No. Bengal is not about Kolkata. Although the magnificent city is the capital of the state, I feel that the true stories of Bengal can be discovered in the sleepy villages and towns away from the Mahanagar. The stories from Bengal are as varied as its cuisine, and just as overlooked. At a Bengal Craft Fair recently organised in New Delhi, I had the opportunity to meet some amazing artisans from the state. It was a humbling experience because I learnt that art is a gift and as a human, it the duty of those blessed with artistic abilities to hone our skills over a lifetime in homage to the Almighty.
The simplest facets of a Bengali household comprise of lovingly handmade items, like the humble "madur" or carpet. At the Craft Fair, I realised that the women of Medinipur district have been crafting the madur and other items from the leaves of local trees to be used across Bengali households in the state and beyond.
I had the great fortune of meeting Tuli, an artist from Bankura district where painting on various materials is the preferred handicarft. She is the mother of a five-year-old and learnt the craft from her mother-in-law after marriage. In time, she has become a well-known artist in the region and travelled to a big city, New Delhi, to showcase her art. I was attending the first major showcase of her talent! She went back to the painting she was working on after telling me that most of the designs were inspired by folklore and the technique has been handed down from one generation to the next through practice.
I stood by, amazed. At a time when the India around me is clamouring for better space for women, here is a woman from a village in West Bengal who demonstrated the perfect work-life balance. Once back home, she goes right back to being a mom and a home-maker along with being an artist.
The ordinary hall was lit up by so many colours with stories both of folk and reality springing out from every corner. I was not able to capture the image of the masks from Purulia, which I must add were a prized section of the display. But I intend to. At the Bengal Art and Literary Festival at the India Habitat Centre from December 25-27. Do step in for your share of folktales from Bengal.
WHAT: Bengal Art and Literary Festival
WHEN: December 25-27
WHERE: India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road