Georges Seaurat’s ‘A Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte’ has long been one of my favourite post-impressionistic era paintings. The rich colours, the technique of pointillism and the diverse characters portrayed in the painting makes it, at least to me, a complete novel rather than just a landscape. A BBC News program, that I happened to watch years back, discussing the varied characters depicted in the painting, further enhanced my fascination with this masterpiece, and, I have often caught myself secretly wishing to travel back to Seurat’s time, to witness such an afternoon on the banks of the Seine, and to revel in the company of that merry looking crowd, lazing in sunlight and basking in happiness.
Well, God does work in mysterious ways. Time travel being tricky, and current Visa regulations making no exceptions, even for God’s own cases, He decided to compensate by bringing the afternoon of merriment on La Grande Jatte or the Big Bowl Island to me in this century. Only, in my case, it was not by the banks of the Seine. And it was not exactly an island.
Of course, Brigade Parade Ground or Maidan can be called an island in its own right. Garer Maath, as we Bengalis call it, is a huge sprawling ground, a giant open space in the heart of Kolkata, our city’s very own Central Park. With the grand, marbled Victoria Memorial and the iconic, iron bodied 2nd Hooghly Bridge keeping watch over it, the Maidan lies bare, a little piece of in-artificiality amidst the ever widening sea of concrete. And it is on this ground that I found my Seurat’s La Grande Jatte afternoon, last Saturday, the 26th of January, 2013, on the afternoon of the 64th Republic Day of India.
I found my post-impressionistic afternoon there, in the sea of the gathered holidayers, in the burst of colours of the winter day woolens and the merry accessories to fun, from carousels to ponies, street performers to snack vendors. It was a sight, literally to behold. I wonder how Seurat could so meticulously depict his observations on canvas. As for me, all my senses were so overwhelmed, I stood, rooted to a spot, revolving on my ankles, trying to take in as much as I could, but failing, failing, and regretting being born without wings.
Then Ismail came to my aide. An amateur photographer with a great shutter sense, he took to capturing the moments that, when pieced together, promised to form a beautiful mural, Seurat style. So, my inability to paint has not stopped me from experiencing a holiday afternoon in company of colours and I reproduce the same here, through the splendid photographs that my photographer friend has so kindly allowed me access to, all the while paying tribute to one of my favourite post-impressionistic masterpieces, Georges Seurat’s ‘A Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte’.
Garer Maath …… in the shadows of Eden, under the watchful eyes of Vidyasagarsetu.
The Maidan rests peacefully guarded by the mighty Kolkata landmarks, notably the sports stadium at Eden, the Victoria Memorial, Birla Planetarium and the famous 2nd Hooghly Bridge.
Garer Maath ………… a place for quiet contemplation.
I believe ancient Greek philosophers preferred frequenting crowded market places claiming the hustle and bustle of the place helped contemplation. We found that such ideals are still in vogue, surprisingly among the youth of the day.
Garer Maath……………. Secret witness to centuries of connubial conversations.
Love is supposed to blossom like wildflowers anywhere, everywhere. And a vastness such as the Maidan is therefore the perfect nursery to give a chance to every lover’s story. And true to that duty, the ground serves as the perfect lover’s paradise, where the ‘sweet nothings’ whispered into one’s partner’s ears, is safely kept secret, by the blowing winds and the hum of the crowd.
Sometimes, however, the howling wind that is so beneficial at limiting lovers’ conversations within themselves, may blow away lovingly exchanged shuttle-cocks and make a game of badminton pretty hard to play for a couple of young lovers.
Garer Maath ……………… “Photickchand & Madari-ka-khel”
There is probably no Bengali in the world who is not in love with Satyajit Ray’s immortal tale entitled ‘Photickchand‘. In celluloid or on paper, the story inspires all true Bengali emotions, from the spirit of adventure to filial love, from passion to compassion. And of course, it stirs the love for Madari-ka-khel. I have always had a major crush on Harun-Al-Rashid and as if granting my secret wish, a group of street performers set up their show close to where I was standing on the ground. Ismail was kind enough to photograph them.
Garer Maath ………. ‘Pony’ tales
I remember having my first pony ride as a kid in the Maidan, what seems to be, a lifetime ago. I remember being scared of pulling too hard on the pony’s mane, lest it would hurt him (I don’t exactly remember the pony’s gender, it might have been a she). But I distinctly remember having felt guilty on having burdened the animal with my weight (Yeah, I was a conscientious, obese kid, still am, as a grown-up). But you can’t imagine Maidan without people riding on ponies, however bad you may feel about it. Like my mother says, ‘They have to break their backs for their own food’.
Garer Maath ………… in the end it is completely for the kids, just for the kids.
A big open space, fine forecast on the charts, wary parents on guard and a holiday on the calendar. All these things add up to mean just one thing. Field day for kids!!! And of course that is how grounds such as the Maidan should be. Filled with the laughter and merriment of children of all age groups, jumping about, without care and concern, basically being kids, just as God intended. In these days when local parks go empty round the clock because children are cooped up inside their houses, studying, or watching soaps with their parents, it was a revelation for me to find so many mini people out in the open claiming what is rightfully theirs, that is their right to a fun-filled childhood. If not for anything else, I shall always treasure this memory of the Maidan, abuzz with the laughter of children and the unbridled gaiety of the adults magically turned into children themselves, as if at the touch of innocence.
Garer Maath …………….. “Swapner Pheriwala”
Ismail came up with this caption. “Swapner Pheriwala”. It can’t be translated into English literally to still hold the emotions that it conveys in Bengali. Crudely translated, it means Vendor/Hawker of Dreams. To him, the balloon seller was the vendor of dreams. To me the entire ground was one such. It had brought to me a motley of colourful dreams all under one sky for me to pick from and make a montage. To me, it had brought to life Seurat’s painting. It had made my dream come true. Garer Maath or the Maidan on a holiday afternoon is indeed a dream destination.
Images: All pictures in this post except the reproduction of Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte” have been photographed by Sk Md Ismail, and it is with his consent that I represent them here.
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Find more information on Georges Seurat’s masterpiece visithttp://www.artble.com/artists/georges_seurat/paintings/a_sunday_afternoon_on_the_island_of_la_grande_jatte