Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Resolute Word-Stain

          When you think of dheeth’, what comes to mind?

For me a ‘dheeth’ has always [until now] meant someone who wouldn't budge. One who didn't see another’s point of view and wouldn't budge from his or her stance. Nothing seemed to mattered to them, neither insult nor barb. They remained resolute in a way that went much beyond mere stubbornness. It wasn't a compliment if you called someone a ‘dheeth’ It meant that they were being stubborn in a way that was annoying to those around and was considered to be somewhat in bad form.

When I chose to make a cup of stains using the word-stain ‘dheeth’, I did it initially, because I really liked the form that emerged when I was drawing out the word to make the blob or word-stain. Going over the letters of the Devnagiri script, with a black felt tip pen, going round and round the word, I created a blob that looked like a more than usually rotund Rudra Veena, [used in Hindustani Classical music] where both the resonators [made from hollowed gourds] were too close to each other to create a harmonic resonance and perhaps, no music at all. Ironically, isn’t that what shame does to us – anything that stains and shrinks our sense of self tends to diminish the grace of being – that music of the spheres that resonates within. 

I used a piece of fabric, that hadn't been stained using tea, but was cut out of a large image of tea-marks in a cup, digitally printed on fabric, layered and stitched with Kantha. I wasn't thinking ‘dheeth’ when I was doing this. I was allowing the form the word-stain that I had made - the blob as it were, to lead the way. 

The cup became part of the installation - THE STAIN TEA PARTY, which was part of my recent exhibition in Delhi and will be shown again at my solo show - 'The Piercing Needle' in Kolkata, in January 2016.

 I'm curious to know what you think about this cup of embodying the word ‘dheeth’ – a word-stain. 

For me, it didn’t appear to represent the meaning I'd grown up with and in some sense seemed to have a quality of celebration around it, which intrigued and made me question my preconceived ideas. When someone is called stubborn, or persistent it is assumed that they are not looking at another’s point of view. In a sense, they are not accommodating the other, but sticking with the way they feel about a situation. And, because of that they are judged in a diminishing way, because stubbornness has evolved to have a negative meaning.

This exercise made me re-think things. I thought about how as a child, I was often called a ‘dheet’. Sometimes, in these situations, I would try and speak but the feelings were very intense and hard to share what I felt and or why I persisted with doing something that others felt was unworthy and derided me for. As the cup of word-stain ‘dheeth’ evolved, I realised that  not only did it  question the negative connotation that I had carried in me, about being called a ‘dheeth’, but made me find a depth of meaning about something that I hadn’t consciously acknowledged before, but the stigma carried in some part of my being emerged intuitively, enabled through this creative venture.

The colour of the fabric that I chose [intuitively] was dark with virtually no light being reflected off that greyed fabric, despite it having a rather tactile quality. But the way that the rotund, sort of plump form seemed to grow from its ‘lumpishness’, to rise up from the base, to skirt the inside of the cup – it lightened the mood, lightened the sluggishness of mind, that I suppose, one does associate with a ‘dheeth’. The assumption being that if you cannot explain the feeling then you are mentally lazy.

And then the beads – round like the ‘lumpenness’ of the blob [word-stain], but coloured a little more vibrantly - not so dark, but of the same family of hues that generally surround the colour of tea. The beads added a sense of delicacy. They added a jewel-like quality to the whole cup of marks created from a word with generally negative connotations. A word that denounces someone for being resolute in a way beyond mere egotistical stubbornness, of coming from a space of knowing or feeling that couldn’t be explained.

In exploring the ‘lumpenness’ of this form, in examining it and allowing it to speak and unfold through this creative process, I seem to have arrived at some understanding. If not understanding then at least the possibility that could exist for understanding, that, behind this resolute stubbornness which was ‘lumpen’ in some sense, there was a kind of knowing which when unravelled, lends itself to embodying a level of elegance or grace.

I feel things intensely; sometimes it is impossible to put those feelings into words. Sometimes this feeling is a knowing that is beyond words. It is not always easy to live with but not only could it take hours to unravel, it sometimes takes years to understand why I was so resolute about something. I have annoyed people, have even felt isolated, but sometimes one persists because you feel something from the inexplicable space of knowing that even if challenged will keep you going in the same direction. To others it may seem annoying, foolish and even detrimental to a perceived/ preconceived state of well being. Some even call it being self-destructive.

Looking at what emerged through the cup of stains, I wonder, that despite all these barbs, if it could actually be a high level of sensitivity which accesses a state of being where the nuances of feeling are deep and subtle, but resolute. And it is this which keeps such people rooted, to remain in that space of inexplicable knowing with conviction, which has been misunderstood?

Intensity of feelings can be uncomfortable to live with and I have worked hard to understand my own, using words that never seem to end – it is almost as if explaining feelings is the most difficult thing to do and one should just have the faith to stay with the feelings – so what if you are called a ‘dheeth’

Life will unravel through the unfolding of experience as it is lived, and trying to figure it out, to explain to the world around you, while not a totally futile exercise, could be end up being one where you realise that there really is no point in explaining? At least not all the time?

Being a ‘dheeth’ in our world which has given it negative meaning, then, seems to be an exercise in faith. To live without the conscious knowing and clarity of thought to justify the feeling, but keeping the faith by being true to this feeling, however unfathomable and questionable it may be?

And here one is not referring to those without qualm or decency who are are at the opposite end of the spectrum, where the stubbornness comes from ego, arrogance and even from fear of allowing their sensibility to be challenged. I guess there is always a fine line that distinguishes the ‘dheeth’ who is egotistical and one who works from a deep level of connectedness to their soul.  

The Stain Tea-Party invited people, visiting the exhibition, to make a cup of stains. It was an exercise that came up with many surprises because not only did I find a lot of people willing to explore the ‘marks’ in their mind, the quality of the material, which included beads and sequins, allowed the participants to enjoy the process and not think stains or marks. It liberated them, to some degree, from any associations they may have held with the idea of marks that create a sense of shame. Many revealed how they found a sense of relief in doing this exercise. And when their chosen word transformed through this process, which was purely visual and tactile, light-heartedness in being was experienced. Some even shared how this creative exercise had also deepened their understanding of ideas pertaining to shame they may have felt for issues about themselves that had gone unacknowledged.

My creative work has always been about unravelling the self. It has been about me talking to me, relieving pent-up feelings and ideas that dwarf, to rise above. But to share this process with others through the Stain Tea-Party Interactive Installation and have them experience something similar was gratifying indeed.

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