Sketches of an Indian Goddess, and Maison de l’Inde

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Here is Goddess Durga, beloved to Bengalis of India. Every October has a week long celebration dedicated to her.

Here are some simple and quick sketches I had made in 2015, depicting her as a young girl. In this sketch above, I have her holding a Shiuli flower, a delicately shaped, small and fragrant flower. The shiuli plant starts to flower around October in India, hence this flower is strongly associated with the celebrations of Goddess Durga.

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Goddess Durga reposing in a lotus flower

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If you see showers of stars across the sky, you will know Goddess Durga is in a playful mood

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Beautiful flowery swing

Today I attended the seventh day of the Durga Puja celebrations in Maison de l’Inde, located within the campus grounds of Cité Université, in Paris. If you walk inside, and walk up the first floor, you enter a big room where the celebrations are held year after year in this very room. I asked some of the senior Bengalis around the room how long has Durga Puja been celebrated in Paris? ‘Since the last 30 years’ I receive the reply.

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I can tell you that the ladies you see seated close to the idols, wearing saris, these ladies work hard year after year to produce equally beautiful, and as authentic Durga Pujas as Bengalis have it back home. They constantly move around making sure everyone is OK and enjoying themselves. One more thing : ANYONE can enter this place for free. There is no charge, or any kind of obligation to pay. I see many curious visitors, French and other nationalities coming in here, and usually enjoying themselves, admiring the colorful saris, and the relaxed atmosphere. In the evenings, there are usually traditional dances, or Bengali songs sung, that lend to a very cultural atmosphere.

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Nom Nom! This is called ‘bhog’. It’s not the name of a recipe. It’s the term used for food that is prepared for lunch time, during the days of Durga Puja, at the place of worship itself. Here at the Maison de l’Inde, yes, ANYONE can just come in and have this plate of heaven. Bhog is always vegetarian food.

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I had the opportunity to watch this Bengali gentleman, an active participant of the Durga Puja, make pulao, in this rice cooker. ( It was a great chance for me to finally learn the recipe myself!)

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Rice, butter, sugar, salt, cinnamon, cardamom and rasins. And of course, finally add water that is double the quantity of rice, and shut the lid and let it cook about 15 minutes.

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Everyone busy eating the plastic containers distributed that had the cut fruits ( pieces of apple, banana, pomegranate, grapes, halwa) to everyone.

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Here is the Shiuli flower again, just making sure you remember that sweet little flower! 🙂 And here is my papercut Butterfly Girl, surrounded by shiulis.

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If you have liked this post, and would like to support my work, buy my art prints and framed papercut art at Etsy, or forward this post to someone you think would like it!

Calcutta sketches – my grandaunt

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What’s this art about? Here’s one of my quick under-an-hour sketch that I made of my grandaunt. Well, the time taken for sketching was shorter because she was watching TV and unable to stay still for long. The flouncy pillow behind her adds to her cute feminity. Psst…little added info on her : she loves wearing lipstick everyday!

What did she say when she saw herself?..

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Nothing. She just gave a genuine pleased smile, which made me happy. Here she is holding a big plate of sun dried cauliflowers which she is preparing to make pickles of, a big favorite in the family.

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Steaming hot cauliflowers, anyone?!

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Calcutta sketches : Morning prayers

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What’s this art about? It’s a classroom somewhere in India and morning prayers are being held in the class. This is a little unusual, because morning prayers are usually done in the wide courtyard or in a big room that fits all of the school together. My art was inspired by a photo from the local newspaper where the students of each class prayed for the children who died in the Peshawar shooting (by the Taliban). There was a big gap in the second aisle so I decided to fill in the gap with the figure of a teacher standing. The figure is me actually in my Indian attire of salwar kameez, and my big glasses do make me look strict like a teacher 🙂 .

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A snapshot of happy smiling faces of schoolchildren in India.

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Calcutta sketches : Stories within storeys

It’s been such a while that I paid serious attention to improving my sketching skills.. The last two months I spent in Calcutta, I tried to get some time off from looking after baby T to spending some time with my pen and artbook.  Here’s just a very few that I (miraculously) managed to get done. My aim during the sketches was to complete them in a time gap of under an hour. This was to help get me started with my sketches instead of getting bogged down under too many details of the work. Here’s one work for today.

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What’s this art about? I live in a residential community block in Calcutta, where big blocks of building are squeezed next to each other, with a garden and a playing ground in the center. When I look out of my window, I only see these tall buildings all around. So many people with so many stories taking place in these apartments. The day I drew this, something horrific had taken place in one such building. A woman died. She committed suicide by lighting herself on fire. I felt quite sad to hear the story. I have no idea what made her take such an extreme step, but she must have been in deep pain. I added her in my artwork as a way to let myself remember her. The title of this sketch is ‘Stories within storeys’.

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Shaad, a pre-birth celebration for the Bengali woman

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Currently facing my 6th month of pregnancy, my Mother wanted to celebrate it by having a Shaad, meaning ‘desire’ in Bengali. Traditionally, the Shaad is celebrated along with the pregnant woman’s close friends and relatives, the idea being to surround the woman with as many positive vibes possible. The actual meal of the shaad is supposed to consist of all of the pregnant woman’s favourite food.

That wasn’t too tough for me to decide on what I wanted to eat, since I like almost everything of what Bengali food has to offer! Being a very unfussy person, I didn’t want to have any get together. My cook in Kolkata, Shumi prepared this lovely lavish feast for me. I have never seen or heard of a shaad before, so I had no idea that so much hard work was involved into making one. (If I’d have known earlier, I would have told my gentle cook not to bother). But Shumi insisted and when she finally laid it out on the table, I felt tears dangerously close, so touched was I to see how much she cared for my pregnancy, and my well being.

She didn’t have to ask me what I liked, she knew already I loved her cooking, so she went ahead with her imagination to what my shaad should look like. And by the way, the steel plate and the steel glass used are the very same ones that I used to use as a child when I was 4 years old onwards. The steel plate has indentations to where the vegetables or meat dishes go into. On my plate, on the top center, is the Bengali dessert called ‘payesh’, or rice pudding. To the left is the dal (lentils) and to the right is a spicy potato preparation. Below on the main section of the plate, is staple diet of Bengal, rice and alongside the rice, on either side is a collection of fried vegetables (potato, aubergine, bitter gourd, okra, cabbage) and fish. Shumi gave the final touch of garnish on the rice and water by adding a sprig of basil. Doesn’t it look sooo appetising and yummy??

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