Pain

self_portrait_2.jpg

‘Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird’ 1940 (oil on canvas)

It was the first year of undergraduate studies and I remember Slam Books were very popular at that time. I had mine since the end of school days and only a couple of pages were left to be filled. There was a long list of boys who wanted to fill my Slam Book, but I wanted to learn only from two of them. To answer one of the questions, when asked to describe me, one of them wrote, “a beautiful girl who does not smile as much as she should…” I probably did not know then that it was true.

I first came to know about Frida Kahlo‘s self-portrait in the Bengali movie Antaheen (2009). I did not watch the movie when it was released but I watched it much later. When they showed the painting in the movie, it looked surrealistic. Her face had a somber expression, she was surrounded by a monkey, a cat, and a hummingbird and wore a necklace of thorns. with blood dripping from it. I was very intrigued. Being a huge movie buff since childhood, I remembered that the movie Frida (2002) was nominated for a number of Academy Awards – I have a special place for Salma Hayek and maybe that is why I remembered it. I immediately researched about Frida Kahlo and found her other paintings.

When I looked at them, I was taken aback and frankly, very shocked. Her portrayal of herself seemed violent and sometimes, just looking at the paintings was painful. Since childhood I have been very intrigued by the human condition. I remember when I went to Belur Math, as a child, instead of being mesmerized by the beauty and calmness of the place, I was fascinated with the young monks who lived there. For months I could not stop thinking what led young adults to leave their homes, every contact with their family and choose a life like that. But over the years, often the inquisitiveness would turn into sadness and since I knew I would be sad I tried to push these thoughts to the black corner of my mind and forget about it. That is what I did in case of Frida. I closed the images, and suppressed my inquisitiveness. Maybe I was scared that if I went digging in I will discover something that I did not want to know about.

Many years passed and in 2013 I visited MoMA in New York city. MoMA was fascinating to me, I will write a whole another post about how much I felt inspired after I visited MoMA if I ever get that much time. There, once again, I came across works by Frida which were not as violent as the ones I had seen on the internet before. I was curious and wanted to watch the movie Frida, but when I watched the trailer I decided to watch it later and then I kept postponing it, because I was not sure I will like it.

In 2014 December my friend visited La Casa Azul in Mexico City. When he came back he brought with him tons of photos of the place, specially the kitchen and he told me that I would have loved that place. I kept looking at the photos and kept wondering why would I have loved the place and if really I would. In architecture I prefer very modern clean lines, simplistic furniture, light colors and bright open spaces. This place looked quite the opposite. It was loud and rustic and the kitchen tools looked like art, not really useful. But it was fascinating. Every corner of the house looked like the person who lived there had paid special attention to it. I have not been to the museum myself so I am not sure if the Mexican authorities kept it as Frida (or may be Diego) had left it. But I like to think it is.

I started reading about Frida and what her work represented. Why did she portray herself in such violent details? What did they signify? I came to know about her accident, her chronic pain, her political activism and her tormented relationship with Diego Rivera. A few months later I watched the movie Frida, which depicts the professional and private life of Frida Kahlo. It stars Salma Hayek in her Academy Award-nominated portrayal as Kahlo and Alfred Molina as her husband, Diego Rivera. If you have not watched it yet, I highly recommend it. Salma Hayek‘s portrayal of Frida Kahlo is poignant. I loved the cinematography – throughout the film, a scene starts as a painting, then slowly dissolves into a live-action scene with actors. I was moved when I watched the movie. When I watched the movie I had already read so much about her, so I was not expecting to be overwhelmed like that.

There are many good movies that you watch and forget. There are good movies that you watch and remember. And there are good movies that influence you. Frankly it was not the movie itself, but watching this movies was like the amalgamation of all the information I had collected about Kahlo. This movie stayed with me. Even though many good things happened in 2015, it was the saddest year of my life. In my experience when you are sad for a long long time, that sadness becomes something physical, like a pain. Like a pain through your spine, like a lump in your throat, like a migraine that no medicine can cure. In no capacity I am comparing my pain with that of Frida’s but as the year progressed, I started to identify with her more and more. I have wanted to write a blog about the movie or Frida Kahlo for a long time. But it seemed a daunting topic. But in the past few months I found myself going back to her work, specially her self-portraits again and again. I have never been that girl who uses others’ pictures as her profile photo or borrows fancy quotes to describe her feelings- because I always felt that was very pretentious. But somehow, I feel that I can identify with Frida.

In case of Frida, the more I learned about her life, the more I started to appreciate her work. Initially I thought her work was grotesque and violent. But now I feel that there was a lot of passion and depth in her paintings. In her works, some people notice only her uni-brow and moustache, some people see only pain, but I see irony and humor along with the pain that she felt. I think what draws me to her is that she was a fighter. Many incidents in her life could have diminished her spirit, like the crippling accident, the health issues, or Diego’s infidelities. But she was not crushed by anything. She reminds me that: Pain… is strength.

All photos are sourced from Google.

Advertisements

Something Fishy

Neon-Tetra-Tank.jpg

I grew up in a suburban area near the big city of Kolkata, India. Even though the area was not rural, we had several big ponds surrounding our neighborhood, which is unlike any of my friends who grew up in the city. I hear now from my parents that the ponds no longer exist as the area has been claimed by the ever growing concrete jungle. This makes me sad, specially for there were so many anglers in that place.

On our Summer and Winter vacations, me and my little sister would go for walks around those ponds. Often we would find one or two anglers sitting at distance, their fish rods resting beside them with the fish hooks dipped in the water of the pond, smoking a bidi. Interestingly, according to Google bidi is “a small, thin, hand-rolled cigarette imported to the United States, primarily from India and other Southeast Asian countries. They comprise tobacco wrapped in a tendu or temburni leaf (plants native to Asia) and may be secured with a colorful string at one or both ends”. Google makes it sound like such a novelty! Anyways, these ponds would be filled with fish. I don’t think anyone would cultivate fish there, they just had a lot of fish specially charapona. The kakus (uncles in Bengali), as we would call them would have a vessels beside them which would contain fishes that they had caught over the course of the afternoon. Me and my sister would pester them to give us a fish so that we could keep them as pets. The kakus would be so nice and would actually give us a fish to keep.

We would hurry back home, get a vessel and then carry the fish back home. We would wash a huge Horlicks jar and fill it with water and keep the fish there. We would make tiny balls from bread or flour and feed the fish. Some of the fish, confined in a small jar and already injured from the inhumane fish hook, would survive for a week or two, but most would die in a couple of days. Then me and my sister would cry bucket of tears and my parents would have to console us. Growing up, this became a routine. My mom was frustrated with the whole drama and she forbade us to get any more fishes. But we kept doing it over many years.

I distinctly remember one such incident – once again we sisters had convinced one unassuming kaku to give us a tiny little fish that he caught. We were happily carrying the fish, but as soon as we came near our house suddenly it dawned on us how angry our mom would be to find us getting another fish. We were really scared and with our childish aka horrible decision making, we dropped the fish in an open drain (yes India!) near our house, thinking it will swim back to the pond. As soon as we dropped the fish, we noticed that it was having some difficulty navigating the dirty filthy water of the drain. Extremely worried, we decided to pick up the fish and take it home even if mom was furious. Now selfishly, I made my little sister pick up the fish from the drain, even though she was two years younger than me. I know I know I get to hear about this every time we fight on anything, so you don’t have to remind me I was evil. In my defense, I was myself a child.

We got that fish home and got a little scolding from mom, not too much, we were happily sitting at home, staring at the jar for around one or two hours… but every interesting story needs a villain. So while I was making my sister take the fish out of the drain, our house maid was going to fetch something from somewhere. She observed the whole thing. Instead of telling us anything, she came back after two hours and told my mom what had happened and oh! the scolding we got. I remember she actually beat us with rulers 😛 Oh the kids nowadays, they will never know the age when parents actually beat their kids to discipline them!

Our love for pets started with our dad being such a huge animal lover. We are told that as a kid growing up in rural Bihar, he had a mini “zoo” of domestic animals at his house. He had a cow, three dogs, rabbits, parrots and what not. In fact, he encouraged us to get our own “zoo” growing up – we had many cats, a cute dog, several birds and often the baby squirrels that fell down from their nest on the coconut tree right beside our house. And we had these fishes which we brought in from time to time.

As a child I was fascinated with aquariums and there would be ones to get fascinated about; I remember one which had a treasure chest and the lid would open and close with some hydraulic action; the bubbles coming out of the water from a treasure hunt scene with lots of skulls, sunken ships with rusted edges… and the most awesome things were the colorful fishes of different shapes and sizes… the world of aquariums would be so fascinating! I remember of all my father’s brothers I had a favorite uncle, because they had an aquarium at their home. I was intrigued not only by the fishes but also the wiggly live worms, stored in a dark corner under the staircase, that they used to feed the fish.

Even as an adult I was fascinated with fish tanks – I would selectively go to restaurants that have tank displays, I would watch the TV shows Tanked and Fish Tank Kings for hours, I would even go to the pet stores just to look at the fishes (and other cute animals). But interestingly enough, I considered getting dogs and cats but never considered getting a fish tank for a long time – in fact until, I got my pet hamster Montu and saw how enriching being a single pet parent was. It keeps you occupied – you are caring about some small life that depends on you, it makes you responsible, you have reasons to leave work and go back home early, you have something interesting to do all by yourself, and specially in the case of Montu, we had a bond that only we shared.

However, in grad school keeping multiple pets was not really feasible, so even though I toyed with the idea, it never materialized. Then I helped a couple of friends set up their fish tanks and I wanted fish tanks bad. I obsessed over youtube channels on fish keeping – my idea of fishkeeping had advanced so much from Horlicks jars and worm feeds! There was a point when I wanted to grow all live plants in my tank so I researched and researched on that. Seemed too much work but eh! if you want something, you do it right 😉

When Montu died and I was left with her 20 gallon horizontal habitat. I didn’t want to get another hamster, because you get too attached and then they don’t live that long. However, a 20 gallon tank  looked like a lot of responsibility – so far the past one and a half years, I had been considering the idea, dropping it and reconsidering many times. I almost got a smaller tank many times but then held back because the fishes I wanted to get and the plants I wanted to grow are difficult in a small space. So I waited.

This birthday my friends surprised me with a fish tank gift and I knew the time was now. So two months after my birthday I finally set up my fish tank. It was great that my sister was with me over the holidays and we set it up together as a project. The tank is 20 gallons horizontal and it doesn’t have any live plants yet… I will grow them a little slowly, starting with small simple ones… but I already have 10 fishes in there, two of which I introduced just yesterday. So far I have two Red Tuxedo Guppy, four Red WagTail Platy, two Sunburst Platy and two Spotted Cory Cat fish. The guppies were the first one to get in the tank, they are really feisty and make my tank so interesting. The corys are the last ones introduced. I have always wanted to get these since I first laid my eyes on them –  they are not much of a looker to most people, especially to my sister. But they have amazing dog like personalities and are so playful. I also love my platys, they have amazing bright colors and seem like a bunch of really hardy fish. However, I would like to go through a complete nitrogen cycle and water change and check how the fishes are doing.

I can have another ten fishes in my tank and eventually I plan to introduce the fishes I have always wanted, a school of Neon or Cardinal Tetras. That’s specifically why I wanted a 20 gallon horizontal as I’m sure I would just love to see how the school navigates through the length of the tank. I’m so excited about the future of my tank!!!

photo courtesy: Google