The Pilot Light

the pilot light

is still burning
igniting decades of dormant elements

I was borne by you

my mind inscribed
with words you whispered
flesh imprinted
with waves of your caress
skin engraved
by the ripples of a warm lake

I floated
lulled and rocked by the music
of your joy and pain

you longed for the one life

to fill your alien nights
and lonely days
to protect you
from the ravages of silence

as you would protect me fiercely

from the fires which raged outside
the walls of our hutment
none could cross to burn me
from the dust storms which turned skin
into parchment
and hair into rope strands
from the sheets of rain which tried
to penetrate but could not
your life force

my heart pressed against yours
mine on the right yours on the left
once beat in tandem
pounded as one

you taught me to breathe

today I cannot be the breath
to fuel your roar
be the carriage
of your one-woman caravan
jaunting in fierce rhythm

I cannot wrap you

in the snow mountains
of the Himalayas
roll you in the fall of river Ganges
clad you in the green waters of the Arabian sea
fold you in the red sands of Rajasthan
hide you in the foliage and forests
of rabbits and parrots

and drape you in the sky

I would if I could
inhale you into my belly
just as you conceived me in yours

your pilot light

said my daughter borne by me
of you who bore me
will burn in me
keep me alive

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The Unfolding Panel

Holly Briesmaster and I are working in tandem on an upcoming exhibition featuring her fans and my panel paintings. The exhibition will be on at Gallery Hittite from November 5th to the 20th, with the opening reception taking place over two days – Friday the 5th from 6-9 pm and the 6th from 12-6 pm.

Here’s a snapshot of the exhibition details from the flipside of our invitation. Looking forward to seeing you all there!

Gallery Hittite is at 107 Scollard St. in Yorkville – a short walk from Bay subway station.

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Culture Cloaked in Religion

Looking at the glorious confidence of a woman whose only coverings are her jewels and her hair, and whose sole props are a tablet and a pen, I wondered where it all went wrong. The change in this woman over time has been so dramatically regressive that I can only see it as the arrival of a dark age. Who is to say what culture is? Who decides? Does it go back a decade? A century? A millennium?

The woman in question has been variously described as the Lady Scholar, or the Woman Writing a Love Letter, an Indian sculpture in Khajuraho from the eleventh century, celebrated in a mural by my daughter, Shayona.

Before Pratibha Patil became the president of India, she created a furor, particularly among the Muslim clergy, for stating that the purdah (veil) was introduced in India during the Mughal rule “to save women from Mughal invaders…However, times have changed. India is now independent and hence, the systems should also change.” She was apparently referring to the Hindu women of Rajasthan in particular.

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The Art of Colour

Many years ago I was advised by a supervisor at work that grey and navy were more appropriate for work than fuchsia or turquoise blue. That was before the fashion gurus gave their blessings to bright colours and proclaimed that bold hues may actually enhance productivity. Now that permission had been granted, the same supervisor arrived in a flaming orange outfit and sheepishly announced that she was waking up a sleepy department.

Colour is not just a pigment of our imagination, it is a centrifugal force which transforms the environment we inherit, create and experience, something nature knows intuitively. An arrogant parrot at an aviary, unabashedly proud of its plumes, flew on to my arm to illustrate I was no match for its flair. It made me wonder: if nature is not afraid of colour, why are we? Grey skies, grey buildings, grey sidewalks and grey suits equal a grey shroud over a choked psyche.

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An Objective Review

When Sudhir sent me a critique of my paintings, I wondered how much stock to put in it. While he was a respected journalist and art critic, could his view on my paintings and poetry be tainted by love? I sought some answers in similar alliances.

Frida Kahlo described her “artistic” encounter with Diego Rivera:

I took four little pictures to Diego who was painting up on the scaffolds at the Ministry of Public Education. Without hesitating a moment I said to him, ‘Diego, come down,’ and so, since he is so humble, so agreeable, he came down. ‘Look, I didn’t come to flirt with you or anything, even though you are a womanizer, I came to show you my painting. If it interests you, tell me so, if it doesn’t interest you, tell me that too, so I can get to work on something else to help out my parents.’ He told me, ‘Look, I’m very much interested in your painting, especially this self-portrait which is the most original. The other seem to me to be influenced by what you’ve seen. Go on home, paint a picture, and next Sunday, I’ll come to see it and tell you.’ So I did, and he said, ‘You have talent’.

In the context of what I am seeking, this is not that revealing for they were not yet involved. Later, after the encounter culminated in marriage, the stormy couple fed off each other’s talent and volatility, and Diego said of Frida’s paintings:

Through her paintings, she breaks all the taboos of the woman’s body and of female sexuality. In an interview in 1953, Diego described Frida’s work:

Frida Kahlo is the greatest Mexican painter. Her work is destined to be multiplied by reproductions and will speak, thanks to books, to the whole world. It is one of the most formidable artistic documents and most intense testimonies on human truth of our time.

Diego’s words of admiration, though spoken from the prism of an intensely personal relationship between two artists, resonate even today. Sudhir too is an artist and has known many. I am transcribing his view of my paintings, believing that he set his emotions, huge or small, biased or predisposed, aside when he said the following:

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We Are Canadian

A former American and now a proud Canadian once remarked that it is kind of pathetic to bash Americans simply to define a Canadian. Perched next to a giant, perhaps this is premised on a “look at me, look at me” complex. But like many Canadians, new and old, more than similarities, I seek differences between our neighbours to the south and us. Of course, they do not spell “neighbours” like we do. Or like we did? Colour? Hm. I think color is in, for it saves on newsprint. Pleaded rather than pled? Oh, but the BBC now says pled, and so do we.

Why do we care when the Americans see our differences so clearly? Who? Them Canadians? You mean the ones who wear parkas in July? The ones who let just anyone into their country and export the worst of them to us? Oh, the 9/11 bunch. Well, if you insist, they did not come from Canada.

Did you say they actually have buildings and roads and summer? And those Canadian geese, I tell you! Continue reading

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To Indian or not to Indian

Several years ago I wrote to the Star’s Ombudsman, Don Sellar, in part:

In this day of political correctness, which The Star seems to subscribe to quite rigorously, why is it that the aboriginal peoples of North and South America continue to be called Indians?

Only the people of India are Indians, and only the people of East India are East Indians.

By addressing the aboriginal people as Indians, the media and governments continue to perpetuate the ignorance of one man (Christopher Columbus) who wandered into the Americas and thought he had landed in India.

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Poems I write in the first person

Oh come, one muttered
I read your poems

You need a hug
Life has been cruel
Looking at you I could not tell
Always strong, so confident
Sparkling in vibrant colours
Hiding dark days and darker nights

Said another
Hideous dreams hidden in dank cellars
You must not be alone
I will comfort you
So come
I'll give you a hug
For you loved and lost
And were left at the crossroads
Unable to choose
The path that would lead somewhere
Except nowhere

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My mother

Looking through the mountains of neatly organized papers my mother, Sudha Ghosh, left in my charge, I found a cluster of poems. She wrote:

These poems were written for my pleasure in the summers of 1959 to 1969. I just jotted down the words and the lines on paper as the thoughts came to my mind. I did not think twice, nor did I care to revise the writing afterwards.

Writing…is just like painting a thought on canvas…The meaning behind, of course, has to be grasped by the reader according to his or her own idea of the subject.

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