felt perfectly safe to walk back home) I was stopped by a police van. The man next to the driver said, "What are you doing here now?" I dais I had been working at the print studio. He said, "You need the permission of the teacher." To which I replied, "I am the teacher." Then flustered the man said, "Be very careful, it is not safe on the road." And so for the first time, I walked back in fear though still with the bright stars above to light my way. When I just tole this talke to friend Jeanne Oppenshaw, she said the shop keepers (who slept behind a curtain in their shops) were likely more afraid of my footsteps than I needed to be about them. Surely, that was true. Of course I made my way very safely though nervous for the first time.One night, friend and student Mona (who I will see in Jaipur after the residency in Delhi) had me go back home from the school with her on her borther Pappan´s bicycle. It had no brakes. Miracle of miracles, there again I made my way, feeling so happy to be able to navigate on the dirt and bumpy road in a way Iäd never try in the States. These are the sorts of things that have drawn me back. Can you understand that? It´s why I sometimes have felt that I live in Ridgefield, Connecticut, USA incognito. Who there could imagine this sort of history by simplz looking look at me. I used to think I was collecting good stories to tell in my old age, and perhaps this is now happening via this blog that I can recount some of the episodes that have stayed in my heart. It is all about overcoming isn't it?

Much to my dismay, staying in Sodepur upon arriving in Kolkata the previous days meant that I had to spend many hours,1 1-2 to 2 hours each way into Kolkata to see my friends. There was surely a misunderstanding as I know that Bari or Pinku didn't realize that I would be hostage to the streets of Kolkata, having to drive through every neighborhood imaginable with traffic jams all along the way. While those the streets are not without interest, day after day, it has been a bit much wth much air pollution wafting into the car. When I get back in town on the 30th, I now know to hire an air conditioned car. I'll stay with friend Shefali (met her on the first trip in 1976 and weäve stayed in touch all these years) for the overnight before then heading on to Dhaka on February 1.

Dear Shefali is as beautiful and elegant as ever, still with her wonderful sense of humor and grace. She's merely a sprinkling of white in her jet black hair. She invited several people from Jadavpur University and together we all shared memories of my time with them during the Fulbright 1992-3. She prepared a delightful lunch that included special Bengali sweets. Naturally, I now have been updated on everyone's life, heard of their amazing accomplishments and the growth of their academic careers. Seems for those who have retired, the pace of their interests and involvements goes on and on.

While at Shefali's apartment on Picnic Garden Road, there came some banging on a drum or can outside. A family that included several very young children was setting up a tight rope on the street. When that was accomplished,a girl of about 7 or 8 walked across the rope, holding on with her toes and a wooden stick for balance and some can, perhaps even with water inside was perched on her head. All part of the passing scene.

Swapna, Pinku's mom has been very gracous and helpful in Sodepur. Thanks to her, I now have a cell phone, something that is now completely necessary in India. Literally everyone has one. I would not have gotten to my destinations to Shefali's and the next day to Jashodhora's (from Women Studies at Jadavppur - and my designated Fulbright) without calling them as soon as I got into the hired car so they could give directions in Bengali to the driver.

Amazing sights here are truly impossible to impart because India is a contantly moving scene. Ernest Hemingway spoke of Spain that way in the 1930#s, but as I've been to Spain (and love it there though I waited until Franco died before setting foot in the country) and I must say that India has it all over anyplace else on Earth.

One delight has been the singing into the night (until 11PM at the least) in Sodepur. It is y first evening, we went into the Mela grounds and heard the sonorous singing of the featured guru. The Baul (holy) singers were holding forth. They are familiar to me from my time in Satiniketan where they have a large presence.

Then, at 6AMeach morning in Sodepur, I heard the sounds of OM, other beautiful chants (thinking all the time how lucky I am to be able to hear that). The chorus ends with a bout of laugher that makes me laugh as well while thinkingand of the laughing clubs of Mumbai where people gather to laugh for ten minutes a day for their good health. A great idea. Let's all that that on too.

Then, on Tuesday, at Horwah station with Swapna waiting for the Santinietan Express train here where I now am, I saw a girl, again about 7 or 8 gliding about on her bare feet, scrambling on and off the railing, all in the midst of her waiting family of women, men and children resting as they waiting for their train. They had spread a cloth onto the floor where a man was resting. The girl flitted about so gracefully. In another world, her ease of movement would dictate dancing lessons.

Wednesday evening, and amazingly so since the tale of Chitrangoda is one of my mask tales with my having made several Chitrangoda masks over the years, and having arrived in Santiniketan on the 150th anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, there were performances of his Dance Dramas for me to see. Santniniketan was where Tagore started the renowned university here, including of course the Khala Bhavan art school where I worked in 1993. A company from Delhi has been performing his dance dramas. Wednesday, I saw parts of the  Chitrangoda performance. I easily followed the event even though the language was impossible for me. The pantomime was more than enough. The stunningly attired dancers glided along the floor with their bare feet, reminding me once again of the grace of the girl at the Howrah train station. In each instance, bare feet glide along as if they are on wheels, and had they worn shoes, they would have stucks to the ground halting the flow of their movement.

That's all for now, Shamali Tan is coming over to see me and then, another concert tonight, Chandralekha, another tale for which I made a mask now owned by friends Paul and Shirl on the Cape in Massachusetts.

Will send another missive on another day. Meanwhile, sending lots of love from the land of myth and mystery,

Suzanne (please forgive any typos as the web may disappear any moment and I want to send you all something of the flavor of being here now).

1 comment:

  1. Hello Suzanne...we have not met but feel like i know you already. My friend Janice Rost sent me your blog link. Having grown up in Kolkata and traveled to Shantiniketan I appreciate your insights.
    Hope to meet you some day when you are back in CT.
    Safe travels..Namaashkaar
    Madhumita Chakrabartti (White Plains NY)