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Poet’s visual expression

A scene from Takes from Shakespeare, staged by Spandan, at Gyan Manch. Directed by Ashoke Viswanathan, the dramatic presentation of excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays was performed on April 19 and 26. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

Few know that Mrinal Sen’s once-popular Bengali film Neel Akasher Niche about the unusual friendship that develops between a middle-class housewife and a Chinese hawker was based on the life of Mahadevi Varma, the renowned Hindi poet of the romantic period with a streak of the rebel in her outstanding personality.

Varma was born into a well-to-do family in Farukkhabad in Uttar Pradesh in 1907 and was married off at nine. However, she lived on with her parents to complete her studies in Lucknow, and did her master’s from Allahabad University. Although she maintained a close relationship with her husband, she chose to stay on in Allahabad because her heart was in writing verse, which was a very courageous act for her times.

Varma was greatly influenced by the values of Buddhism and had even tried to become a Buddhist bhikshuni but opted out as the monk who was to initiate her avoided being “contaminated” by her shadow as she was a woman. She belonged to the Chhayavaadi school of Hindi literature, the other notables of that group being Suryakant Tripathi Nirala, Jaishankar Prasad and Sumitra Nandan Pant. Varma won the Sahitya Akademi fellowship in 1974, followed by the Jnanpith award in 1982. In 1988, Varma received the Padma Vibhushan. She died in 1987.

Mahadevi Varma’s art

Varma had taken up painting and some of these she used in two books of poems titled Yama or night published in 1939, and Deepshikha in 1942. Rakhi Roy Halder, who has organised an exhibition of digital prints of Varma’s paintings at Chamber of Fine Arts at 10B Deshapriya Park West, says it was only recently that she realised that Varma used to paint from a line in one of her poems where she wrote that she expressed through images what she could not through words.

Roy Halder had also seen a documentary on the poet known as Modern Meera made by Shambhu Nath Shaw, a professor of Hindi at Calcutta University, when he was serving as director of Central Hindi Institute in Agra, where there is mention of Varma’s artistic activity. The exhibition ends on May 5.

With the help of Shaw, Roy Halder managed to borrow the two rare books of verse from a library and got the prints made. Varma was a highly accomplished artist and she painted in the Bengal School style which was in vogue at the time. She mainly painted beautiful women with flowing tresses who become symbols of sublimation through suffering and tears. Varma was deeply disturbed by the dismal conditions in which women lived and through her poetry expressed how they could empower themselves.

This was the theme of a seminar that Roy Halder, who teaches Hindi at Loreto College, organised recently at Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad with the help of Sodepur Solidarity Society, whose Bhasha Manch helps students express themselves through the art and literature.

Varma’s original paintings are in a terrible condition at Prayag Mahila Vidyapith in Allahabad. This was the institution where Mahadevi Varma served as vice-chancellor. Such is the state of India’s national language.

Harmony quest

Yogi Ashwini at The Saturday Club. (Anindya Shankar Ray)

Yoga and its many benefits were in focus at a 90-minute session featuring the Delhi-based Yogi Ashwini at The Saturday Club on April 18. Sharing the dais with him were doctors Lalit Kapoor and Pritpal Singh, Manipuri danseuse Priti Patel, fitness expert Ranadeep Moitra and nutritionist Hena Nafis.

Yogi Ashwini, who believes “thoughts are the root of ageing”, spoke on the need for mental and physical harmony and how to achieve that through yoga. Cardiac surgeon Kapoor praised Ashwini’s stance against commercialisation of yoga.

“Dance brings the same tranquillity, peace, stability and focus as basic yoga,” said Patel. Moitra pointed out that not all exercises led to “production of toxins in the body” and suggested cardiovascular ones. Yogi Ashwini agreed. “Yoga said the same thing 5000 years ago,” he observed.

Some members of the audience came up on stage to recount how they had benefited from Sanatan Kriya, promoted by Yogi Ashwini.

“I came across Yogi Ashwini while inaugurating his book on Sanatan Kriya a few years back. I frankly didn’t have much faith in what he said but I did a workshop and deeply benefited as it calmed me down. The best thing is he does not suggest any type of abstinence and has a very unconventional take on things,” said Nilaanjana Chakraborty, jewellery designer and numerologist, who attended the session.

Correctional stage

A performance of Mokshagati at GD Birla Sabhagar. Picture by Rashbehari Das

Nearly 72 inmates of Alipore Correctional Home staged a creative performance, Mokshagati, at GD Birla Sabhagar recently. Staged by Touch World, in association with West Bengal Correctional Services, the production saw a unique blend of theatre and film. Part of the plot was performed on stage and the rest was pre-recorded and shown through a projection screen.

The concept and choreography was by danseuse Alokananda Roy, who also performed.

“This has been an exhaustive journey for me. I have never done anything like this before. I had no moment of peace till the production was staged,” she said.

Mokshagati focuses on Emperor Ashoka’s resurrection to the world of spirituality, compassion and theology. The death and destruction depicted on screen was juxtaposed with the emperor’s spiritual journey on stage.

The cast included Nigel Akkara, who essayed the role of Ashoka, Subhajit Sarkar as Kalinga and Roy as Bharti Amma or the symbolic Mother India.

“I have a very big family now and all of the inmates are my children. Please give them a second chance. Everyone makes mistakes, all I ask for them is acceptance,” said Roy.

(Contributed by Soumitra Das, Sreyoshi Dey and Showli Chakraborty)