Friday, 4 October 2013

The Emerging State of Restlessness

A couple of Thursdays ago, I decided to do some more burning and took some videos. The silk fabric smouldered its way into gaping holes while the cotton muslin raged a fire. It was the bright orange and yellow flames, sullying and consuming the pristine muslin, which I found empathy with. Strangely, this amused me. Later in the evening as I was embroidering, I listened to Beethoven’s violin concerto. It’s one of my all-time favourite pieces of music and hearing it for the nth time - feeling the rousing music, empathizing with its anguished melody, feeling it in my own body, I was reminded of the empathy I’d had with that raging fire in the morning.
 
I watched the video again and again. Looking at the embers dance across the edges of the fabric, I felt mesmerized, as if in awe of its rage. A mixture of black and red marks kept moving along the threads, creating an odd shape that now looks almost like that of an undiscovered country or the newly demarcated borders of an emerging one. But, it was the roaring fire that I felt excited by. Regrettably, it flared up for just a short time before fear got the better of me and I jumped upon it with glass paper weights, which I use to control the lines consumed by fire. Thak thak I went with the glass ball on the board and the fire was snuffed out.
 
Yes, I have started another train of thought. Restive as I am, I have no idea where it is going.  I feel  anxiety welling up. I want to reach that point of peacefulness and do some painstaking, repetitive and meditative embroidery. I know I cannot push it. Sometimes one has to accept the negative emotions before they can be transcended and rushing it only creates stress.  But I am not appeased. I hate this feeling of wretchedness that has enveloped me. I cannot remember ever being so restless and irritated with myself.
 

But at this point, there is just so much going on that I do not know where to put my mind. I focus on bills to be paid, feel relieved in paying them when another two are presented and my throat constricts because it means tightening the belt a bit more. Then there was the fracas with my cook.  Sometimes I wish I had been born with a less sensitive nature, less alert mind, slower memory and less discipline, so that I could be easier on those around me. We have not been talking to each for over a month. I thought I would broach the subject today, but she was not amenable to what I had to say and I cannot deal with insubordination so its status quo again. The domestic shenanigans are endless and these days I no longer think it a boon to work from home.
 
That Thursday morning [19th September] my attention was also caught by a newspaper story of the young boy who died under mysterious circumstances while at a party in South Delhi. The new version of the mishap has been going through my mind all day, albeit in between paying bills, handling domestic issues and more. I kept wondering who to believe. One day he’s been hit on the head with a blow that ostensibly killed him. And then a journalist, from a high profile news magazine, later says that he was witness to the whole thing: that the boy was never hit upon the head and that the police took way too long taking him to the hospital so they should be questioned about this curious delay, implying that something amiss took place within this unaccounted time span. Boy, it now seems that the police goofed up, yet again!
 
Everyday someone is mysteriously killed or dies in a mishap; is raped or there are riots and the media is  hysterical about everything. They ridiculously play up most innocuous of events. And one day I noted that party officers leaving for Rajnath’s house for the final decision on Modi’s nomination, as the BJP candidate for Prime Minister in the next elections, was cited as ‘Breaking News’. Unbelievable!
 
There is so much that is going on all the time. How does anyone keep up? When things are awry, where does one even begin to take a stand? How many petitions one has signed but to what avail? And studying that raging fire, I could feel again, all these thoughts burning inside of me, seeing them reflected in the flames. It was cleansing, I was appeased a bit, but is there no better solution? Are we all going to set ablaze something to cleanse the anger we  feel?

I do not like to  rave and rant about the abysmal state of the nation and find such drawing-room conversations counterproductive. When I ask those who talk of little else what they are doing about it, I am met with an awkward  silence. But, this is short-lived, like pausing for breath, after which the practised tirade against the government continues. My philosophy is: what can I do in my capacity as an individual, within my sphere of influence, to help change the attitude/situation? As an artist, teacher, citizen, woman and all the other hats that one does wear in life, there are countless ways of doing things to make that difference. I believe that real change actually happens through these seemingly insignificant roles and our daily interactions, rather than the protest marches that have become so popular.
 
There is such chaos everywhere. While  doing my embroidery, I watched my thoughts as they tumbled out, in that relative quietude. There’s so much disharmony and pain everywhere, it is really hard to find a moment when one feels at peace with oneself. It’s hard to find clarity in this chaos. And to top it all the local Mandir blares its daily Puja, in the most dissonant voice, three times a day, needlessly adding to the cacophony. Everyone else here, is afraid to raise a voice against them so I fight my lone battle against this.
 
Yes there is a fire raging within - it’s unstoppable.  And yes, another country seems to be emerging.  Articulating its state of restlessness through delicately burnt contours of indented, curvaceous bays and oddly protruding isthmuses.  Asserting its existence against the ephemeral back-drop of a translucent, white organza: Its manifesto yet to be declared. That is, if it’s here to stay.
 
 
 
 



 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 

8 comments:

  1. Dear Gopika,
    I have just returned from a crematorium, where we put a dear friend to flame, after she passed away at 6 am this morning. I just saw the flames of fire dancing on many funeral pyres. There is a smell that haunts the burning of flesh, or for that matter, organza. What is left, is ashes in one case, and design in the other. There is a design in the ashes too and countries are born out of them - dust into dust and into dust to return, again an earth is formed from these ashes and this dust. This is the eternal design.

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    1. Dear Julia, my sincere condolences on the passing of your friend. There is something very cleansing about a funeral pyre. I remember my father's funeral many years ago and recollect feeling very calm after the event. It was also a very effective way of letting go knowing that the body has diminished into ashes. I had never thought of the burning of fabric in the same way, but reading your comment has made me consider that the thought does indeed extend to the burning of fabric which is also reduced to ashes. Everything returns to the earth or the universe and so do our feelings resound the ether waiting for that moment to be heard and this I believe is also true of souls, waiting to be born again to continue their journey through the world. The eternal design remains a mystery because there is a seeming futility to life unless you can find your purpose and align it with the higher purpose of life itself.....self-realisation as the masters have called it. You have led me into much deeper waters Julia, but thank you for this.

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  2. Gopika, such a beautiful and thoughtful essay! I happened upon it as I was figuring out which email to open next regarding my crazy family's issues. This helped me to stop, take a breath and most importantly slow down as I recalibrate on how to begin my day here among the beautiful colors of Fall in New England. As with you, I have my embroidery to make me slow down and realize that it's impossible to make sense of this crazy world. Sometimes I need to turn off the tv, radio, computer and become quiet as I stitch. The workshop that I took last Saturday was important because I just threw an idea out there to stitch - and it was the bunny! (how silly is that?!) I stopped fretting about having something important to say and to figure out how to say it in needle and thread. Sometimes it has to be about play and giving myself permission to play. I love the way your new image is evolving with the delicate burnt muslin and the sturdier canvas mesh stitched in my Fall colors!! I think you are excited about this one. Maybe it's the anxiety and the uncertainty about this piece but I think each time you secure these remnants with a stitch it informs the next stitch and so on.

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    1. I totally agree with you Elaine, sometimes it has to just be about play. We cannot always have something to say and in the process of playing things that emerge are often beyond the scope of what we ever imagine we would say. I think your Bunny piece is fun yet its also a lot more structured than what I am doing these days. Somehow the structure of something figurative when so much tumbles through my mind each day, is not a feasible option. I have added some couching to this. Yes, I have figured out how to do it finally. The learning of new stitches requires a lot of concentration and is fun to do. Like you said, play....

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  3. the color of the fabric somehow make the images almost look like the threads are not stitched but suspended over empty space, and the scale also becomes interestingly ambiguous, particularly the last image, like a fragile labyrinth, these are really going on a journey!

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    1. Yes, Kathryn I think that your observation is spot on - they do look as if suspended and not stitched through the fabric. Its one of the reasons that I like doing Kantha on organza. Earlier I had done white on white but this time chose a shade of thread matching parts from the burned bits of muslin.

      The thing about photographing your work is that you can zoom in on areas and that is what I enjoy putting up here because I share just the parts that I have focussed upon while doing my embroidery or something that I find particularly interesting in the larger canvas. I love the details and these tend to get lost when you look at the whole. I like bringing attention to them and making them more than what they would appear in the final viewing. It possibly distorts the eventual viewing and expectations may get skewed but, it could also enhance the viewing/ appreciation too - because these details have been highlighted. What do you think? Perhaps we should discuss this aspect when you are here next and see the actual work, after all that has been said about it here. I think that would really be a useful exercise....thanks for stopping by and writing in.

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  4. 2 words......so beautiful.....the essays and the thread of comments that followed.....

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  5. Thank you Aina, I am so glad that you enjoyed the essay and comment thread. Hope you will stop by and join the thread again.

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