It was a true pleasure to be part of the Roundtable: Intersections between South Asian Folklore, Myth and Lived Experience feature in Truancy Issue 2.
The questions and answers begetting more questions and answers provided challenging, wonderful food for thought. It was fascinating, moving and inspiring to read my fellow participants’ replies. Some of the resultant ponderings and conclusions didn’t make it into the (already blissfully long) article. These were the more personal ideas regarding diaspora, identity and place, coupled with the perceived legacy of folklore, myth and legends from various cultures that, for me, ended in the following.
Though I am nostalgic for something unexperienced when I yearn for being part of Indian culture in a way that was denied to me when I came into the world, I am simultaneously very aware that this is a type of… romantic affectation.
There is no conflict of identity. I am very happily myself. Or rather; it has been my privilege to have had the space to become so, by trial and error, through joys and woes. That is solely the result of growing up with the cultural freedoms I enjoyed. Had I been born and raised within my own culture, bound by what I know to be the stifling constraints of my heritage, I would most certainly not have been able to become a touring singer, nor an all out, woman-loving equality activist, embodying nothing resembling religion, though you could argue I have an abiding, possibly worshipful wonder for science and nature. As a friend affectionately said once: You are a Sagan pagan. I’ll take that.
I adore being a fusion of cultures, a true citizen of the world – much overused as the term is. While I may not speak much Hindi at all, I speak three languages comfortably and a further two adequately. This roundtable, while actually being about folklore and inherited myths, has been excellent for crystallising some thoughts that have been swimming in the bottom of my mind like little blind fishes. I have long wondered whether all this superimposed angst of cultural belonging, or the judgment from people both Western and of countries you are ‘really from’ (recognise that question anyone? Folk always seem dissatisfied when I say The Netherlands!) may partly be a strange type of jealousy. Why not have it all? Why not have cake and eat it?
Nothing has been taken from me in that respect, rather a melding of cultures that has given my life that many more dimensions. Including the rich veins of mythology, fairy tales and folklore from more worlds than just one. I hope the roundtable gives insight and enjoyment of the different minds and backgrounds coming at those questions.
Plus, this issue contains wonderful fiction and artwork. Enjoy!
An extremely evocative cross section of Delhi’s photography exhibition ‘Indian Women through the Ages’, taken between the 1850s and 1950s, is available on the BBC website .
The image below shows a Muslim dancing girl, taken in 1900. I can only wish the full range of pictures are available online or at least in a book of the exhibition.
So many Victorian writings and imagery from the Raj focus on the men of the culture. It was partly because of selective and biased writing, though there was a plethora of intrepid British women travellers who broke with convention by going into the Deep Interior by themselves and writing about their experiences. It was also common for Western photographers to not be allowed entrance in women’s quarters, daily affairs or sections of a household.
Fred Bremner, another famous Victorian photographer from Scotland, captured hundreds of people and daily Indian situations. Some of these were on display in a Scottish National Portrait Gallery exhibition ‘From Lucknow to Lahore’ in 2012-2013. They were fascinating, but it was his wife who let into several courts and zenannas to take images of the women and there was only one photograph taken by her in the exhibit. My keenest wish is for all of Mrs. Bremner’s photographs to become available one day!
The Begum of Bhopal, photographed by Bremner’s wife, as featured on the Portrait Gallery’s exhibition poster.
From the ‘Picturing India with Bremner’ article on the Traveller’s India website: “Fred Bremner married around 1902, and his wife — he does not disclose her name — ‘gifted with good taste, was greatly interested in the art of photography and gave every attention to reception room duties as well as applying her hand to use of the camera on the occasion of photographing a Purdah [i.e. ‘behind-the-veil’ lady whose face… men are not allowed to look upon’. She even assisted Bremner in photographing noblewomen. ‘The Begum of Bhopal was visiting Simla and Her Highness expressed a wish to Mrs. Bremner that she would like some photographs of herself to be taken at Bhopal. All arrangements were made and during the summer… we found our way to Bhopal, which was a long and somewhat weary journey from Simla. However, all went well, resulting in my wife securing some photographs of Her Highness in State dress which gave her every satisfaction’. Bremner also noted that ‘on several other occasions Mrs. Bremner had the pleasure of photographing Indian ladies of the Harem’. “
Filed under Articles, Culture, Delhi, Diversity, Events, Exhibition, History, India, Media, MultiCulturalism in Steampunk, MultiCuturalism, Museum, Victorian, Victoriana, Women, Women's History
A background article for the Clocking Off Late Nighttime Event at The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on the 13th of November.
Tickets at http://www.rmg.co.uk/whats-on/events/clocking-off-late