Monday, February 08, 2010

Debashish Banerji, great-grandson of the protean genius, Abanindranath Tagore

Shoe ad on Ram's slippers Calcutta Telegraph - Sunday , January 31 , 2010
The man who wrote Buro Angla and Kshirer Putul, and was an artist, also produced a jatra. It was a retelling of the Ramayana.
Abanindranath Tagore had called his take on our oldest epic Khuddur Jatra. The text, written between 1934 and 1942, draws on a multitude of images from the time, particularly from advertising, cinema and politics. What makes the manuscript special is the way he has added layers to the story by doodling and sketching on subjects as varied as fashion and natural history, and pasting whatever he fancied — emblems, labels, wrappers or advertisements.
The manuscript lay all this while with Abanindranath’s grandson Sumitendranath Tagore and then his wife Shyamashree. It has now surfaced in print courtesy Priyabrata Deb of Pratikshan.
The printed facsimile preserves the feel of the manuscript, including a folded flap. The pictures pasted on the sidelines provide commentary on the text and vice versa. “We can see the period through his work and his criticism of it,” said poet Sankha Ghosh at the launch.
Next to Ravana declaring war is a picture of Hitler. When Bharat carries his brother Ram’s wooden slippers on his head, he has an advertisement of Radu shoes for company. The shoe ads recur where Manthara, the scheming maid, exults over Ram’s expulsion. At the beginning of Lankakando is a picture of a chilli. Beside a page describing Ravana’s room are bathing beauties in a still from the 1926 film A Roman Scandal. Hanuman searches for Sita in Lanka next to a newspaper cutting with the heading “Information wanted”.
As art historian R. Siva Kumar said: “Everything about Abanindranath is happening late not because of weakness but because of the strength of his work. We are trying to match up to his concepts 70 years later.”
But one needs to sample how he has played with the language, giving it a lightness of touch and a flippancy of tone that underlines his irreverence. In one chapter, Sushen, the physician, enquires on the state of soldiers wounded in war and is told by Jamboban how all are cringing at the arrows like caterpillars. Says Jamboban: “Ar khobor, baney baney sobai gutishuti gutipokar baba shuopokar borabor…
“There is scope for research on the interrelation between picture and text or even what the pictures stand for,” feels Samik Bandyopadhyay, who has provided an English commentary and a shortened translation. There is also a transcript of the hand-written text.
Man who wrote pictures
The school of art that Abanindranath Tagore founded had too many facets to be just labelled “Bengal School”. Debashish Banerji, great-grandson of the protean genius, who described himself as the “man who wrote pictures”, argues in his book, The Alternate Nation of Abanindranath Tagore, that “the art of Abanindranath, developed during the Bengal Renaissance in the 19th-20th centuries, was not merely a normalisation of national or oriental principle, but conducted a critical engagement with post-Enlightenment modernity and post-colonialism,” to quote the press release.
The book, brought out by Sage Publications, was released on Thursday evening at the Oxford Bookstore by Tapati Guha Thakurta, a professor at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Calcutta.
Guha Thakurta said with the recent publication of several new books on him in English, Abanindranath was enjoying a wider audience today, and he was being “relocated” beyond the nationalist framework.
The later Abanindranath of the 1930-51 was a complex figure who was outside the public domain, although the Jorasanko household itself was like a small township. Banerji, who is a professor of Indian Studies and the educational coordinator of the University of Philosophical Research, Los Angeles, read out a section of the book in which he analysed Abanindranath’s painting of Sindbad. SUDESHNA BANERJEE

Georgina Maddox  IE »  Story: Thursday , Feb 04, 2010

Of the three prolific Tagore siblings Rabindranath, Gaganindranath and Abanindranath, the latter’s work is perhaps the least applauded. In fact, art historians like Ananda Coomarayswamy who wrote in the ‘50s and ‘60s slotted Abanindranath’s Bengal Renaissance as quaintly Revivalist. Now a new book titled The Alternate Nation of Abanindranath Tagore, authored by Debashish Banerji, also his grandson and published by Sage at Rs 995, explores his work again.
“The Colonialist reading of art done in the Pre-Swadeshi period thrust upon us a certain preference for the masculine brand of nationalism: something that was not sentimental about the past,” says Banerji. It is perhaps ironic we are discussing this at Delhi’s Imperial Hotel that celebrates the Raj through its wonderfully nostalgic interiors.
“The style fostered by Abanindranath was marginalised and given a very narrow reading,” says the 53-year-old art professor who teaches in Pasadena City College in Los Angeles. The book is not for the layperson and does not fall in the coffee table category either. It’s for those interested in either history or art. However given that there are fewer books that attempt to reclaim our histories, it is an essential piece of scholarship.
To put it very simply, the book attempts to reclaim Abanindranath’s space on the stage of those who contributed to an emerging Independent India. “Abanindranath may have been sidelined for his miniatures on the Arabian Nights since it reinforced the one nation theory of India and Pakistan,” contemplates Banerji. “His painting Bharat Mata was first known as Bongo Mata of the Sakti cult. Abanindranath was a Neo Vendantist and a Sufi, not orthodox and believed in the fluidity of religion,” says Banerji.
While Banerji met Manindranath, Tagore’s youngest son and his uncle, and gleaned details of his grandfather’s personality, he also had to keep a distance as a scholar while approaching the artist’s work critically. “Abanindranath was very introverted but he was also observant and took in details of the world around him,” says Banerji.
We wind up with a final glimpse at Tagore’s painting Last Days of Shah Jehan a painting that has often been described as romantic but is layered with a comment on India’s pluralism. “Let us not forget that Shah Jehan had a Mughal father and a Rajput mother,” concludes Banerji.

Spirit of love and family bonding Calcutta Telegraph - BOOK READING
January 28 at Oxford Bookstore, Park Street; 6.30 pm: Oxford Bookstore and Sage Publications host a book-reading session on The Alternate Nation of Abanindranath Tagore by Dr Debashish Banerji, to be followed by a panel discussion with Prof. Tapati Guha Thakurta.
Fashion for a cause Calcutta Telegraph - Jan 29, 2010
January 30 at Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, 8 Shakespeare Sarani; 6.15 pm: Dr Debashish Banerjee will speak on Sri Aurobindo’s Record of Yoga: Shakti Chatusthaya and The Mother

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