All it takes is a pool of rainwater and a piece of paper folded into the shape of a boat to create a joyous moment of childhood. However, to an artist or a writer, a paper boat is not just a child’s play but a metaphor of innocence, love, journey and reaching out. Rabindranath Tagore wrote thus about the great romance of something as transient as a boat fashioned out of paper: “On it I inscribe your name, and that of my village where my home resides. In clear, large letters I write with care… If this boat finds another land, if it glides onto another shore, she who receives it will know who sent this paper boat…”
Such is the creative world of dreams in which an impossible act seems possible. The wonder and ecstasy of early days is often carried into later life and in the language of poetry this experience was taken to its zenith in Urdu poet Sudarshan Faakir’s poem, made immortal in Jagjit Singh’s musical rendition: ‘Yeh daulat bhi le lo, yeh shohrat bh le lo; bhale chheen lo mujhse meri jawani; magar mujhko lauta do bachpan ka sawan, woh kagaz ki kashti, who baarish ka paani… (Take away my wealth, fame and youth, but return me the monsoon of childhood, that paper boat and those raindrops…)’
Here in the city in the season of the paper boats, we have a young artist, Kavita Singh — who has been playing with the image in her drawings and paintings — dedicate a compilation of poetry and paintings in a book titled ‘An Ode to a Paper Boat’. For Kavita, a paper boat is much more than a youthful nostalgia and she voices her magnificent obsession thus: “The paper boat with its childlike innocence has accompanied me through my creative journey becoming an image of myself and a mirror of my soul. It has carried me through the rough and tough terrains on a voyage of self-revelation in pursuit of surmounting the new plateaus of self-revelation.”
Kavita holds onto her paper boat tenderly and firmly as she encounters the bright and dark sides of human existence. Accompanying her compelling images in black and white in this collector’s edition of the book are her somewhat wordy poems. However, the poems have their very fine moments as her little boat bobs up and down on the waters of life bringing the physical ever so close to the metaphysical. Such is the poetic rendition by Kavita: ‘A boat has a soul of her own/A boat has a mind of her own/Her heart lifts like a feather/She flies over the woods/Some lush green, others dark and dreary…’ In this wonderland voyage where the frail paper boat can float, swim, even fly or rest in her handbag, Kavita makes it a symbol of the regeneration of life: ‘A boat is born/A boat is gone/Such is the circus of life…’ Kavita is planning an exhibition of her poems and paintings later this month.
As one sifts through the artist’s jugalbandi of words and visuals, from somewhere far away the songs of boatmen come to the ear — SD Burman’s haunting and rich voice sings ‘O’ re majhi ab ki baar le chal paar’: a plea to be rowed across to finality after which there is no other desire. Then one comes across an anonymous Facebook forward that says the rainwater is sad because those who fashioned paper boats have grown up. Well, no one ever outgrows the voyage of the paper boat that willy-nilly accompanies one to the journey across the shore.