Crowfall: A Magic Carpet to Life
|( Crowfall by Shanta Gokhale)|
I am not able to forget Sindhutai Joshi. Her relationship with Dr.Bhaskar remains an enigma to me. Were there any undertones of erotic desires in that relationship? Or was it a gesture of her rebellion? She waited for seven years for her absconding husband who had bequeathed all his properties and wealth in her name and she endlessly waited for her children Ashesh, an artist and Anima, a cultured widow to visit her at least once in a while. ‘Crowfall’ written by the eminent writer and journalist, Shanta Gokhale is not the story of Sindhutai alone. It is the story of a lot of people whom we know, very closely, I should add. ‘Tya Varshi’ (In that Year) is now ‘Crowfall’. Originally written in Marathi, Gokhale has herself translated this pivotal novel. At the outset itself I would say, with this one novel, Gokhale reaches the galaxy of our eminent writers like Asha Poorna Devi, Mahashweta Devi, Kamala Das and so on. And again, I reiterate the fact that the best novels in the world (and in India too) are written in local languages.
You may wonder why I write about this book (I don’t call it a review because a review cannot do any justice to such a wonderful novel) and my answer is this: This is about us, the artists and art workers. Like many of our cultural writers who turn themselves into novelists at some point of time in their creative lives, Shanta Gokhale has an insider’s view on the art scene as she has been a cultural journalist for many decades. But an insider’s view can produce novels that looms around somewhere between poetic utterance and caricaturing. But Crowfall is a grand poetic utterance. We have a few novels on our art scene published in the last few years like ‘Artist, Undone’ by Sanjay Kumar, ‘Faking it’ by Amrita Chowdhury and so on. With due respect to these writers I should say, Shanta Gokhale stands several steps above in literary excellence.
|(Writer, journalist Shanta Gokhale)|
We have ‘Lust for Life’ by Irving Stone and ‘Raja Ravi Varma’ by Ranjit Desai. While they remain centered around the iconic characters, Crowfall makes contemporary artists and people around them icons. But the greatest icons in this novel are the mother-daughter duo, Sindhutai and Anima. Crowfall is like snowfall. They see crows falling one after another from the sky as someone does target practice on them. The crowfall is like an ill omen, which Aba’s tempura carries with it at a later stage in the novel. And the novel starts in a riot ridden Mumbai.
On that fateful day Anima loses Siddharth, her chosen man, to rioters. He was butchered by the fundamentalists. Anima recovers from her shock slowly but decides to remain single for the rest of the life. But there are no foretold conclusions in life. The novel could have one, had the writer wanted Anima to find a mate in a lonely Parsi artist, Ferose Banatwala, whose works are attacked by the fundamentalists in the presence of Anima; two accidents that she is destined to witness. She remains a witness; a witness to the life of the anarchic woman-eating Haridas, Sharada, the singer, Shekhar, her husband, Janaki Patil, the young journalist who later marries a reluctant Ashesh.
Ashesh marries Janaki on the day Tsunami hits the shores of India. Just before that Sindhutai had given consent to demolish her husband’s ‘Gandhi Mandir’ to make a ‘Rama Mandir’ as envisioned by Dr.Bhaskar who works amongst the tribals with a Hindutva agenda. The novelist brings in the changing socio-political and religious scape of our country through the lives of the characters of Crowfall. They all become victims of these changes in one or the other way, but the real victim, Anima overcomes her victimhood in the process, the way her mother redeems her position by bestowing her bequeathed properties upon Dr.Bhaskar to realize his Hindutva agenda. But Shanta Gokhale never places them in the centre as if they were the only protagonists. Like the characters in a Warli painting (as most of them look similar but hold defined roles) the characters in the novel too are spread out in the story with a sense of equality. Interestingly the dispossessed Warlis play an important role in the novel; again in their subtle execution. They praise their lords, they work as domestic helps but they retain their identity. Girji even foretells her death in a painting unusually executed on the wall of Haridas’ drawing room.
|( Shanta Gokhale with Producer-Director Govind Nihalani)|
Contemporary novels that deal with contemporary events often fall into the trap of ‘familiarity’. The reader tends to find out the archetypes or the reference/d identities from real life. That becomes the game of reading that eventually loses the crux of literary excellence. Here, in Crowfall, Shanta Gokhale saves the reader from this alluring game for she sprinkles her narrative with a fair amount of familiar people as they are. We could call it as ‘guest appearance’; Sudhir Patwardhan and Shanta Patwardhan make such appearances quite often as addressees of certain letters written by the characters in the novel. Though caricaturing is a technique lauded even by Sheridan, pure caricaturing could kill the human drama within a novel. Shanta Gokhale does caricaturing while she deals with the art impresario Sumitraben and the aspirant artist Prakash Jhadav, who becomes a ‘spiritual painter’.
But caricaturing is a trap not just about creating characters; a novelist could fall into the trap of this even when he/she narrates certain artistic forms like dance, theatre, music or painting. What one does generally is to delve into stereotyping of events or incidents. But Shanta Gokhale as a devoted classical music listener/scholar, a cultural writer/critic and a well known columnist writes about music recitals, musical forms and painting with a heightened form of sensitivity. She knows the ragas that she writes about. She knows the intricacies of rendering of sound and colors. She knows the history of gharanas and schools of painting. Not even once a reader would feel that he/she is not listening but reading. When Shanta Gokhale writes about Sharada breaking rules of a recital, or Janaki learns to find her true voice from the pit of her stomach, or Ashesh painting his ‘black series’, or Feroze does his ‘Annihilation’ or even Haridas makes his flamboyant moves to people, especially to women, she goes into subtle details that look like coming from the actual event than an imagined one.
|( Writer Shanta Gokhale)|
However, realism or naturalism is not the aim of the writer. She uses a contemporary style of narrative with jump cuts, dissolves and flashbacks. The language she uses in translation (as she compliments Jerry Pinto for all help), from original Marathi to English, is even more original than the original Marathi. Even when Ashesh discusses the difference between the ‘la’ in Kaala and ‘ck’ in black, one may find how the author convincingly describes it without ‘explaining’ it, adhering to the original to the core.
This Crowfall ends with a night of revelry in Matheran; somewhat making you remember Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’. There is no absurdity in the scene as we see it in the movie. The newly married Ashesh and Janaki are there with Shekhar and Sharada, Haridas and Feroze. Of course the enigmatic Anima too is there. Sharada decides to sing, but not a song from any gharana. She sings a Tansen bhajan as sung by many people even uninitiated into classical music. It is Sharada’s subtle gesture of challenging the ‘traditions of gurus’. That night is a night of all changes. Will Anima change her perspective about life? Will she look at Feroze differently? We do not know. May be Shanta Gokhale does not know either. Suddenly the lights go off. But the song lights up the darkness in Matheran.
I say this is a must read for all the artists or even those who pretend to be artists. It is a must read for all cultural activists. It is a magic carpet and you could travel to life by this. Next time, when I am in Mumbai, I am going to meet Shanta Gokhale, if she permits. I want to touch her feet.
|(A work from the show)|
The festival is held in the months of December and April and has been a part of the patronage of kings and wealthy landowners for decades.
|(A work by Pramod Apet)|
Rainbow Art Gallery, Hyderabad, presents a solo show of art works by artist Pramod Apet in a show titled, ‘Mirthful Mastery’. The show displays figurative and semi realistic works of the artist rendered in oil and acrylic on canvas.
The show is curated by Colours Art Gallery.
Most of the works on display are paintings on display are rendered in oil and acrylic on canvas. The installation works and new media works in bottle caps and fabric works wrapped around canvases also are on display. There are also prints on display. Most of the works are an internal monologue of the artist with respect to religion, life and social issues.
(News reports by Sushma Sabnis)