Saturday 15 June 2013

Eternal Love on a Mountain Top

Eternal Love on a Mountain Top

The taxi that came to take us back to our train for Turin at Avigliana after a grueling climb up to the Sacra di San Michele was late. The abbey towered over the valley so that the towns like St. Ambrogio and Avigliana at the base of the mountain were clay red rooftops, barely visible, like punctuations in an emerald green landscape. It was late afternoon as we packed into the taxi and I wondered if I could nap for the brief ride to the train station.

Savoy collection, Turin

The driver, a man in his late 70s, spoke Italian but I could catch a few words, enough to keep the conversation going. I listened to him as he proudly talked about his town, Avigliana, pointing to the ruins of the castle on a cliff and the picturesque lakes in the center. Then, in mid conversation he reached for a small picture of his wife stuck to the dashboard with a small plastic heart stuck on it. As we passed by the Church of San Giovanni he raised the picture of his wife towards it and said a little prayer, kissed it and then paused, to take a last look at the tiny photograph and then continued on.  
For the rest of the way and the train journey back I kept thinking about the man being separated from his wife by death. I was sad for him and yet happy for him that he found a love so strong that her passing did not stop him from having her in his thoughts all the time.

So much is written about love and sometimes it seems hopelessly dramatized or alternately trivialized in teenage romances. I read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock  by T.S. Eliot in college and reread it recently and think of all the triviality of life and how sometimes we tend to overlook what is meaningful in life and relationships. Death is the ultimate separation but does that mean your memories die with someone? I think memories are living, they bloom and grow.

One of my sketches done in Florence

I found this beautiful translation of Faiz’s poem about love and separation, dasht-e tanhai mein sung by Iqbal Bano and it translates to English on screen as you hear it. Love and death are themes that repeat themselves in paintings and poetry, in art and sculpture. The story of the taxi driver from Avigliana is everywhere. Sometimes all you need is a small gesture to remind you that life and love can be eternal only if you want it to be.

Saturday 6 April 2013

Urdu Poetry, Art and Inspiration

Urdu Poetry, Art and Inspiration

Mughal Chest box at The Craft Company

 I was never taught Urdu in school but enjoyed listening to Urdu ghazal or poetry put to music with my father when I was younger. With time I must have lost interest until one day in college at McGill in Montreal, bored with completing some dry assignment, I came across a bookshelf in the library with a few Urdu books. One of the books I picked up The True Subject was a translation of poetry by Faiz Ahmed Faiz done by Naomi Lazard. The book itself was simple; the Urdu verse written on one side and its translation in English on the other. But to me it was like a key to the Urdu words I used to think were impossible to decipher. Thus started my interest in Urdu Poetry and I went on to find many more translations and spent many snowy  afternoons in the cold winter solving the complex encryption of Urdu poetry. Imagery in Urdu poetry is a language of its own and symbols are used to convey a kaleidoscope of emotion. I confess I never went as far as discovering more contemporary Urdu poets, but often when I paint I like to form the Urdu words of classical poetry  in my head and let my mind wander through the landscape of  images and metaphors my synapses create.

There is a very famous poem by Faiz called

Gulon mein rang bhare baad-e-naubahaar 
Chale bhi aao ke gulshan ka kaarobaar chale

let the blooms fill with colour, let the first zephyr of spring flow
do come over, so the garden can get on with its daily business

that brings together nature and human feeling in a most intimate and animated way. I like to think about nature conspiring with human emotion so that flowers droop in expectation and a soft breeze curls in excitement. My hand wanders with the same spontaneity over my watercolor as the colors the Urdu couplets bring to my mind. 

This particular painting started off with an idea that sprung from this Ghalib couplet.

Sab kahan kuch lala-o-gul main numayan ho gayien 
Khak mein kyaa sortein hon gee k pinhan ho gayien

Not all, only a few have become evident as tulips and roses;
What images may lie in the dirt that remains hidden from us?

It makes me think about death and the cycle of life, not as a morbid pantomime but more as nature’s secret celebration, hiding its intricate industry of continuation.
Much of the design I use for the Craft Company has its inspiration in this natural paisley that has its roots in ancient design in India and Pakistan. I feel the conversation does not end with just poetry and art but continues with every aspect of life and the things I create.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Women's Day in Pakistan

There is genuinely so much bad press surrounding Pakistan. Lets face it, this is hardly a country that is prosperous and peaceful. It is a developing country, debt ridden, challenged on all its borders and with conflict that is not only internal but so intrinsically sectarian that the different layers are almost indecipherable. All this to say that the challenges this country faces may seem insurmountable but we must not forget this is a vibrant, deeply cultured and complicated society. We are descendants of some of the oldest civilizations and our tenacity is richly reflected in the heritage of our art, food and tradition. 

The image of a graceful woman I love and have created for the Craft Company

It saddens me then to see the essence of Pakistan being lost in this turmoil of terrorism and eternal conflict. There is another face of Pakistan which sparkles despite the despair. Children still go to school, celebrate their birthdays, organize cricket or soccer matches and more. Every day thousands of homes light up celebrating marriages, religious and cultural festivals and the like. There is dynamic art, drama, theater, cinema and sport which thrives as  do restaurants and night life. 

Of all the negative attention Pakistan gets, the plight of women is often at the forefront. There is no doubt that there are many issues regarding women in Pakistan that need to be resolved but there is also so much progress. There are more and more women in the performing arts, the fashion industry, journalism and more. They are educators, doctors, entrepreneurs, bankers and members of parliament and in the foreign service. 
Women in urban areas in Pakistan have real issues but these may be comparable to many other countries like India and China where urban populations are reaching unmanageable heights, but to say Pakistan is a level apart from them in its treatment of women's issues is unfair. This is not to say that there aren't many injustices because there are, but not grossly disproportionate to many large cities in developing countries. There are more and more women joining the work force everyday as families grow and a single income is insufficient to support a family. 

The mosaic mermaid at the Craft Company

The malicious intent of extremists who throw acid on women or push them onto a burning stove is acknowledged but we can also look at the gentler side of Pakistani society.
 If you were to visit Karachi, Lahore and other cities in Pakistan you will see women are a strong presence in the work force and in daily life. Many women in cities dress modestly but are not forced to wear the veil as in some Islamic countries, they have a choice. Women can drive, attend schools and colleges, enjoy  cafes and go to the movies - choices available to women in developed countries.

Monday 14 January 2013

A New Year

A New Year!

The Craft Company has had a great year this year with many new developments and novel ideas inspiring it. The year ended with The Craft Company being featured in Libas International magazine's annual issue and I am so proud of all my workers and the work we do. 

The article talks about my use of Mughal icons in my work. The Noor Jehan painting I keep returning to has a haunting quality to it. Like an elegant, ethereal Botticelli the artist seems to have captured her with mystery, beauty and tenderness.

Saba Imtiaz who wrote the article is an eminent journalist captured the mood of the Craft Company and my love for creating things eloquently.

There are so many more things to do this year and with the city and the country in so much turmoil I wish we can keep going despite the distractions. My article in the Express Tribune this week talked about the Politics of Hatred that is so prevalent in Pakistan. It is so sad that the people of Hazara have to sit in on the streets and wait to bury their dead in hope that justice will prevail. I have been looking into the history of these people and their sad persecution over the years. There is so much buried animosity inherited by whole tribes of people that just does not end and is lived and relived by each generation. Instead of trying to quench the diversity of the people of this country why not celebrate it and respect people for their own religion, their tradition and embrace the multiculturalism that is the subcontinent.

 I looked up the Hazara people of Pakistan and their favorite meals, a flat bread stuffed with pumpkin and different kinds of vegetables called Bolani or Pirki and I have found a recipe for it. I am going to try and make it tonight and in a small way try and learn more about the people of Hazara.