A bit of brass........................A touch of class

<br>A bit of brass........................A touch of class

Friday, 5 December 2014

The passion, the process ...the PIECES -- Where glamour meets gastric heartburn!


Sitting in a rented vehicle -- ready to make the six-hour return journey to the small village where four generations of women in my family have annually convened to collaborate with fifth-generation artisans for the purposes of chai, chatter & creative jewellery making -- I'm taken back, & slightly aback, by the imminent, irrational roads & lanes of lumpiness we must traverse, the death defying obstacles hurtling passed, which threaten to take us prematurely to our heavenly maker, & the slightly surreal feeling that ALL the Ghosts of Aunties Past are watching closely, curious, slightly circumspect & ready with sharp tongues & shawls wrapped tightly around shoulders to critique my designs!


Overstuffed bicycles, bulls and bright 
lorries compete for space

Will they be pretty? ...Will they be finished? ...Too big/small ...gaudy ...articulated/interpreted the way I have imagined, sketched & explained for months & months via correspondence? Will anyone even like them?


One of my many earring designs

I sigh and say a silent prayer as I pass each & every shrine & temple along the way ...& the way is hard my friends.

Stuck for hours, on my own, on a precarious 1.5-meter-wide, 20-metre-high bridge, built back in the days of the British, with only the equivalent of a curtain rod & a threadbare brick separating you from certain death, not to mention an ominous 'skull & bones' warning of collapse if more than two vehicles cross at the same time, I have to ask myself two questions: Is this some kind of population control?  AND... Is the bling really worth it? 


The yellow bridge of angst


Oxen doing the rounds over the road

After a half-cocked symphony of whaling car-horns, buffalo horns, moustache preening (by taxi drivers, not me) & half-a-dozen useless buttons & boiled eggs sold to me through the window, we teeter on. We go past the impressive Muslim madrasah, tatty Tata car factory & the funky fish market (which I could get whiffs of two hours prior!) ...& I know now that the six-hour journey has stretched into ten. This is why they lovingly call it IST - Indian stretchable time! And you see, it happens all the time, & I've seen it all before, but each time with eyes agog & wonder ever increased.


School & mosque being mended

As we turn the corner at Haldirams sweet shop with the old plantain wallah (green-banana seller) crouched on the curb, crooning a melody to off-load his last bunch, I reach out to relieve him of his burden & instinctively sniff the skins -- because this, dear friends, most reminds me of my childhood; a childhood in this bountiful village that lasted a mere three years. Smell is such a compelling conduit of memory ...so too colour ...& that colour for me, has always been GOLD.


Smelting the gold

Pretty soon, I am before it. It is unmistakable. ‘Warmth’, ‘Glow’, ‘Glitter’ & ‘Shimmering’ are my companions & when they welcome me with a bhajan (devotional song), a gajra (flower garland) a tilak (forehead blessing) & a sweet rose-lassi ...I know I am home.

The Ābhūṣaṇa kī dukāna (jewellery shop) is my happy homestead.


A countertop of traditional gold & onyx mangal-sutra 
(wedding necklaces) [Notebook & chai are also a must!]

My pieces are summoned like precious children. Lined up & presented with perfect poise.


My third collection of designs
& a few remakes brought to beaming life

There is great nervousness & expectation. I look them over, study their lines, angles & finishes. Measure, weigh, make note of errors, request small changes, and fend off pushy Aunties (unrelated to me) who gawk inquisitively. And before long, I have an audience of cutie Kewpie-doll girls, breathless brides & demanding-diva Mama-Ji's all ogling my jewels -- hence it's time for a private viewing.


Celestial Goddess admiring her bling

Most popular & practical in India, is to buy ready-made, ‘chunky-don’t-funk-with-me’ super lustrous sparklers. It is the Indian woman’s currency and still used as a bartering tool and dowry device in many regions. Some, though, have the privilege and desire for custom-made. I am fortunate to be one.




OneRoseOneRuby gems & 
materials for necklaces

A lineage of loyal patrons creates a distinctive bond, a special relationship, between the creative & the creator, the artist & the artisan, the designer & the maker. It's a mutual understanding & respect for the hand-mastered artform, the devotion to detail and reverence for imagination. But the challenge posed by going outside conventional or traditional design in an established jewellery house, wanting to maintain certain cultural standards -- together with the time management skills required to cater for me & a gazillion other more important clientele & the need to acknowledge each & every design as a work of individual, artistic, expression -- make for an arduous, painstaking process. It involves much time, money, effort, unpredictable (sometimes impossible) barriers & a palace-full of patience. When all goes well, however, it is the ultimate student-teacher symbiosis ...me being the very contented student.


Sorting the stones

I design & make jewellery for adornment; for the pure, unadulterated joy of beauteous things for beauty's sake. Jewellery that enhances, enchants & transforms ...without any rendering to a higher order, no ill-conceived spiritual claims, condescending saviour-complex (helping little brown people out of poverty, while lining my own pockets ...How Colonial!!) or any particular intellectual pursuit. That is not my motivation or marketing strategy. Wearing my pieces, you will not become part of an elitist club or community of high-minded priestesses. I like to think of my jewels as having an objective beauty & universal value rather than a narrow, subjective worth. They are informed by my rich cultural heritage, fondest memories, significant travel experiences, sweet sentimentality &, mostly, my desire to create something different and special for you & me. I pay the gold & silver market price, the labour charges as asked of an established, ethical & prominent jeweller, extensive travel expenses & the privilege of protection & relative anonymity (unlikely elsewhere, including Kolkata). The risk of copy & duplication is nil. [That is of course, before I put them up on the Internet. Then it's game on for all parasites & other pests!] There is a high premium for quality & exclusive workmanship.


Intricate filigree earrings of solid gold,
a OneRoseOneRuby design.

So, to answer my own question, Is the bling really worth it? Well, when I frown, even cry a bit, become woeful, sometimes exasperated that the whole journey will have to be repeated, maybe twice, even thrice -- because the gold pieces have been made silver or the silver made gold -- I have to wonder if my dearest jeweller can also turn water into wine & drown my sorrows! The traffic jams, the choke-hold of diesel around my larynx. The heat, the dust, the careening trucks of doom, teetering on just two wheels (yeah, TWO WHEELS). The feeling of failure & disappointment, because only five out of 20 pieces materialised. Worrying about time and money. Pondering how often I can get back to India. Having to inspect every piece in person ...That's when the fear & doubt sets in. When the foolishness, self-pity & magnitude of the whole shebang starts to weigh heavily ... & then, THEN, I look outside the car window to see a 40-kilo, toothless, old woman carrying a 50-kilo stack of bricks on her head in the blazing sun, & I instantly snap out of it.


Clay-relief figurine carrying a load

“Get over yourself, I say. You have so many things she doesn’t ...most significantly, choice!” I've made my choice, now I just need HER unconquerable strength & determination to continue.

When I get back to the hotel & settle down into my floaty kaftan, the answer to my question bursts forth with a resounding YES! Yes, I will get back in that taxi tomorrow, brave the mechanical beasts on the street, suck up the black soot, cross that perilous bridge, buy a dozen unneeded eggs, muse over moustaches in traffic jams, high-five the banana-man, negotiate the jewels all over again & pray earnestly to the temples, shrines & ancestors of my past. You see, I NEED this connection & the cumulative courage of every soul I come in contact with.


On the other side of calamity

Heaven knows, it IS all worth it.

For when a person buys a piece of my heartfelt work, a sample of my soul, a study of my life, they will gain much, much more than they bargained for …They will have cried the cries & smiled the smiles and unknowingly journeyed with me Xx


View from my cab - a truckload of vocal villagers.
 
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#All Writing & #Photos by Rani.Cee

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Merle, Me & A Mansion in the Motherland - The Mystique Of Merle Oberon




On my first junior jaunt back to India, my garrulous, great-grand-mother regaled me with phantasmagorical tales of spooks & sirens & magical manors with maidens so fair. So 'FAIR' I pondered!... In India? Oh yes, the fairest of fair maidens, some of whom courageously crossed the Indian Ocean to seek fame, fortune & felicity.


Pampered, preserved & conserved on celluloid


I was told of the grand home of a great English screen actress who lived in Kolkata - a home I have searched for on countless occasions (Most likely reduced to dust by now, courtesy of a few mustachioed, man-servants with muscles) & a small curiosity I had been trying to unravel since the words 'Palaces' & 'Silver screen' were planted in my brain.



Not the Oberon Mansion but a crumbling neo-baroque 
building-facade in the nicer nooks of Kolkata #


Research indicates that actor Merle Oberon was born in Bombay to an Indian mother & British soldier during occupation (or as it was more commonly referred back then, the days of the British Raj) While this was not 'such' an unusual occurrence for the time, nor too scandalous a revelation for modern times... back then, the progeny of such couplings found themselves caught between cultures, & either elevated or ostracized, depending on the company.



Neon art-work by Nicholas Galanin, echoes offensive signages
found in many public places in India, right up until the 80s *


It is believed, however, being young, ambitious & leveraging her sought-after skin tone & 'masala-mix' beauty, Merle took to the high-seas in the hopes of striking 'Star-Gold' in her new world. Nothing particularly 'new' there, except for what marks this story as particularly tragic. It was not because (like other half castes of her generation) she dubiously concealed her Indian identity, (&, in Merle's case, going to extraordinary lengths to do so) but the fact that the woman she travelled with, & referred to as her 'Ayah' (servant/hired-help) was by way of the Bible, her very own Mother (unbeknownst to anyone else of course, excepting Miss Oberon)!



 Douglas Sirk's 'Imitation of Life' sees Sarah-Jane 
rejecting her mother's 'colour' & denying their relationship **


The actress, whose soft vulnerability & rarefied radiance shone wildly in 'Wuthering Heights', & who wistfully lured men-folk to her siren-call in nearly every movie she starred in, essentially rejected the exotic essence of her being & for all intents & purposes, was vehemently ashamed of her heritage... Heart-breaking.



'Wuthering Heights' 1939. 
Oberon plays the quintessential 'English' Rose


Yes, yes, I know it was but a safe refuge of the time, a legacy of old perceptions & an unwitting survival tactic - but I can't help feeling doleful about it all. Disheartened that such measures had to be taken to extricate oneself from the barbarous associations of a supposedly backward nation.



The Indian Mutiny of 1857
While some were fleeing inequality, others were fighting it ***


Writings proffer that Merle Oberon returned to the Motherland in later life, when the stage-lights dimmed & the need to hide was no longer required... especially as there was nothing left to seek & she was no longer sought.



Living & leaving on the 'low-down'


I wonder whether any peace was had or 'made' with the uncredited lady who 'took care' of the great actress. What sense of self-worth each had, how they reconciled their fine charade & if they felt the price they paid for fame was indeed worth the fortune.



Sizzling & statuesque in a studio still -
Follies Bergere 1935


As for me, I no longer search for the house of the great screen actress in Kolkata. That legend died for me long ago, probably around the time 'hired-help' & 'maid-servant' were planted in my brain... & yet I still adore Merle Oberon as the eponymous Cathy in 'Wuthering Heights'. I muse also at the irony of her many roles where she is cast as the 'exotic' temptress, painted-up, no less, to accentuate her obviously Eurasian features - features she’d have, no doubt, tried to subdue & placate over a lifetime.


Merle perfecting Persian Princess Pose
in 'Night in Paradise' 1946

****EPILOGUE****
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Indian Ocean a little boy & his school mates, waited in breathless anticipation for the hungry hang-glider to touch-down in Melbourne town. It was 1965, & the delicate contents of that giant, mechanical bird in the sky soon spilled out onto the tarmac in eminent style. Along with the crates, cachets & carriers, came the 'STAR' - small, slim, ivory-skinned & hugged tightly by a foxy-white mink stole...Merle Oberon, advanced in age, though ever charming, strode past with an air of vintage pedigree. The social-studies teacher reminded the now infatuated young boys, it took about 11 hours to fly from Kolkata to Melbourne.

KOLKATA... INDIA... JUNGLE-BOOK! - The mind was on a mission....


# The Maharajah mascot of mechanical elevation

The little boy ran home to his mother & his world atlas, both formidable, frequent fonts of knowledge. He pointed to the bendy Bay of Bengal & pronounced euphorically, 'One day I will visit there. I will ride on an elephant. Catch me a tiger. And find me a wife.'

That little boy was my future husband...
Funny how things work out! Xx


#

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**************************************************
#All Writing & #Photos by Rani.Cee
#Other images taken from 'The Romantic life of Merle Oberon' - . Fanpix.Net & 'ACertainCinema.com'
*Nicholas Galanin Flickr.com
**Screen-Capture from 'Imitation of Life' - Douglas Sirk (Personal Copy)
***From the 'Punch' Victorian Era Cartoon Series 'The Indian Mutiny' (Personal Post-Cards)
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