Archive | June 2016

The Most Worthy of Love

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When she brought out the last pearl

She emptied her body like an oyster

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On this day June 17, 385 years ago, large populace of India joined their emperor and the royal family to mourn the untimely death of Arjumand Banu Begum, popularly known as Mumtaz Mahal, the 38-year old favourite second wife of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.

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Famed as much for her charity as for her beauty, Mumtaz (The Chosen One of the Palace), was pregnant with her fourteenth child (daughter named Gauhara Begum) when she succumbed to death in childbirth in 1631, leaving her husband heartbroken.

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Just as he had promised to her dying prayers, Shah Jahan erected Taj Mahal, the mausoleum of unsurpassed splendour and flawless symmetry on the right bank of the River Yamuna at Agra. In memory of Mumtaz Mahal, Taj Mahal was so named from an abbreviation of her name.

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Built of milk-white marble, rose sandstone and studded with precious jewels, the Taj Mahal remains the pride of India from Shah Jahan’s day. I have walked in and around it on five different occasions and I always loved its grand sight – it’s magnificence as it looms proudly within a large interconnected complex of gardens and buildings. Until next time. Jo

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How shall I understand the magic of Love the Juggler?

For he made thy beauty enter at that small gate the pupil of my eye,

And now – and now my heart cannot contain it!” – medieval Indian poet Faizi

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

#Years50

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The year 1966 – that’s nearly fifty long years of history trailing backwards to it from 2016. For those who have some kind of origins rooted in 1966, the present year would have diverse meanings and values. 2016 would mark the 50th wedding anniversary for some couples; while for few others, it would be the golden jubilee year of their company’s establishment, or to many, it could be a rite of passage into 50 – the latter being the case of a friend who invited us to his milestone birthday bash few months ago.

02When that occasion arrived, it turned out to be a lovely time for us to relax and spent some time together with likeminded people – lots of good talk, good food, good drinks, good fun and a speech by the host. The truth is that, on occasions like this, we often swipe our past at the gate and it opens. Then we get back in and out comes thoughts constantly recurring to our friends and events of our early life – in the context of the present occasion, it was how it had all started for our friend in the summer of half a century ago and came up to the time he dipped his toes in the big 5-0, the youth of senior age.

We are the sum of the experiences in our lives. Looking back on his journey from the distance of fifty years, our friend went through a recap of his ups and downs, gains and losses, drawing cameos of his life. Unlike this occasion, I had been to parties where, like an overwound toy that would not stop until its winding is completely unfurled, the host went on and on with narration about himself to make too big a meal of it.

03In the end, the summary of our friend’s reminisce sketched the figure of a man with the good sense to confine his ambition to the safer and less contentious way of living – adhering to his belief that all things would come into being, blossom and ripen at the appointed time.

The party had gone with a swing. Back home that same night I had settled in the comfort of our living room while the music of Giacomo Puccini let loose its energy and passion from the music player. With our life-long fascination for the creative genius of Giuseppe Verdi and Puccini, no wonder our hearts lingers in nineteenth-century Italy for good musical experience.

With the happenings of the day still fresh in mind, my attention had wandered to my IPad to google the events of 1966. In history’s roll, 1966 was a conspicuous year. However politically neutral I could be, I could note that, drawing a contrast to the outcome of the present local election, 50 years ago there were celebratory moments for some when on January 24, 1966, Indira Gandhi made her debut entry as the Prime Minister of India owing to the untimely death of the incumbent Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkant in Soviet Central Asia on January 11, 1966. Customarily, Mrs. Gandhi’s intellectual-looking face had then dominated the covers of many Indian and some foreign publications. The 5ft. 2in. petite 48 year-old with Nehru elegance and style had certainly reached high places for someone who had once said, “At the age of four, my favourite game was to stand on a table and make thundering political speeches to the servants.”

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05Another popular face of that year was of the international fashion icon Twiggy (Lesley Lawson, née Hornby). At just seventeen years old, having been voted British Woman of The Year, she was named the Face of ’66 by the Daily Express. In time, her androgynous look splashed across not only on glossy publications, but also on display boards, garments, etc.

Concurrently, British bands like The Beatles dominated the world of popular music while England, beating West Germany 4-2 after extra time at Wembley Stadium in London on 30 July 1966, took home the 1966 FIFA World Cup.

Citing the flash trends of that fab year, if vinyl was the most “in” fabric worn by the young go-go set in Paris, in Britain, besides zippy Mini cars, hemlines of the trendy Mini Skirts progressively climbed upward to the level where some designs had the hem exposing more acreage of leggy delights as popularity for minis grew amongst those who like a mini to be a mini, successfully pushing the squabbles over longhair out of the headlines. At the same time, in the United States, a mandatory health warning appeared on the face of all packaging of cigarettes: “Caution : Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous To Your Health”.

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I would not miss out on the disasters that occurred later during that year. Before dawn on November 4, 1966, whipped by gale winds and rainstorms, disaster struck Florence (Firenze), Italy, the city for art lovers and one of our favourite haunts for many years. The rising muddy water of River Arno overflowed into the city flooding it to a maximum depth of 20ft, killing many, leaving thousands homeless and damaging not less than 14,000 works of fine art masterpieces and countless historic books, manuscripts and antiques housed at various locations in bella Firenze. At Galleria dell’Accademia, the “David” of Michelangelo tilted on its pedestal owing to buckling of the wet floor.

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Just to think of the green and white marble Il Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore), Giotto’s belltower (Campanile) and the Baptistery of San Giovanni in the Piazza del Duomo, the Cappelle Medicee e Chiesa di San Lorenzo, the Bargello (Palazzo del Bargello), the piazza and cloisters at Santa Croce, the Piazza della Signoria, the Galleria degli Uffizi, Palazzo Vecchio – all standing waist deep in soiled water with flotsam, oil drums, roofbeams, toys, trees from the diluvio….had brought sadness to our minds whenever we are there.

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A similar catastrophe had struck Venice on the same day as La Serenissima flooded as the level of the lagoon rose about 6ft 5in above its normal level.

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As Florence gradually came out of isolation and, light, food, and water reinstated with the calm and courage of the Tuscan people and other relief workers, a cause for further joy also came about in England ten days later. On Monday, November 14th, Prince Charles, still a school boy, officially came of age on his 18th birthday.

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This enabled him to apply for a driver’s license, or to drink legally in a pub and to draw an income considerably larger than his classmates or teachers. But more importantly, it was the age at which the Prince of Wales, next in line for the British throne, became eligible to assume the throne and rule without a regent. The first joyful cheer to that rang out fifty years ago.

Until next time. Jo

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 (©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Vicissitudes of Life – according to Jaya ANNA

1Every so often an exhibition of paintings comes along which is superior to the general run that it automatically receives special attention. Such an installation was “Layers”, an exhibition of paintings recently concluded at Taj Gateway Hotel, Cochin, Kerala (India).

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6Presented in collaboration with Sula Vineyards who hosted a complimentary Sula Wine tasting session during the event, on view in “LAYERS”, the first solo exhibition of Ms. Jaya Anna (aka Jaya Annamma Mathew) were 30 of the finest paintings of still lifes and vivid landscapes from her studio vault – created by her in a career spanning almost half a decade.

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Hailing from Kuttanad but living alternately between Cochin and Trivandrum in Kerala, and celebrated as a thought-provoking contemporary artist, Jaya (as she is adorably called) through her bold use of colours and vigorous brush strokes, has developed a visual language that reflects her vision and energy in a variety of styles.

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An art exhibition is an individual thing, a unique event. “Layers” offered rare, evocative, and influential examples of Jaya’s works which featured not only the very vicissitudes of life through which our day to day life progress – but also her passionate response to the identity of women and their place in the society.

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A painting has to be the experience, instead of pointing to it. In the blend of colours and shapes of her paintings, the works reveals its meanings perfectly clearly, some of which has derived from her personal experiences, which challenges viewers to approach her paintings from a very personal point of view. In fact, I found myself returning to her paintings and encountering myriad subtleties that I did not notice before.

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The exhibits also displayed her acumen in choice of viewpoint. On balance, where to stand when painting or sketching is one of the most important decisions an artist has to make since it will have a great effect on the finished painting. While all of Jaya’s oeuvre are either in oil or acrylic or both combined (viz., Draupati and Her Angels, Expression, and Others), “Kumarakom” is created with watercolour.

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A former English teacher at two reputed Colleges in and around Cochin, Jaya’s creative skills with paints, brushes and palettes was honed without any professional training except for a three-day workshop in her 20s under renowned artist T. Kaladharan whose encouragement had eventually culminated in “Layers” which was inaugurated by him.

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With the drive and energy to dream and create, Jaya has shown that her ever flowing creativity just cannot be deterred. Stamping her presence in the art scene with “Layers”, she had empowered the viewer, making them an integral part of the work. It is hardly surprising that many viewers to her solo debut show could foresee Jaya soon emerging under the spotlights of the art community.  As for me, my intuition already knows that more widespread acclaim will not be far behind in leading right up to Jaya’s studio door. Until next time, Jo

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PS: Original and print of paintings on demand available from : wordpub@yahoo.co.in

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)