Looking for Stories in an Oriental Painting

One Sunday morning, when I bought this old painting on an impulse, I just knew that it was a copy of some famous oriental painting.

The rich dress of the bride, the slave making a garland, patterns on the carpet, jewelry and other small details gave enough clues. That’s why I did not mind the price. After carefully bringing the painting inside the house, the researcher in me began to google.

And bingo, I found it – Preparations for the wedding of the Cherif’s daughter in Tangiers by José Tapiró Y Baró. The painter (1836 – 1913), was a Catalan painter; best known for his watercolor portraits from Morocco.

This was the original painting, which I found on Google. José Tapiró Y Baró was one of the first to settle in Tangier, Morocco, to find inspiration from day to day lives of the people there. These kind of vibrant paintings were quite famous at the time and his works, especially portraits were very detailed and intricate despite having water color as the medium.

The backdrop of the painting was the wedding preparation of the Cherif’s daughter. Cherif means Sultan or nobleman which means the bride in the painting belonged to a noble family.

The story captured in this painting took me to places in my imagination. Who was the groom of the Sultan’s daughter? What kind of life she had after marriage? She looked shy and demure in the painting. How was she in real life?

Look at the intent with which the slave is making a garland. What was the story of this slave?

And who was this maid adorning the bride? She has nice ornaments on which means she would be quite up in the hierarchy. She seems to be darkening the eyebrows of the coy bride, the Sultan’s daughter.

There are many more questions. But two questions baffled me about this painting. First, who was this figure? The Sultan himself, sitting on a chair?

Another most important question, for me, is – Why is the painting, which I bought, not signed? It is unusual because generally everyone loves to put their names on their works. And although my painting is a duplicate, still it seems to be done by some master artist, considering its beauty. But why has he not put his name there? Very baffling! Also, I had thought that my painting was done in Oil but I am having second thoughts now. I guess it is water color just like the original one.

For now, my search is still on! The painting definitely has many, many stories hidden in it. And I am loving the experience of unraveling the layers in this lovely work.

And you can help too! If you know anything about the painter or the painting, please let me know. I will be very grateful 🙏🏻

Leave Off Your Works, Bride – Relive the romance of yore!

  
  
Today, as I sat reading poetry, I came across this sublime love poem by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. The beauty of “Leave off Your Works, Bride” is such that it took me back in time…in the days of our grandparents, when it was not easy for couples to meet or romance. There were customs, family traditions, disapproving elders and unwritten rules that were to be observed before the consummation of an arranged marriage. Love marriage was out of question!

The poem talks about the period of anticipation that precedes the onset of romance between newly weds in a traditional arranged marriage set up.

It is a part of ‘The Gardener’, a lesser known love poem collection than the spiritual ‘Gitanjali'(1913), for which Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. Both were published in the same year – 1913, but ‘Gitanjali’ received an overwhelming response and the latter got overshadowed. Nevertheless, ‘The Gardener’ is great in its own way. And “Leave off Your Works, Bride” underscores my observation.

  
The verses evoke gentle and deep romance of the yore. It takes us into one of those ancient Bengali households, where a bride awaits her guest ( husband). The poet is encouraging her to welcome the guest (husband) but the bride seems shy, reluctant and nervous. The poet gives well meaning advices to her, asking her to leave all work and win over him. He is trying to lessen the awkwardness of first meeting between husband and wife in their first meeting. The poem abounds in imagery. It is as if Tagore, the artist-poet, is painting with words.

What made me fall in love with this song is one particular imagery – a veiled beautiul bride, holding a lamp, consumed with contrasting emotions, getting ready to meet her unknown husband!

Enjoy the poem and interpret this classic in your own way!

  
Leave off Your Works Bride – RABINDRANATH TAGORE

Leave off your works, bride. Listen, the guest has come.
Do you hear, he is gently shaking the fastening chain of the door?

Let not your anklets be loud, and your steps be too hurried to meet him.

Leave off your works, bride, the guest has come, in the evening.
No, it is not the wind, bride. Do not be frightened.

It is the full-moon night of April, shadows are pale in the court-yard, the sky overhead is bright.

Draw your veil over your face if you must, take the lamp from your room if you fear.

No, it is not the wind, bride; do not be frightened.         
Have no word with him if you are shy, stand aside by the door when you meet him.

If he asks you questions, lower your eyes in silence, if you wish.

Do not let your bracelets jingle, when, lamp in hand, you lead him in.

Have no word with him if you are shy.
Have you not finished your works yet, bride? Listen, the guest has come.            

Have you not lit the lamp in the cowshed?

Have you not got ready the offering basket for the evening service?

Have you not put the auspicious red mark at the parting of your hair, and done your toilet for the night?

         O bride, do you hear, the guest has come?

         Have you not finished your works yet?

Images courtesy Google

The Bride of Thirteen – 2

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Bent but not broken, she stood looking at the garden from the verandah of her bungalow. Her dimming vision did not allow her to see the untended garden, so she just saw flowers in bloom.

She thanked Him for the flowers!

She would be 100 in a couple of years. She took out one melt in the mouth candy and savoured its taste. Mmmm…! She missed ‘paan’ (betel) but the candies were not bad either. One of her granddaughters had got it from Oman. As she turned to go, the scent of red roses filled her being and took her back to the time when she was a bride of thirteen.

That seemed more like a lifetime ago, in the pre-independence era of India. She was getting married to a prince from a faraway state. The purdah system (married women covered their faces) was a dominant practice at that time but otherwise the women from royal families lead a lavish life. She was fortunate to be the daughter of a Ruling Chief and her marriage was a grand affair.

The royals of different states vied with each other in a show of extravagance at her wedding. Veiled women laden with Banarasi Silk, Velvet and Chiffons and resplendent in gold and diamonds fluttered around. The men had moustaches and long beards and they wore intricately embroidered Sherwanis that made them look noble, chivalrous as well as intimidating.

She had a crimson embroidered veil on her face and she was held by maids in waiting. She didn’t know what was happening as she couldn’t see from under the heavy veil. All she could smell was roses everywhere…on her hair…under her feet…in the garland in her hands. They were perhaps leading her towards the dais where marital rituals were to be performed. She heard that they were filming the wedding – a rarity in those pre-television days. She wanted to peep out of the veil but that would have been improper and scandalous!

She heard people talking that a train full of guests had arrived with the prince. Her father left no stone unturned to give them a spectacular welcome. Folk dances were performed, sword fights were staged, fascinating nautch girls (dancers) from Benares danced Kathak in the ‘janwasa’ and the guests merrily immersed themselves in revelry.

The maids made her sit on a mat and one of them whispered in her ear, “You are lucky princess. The prince is very handsome and perhaps he will take good care of you.” She heard them laughing. The bride was dark, skinny and average looking…little more than a child! She was enjoying the excitement until now. She was ecstatic to be the centre of attention and being fussed over. She had spent the last few months admiring her clothes and jewels but the maids’ words made her anxious.

The full reality of being married dawned upon her. She will have to leave her house, her parents, playmates and embrace a new life. She knew her in laws place was different from hers culturally and socially and the prince was a complete stranger. One day, out of the blue, her parents announced of her impending marriage to an unknown prince from a strange land. Arranged marriages were supposed to be unquestionably accepted in those days.

Moreover, she had thought of it to be some fun event but now it seemed cruel. She was venturing into the unknown and she didn’t know how she would survive in a different place without her loved ones.

The rituals lasted through the night and she slept fitfully between mantras. Whenever her covered head drooped to one side, she would be poked and nudged to wake up. She felt that getting married was a terrible job! She was not liking it anymore.

The following day,the world started treating her differently. The bridegroom and the guests left for the boarding house to change and get ready for farewell. Her status had suddenly elevated, she was a married lady now! She was asked to walk slowly, talk in whispers and wear a veil covering her face. Her mother instructed her for the umpteenth time to behave properly in front of the in laws and not bring shame to the family. She had to be docile, sweet and humble under all circumstances. This forced transformation from a girl to a lady was nerve wrecking.

She had so many questions to ask…but no one was listening to her. She wanted to talk to her siblings but everybody was busy preparing for the ‘vidaai’ (farewell) ceremony. For her, everything was about to change and they expected too much from her! The bride of thirteen felt like crying at the top of her voice. However, there was one thought that made her feel better.

“Well, not everything is going to change,” she muttered. There was ‘one person’ who would not leave her on her own even if the world did. ‘He’ would make sure that everything would be alright. ‘He’ would ensure that her husband, the handsome prince, like and befriend her.

She walked towards the prayer room and picked up the idol of Baby Krishna. He had been her favourite playmate, confidante and sweetheart all this while…she knew that He would make sure everyone else loves her in her new home!

She gently put the smiling Krishna in her gold potli (purse) and smiled broadly. There was nothing to worry, she would not be sad, lonely and miserable anymore. He was with her!

Her daughter-in-law’s voice broke her reverie. She had brought tea for her. It was also time for her favourite TV show. She gave one last look to the roses, smiled fondly and turned to go.

To be continued….


(Loosely based on the life of my grandmother, who will be 100 in a couple of years)

Image courtesy  Google

The Bride of Fourteen

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Arriving at the beach, she reflected on her life. It had been an unusually long one. She would be 100 in a couple of years. Although her memory was blurred now, she still remembered the day of her marriage at the age of fourteen.

And the day when her eldest was born. She was sixteen then. And she didn’t know how to hold the little one. But during those days, there were so many people on whom she could rely. Her husband, parents, siblings, friends…but now they were all gone.

It was funny but she never really missed anyone after they left her. She felt she was connected with all of them through ‘Him’. ‘He’ had been her constant companion since childhood. Her conversations with ‘Him’ were entertaining and sustaining. ‘He’ would be there for her even till the end of the world, she knew it.

She laughed like a girl of fourteen again!

This story is a part of Mondays Finish the Story by Barbara Beacham. This is a flash fiction challenge where a new photo and the opening sentence is provided. The challenge is to finish the story using 100-150 words. Click here to take up the challenge: https://mondaysfinishthestory.wordpress.com