This book review is part of #TSBCReadsIndia, a reading challenge where one reads a book from each State and Union Territory of India. Presenting the fifthof the 36 books — the book from Rajasthan — in this literary journey across India.
Padma Shri Komal Kothari (1929–2004) was an authority on Rajasthani folk traditions and oral history. Though his academic training was in Hindi literature, his interest in oral narratives and traditions led him to examine local epics, songs, riddles, music, drama, religious beliefs and practices, caste compositions, economics, village power structures, agricultural practices, land and water use, migration, etc. leading to an understanding beyond established paradigms. Kothari was not just interested in exploring the traditional ways of understanding the world; he was more interested in the process by which oral knowledge was learnt, remembered and passed from generation to generation.
Kothari is, perhaps, best known for the documentation, preservation and development of folk music by working with traditional musicians of Rajasthan, especially the Manganiyars and the Langas, and putting them on the world map. So great and pioneering was his work that he attracted scores of scholars of ethnomusicology, folklore and cultural studies from across world and India.
Rajasthan: An Oral History — Conversations with Komal Kothari (Penguin Books, pp. 358, 2003) by Rustom Bharucha is an attempt to document “Komalda’s intimate knowledge of Rajasthan through extended conversations and dialogue” (p.2). The book is the outcome of such conversations with Kothari on the cultural geography of Rajasthan over a two-year period. As Bharucha says in the “Introduction” to the book:
About 10 days back, Mumbai Metro’s 2B Dream Line arrived right outside my workplace — or to be more specific, the groundwork for the Metro line — bringing disruption in its wake. The barriers used to cordon off the road proclaimed that the Metro was for the “bright future of the citizens”, and that Mumbai Metro was “Our Metro”.
But is it really? Let’s see.
Will the 20-odd shopkeepers who have lost their jobs and their livelihoods due to the Metro really consider it theirs? What future are they going to dream of when their present is destroyed?
What about the kaali peeli taxi stand who were unceremoniously asked to close down overnight? Already facing competition from the Olas and the Ubers, this would have been like the final nail in the coffin.
What about the number of trees that have already been cut and the many others that are awaiting the axe — all in the name of development? What about the birds and animals for whom these trees were home? An entire colony of bats that vanished overnight when their tree was cut.
These few instances are only from the short stretch of the road outside my workplace. When If one were to consider the entire city of Mumbai and the effect and cost of the Metro work, the mind boggles and leads to many questions.
It all started off with me spotting Lord Ganesha in a dragonboat, sitting pretty on the dashboard of the Uber I got into on a September morning in 2018. That’s a rather unusual Ganesha you have, I mentioned to the cab driver.
That was all it needed to get the driver talking. Appasaheb, that was his name, liked unusual designs and was very particular about what he surrounded himself with. Like the Ganesha in the dragonboat he had picked up from a shop in central Mumbai — he knew it would be perfect to adorn his cab dashboard. The conversation flowed and when I arrived at my destination, I was surprised to find that 40 minutes had elapsed.
A few days later, I was in a cab again and the first thing I noticed was the Ganesha on the dashboard, this time with a mini parasol. Like with Appasaheb, I got chatting with Sanjay, the cab driver. Thereafter, it became a habit to look at the dashboard as soon as I got into a cab and chat with the cab driver about the God placed there.
Little did I realise about the significance of that conversation with Appasaheb. What began as a series of fun capture about the Gods on cab dashboards soon turned to random shares on Instagram Stories. But over weeks and then months, these shares turned into an entire series with its own hashtag called #DashboardGod and conversations which I did not share.
The title of this blog post pretty much summarises what 2018 was for me.
My Amma passed away in February 2018 and life as I knew it to be changed forever. Nearly a year later, I am still grappling with the changes her loss brought me. From returning to an empty home every evening to greedy neighbours slyly asking me when I would be selling the house and moving in with one of my brothers to everything in between — it has been a difficult year. There are times when the grief has been so overwhelming that I have been unable to speak; there have also been days times when I have sailed through without any issues. There have been good days and there have been not-so-good days and each day has taught lessons — big and small — to cope and move ahead.
One of the biggest lessons (and challenges) for me has been on letting go. Some were easy to let go, some happened naturally and some were difficult to let go, like The Sunday Book Club or #TSBC. A twitter-based book chat, I had co-founded #TSBC in 2012 and had been a part of it since then. But for the last year and so, I hadn’t been active on or contributed to #TSBC due to work commitments initially and later due to Amma’s illness. I had thought that I would be able to pick up after her passing passed away, but that didn’t happen and that’s when I knew that I had to let go. I quit #TSBC in September 2018, and though I miss #TSBC terribly, the enormous sense of relief at letting go far outweighs difficult and painful decision of quitting #TSBC.
We don’t always have to travel to seek stories; they are right there in our homes too. In “Stories From My Home“, I examine the many objects surrounding me at home and attempt to document and share the memories associated with them, one story at a time.
Shortly before I was born, my Amma and two older brothers visited an acquaintance’s house where they saw some exquisite patchwork or applique work embroidery on display. Amma, a skilled needlewoman, was entranced and wanted to learn how to do it. The said acquaintance wasn’t too keen on parting with the knowledge of patchwork and it took Amma nearly a year of persuading her till she agreed to do so.
And thus began “Project Patchwork”, which eventually turned into a family project. My Appa helped in finalising the designs and shopping for cloth bits required and my brothers took care of me, while Amma went for her “classes”. Over the next couple of years, Amma went on to embroider quite a few themed patchwork sets, which were eventually turned into cushion covers and sofa covers, and some into framed art like the one below.
The Girl on the Swing”, as I like to call this work, is not one of Amma’s best, but it is my favourite. It currently hangs above my bed and it is always the first thing I see when I enter my bedroom. I particularly love the way the swing’s movement is depicted as well as the long and short stitch that has been done to depict the girl’s hair.
Postcards from… is a new series and is all about one picture perfect postcard from a place I have recently travelled to. I was in Uzbekistan (my second time!) last week, revisiting some old favourites and visiting new places.
This postcard is from Rishtan in the Ferghana Valley of Eastern Uzbekistan, famed for its fruits, art, and automobile manufacturing units. No prizes for guessing what is the theme of this postcard is. 🙂