Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Waleed, my friend: Acrylic and pastels on paper

My friend, Waleed Hussain, texted me at 1.10AM to ask me if I would make a sketch of his. I told him it might not look like him. He said he didn't mind and wanted it my style. I took his Facebook profile picture and created this work of art that makes him look a few years younger as well. He loves it!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Street: Acrylic and pastels on paper collage

I was inspired to do this piece after repeatedly watching Persian rap singer and poet, Erfan Paydar's Khodafezi video. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

She's Dangerous!

Published as part of the Dangerous Women Project on 17 May 2016

This is the first time my piece has been published by an institution in the United Kingdom. It is also the first time one of my artworks has been published alongside my article. It's amazing to be featured with some very accomplished academicians and writers. Here's presenting, "She's Dangerous!" for the University of Edinburgh's Dangerous Women Project. I could not have achieved this without two very valuable inputs from my dear friends Neo-Salma Noureen from Charsadda, Pakistan, and Muhammad Qasem Jami from Herat, Afghanistan. Thank you Smeetha Bhoumik for this lead. Hope you guys like it.

“What kind of women would be deemed ‘dangerous’ in KP?” I texted Salma, my friend, who lives in Charsadda, a small town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Pakistan.

“Here, an independent woman is a ‘dangerous woman’,” she replied.

I love Salma. She’s a social worker, an education inspector and is trying to finish her PhD in Chemistry in one of the most conservative parts of the world. She calls herself a “gypsy” and that, in a culture where women are supposed to be behind closed doors, is dangerous.

I was sitting on a sofa in front of the television in my parents’ home in Mumbai, India, processing Salma’s words when the screen lit up with a 1960s Bollywood cabaret. It was Helen Richardson Khan, the Burma-born cabaret queen and India’s favourite vamp on screen. With their sexy high heels, smoky eye make-up, cabaret dances, skimpy outfits, feathers and plumes and a viciousness that is both seductive and repulsive, the vamps of Indian cinema define what dangerous women are like in a country where women of virtue are worshipped as goddesses and daughters are often treated as doormats.

Through the 1960s and 1970s, there were two stereotypical women characters in a Hindi film: The innocent leading lady and the bitchy vamp who smoked and drank in the villain’s den. The vamps were vain. To an audience that grew up watching and idolising the ‘heroes’ in these movies, the vamp was a symbol of everything an Indian woman shouldn’t be and shouldn’t do. They were too independent and too friendly with men. The vamps loved dancing and were greedy. They were bad role-models for millions of young impressionable girls who would beg their parents for some pocket-money to buy tickets for the matinee shows at the cinema.

A beep on my mobile phone distracted me from Helen’s performance. It was my friend Qasem from Herat, Afghanistan. After the initial round of greetings in Dari, I asked him in English, “What kind of woman will you consider dangerous, Qasem?” I almost regretted pressing the ‘send’ button. He’s Afghan and lives in a society that’s even more conservative than Salma’s.

Qasem responded after half an hour. His long text read: “The woman who does not trust others, who doesn’t listen attentively while others are speaking, the woman who is very demanding of others and even complains, who never takes the lead or action in helping others, especially her close friends, one who doesn’t like to take responsibility at home/work, she who shares her married life issues with others without consulting her husband, someone who does not consider or doesn’t understand others’ values, personality, preferences or choices, etc.”

I was amazed. The man did know a lot more about women than I had given him credit for. I asked him, “Is a woman like that dangerous or simply irritating?”

“Dangerous because you cannot trust her. Irritating because she doesn’t act her age,” he said and added that he had seen plenty of such women at conferences and among hundreds of his relatives. He then shared with me ‘Common Characteristics of Dangerous Women’ by Charles E Corry, PhD (do a web search for it, if you wish).

“Wow! That’s very comprehensive, Qasem,” I told him. This one time, he did not understand my sarcasm.

While I didn’t agree with many of the points Qasem marked as ‘dangerous’, I did agree that a woman you cannot trust is a woman you should fear. I asked my 81-year-old grandfather in Kolkata, “Give me an example of a dangerous woman.” Granpa chuckled. “Mata Hari!” She was ‘dangerous’ because she was promiscuous and hence could not be trusted. “Crazy in bed means she is almost certainly crazy in the head,” Corry writes in his post about dangerous women.

It’s interesting to see how easily we label a woman as dangerous. If a woman climbs up the career ladder, she’s believed to be manipulative and bitchy. If a woman is too beautiful and shows off her beauty, she is a threat. If a woman is financially independent, she’s considered a bad example for the rest of the girls who live in a culture of obedience and dependence. And in India, a ‘dangerous’ woman is often compared with a tigress, one who is revered and feared till she is caged and tamed.

My fingers scrolled down news stories on my cellphone – stories about women suicide bombers, mothers who murdered their children, desperate drug-addict sisters who prostituted their younger siblings to get money for their next fix, women who slapped fake dowry harassment cases on their husbands or perjured in court and sent innocent people to jail. They were all cunning, self-centred, manipulative and destructive.

Then I came across the headline, “Royal Brunei Airlines’ first all-female pilot crew lands plane in Saudi Arabia – where women are not allowed to drive", a story published from 15 March 2016 in The Independent newspaper. The picture showed them in the cockpit smiling at the camera.
They are a threat to patriarchy.
They are the ‘dangerous women’ we desperately need.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Cornucopia of Broken Dreams

Probably the most difficult ‪#‎ThrowMeAWorld‬ challenge I have had. People suggested words such as cornucopia, perspicuous, bazinga, mitigate and broken. Here is the poem I made out of them:

The cornucopia of broken dreams
A weathered land, dried-up streams
Not a seed that grows, a farmer fields
The tears keep flowing with memories.

Another year of the 'hottest summer'
Another year of 'bad monsoon'
Another year of the 'biggest drought'
Hope this year will pass soon.

All this talk of irrigation
Connecting the rivers
Building a nation
Oh what shall it mitigate,
Who is to investigate?

In the narrow village street
A little boy with bare feet
Matted dark hair on his head
Like bazinga's tentacles spread.

His cracked lips bake in the heat
A throat so dry, he cannot sleep
A crowd of men gather and shout,
“This boy is the face of the drought.”

The experts' panel on television
Their perspicuous explanations
The banality of the discussion
Heads shake in disbelief
As the anchor shouts and screams.

The little boy's name is called out
He stares vacantly at the audience
He watches their bottles of water,
The frivolous incandescence.

The anchor talks of violence
That killed the little boy's father
For just a bottle of water,
A farmer became a robber.

- Eisha

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Man and the Ocean: Acrylic and soft pastels on postcard-sized canvas

When Asef Majidi told me that all his life he dreamt of seeing the ocean, I laughed. Casually, I browsed a map. I realised Afghanistan is a landlocked country. Then Asef shared with me the most beautiful experience of his life. He now studies business administration in the U.S. One weekend, his friends drove him down to a beach in California. They covered his eyes as they walked from the car towards the ocean. He heard the waves first. When they uncovered his eyes, he stood transfixed before an expanse of blue. Here's my art, Man and the Ocean, with acrylic and pastels on a postcard-sized canvas. The man's stretched hands are trying to embrace the infinite ocean. Asef loved the painting and made it his profile picture on Facebook. 

Monday, May 9, 2016


A mighty mountain:
A formidable barrier
A young boy of ten
Wants to conquer.

His soft hands
On jagged rocks
A muffled cry
Then a groan.

The cold wind,
Chills and fears
Two worn feet
Trudge to the top.

He looks down:
Patches of green,
A narrow stream:
A ribbon of blue

"This far I've come
This little bit more,"
The young boy of ten
Pushes himself again.

Is an hour and a half,
The measure of time,
Or the distance he trod,
Or his perseverance?

At the mount's summit
The young boy of ten
Looks towards the West:
"There's my dream!"

- Eisha

Snapshots from a morning drive to Dakor, Kheda, Gujarat

Gomti Ghat, Dakor

I was happy to see a lake full of water in this hot season when rivers run dry

The huge silver door to the Ranchhodraiji (Krishna) Temple in Dakor

Earthen pots containing water and chhaas for thirsty pilgrims

The narrow lanes 

The beautiful drive along the highway from Vadodara to Dakor

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Rahela's 'Buzkashi'

By Eisha Sarkar
Published on the Pax Populi blog on 3 May 2016

Shortly after I started interacting with my student Muhammad Qasem Jami last October, I was flooded by friend requests from Herat on Facebook. As precaution, I would verify the connections the person had with Jami before accepting him/her as friend. That’s how I met Asef Majidi, who was working at Sakena Yacoobi’s NGO, Afghan Institute of Learning. Whereas Jami and my conversations revolved around culture, history, poetry, peace and literature, Asef and I discussed fashion, business and economics.
When I learned Jami’s sister, Fariha, is a graphic designer, I shared with him some of my artwork. We discussed our love for horses and I made a painting of Buzkashi, the Afghan national sport where rival groups of riders race each other to grab the carcass of a goat and then charge with the carcass to the goalpost. I posted the painting on Facebook and people loved it. “Nice painting,” Asef wrote. “Thanks, Asef,” I replied. “Well, there is someone in my family who paints as well. You should see her paintings,” he suggested and sent me a link to Rahel Majidi’s page. I browsed through her watercolours: Women’s portraits, birds, European countrysides, townscapes and Buzkashi. I sent her a friend request.
It would take another seven months before Rahela would accept me as her friend. Jami and I would have finished two courses at Pax Populi Academy and Asef would have moved to California to pursue his studies in business. I persuaded Asef to introduce me to Rahela. “What? I thought you guys were friends already. I’ll write to her,” he said.
That’s how I met Rahela, a 27-year-old, who was born in Herat and spent a decade in Iran till the fall of the Taliban regime when her family moved back to Afghanistan in 2002. She moved to Maryland, USA, last year. “I loved painting since I was a little kid. The beauty of nature motivates me and gives me the feeling to express myself. I enjoy creating something from nothing. It is satisfying and makes me feel good,” she wrote to me. While she did oil painting a few years ago she now prefers to use watercolors. Why did she paint ‘Buzkashi’? “I love my country and my culture. Buzkashi is a national sport in Afghanistan and it has been for many years. By painting it I want to represent a part of my culture to the world.”

When I told Rahela that I would like to write about her and feature her painting on the Pax Populi blog, she requested, “I am working on another one on Buzkashi. Will you wait for it to be completed? Just a couple of days.” “Sure,” I said. A day later, she shared her new painting with me. I loved it.
This is a story of how connections grow through Pax Populi. While you do teach one student at a time, that person is a gateway to a whole new set of people and their stories.

My new dessert: Walnut Slice

750 ml vanilla ice-cream
750 ml chocolate chip ice-cream
1 tin condensed milk (sweetened)

3 tsp sugar

2 large packets Arrowroot/Marie biscuits
1 cup ground walnuts
100 g salted butter
6 tbsp cocoa powder
Hershey's chocolate syrup

1. Make chocolate sauce with 3 tbsp cocoa powder, 1/4 cup water, 20g butter and sugar by heating over a slow flame and stirring continuously
2. In a large bowl, mix the two ice creams, the hot chocolate sauce and 50g butter and half tin of condensed milk. Beat till the mixture is well-aerated. Refrigerate.
3. Grind the biscuits, mix 3tbsp cocoa powder, remaining condensed milk and butter. Line a large baking tray with butter paper and put the cookie dough on the base. Press with the back of a spoon. Bake @180C for 15 minutes
4. Take the tray out of oven and pour the ice cream mix on top of it. Freeze 5-6 hours (hot tray in freezer)
5. Take it out of the freezer and make a random pattern on top with Hershey's chocolate syrup. Freeze till the syrup solidifies
6. Add the ground walnuts for topping and freeze overnight.

Serves 20-22 people.

Bon Appetit!