All the Madness from the ‘Mad Artists’ workshop at Zorba the Buddha

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The agenda of this post is to document the ‘How do those Mad Artists Think? Lessons in creative thinking from the world of Art and Design’ workshop, point out the interactive techniques I used, and give the reader an idea of what to expect, should they participate in the next one.

I write this after reading the feedback forms, and I’m happy to report that there are at least ten more Mad Artists in the world who are keen on experimenting with their talents.

I did learn a few lessons though, as regards the length of the workshop (I ought to contract it), and that 10 am on a Sunday morning is a lousy time to start! A sincere thank you to all those who came. The next time it will probably be a half-day session, from 3.30 pm to 8.30 pm, and end with an Asterix comic style feast for dinner!

My Mission/Workshop manifesto

  1. Make people aware of the context of their talents in the world of Art. Do you have leanings towards Futurism or are you a Purist, for instance?
  2. Initiate people to the ‘thinking structures’ of great Artists, past and present, from various fields.
  3. By so doing, instil in people the confidence and vocabulary to take their particular talents in innovative directions.

The Technique used in the Workshop  

One of the main things I wanted to do through this workshop was make people realize that Art is not as esoteric as it’s made out to be. Behind the often tumid prose that surrounds any discussion on Art, is a fundamental artistic process, which I wanted to reveal.

Most of the ‘big words’ that surround Art, all fall into this artistic process in logical places, in an almost formulaic manner.

Often I meet incredibly gifted writers, illustrators and musicians, who practice their crafts prolifically, but in a largely stagnant manner, within a decorated box, utilizing predictable and hackneyed tropes in their renditions.

While there is no harm in this, (the important thing is that they enjoy what they do) I have also experienced that a small initiation to lateral thinking by great artists in a person’s area of interest, at living room conversations or parties, tends to inspire them with a new respect for their talents.

I employed a playful method to demonstrate the ‘logical methods’ behind the lateral thinking to the participants, so that the next time they created anything, they could experiment with their crafts, and be articulate about the nature of their experiments.

Step 1

I randomly placed the ‘big words’ on the floor of the workshop space, in the area enclosed by the circle of chairs.

That's me, randomly pasting 'big words' from the world of Art, all over the floor of the workshop space. 

Randomly pasting ‘big words’ from the world of Art, all over the floor of the workshop space.

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Step 2

As people walked in and sat down, the fluorescent chits on the Terrazo got their attention and a process of thinking about the words started from the very outset.

After the introductions, I got people talking about the words pasted on the floor by posing questions like, “What’s the difference between Art and Craft?” or “How important is Skill or Technique in Art?” (the italicized words were pasted on the floor).

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I wanted people to arrive at the differences between the meanings of the words, or the relationships between them, through a process of discussion.

For example Craft is different from Art because there is often Use for it. Culture, Tradition, Spirituality and Local Material play an important role, and it relies heavily on learnt Technique.

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In this snapshot you can see the words 'Art', 'Ephemerality', 'Dematerialization', 'Design' and 'Spirituality' amongst others

In this snapshot you can see the words ‘Art’, ‘Ephemerality’, ‘Dematerialization’, ‘Design’ and ‘Spirituality’ amongst others

 

Step 3

At the end of the rich discussion, I rearranged the random words, with the participants help, to form a logical order that described the artistic process.

This made for a lot of interaction and fun (“…put that word here, next to Design, no, no I think it should go before plasticity!”) , and furthered the participants understanding of the words and concepts.

An example of one such logical arrangement is as follows:

Art is a dialogue between Intelligence and Intuition and manifests in a Form that lies in a continuum from Realism to Abstraction. (refer to picture below)

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The Arc from Realism to Abstraction 

As the words on the (now logically ordered) post its were being assimilated, I took the participants through a really quick presentation on the arc from Realism to Abstraction (encompassing 500 years in seven slides!), from the Renaissance to Cubism.

Along the way I stressed on the tenacious link between the technological and intellectual advancements of the day and the style, subject matter and concepts in the Art, and urged them to think about what themes, they surmised, Contemporary Art might show.

The following is the slideshow I took them through:

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The slideshow above served the purpose of helping the participants understand the conceptual tools used by Artists in the past to think about the forms and methods they employed.

It was absolutely crucial in fact, for the next section, which was:

A crash course on modern Art movements from Cubism onwards, including examples from Literature, Music, Performance Art etc.

This section encompassed the Futurists, the Abstract Expressionists and the Pop Artists amongst others, and led up to where contemporary Art is today.

Art went a little crazy with Rothko’s painting, Damien Hirst’s antics, Gavin Turk’s pranks and Marina Abramovic’s performances, but the foundation that was laid by the post it discussions right at the beginning, allowed people, who would otherwise have scoffed at the even red canvases and sharks in formaldehyde, to take it all in voraciously.

Russolo, the futurist composer’s music concerts were cited as an example of how music interpreted the movements of the day, as was Pink Floyd’s homage to him (with their helicopter and cash register sounds).

A parallel was drawn between the battle against ephemerality manifested in the the ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ style of Tom Wolfe, Hunter Thompson and Truman Capote’s Gonzo journalism and the Art of Blogging and writing in the New Media Age.

I shared my own poem, A Bystander in Love, in which I try and link the flow of the narrative and the poetic rhythm to the subjects of the poem (i.e love and the oscillating swing).

Open-minded thinking 

To demonstrate the kind of open minded conversations that were taking place, here’s a snippet from the workshop in which I’m responding to a participant who spoke of failing a junior Art class because her teacher said she couldn’t draw.

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Rothko, the abstract expressionist (though he didn’t like the label) famously said that colour, not line, ought to be the starting point of painting. He disputed the need to depict objects from nature and treated the canvas as a field of vision without a focal point.

In this manner, with a lateral concept, he bravely re-imagined the direction painting could take.

Post lunch activity – The fun part –  Creating an ‘Artistic Work’

Step1 – Thinking of an issue that has affected you

Ultimately, Art is commentary. It is a creative expression of a passionate thought. I asked the participants the following question:

‘What has affected you deeply in the recent past?’

The participant was further encouraged, through discussion with the group, to think deeply about why they felt strongly about the issue.

The issues that were brought up ranged from the corruption in our country, to the anomalous nature of monogamy, to the impossibility of ‘ever knowing anything’ despite the glut of information on the internet, to, in the case of a girl with a tooth-ache, the ‘futility’ of seeing a dentist (“We ought to fix our hearts first! Go see a cardiac surgeon” she trembled as she spoke!).

Step 2 – Manifesting your feelings in an ‘Artistic Work’

The ‘Artistic Work’ could be completely conceptual, in which case the participant simply had to describe it through language, or it could be a piece of poetry, cellphone photography, performance, or even a rough sketch.

The focus was not on the final product, but on the thinking process behind it.

Abhi (name changed) the internet agnostic, imagined a slate, the oldest metaphor of human knowledge and learning, (but also a metaphor relevant to our times due to the dynamism of its surface) with a crack running through it, so that anything that anyone wrote on it would be incomplete. He imagined a Performance Art piece, Marina Abramovic style,in which people wrote words on the slate, erased them and walked on, giving way to the next person to do the same.

Deep (name changed) troubled by the concept monogamy, wrote the following free-form Haiku titled ‘Unnatural’.

In our world

We would call bees cheats

And flowers whores

 

The technique of assonance in the ‘bees cheats’ and ‘flowers whores’ was noted as a device used to draw attention to the irony and the metaphors. Deep, an advertising copywriter, used the words side-by-side intuitively, a testament to her brilliant grasp of her craft, but true to the agenda of the workshop, an articulation of the literary device was important.

Naina (name changed) took a photo of dead leaves and equated it with the politics in our country at the moment. In her own words “Even a bad decision is going to pay off.” Among other things, leaves, and their function as agents of photosynthesis, and as humus, inspired her analogy.

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The importance of ‘leaving the door open’ for interpretation was stressed in the discussions that followed the presentation of each artistic work.

Art after all is what one makes of it, as much as what the Artist wanted to convey.

A few words about spreading the word 

There were three basic platforms I relied on for spreading the word about the workshop. A Facebook event was the center of it all,  but my blog and the e-mailers I sent through (the absolutely amazing!) Mail Chimp platform, had a big part to play.

Here’s the basic digital strategy I used:

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Mail Chimp allowed me to track individual opens, and send reminders (sometimes in the form of a phone call) in case a crucial person had not opened the e-mailer I had sent him/her. A lot of the time this was because Gmail has a separate ‘promotions’ tab, and not everyone checks the mails listed there often.

Summary 

The discussions were vivid and rich and will certainly help me in my own artistic growth.

But most importantly, like I said in the introduction, a lot of the people agreed that they were Mad Artists too (refer to image below). My agenda of inspiring the confidence to experiment, and of helping the participants to be more articulate about how they used their craft, was largely successful and I am deeply thankful for it.

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How do those Mad Artists think? A Workshop at Zorba the Buddha on 6th April (Sunday)

Only at an Art Fair can you spot something as crazy as this. This was taken at the Delhi Art Fair

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  1. Synopsis
  2. Mission statement/Workshop manifesto
  3. Contact numbers/e-mail addresses for registration
  4. Structure of the workshop
  5. Takeaway from the workshop
  6. Who is this workshop for?
  7. Date and Time
  8. Workshop Fee
  9. Address and Map

 

1. Synopsis

What are the lessons in creative thinking from the world of Art and Design?

What does Andy Warhol’s Pop Art have in common with our very own, very successful ‘Chumbak’ and ‘Happily Unmarried’ brands? What is ‘modern art’ anyway, and why is Picasso considered a great artist when even a child could draw like him? What’s really so great about Pink Floyd?

Through vivid discussions leading up to a small, fun project, I’ll help you develop an informed artistic opinion on the things you create, so that you can see for yourself how awesome you really are! 

How do those mad artists think? By the end of the workshop, you’ll tell me!

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2. My Mission/Workshop manifesto

  1. Make people aware of the context of their talents in the world of Art. Do you have leanings towards Futurism or are you a Purist, for instance?
  2. Initiate people to the ‘thinking structures’ of great Artists, past and present, from various fields.
  3. By so doing, instil in people the confidence and vocabulary to take their particular talents in innovative directions.
3. Contact details for registration
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Prior Registration is required by calling OR e-mailing Viraj/Nayantara
(Zorba’s kitchen needs to know so they can cook up a delicious organic lunch for you!) :
Viraj : 97177 38723 / vir.circar@gmail.com
Nayantara: 97171 03014 / nayantaradevaya@gmail.com
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Join the Facebook event for updates and interesting links to help you get the most out of the workshop.
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4. Structure of the Workshop

This is not a painting class, or a sculpture class, or a photography class. In this workshop you will learn how to ‘think’ like an artist.

  • The first section of the workshop will be a discussion on fundamental questions like ‘What is Art?’, ‘What’s the difference between Art and Craft?’ and ‘What do Painting and Music and Photography and any other medium have in common?’. During the course of these discussions, interesting examples from the multifarious fields of Art (Painting, Film, Music, Writing, Conceptual Art) will be shared so that the conversations have a reference point.
  • In the second section, participants will be asked the question, ‘What has affected you deeply in the recent past?’. The participant will be encouraged, through discussion with the group, to think deeply about why they feel strongly about the issue. Then, after a brief discussion on broad artistic devices like metaphor, verisimilitude, abstraction and hyperbole, the participants will be asked to create an ‘artistic work’ that expresses the issue they feel strongly about.

The artistic work could be completely conceptual, in which case the participant simply has to describe it through language, or it could be a piece of poetry, cellphone photography, performance, or even a rough sketch. The focus is not on the final product, but the thinking process behind it.

The final discussion will be participants responding to each other’s work.

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5. What is the takeaway from the workshop?

At the end of the workshop, the participant would have touched, and harnessed the power of his/her own artistic temperament, and possibly have found an affinity for a certain medium of expression like Photography, or Painting, or Writing, which they could pursue vocationally, by going for a ‘Basics of Photography’ class for example.

Importantly, they would have developed a vocabulary to be able to have an informed opinion on any piece of Art from any field.

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6. Who is this workshop for?

  1. Any job requires creativity. The lessons from the lateral thinking of the Art world are truly inspiring and will help you think ‘out of the box.’
  2. Creative Professionals like designers, art directors and copywriters will be able to attribute reasons and logic to their intuitive output. (Haven’t you always wanted to give it back to clients who offer unstudied and dumb opinions on your work?)
  3. Anyone who indulges in an artistic hobby like writing, photography, painting, music etc., or indulges in Art appreciation of any kind, will benefit greatly from this workshop.

7. Date and Time

Date and Time:
Sunday, 6th April 2014, 10.00 AM – 5.30 PM

8. Workshop Fee
Rs.800. You can pay at the venue. Includes morning and evening Tea and snacks, and a delicious organic lunch from the Zorba kitchen. Let’s make a lovely day out of it!

9. Address and Map

It’s really easy to find. Just get off at Ghitorni Metro station, and walk for few minutes! (Refer to the map below)

Zorba the Buddha,
7, Tropical Drive, Ghitorni,
M.G. Road, New Delhi, Delhi 110030

map

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For any questions you can also write to us by filling the form below:
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The Optimist/Pollyanna’s Whore – A Poem and Blues Rock Song

Eleanor H. Porter's Pollyanna

Eleanor H. Porter’s Pollyanna

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The Talking Blues version performed with acoustic guitar and blues harp can be heard here:

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A recitation of the poem can be heard here:

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The Optimist/Pollyanna’s Whore 

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When Gods of War, angry and sore abound

And septic tongues drip green and heavy bile,

He lingers on to sight and sound, he does

Not lose himself to actions terse and vile.

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He drives his lance, the heart of chance, right through

And heaves himself, as pawl and ratchet go,

No labour lost, a moments thought is all,

For in the end he’s Pollyanna’s Whore.

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In the end he’s Pollyanna’s Whore,

For in the end he’s Pollyanna’s Whore,

Like so many times before,

For in the end he’s Pollyanna’s Whore.

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He rakes his skin, and all within, and runs

His tortured hands through wisps of thinning hair

What’s done is done, it’s had its run, he screams

It’s about the next big thing, that I care!

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His life’s a mess, such sweet success he craves,

His madness rails from each and every pore,

Ambitions smeared, by YouTube seers, who preach

and lie – in bed with Pollyanna’s Whore.

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Lie in bed with Pollyanna’s Whore,

And lie in bed with Pollyanna’s Whore,

Like so many times before,

For in the end he’s Pollyanna’s Whore.

A Bystander in Love – a Poem

This post is part of a collaborative project ‘Rain Check’ by Nayantara and Viraj. You can read about the Rain Check project here.

Photo by Nayantara Devaya (Click through the image to visit her blog)

Photo by Nayantara Devaya (Click through the image to visit her blog)

Minding

His way he turned

His head before it burned

His heart eaten half through he learned

That she! thought not of him but did instead,

Do that which he did loath and dread

And love her self to death!

As he would see

Someday

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When he of all

Should scrape and scratch and fall,

And look inside himself and see

Albeit posthumously,

The error of

His ways

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Vacillating

Human Hurting, Careless!

Beware, friend!

Your swing

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Its hinges creak

with love.

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Note on Meter structure and the Swing Motif used in this poem 

The meter pattern used in this poem (shown in the pattern below) is derived from the oscillation of a swing that gradually loses momentum and becomes still. With each stanza, the length of the longest line reduces from 5 iambs to 4 to 3 to 2, and the lines before and after them get shorter accordingly.

The analogy of a creaking swing is also used in the words of the poem to describe the dangers of infatuation, and the ephemeral nature of love.

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Rain Check – Chapter 2 – F**k-a-Cola

This post is part of a collaborative project ‘Rain Check’ by Nayantara and Viraj. You can read about the Rain Check project here.

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Photo#2 by Nayantara Devaya (Click through the image to visit her blog)

Photo#2 by Nayantara Devaya (Click through the image to visit her blog)

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“Spicy?” asked William, waving his fingers like a fan and sticking out his tongue for effect.

The sweaty man smiled. Flies buzzed around inside the cavernous glass chamber before him like it was his private menagerie, alternating the periods between their frenzied flight with moments of rest on the trapezoid milk cakes.

“Yes, but now not so anymore.”

So saying, the perspiring Lord of the Flies had graciously ladled a sticky brown sauce all over William’s samosa, simultaneously wiping his glistening neck with a greasy towel that slung on one shoulder.

William hesitantly put the chutney-drenched, batter-fried savoury to his lips. He leaned awkwardly as he ate. The plywood plank that served as a table was built for shorter folk, and for a great many of them, as could be assumed from its well worn veneer. The sweaty man had been right. The piquant, unfamiliar taste was no doubt tempered by the sweet addition.

He observed as he chewed, that the face of the female model swallowing the mouth of a Coke bottle beside him, had the same stance as the Caucasian mascots in his home town, obviously a multinational template for demonstrating enjoyment. He smiled at the fact that the phallic analogy from his youth had struck him from so many miles away and from so many years ago, in such an unlikely place. Time and space truly worked in strange ways.

William swallowed the last bit of his samosa and felt a pang of guilt. He had been given terrorizing accounts at the vaccination office before he landed, of the common housefly’s propensity for spreading dysentery. A strong stomach was what he needed right now, for he was to board a bus later that day, bound for the hills, where an urchin selling oranges was parrying the playful darts of houseflies too.

Rain Check – by Nayantara and Viraj – Manifesto

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Rain Check Manifesto

1. To create a mechanism to rid the artist of the burden of narrative and still deliver to the contemplator of the work a system with which to examine it. The narrative is driven only by spontaneous impressions that chance throws in the artist’s path.

2. Most exploration of Image and Text has been done by increasing or decreasing the role each plays, but their agenda to communicate a common idea has rarely been questioned (possibly because it was commercial art that brought them together). We aim at breaking the conspiracy of image and text, and allow them to flourish in their own ways, without having to pander to each other. Yet when placed in proximity, they relate to each other in a manner that creates a third ‘idea’, with genes of the artists, but with a disposition of its own.

The Artists

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Nayantara Devaya – Photographer

Nayantara is a lawyer working in Delhi who brings her predilection for reason and jurisprudence into her photography, constantly questioning what the medium stands for, and looking for new ways to use it. She was recently blown away by Dayanita Singh’s file room for the reasons described in this post that I wrote in consultation with her. Her photography blog can be found here.

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Viraj Rohan Circar – Writer

Viraj is a graphic designer and a hobby philosopher of Art and Design. He pens his ‘thoughts on a capricious culture’ in this blog. Being in advertising the dynamics of image and text are a regular part of his life and one of the things that drew him to this project was the ability to play with them outside of a commercial art context.

Question: Why have you titled this project Rain Check?

Viraj: Rain Check was a name that Nayantara thought of. It implies a future event.This project is trying to dismiss premeditation in our respective crafts.

Nayantara: A Rain Check is also optimistic. It means that a future event will happen. It’s hopeful, and that’s another reason we settled on the name.

Question: What are you chasing in this project?

Nayantara: When I’m taking photographs I don’t want to be burdened with a ‘theme’, which is a candid photographer’s version of a narrative in some way, a probing into a particular topic, hoping to come across ‘moments’ that describe my point of view.

What drew me into photography was the ability to create ‘art in the moment’. Like Cartier Bresson put it, the ‘simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.’

Viraj: I want to throw off the burden of narrative that comes with writing prose. There are spurts of ‘writing in the moment’ and then there are periods of stitching, and editing, pandering to the narrative, tweaking character, storyline etc.

What we’re trying to do here in some way create a mechanism where we can both practice our crafts spontaneously, without any adherence to a theme, yet, let a story emerge for our work, and fulfill the ‘need’ a viewer has for narrative and structure.

It’s like creating a story of an ideal life, one that makes the best of every moment, and is lived in the moment, without thinking about the past or the future.

Nayantara: That being said another point I feel compelled to make is that even spontaneity is colored by one’s own predisposition, and in this project, the outcome of both our predilections are nullified by each other to create a third piece of work, with our genes perhaps, but which, like a baby, will show its own disposition over time.

Question: Is there a point you are trying to make about the relationship of image and text?

Viraj: Yes there is. You could argue that the very combination of image and text has always been about communicating explicitly, whether it’s an illustrated book or an advertisement. The text part, or the image part compliment each other and ensure a premeditated meaning through the tension between them.

In an illustrated book often the text does most of the talking and the pictures fill in the gaps, and in a poster or an advert, the image does the talking and the text compliments it. In graphic novels, or even film, text or dialogue is supported by the scene.

They’re always conspiring together to communicate a common agenda and a lot of exploration has been done around varying the degrees each (image or text) plays. We wanted to deliberately break this ‘agenda’.

Nayantara: In this project the photographer is not constricted by the text. We don’t consult each other but go about pursuing our crafts independently. The writer uses the photographs as inspiration allowing him to write in the moment. Writers always have to ‘feel’ about something before they articulate. I could be corrected on this point, but prose writing is a lot more cogitative, unlike a candid photographer who interprets in a ‘fraction of a second’.

In the Rain Check project, the writer, Viraj, has no idea what will happen to the characters he creates today, whether they will even exist tomorrow. If they do, it’s only because they survived enough in his subconscious to still be around when the next photograph struck.

Rain Check – Chapter 1 – Jealousy

This post is part of a collaborative project ‘Rain Check’ by Nayantara and Viraj. You can read about the Rain Check project here.

Photo#1 by Nayantara Devaya (Click through the image to visit her blog)

Photo#1 by Nayantara Devaya (Click through the image to visit her blog)

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The unceasing hiss of insect activity around them had initially felt so abrasive that they had wanted to cover their ears, but now, six hours later it had become a welcome distraction, causing them to turn their heads in the direction of isolated sounds, and make lightening swipes at the confounding gnats that buzzed around them like planets to a sun.

Every now and then a gust of chilly air from the defile behind them shook the leaves and made them shudder, reminding them that the winter was not yet over and that the sale of oranges would allow them to purchase cabbage and onions and if possible a little lamb, to boil into a steaming thukpa for the evening meal around the fire.

But when the leaves went still, they were giants again, in this lilliputian world, with continents defined by irregular shapes of dappled sunlight.

Ingte took the pink ten rupee notes from under the plastic herringbone bag he had flattened to display his oranges, and counted them.

The brothers Jigme-Wangchu (he could help but think of them in the singular; his grammar refused to accommodate a conjunction between their names) always ended up having ruddier fruit than him. He wondered where their secret orchard was. He had asked on numerous occasions but had got nothing more than a lazy wave of a hand in the direction of the defile.