In April 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted French President Francois Hollande a ‘pigments on silk’ work of art titled, ‘Tree of Life’.
This was during Modi’s visit to France ahead of the UN climate change summit, COP21, held from November 30 to December 12, 2015. In the interim period the Paris ISIS strikes of November 13 occurred, and Modi decided then and there to invite Hollande and French troops for the 2016 Republic Day as an assertion of strategic solidarity. But rewinding back to that gift, an accompanying PMO statement had described it thus: “The tree, as a divine gift central to human life, is a recurring element in Indian artistic practice. The Tree of Life, with multiple roots and branches like a banyan tree, is a motif for a tree’s benevolence-fruit, seeds, shelter, healing, procreation and regeneration faculties that sustain life and clean the environment.”’
Hollande’s gift was the creation of artist Bhaskar C Mahapatra, who hails from the globally-renowned heritage crafts village of Raghurajpur in Odisha’s Puri district. Raghurajpur’s creative works on silk, cotton and palm leaves are rooted in the ancient traditions of the Jagannath Temple and are known as ‘Patachitra’. The village is represented at the ongoing 7th National Crafts Mela at Kalagram, Chandigarh, and among the works for sale are palm leaf etchings depicting themes of nature and mythology. One such work measures 18” x 30”, harbouring 220 depictions of birds, animals, spiders, snails, butterflies etc, it took 12 days to complete and is priced at Rs 6,500.
At Kalagram, artist Debi P Sathpathy explained how palm leaves are first washed in water and turmeric to eliminate fungus. Dried leaves are stitched together and fashioned into a map-like grid of small squares/rectangles. Needle irons etch with finesse on the leaf canvas. The leaf is then doused in ‘kajal’ which is later washed out, leaving some ‘kajal’ embedded in the etchings. A restrained touch of sketch pens is used for those artworks where colour is required. Raghurajpur’s palm artworks are cited for longevity, are hung on walls like calendars, and can easily be washed and cleaned. Palm leaves were used historically for writing letters and ‘janam kundlis’.
In death, a voice
A scaly anteater or Indian pangolin was shot by a security guard with a rifle five times in the posh Zamzama neighbourhood of Karachi, Pakistan, on January 24. The guard claimed the pangolin was attacking his legs though this creature is harmless and was merely walking towards the guard. The pangolin died due to organ failure. The pangolin’s plight, as it lay curled up and bleeding on the road with men poking it with sticks, was brought to public notice by a compassionate citizen, Nuvera N Sheikh, who posted pictures on social media and frantically summoned help from vets.
What is significant is the adverse reaction to criticism of the wanton killing in social/mainstream media. “I’ve seen people show love and come together to help a severely injured animal and then I’ve seen people writing paragraphs on how it was just an animal and we should not care about it and let something known as ‘animal police’ (seriously, what is that?) handle it or it’s okay if it was shot because there are ‘more serious’ issues in our country,” wrote Sheikh on her Facebook wall.
Pakistan is currently facing flak over allowing Arab sheikhs to hunt the vulnerable species, the Macqueen’s or Asian Houbara bustards. Pakistan justifies this privileged hunt as a “cornerstone of foreign policy”. The good thing, if any, is that the Sindh wildlife department has stuffed the pangolin and its preservation will speak its poignant tale for times to come. In death, the pangolin may have finally found a voice to bridge the existential divide between humans and animals.
Pigeons of peace
On January 12, rich NRIs descended on Jalandhar not for a marriage function at their ‘puraana pind’ but to attend a pigeon breed show. NRIs of the Indian Pigeon Association (UK) also honoured their guru, Sarwan Singh Kler, with a trophy and Rs 21,000. He is a nine-time India champion in racing and twice world champion in breed shows. Kler is the man who tweaked breeding lines to produce the exotic bloodline of green-eyed pigeons.
At the annual pigeon show, exotic breeds are displayed and trophies/cash prizes awarded just like a dog show. Pigeon races are held in May/June where the birds’ endurance and their handlers’ control come under stern examination. Prizes for racing include Alto cars and tractors. Kler has been feted by leading politicians such as then Prime Minister IK Gujral, the Badals, Captain Amarinder Singh (retd) and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal. Keen to uplift the hobby, Kler has written twice to the government to include racing in the State Games as it is popular in rural areas.
“I get many calls from Pakistan, where pigeons are a pure passion. However, I do not answer most calls as the prevailing climate is one of surveillance and suspicion. Pakistanis have included pigeon racing in their official games and prizes include cars worth Rs 8-10 lakh. Pigeons are a shared cultural heritage. If we promote people-to-people ties, pigeon competitions can foster goodwill. We should compete with each other through pigeons rather than firing bullets and indulging in war threats,” says Kler.
He proudly recalls having defeated Pakistani pigeon racers at a competition on the Attari border in the mid-1990s. “Teams from both Punjabs had flown six pigeons each. Adding up the time each of the six pigeons flew, it came to 45 hours for our pigeons against 35 hours for the Pakistanis. We got a trophy and Rs 1,100 in cash for the win,” recalls Kler.