Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ranchi visit Feb 9 to 21

I have just returned from Ranchi. The two weeks that I spent there brought me back to fundamental questions that have concerned me over the last twenty years. I first went to Ranchi area in 1987, on the invitation of the Rev. Dr. Willibald Jacob, who was at that time stationed in Govindpura. His interest in tribal cultures in the context of wider social issues facing primal communities in the Jharkhand area, led to my work on a series of paintings on the “Lohar Kahani”, or story of the Iron Smelters, which probably dates back to the beginning of the iron age. These paintings were later shown in different places in Switzerland, culminating in the WCC meeting at Basle where the theme of Justice, Peace and the integrity of creation was discussed.
Later, I was involved in the designing and decorating of the Regional seminary of Orissa, situated outside Sambalpur. In fact the train going to Ranchi from Bangalore, called the “Tata express” passes through Sambalpur. There also I was very much concerned with the rich heritage of tribal cultures which contributed so much to the regional culture of Orissa, and the flowering of a temple art and dance which we can see in the fertile coastal area of Konarak, Bhavaneshwar and Puri.
After working on the “Lohar Kahani”, I became particularly interested in another tribal myth called the “Karam Kahani” which is linked to a festival celebrating the fertility of the land, called “Karam”. There is a tree to be found in the forests of Jharkhand which is called the Karam Tree, and three branches of this tree are carried to the central place of the tribal settlement known as the “Akhra”. There the branches are welcomed as representing the Karam Raja, and they are put at the centre of various fruits of the field, and the young women and men of the community dance around the symbol of life.
In Ranchi this time I was asked to give a series of talks about the work which I have done relating tribal spirituality to the Gospel. In 1994 I gave the Alexander Duff lectures, where I linked the tribal Faith systems that we can find in India to the Celtic spirituality of Europe which draws inspiration from symbols and poetic, narrative traditions from pre Christian times.
I was taken to Hazaribagh, where there is a struggle going on to try and preserve something of the ancient culture which reaches back to Buddha, and beyond to neolythic times some 30-40000 years ago. I stayed at the Sanskriti centre founded by Bulu Imam, where he and his family are engaged in a kind of cultural activism. In a recent issue of “Outlook” (Feb 12, 2007) K.N. Memani comments: “As an Indian, I feel proud about the Tata-Corus deal. In fact, the entire country is proud because it heralds the making of India Inc. as a major global player. It’s not only the fulfilment of a dream for the Tatas, but for the country too.” And yet it is the Tata Steel company, along with other global industrial interests which is destroying the whole environment of the Damodar valley, and other parts of Jharkhand, where rich deposits of minerals and coal, together even with Uranium, are now being exploited, at the cost of indigenous peoples and their culture. There were harrowing scenes of villages in which the environment is being destroyed, people displaced, and the poor struggling to scratch, quite literally a poor living from disused mines, where coal deposits are gleaned by local tribals and loaded on shaky cycles which they push sometimes for 40 to 50 km across hilly tracks, in order to get a small pittance from selling the coal which they are technically accused of “stealing” from the open mines, which have destroyed their ancient agrarian economy. These little hoards of coal, taken from abandoned mines where the big industrial players have abandoned their operations, because it is no longer profitable, are burnt in the little tribal hamlets, so as to get “coke” for household use. The acrid smoke from these fires fill the air, bringing chest problems to the young and old alike. I myself could feel the fumes affecting my breathing, as we drove through these otherwise picturesque settlements.
I was asked if I could be involved with a programme to give new life to tribal art forms. I was happy to meet people like Dr. Ram Dayal Munda who I had met twenty years ago when he was still the Vice Chancellor of Ranchi university. Another old acquaintance, Meghnath, who invited me to his project “Akhra” where he showed me some of the videos which he has been making to make people more aware of the problems which tribal people are facing in Jharkhand. One of his video productions discusses “Development from the barrel of a gun”.
This visit to Jharkhand besides renewing a number of old links with this part of the country, rich in so many ways, but also suffering because of its resources which are being exploited, brought home to me that perhaps it is in this direction that I should increasingly invest my own art work. Dr. Willibald Jacob, whom I met briefly again in Ranchi, handed over to me an invitation from the director of a cultural centre at Chorin, not far from Berlin, inviting me to have an exhibition there in an ancient Cistercian monastic site, in the coming year. This project I felt could once again focus a concern which I began with when I first visited Ranchi in 1987, that looks at the need for an eco-sensitive theology and spirituality in the context of our modern world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A friend from Germany is very happy to read this report about your recent work!