Giving life to village stories through art

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Give her random words like tree, water, well, sari, girls, boys, birds…she will weave all those words into a beautiful story drawn from her village in Rajasthan. Artiste Tejubehan doesn’t hold any degree in literature or fine arts, but has a creative mind and is blessed with a melodious voice. After spending half of her life behind the traditional veil, which she calls ‘ghoonghat’, one fine day her husband, late Ganesh Jogi, asked her to break away from the rigid baseless customs and traditions, and join him in the profession of art and music. Since then there has been no looking back.

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Tejubehan comes from a community that wandered on the streets, singing devotional songs. In return, the artistes received grains, cereals, clothes and some money. Just like any old caste-based practices, this one has also lingered on in a viable occupation. After the couple moved from their village, Rajasthan to Gujarat, the two began to work together.

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Her drawings usually start with dots and lines and slowly turn into thoughtful tales of free spirit women from her village who never stop their lives from going in the difficult times. There are girls on bicycles, all of them are on the way to somewhere— these are bits from Teju’s personal life, some are imagination, a few are her dreams and a little are reality she lived in…

Her Drawings Reflect Her Life

My drawings are based on my inspirations from the village I come from. They are aimed at empowering women in villages. My drawings reflect things which I couldn’t do as a girl, like riding a cycle, attending school, etc. Even I realised how independent women are outside my village only after I started visiting cities later in my life.

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Words to Drawings

I am not educated and therefore, I neither read nor write. When I am invited for a workshop or exhibition, my son reads out the words given by the organisers to make drawings. I connect all those words and weave them into a story. As I mentioned earlier, my drawings are based on stories from my village. I make an effort to connect the words to tell a story from my village. See, I am working on a drawing now. It’s about a girl from my village who wants to experience the thrill of swimming. But it’s a big no for women to do something like that in a public pond. So, she gets other women gather around a well and tries out swimming inside it.

‘Today, I Am An Independent Woman Like Others in Cities’

In our village, women are not supposed to talk to strangers. There are a lot of restrictions that have been put on women. Even I had to go through all that once. I would always cover my face with ghoonghat and would only walk behind my husband. It was my husband who brought me out of all those societal norms. When I started socialising with others, it was an eye-opening sort of experience for me. Today, I can proudly say that I am an independent woman like others in cities.

Turning Point In Life

The turning point in my life was meeting artist and cultural anthropologist, Haku Shah in Ahmedabad. When my husband and I met him, he made us sing after realising our musical background. But we didn’t expect him to make us draw something. My husband was very hesitant. But Haku Shah insisted that we draw. Finally, we gave in. And that’s when we realised our skills in drawing.

Breaking Away From Societal Expectations

Art was never a thing for women in our community. I saw a lot of raised eyebrows when i started accompanying my husband as an artiste. In our village, a girl is supposed to learn all the household chores at her father’s house and when she is good at them, she is married off and expected to do the same at her husband’s place. But I boldly overcame all such challenger. Slowly, I started singing in radio shows, local TV serials and films. I have also released a few Rajasthani bhajan cassettes in my voice.

‘People Still Far From Taking Art Seriously’

Still in my village, people are not serious about the influences of art. Even if I have tried teaching girls in my village, they back off after sometime, giving lame excuses. But my grandchildren and few other kids in our locality learn from my son. When i go to New Delhi, I visit schools and teach kids there.

 

 

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Love is infinite and no other emotion is

 

What could be infinite in life? Is it human emotions? But do all sorts of human emotions last forever? “Positive energy can be forever. Love of family, spouse, children, art and everything is infinite. Whereas, negative feelings like hate, cannot be considered as infinite.

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When we say we hate a particular place, that feeling doesn’t last long the moment we change the place. Infinity can be only shown by abstract art. It cannot be measured; it has no beginning and end. Infinity is beyond space, time, measurement, logic and definitely beyond the grasp of the very limited human mind,” explains artist Reji Joseph whose paintings titled ‘Infinity’ is on display.

In the theme, the artist has used a lot of background and he says, “A lot of my art has huge black background to isolate the subject and to remove all possible distraction.”

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He finds his inspiration in nature and describes his choice to work on landscapes as wanting to replicate or represent their apparent beauty, create these depictions to explore, and study various aesthetic elements, such as light, colour, and texture, and use the beauty of nature as way to conceptualise a metaphor, or simply illustrate an idea.

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Lost generation of Syria

It was just a week ago that AP Shreethar started painting the series, Lost Generation, on the lives that have been lost in the horrific conflict and violence in Syria. But his work, which highlights the emotions of homeless and orphaned children, lost families struggling to get basic healthcare, and starving toddlers on the streets who squeal with joy when a volunteer hands over a toy to them, have already piqued the interest, and tugged at the heartstrings, of many.
“Seven days ago, my artist friends and I were discussing this whole issue. We were shattered when we read and saw pictures from war-torn Syria. It was then that I decided to work on a series that would deal with this. I started downloading high resolution  images from the internet. As you can see, I am not using colours for this series. The photos are originally from the internet; I am adding a sepia mode to the subjects. In this mode, the attention is diverted towards the subject’s emotion. I don’t know how many paintings I’ll make in this series, but I’ve already completed around 30 of them,” says Shreethar, even as he uses his digital brush on a subject.
He has downloaded over 1, 000 photographs and is in the process of refining the high-resolution ones because he says it is easier to highlight minute expressions in a detailed way. Life finds a way and even in this crisis, some photographs show a small curve on the faces of children. Shreethar says it is not easy to work on such topics as it breaks him down emotionally. The artist adds, “I was stunned to see kids with a smile even when they were going through such a painful situation. Some of them are homeless, and some have just lost their parents. But a small toy in their hand has brightened up their face. Some are playing in the temporary shelter without worrying what the next moment in their lives would be like.” Shreethar plans to exhibit this series in the city soon.

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Faceless expressions and contemplative silence

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Stories from the land of Saurashtra where men and women are immersed in creating art, their beautiful conversation with their friends, acquaintances and children, but all these human figures on the canvas of Ahmedabad -based artist, Vrindavan Solanki, are faceless. The facelessness is also an emotional reflection of the artist’s humility, subconsciously declaring to remain away from the glare of the limelight and continue with his art making. “We live with two faces — inner and outer. What is seen, is not expressed the way it is felt inside. It is itself a story about humans, that how different we are inside than how we look for the outside world. The seen and the unseen, heard and the unheard, quietude and chatter are the inherent duality establishing these compositions,” explains Solanki who is displaying his paintings under the title, Contemplative Silence’ Ethnicity and Light as a Narrative. Another series on the canvas is ‘Etching on Paper’, a technique to show the stillness of city in the midnight. “I am showing this technique for the first time in Chennai. It is about the old buildings and heritage tales from the streets of Ahmedabad through etching medium. There are no people, vehicles and open shops, have you seen the beauty of a city in the midnight when the world goes to sleep? It’s a silent beauty,” he adds.

 

 

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Meet Madras Mail

It was just a music competition in a college that brought five friends — Sachin Yesudas (vocalist),Durwin D Souza (lead guitarist), Aloysious Ajay (bass guitar), Tom
Varghese (synth and keys) and Akhil Babu (drums) — together to form the band, Madras Mail.IMG_7121 (1).jpg“In 2014, we participated in a music competition, ‘Rangrezz 2015’, conducted by AR Rahman Foundation. Five of us collaborated to perform and we won the competition,
something that we never expected. But we eventually started to work together,” recalls Sachin.

Opportunities started pouring in and they released their first music video. “We got lucky that our first music video was entirely sponsored by AR Rahman sir’s production.
It had rock music with electronic elements,” says Durwin.

Before all this happened, the five friends used to jam together and perform with other bands in the city. It was only after the competition held in their college that they came together.

“We call ourselves ‘Madras Mail’ for a reason. The members are from both Chennai and Kerala, and Madras Mail is a train that connects the two states (Kerala and Tamil Nadu) and we thought the name would aptly describe the bond we share,” says Ajay.

Their second music video, Thathuva Kadhai, was launched in 2017. “It has elements
of Tamil folk with a blend of rock music. But before all of that started to happen, we had released our originals in Music Mojo in Kappa TV in 2016,” says Tom.

After finishing their college last year, the five band members took music as their
full-time job. Presently, they pen their songs in Tamil, but are planning to come up with Malayalam songs, too. “The next single will be released this month — it will be either in Malayalam or Tamil,” shares Akhil.

Band: MADRAS MAIL
GENRE: ROCK WITH FOLK AND ELECTRONIC MUSIC

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Behind Bars, A Ray of Hope

A recent video from the Puzhal Central Prison created a buzz on social media. The video clip showed how the prison inmates are giving a fresh lease of life to demonetised currency by converting them into customised file pads for use in government offices.The video was followed by numerous stories highlighting the process involved in turning the shredded currency into office stationery. But not many know that the Puzhal Central
Prison has many such ongoing programmes that give prisoners some purpose — and hope. Life in Puzhal Central Prison starts at 6am, and after the daily routine morning activities, the prisoners get busy with the tasks they are most interested in. So, there’s a paper-making unit, a tailoring unit, a baking unit, a shoe polish-making and packaging unit, a vegetable-and-fruit-farming unit, a rabbit-farming unit, a sweets-and-snacks unit,and many more. Here’s a little jail tour through the different units.

BAKERY UNIT
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Super soft fresh breads come out of ovens and the aroma of cookies, pastries and cakes
fill the air! Yes, we are still inside the prison, at the bakery unit, where 12 prisoners are busy packing breads to send them to the Government Stanley Hospital and Government
Raja Sir Ramaswamy Mudaliar Hospital in Royapuram for free. A packet of bread sold in the prison bazaar costs just `8. This unit was set up in 2013.“We package 1,000 packets of breads every day and send them to the hospitals by 8.30am. We also make cookies, biscuits, rusk, cakes, pastries, and vegetable and fruit jams. We use whole wheat to make breads. We started making breads just eight months ago,” tells the in-charge of the bakery unit. Very soon, they will be distributing their bakery items to the Madras Medical Mission Hospital, the Government Hospitals in Royapettah and Kilpauk.

ART GALLERY

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In the middle of grey stone walls, rusty iron bars and dusty floors, there is a small world of colours and art. The 10-year-old prison art gallery has eight prisoners who practise art. On any given day, they can be spotted busy carving and engraving, sculpting and painting. They sell their work in the prison bazaar.“I spent a year training to do something I love. When I came here, I was depressed for a year. I had so much anger in me, and even suicidal thoughts. After connecting with art, I feel a lot of change in myself; my mind is calm and composed now. The art I have learnt here, I would love to take it up as a profession if I go out,” shares Selvam, who is serving a life sentence (he has served
seven years so far). “If the government decides to release me after I complete 10 years, I know what I will be doing for the rest of my life,” he smiles as he paints.

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The videos on turning scrapped currency notes into office files were made in this unit. This is the oldest unit in the prison. “We started making office file pads recently three months ago. The RBI contacted us saying they have tons of demonetised currency
notes and asked if we could utilise them after recycling. We received the first set of eight tonnes of scrapped notes in the shape of round cakes,” informs a senior police officer.

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An in-charge in the unit guides 25 prisoners in learning this skill. “We process these cakes of scrapped notes to get office file pads. First, we turn them into pulp and then pour that in batter machine that drains all the excess water from the pulp. This is then taken to a hydraulic press where it is pressed into square shapes, followed by calendering machine to smoothen out the material and then brought to paper-cutting machine. We need to dry the pads in the sun before manually sticking them with papers,” explains the in-charge.

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The convicts not only make cover files and file pads, but also envelopes and bound books after recycling old newspapers and scrapped used papers. All these stationery items are then used in government departments. There is also poster-and-banner-making unit where they print flyers for the police department.

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SHOE POLISH MAKING UNIT
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Brown and black boxes of shoe polish at just `22! It’s been a year and a half since the shoe polish-making and packaging unit was started to give employment to 35 prisoners. They package 10,000 boxes every day under the name ‘Freedom’ (this is the brand name that is used for all the products produced inside the prison), which is then sent to police departments across the state.

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Senthilkumar, a prisoner, says,“We make the polish as well as the case. We have both manual and semi-automatic machinery units. Under manual production, we make 500 boxes per day, while we produce 1,000 boxes per day using the machinery” He adds, “I used to work in an oil company before, so I know the mechanism that’s used in making boot polish. I have been working here since the day this unit was started.” Apart from polish, inmates also make sealing wax here.

MUSIC ROOM IN PRISON

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Music is good for the soul, and the inmates here know it better. The music room inside the prison has a guitar, xylophone, drums, orchestra bells, a bongo and a keyboard. “They sing in English, Tamil and in Hindi. They also perform on important days, like Independence Day and Republic Day.We have a music teacher on board, and have also tied up with an agency to teach them these instruments,” informs a senior prison official.

WOMEN’S PRISON

There are 130 women inmates who are engaged in several jobs, like farming, gardening, making sweets and snacks and even concrete hollow blocks. In the transit yard, there is a rabbit farm that is being taken care by a prisoner. “I have been taking care of them for the past two years. A rabbit gives birth to 10-12 kittens. Since I have experience in training dogs when I was in New Delhi, I found it really easy to take up this job,” says
Prabhavati, a who is serving a life sentence.

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A mushroom farm, which was set up 10 years ago, is taken care of by two inmates. “We get produce of about a kilo every day and we sell it in the prison bazaar,” says an inmate who looks after the farm. There’s also a sari printing and dyeing unit, where, under a supervisor, an inmate dyes the saris. The supervisors help her sell saris in the
market.

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PRISON BAZAAR

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Right outside the Puzhal Central Prison gate is the Prison Bazaar, run by inmates who are serving lifetime sentences. They sell almost everything — from shirts and saris, and sweets and snacks to fruits, vegetables, rabbit kittens and even concrete hollow
blocks! The bazaar was started in 2013 and all the products are made by prisoners
themselves.

PROJECTS IN THE PIPELINE

  • SANITARY NAPKIN UNIT – The existing sanitary napkin-making unit is not functioning at present. But the government has recently allotted Rs 2 lakh for purchasing a machine that will help in largescale production. “We only work with the Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation Limited (TNMSC), which procures napkins in large quantity to supply in government schools, hospitals and institutions free of cost. Previously, we were manually manufacturing it for use by the inmates. We were also supplying maternity sanitary napkins to the government hospitals. Now, we are waiting for the purchase order and the new machine to arrive,” informs a senior official. A napkin pad costs Rs 2.50 and one packet contains six pads.
  • PETROL BUNKS- A proposal to start five petrol bunks inside the prisons in Tamil Nadu has been submitted to the government. The five chosen locations are — Puzhal, Pudukottai, Coimbatore, Madurai and Vellore. “The proposal was sent five months ago to the government. There are some security concerns. Prisoners who have been sentenced for life, but have maintained a good conduct record, will be shortlisted and they will go through the selection process by a classification committee,” informs a senior official. He adds, “Nearly 15 prisoners will be employed in each location. We are expecting the government to announce the fund by March. We are working with Indian Oil Corporation, which will provide us with the infrastructure facility.”
  • PAPER-MAKING UNIT- The existing handmade paper-making unit will soon be upgraded. To purchase advanced machines, Rs 10 lakh has been allotted. “The government has announced Rs 90 lakh for nine centres across the state. We are expecting the unit to be in the Puzhal Central Prison by April,” says an official. The manual paper-making unit has a capacity to produce 700kg per day, but the advanced machine can produce 4,000kg per day.

THE STORY IN OTHER PRISONS

VELLORE CENTRAL JAIL: Known for its shoe-manufacturing and shoe-polishing
unit for policemen across the state.

COIMBATORE CENTRAL PRISON: Popular for its powerloom unit, where around 500 prisoners weave and stitch uniforms for policemen across the state. They also make bandages that go to all the government hospitals across the state.
TRICHY CENTRAL PRISON: A soap-making unit has been set up recently on the prison
premises. The inmates make oil bath soaps, detergents and toilet cleaners. They have a
tailoring unit for both men and women, and produce woollen blankets, bandages, and
khaki raincoats, which are sold to various government hospitals and police departments.
They also have a book-binding unit, a bakery, and a packing unit.
MADURAI CENTRAL PRISON: They have recently installed a paper-making machinery
costing Rs 10 lakh.

DO CONVICTS CHOOSE THEIR VOCATION?

Whenever a convict enters the prison, they are produced to the classification committee every Tuesday. The committee is led by a chairman, assistant superintendent, jailors, doctors and psychologists who decide which convict is fit for what kind of job after analysing their age, interest, background, psychological test and skills. For those who possess no skill, there are trainers, who are called foremen, to train them in their field of interest.

SALARY PER DAY
SKILLED –Rs 200
SEMI-SKILLED –Rs 180
UNSKILLED – Rs 160

SALARY RATIO
50 % GOES FOR PRISON MAINTENANCE
20 % GOES TO VICTIM COMPENSATION
30 % CONVICT SALARY

Photos by Johan Sathyadas

 

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What’s there in your self defense kit

What do you think are the potential defense tools for women? Accessories like hair clips, safety pins, rubber bands, or stationery items like pencil and pen, door keys, tweezers, scissors and sometimes even nails come in handy. Sounds unbelievable? Let’s hear it out from these women who have been using them regularly.

Sridevi, who runs a catering business, ensures she has her safety tool in her handeverytime she goes out with her friends for partying. And the tool is nothing, but her scooter key! “I always keep the key in between my fingers, in a way that it can instantly poke if I am attacked. It’s more like my finger ring and I am so used to it, as it has been helpful in the past. This is just a trick that caught my mind ever since I started riding scooter. Moreover, I always have pepper spray in my handbag, but it can’t be used quickly like the key.”

Women carry their world in their purse — from safety pins to hair clips, and what not! All these can be smartly used at the time of emergency when they feel their safety is threatened. Just like bike keys, even door keys, or any key for that matter can be useful during a crisis. 

Remember how actress Vidya Balan used cold steel honeycomb and hair brush dagger in the movie Kahaani 2 to stab the villain? Small tools like tweezers, scissors or anything from your manicure kit can also play a big role in saving you in times of distress.

Ruby Ann, a 40-year-old RJ, entrepreneur and social activist, is a master in handling Swiss knife and using pepper spray. She has also learnt self defense mechanism with mixed martial art techniques and has been training her daughter, too, considering the growing number of sexual harassment cases. “Even though we have pepper spray and Swiss knife in our bags, the most important self defense tool would be a person’s confidence and common sense. Having pepper spray doesn’t mean that you’re safe, you must know how to use it at the proper time. Offenders these days are aware of the consequences of being attacked with pepper spray, and hence, they know how to get away with it. They will any way find ways to trouble women. The best thing is to stay sensible, knowing what you are doing and where you are going after the party. I have used pepper spray a couple of years ago when I was on a road trip in a northern state and another time when I was returning from Krishnagiri,” she says. 

Five years ago, when Keerthana, a music teacher, had to walk through a deserted place to take class, what came handy was a nail clipper. She says, “I always used to carry a nail clipper with me. The area from Sholinganallur bus stand to the apartment where I had to go had no mode of public transport. The distance was around a kilometre. There used to be a gang of men who used to ogle and pass comments. I used to feel uncomfortable and threatened always. For my safety, I used to clutch a nail clipper in my hand. Now, it’s been like a part of me, just like any accessories I wear.”

For 25-year-old, Sowmya Sankaran, a city-based entrepreneur, her nails are her smart instant weapon. They are ‘pretty’ devil to be precise! “My nails are my strength and I have now mastered on how to use it at the right time. A slight scratch will make anyone bleed — I have done it many times in the past,” laughs Sowmya. 

She was in class 10 when she realised that nails are a good tool for self defense. “One evening, I boarded a bus from Mylapore after school. A man was constantly trying to push and grope me. It made me angry and irritated — I just scratched his hand in anger. He got furious when he saw that his hand had started bleeding. I wore a cap of confidence that day and self-patted on my shoulder for being brave and smart. Since then I have been using it and will continue to use it in future if it requires. Why girls need to stay home after sunset? We, too, deserve to celebrate like men, don’t we?”

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