can picture her writing to me in her study - an enclave that leads out to
the sun and moonlit, marble veranda held up with tall, white pillars
encircling the house on the hill.
she wants to stretch her legs or rest her eyes, she only has to walk a few
paces to the rose garden to see the hills fall away to the wide lake of
in Bhopal my grandmother lived as a bride. It was here my brother and I
returned two years back to rummage for clues of our Indian past.
who also came here as a bride, seemed to have absorbed that old world as
she led us around the colonial rooms, the garden where tendrils of
bougainvillaea and vines brush against stone, where the wide Jamun tree
stains the earth with its bursting purple fruit.
is my mother’s cousin, but my kindred spirit. She is a potter; an
artist. Tall, slender, black hair; intense, intelligent face; eyes that
absorb you in as deep as you cared to look; girlish in jeans, a beautiful,
cultured Pakistani woman in Salvaar Khameez. I like her best when she
looks like a chimney sweep because then she is most herself.
have extra sensory pores with which they absorb, make whole and reflect
life. I see my grandmother in Sonia; Sonia in my grandmother. My
grandmother was an artist of sorts - a pianist (prevented by the
limitations of her time from playing professionally).
than 60 years ago, the white house on the hill, the setting of the sun,
the shifting sun absorbed the rising, ascending, thundering whispering
notes of her music. I can imagine her capable hands racing across the
keyboard, pounding out her hearts deepest secrets. Perhaps those days were
simply the brief and transient flicker of absolute grace the young,
beautiful and gifted possess. Life puts out that flame too soon with its
ruthless, random attrition of disappointment, loss.
artistic tool is fire.
that visit, late one night, as we sat swinging our legs over the terrace,
drinking lime juice, watching the moon float over the lake, she sprung up
and said: “Come, come, there’s something I have to show you.”
led us to a white, oblong building at the bottom of the garden. It was
locked. She couldn’t find the key. Recently, she solved the mystery of
the room in the form of photographs of her work, in clusters of black,
brown and gray. Her theme was water.
solidity of clay portraying the fluidity of water is mind-blowing.
“What do you see here?” She asked.
saw her standing over her brick kiln firing it with one or two pieces of
wood, raising the heat slowly, watching the flame rise higher and higher
to 1280 ¼F. After 12 hours of this, Sonia looks like a chimney sweep, her
face and hands burnt with heat and soot, physically exhausted, emotionally
her potters wheel emerged three clusters of bowls, in black, brown and
black cluster, horrific, mutilated, stripped of grace, conjures up a
living hell, near death. But the one piece in this cluster tinged with
silver gray with ripples opening up like petals suggests that grace can
only be arrived at after the soul is dragged into the darkness, starved of
water. These pieces suggest, in their convoluted state, that even darkness
has its own terrible beauty.
brown-black pieces depict the restorative power of water. The surprisingly
lovely pastel daubs in these pieces are hope. Even the darkest recesses of
the human spirit can be revived when watered. The contorted, browny black
bowl, reaching upwards, is a miraculous testimony of the life-giving
properties of water, of hope, and the bowl restored from a near-death
blue pieces are an unabated celebration of life in its various forms:
Power, dignity, love, happiness and peace. Yet this cluster maintains its
depth and humility. Their beauty has been nourished by endless water.
White daubs showing the playfulness of the waves are a gentle reminder of
man’s transience on earth against the eternal movement of the tides.
power of the perfect royal blue jug, portraying a dignified leadership is
unending, if a little removed. Its consort, a queen with perfect symmetry,
and a deep clear blue centre is more rooted, rimmed in earthy brown.
final piece, a perfect blue bowl of peace, shimmers modestly, is
self-sufficient. It is not reaching out to make a statement. It is still
water, with scarcely a ripple. It represents the tranquility of the human
spirit, the idealised state that is arrived at only after it has gone
through the gradual progression of all the shapes and colours. It is that
knowledge of the darkness, and various shades of light, that permits it to
be finally, happy and tranquil.
marvel at the artists’ gifts to combine soul with clay, instrument, pen,
brush, reflect the resilience of the human spirit, excavate slivers of