Monday, August 17, 2009

'Bhudevi' goes to Sydney

Who is Bhudevi?
Over the past twelve months, as part of my PhD research, I have written a fable titled Satatantra: The Elephant and the Mirror. It is a story about an elephant named Bhudevi (meaning - Goddess of the Earth) whose mother gave her a mirror with magical powers when she was born. Bhudevi travels through life handing the mirror to various people, all of whom she trusts, albeit misguidedly, and from the reflections she receives, engages in a process of constructing her sense of identity. The fable has now been completed, but the persona of Bhudevi is still alive and well.

The seeds for the story were sewn whilst travelling to India in 2006, with my friend and PhD supervisor Adele Flood. She had taken my journal and simply asked: "If an elephant had a hundred years, what stories would she tell?" And so it goes...that the story was told, and to this day continues.
Adele, is a wonderful artist who has the ability to tell stories in fabulous visual creations, started a series of illustrations that accompanied Bhudevi's story. These images represented critical incidents in the elephant Bhudevi's life. Since then, the Bhudevi illustrations have evolved as images reflecting experiences that Adele and I share as friends. They represent the joys and sorrows of life, travels, eccentricities, indulgences ....

From time to time, I will use the character of Bhudevi and where appropriate include Adele's visual representation to tell a story on this Blog site. I am here in Sydney visiting Adele for the weekend, so this a good point and which to share the first Bhudevi story.

Bhudevi Goes to Sydney

It was a cold morning in Victoria, a fog hung low, wrapping the naked trees of the orchard in a pale grey shroud. As the wintry sun broke through the cloud Bhudevi hurried about excitedly packing her bags. Today, she was off on a long weekend adventure with her friends Gungaroo the white crane and her partner to Sydney. She stuffed her 'carry on luggage' with cameras, computer and a few clothes - she had heard it would be warm in this northern latitude - but rain, shine or hail one item that needed to be included and that was her beloved 'Cats' footy scarf. - for on Saturday night the Geelong Cats were to meet the Sydney Swans in battle at the Olympic Stadium at Homebush.

The three friends made their way up the highway to Tullamarine airport and after a snack and hit of caffeine took off for their destination. Arriving at mid-day, they made their way to the city and Bhudevi and her friend Gungaroo made their way to the Gallery of NSW. They paused for a while on the balcony overlooking Garden Island to savour a refreshing drink and snack. Much to their surprise they were joined by a pair of bold Rosellas and an Ibis who enjoyed jumping up on the tables to scavenge its daily bread! After making their way around an exhibition of post-war Dutch paintings, 'Intensely Dutch' which included artists associated with CoBrA group and those who preceded them, such as Willem de Kooning - (Bhudevi's favourite works in the exhibit), they went their own way as Bhudevi was to spend time with her long time friend Moowa, the cockatoo.

As Bhudevi waited outside the gallery near the Henry Moore Reclining Woman she basked in the warmth of the late afternoon sun reflecting on the wonderful afternoon she had recently spent in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield admiring the Moore, Hepworth, and Goldsworthy sculptures - unbelievably, that was only a month ago! She gazed at the beautiful stately Moreton Bay Fig trees across the road on the Domain and watched the setting sun light up the cityscape as it turned towers of glass into neon fractals. She started to doze, but just as she did, she caught glimpse of the rag top silver Bertone Astra swoop into the pick up zone - behind the wheel was her friend Moowa with designer sunglasses, loud music and a welcoming smile. They had been invited to join some friends for a drink, and they made their way to what turned out to be a very pleasant evening of grazing on delicacies, fine red wine and plenty of conversation.

On Saturday, Bhudevi awoke to the sound of birds chirping in the guava tree outside her window - the sky was light quite early, the sun shining in the azure sky prompted her out of bed. She and her friend then headed to their favourite breakfast venue the Sideways Cafe in Petersham for a feed of Scrambled Eggs, Oven roasted tomatoes and crispy bacon (toast on the side) washed down by her usual 'one shot long black in a glass'...some things never change!! Later that day whilst wandering through Rozelle market Bhudevi paused amongst the stalls of bric a brac, second hand clothing, music and other paraphenalia to consider and reflect on the idea of stories - what stories did these all these objects hold? who did they belong to? these thoughts were particularly poignant as Bhudevi and her sisters had recently spent time sorting through their parent's treasures.

That afternoon Moowa and Bhudevi spent a few hours in the sun at Centennial Park - the two friends, walked and talked and settled down with their sketch books to observe the territorial geese chase away moorhens, ducks and other intruders. People lolled around on the green grass, children played and squealed in the distance - the setting sun lit up the palms and other foliage creating impressionist reflections in the serene lake.

As the evening approached Bhudevi had appeared tense. She was not too sure about the football game - the Cats had a number of injuries and the team was depleted. At 5.00 she joined her friend Gungaroo and the gang and they boarded the train to the Homebush, the Olympic precinct. The stadium was the centerpiece of the 2000 Olympic site and Bhudevi was particularly interested in the architecture and surrounding environment as she had read about it and knew one of the principle architects involved in its development.

As the train pulled in to the station she looked around in excitement, and on emerging from the lower level through the elegant shell shaped station she observed a sea of Red and white scarves of the Swans fans interspersed by quite a number of Blue and white hoops of the Cats.

There was a buzz in the air and as Bhudevi raised her eyes further up the path she could see a line of elegant blue neon lamps leading the way to the main stadium. The Sydney Olympic Stadium is the largest facility ever built for an Olympic Games. Bhudevi had learned how it can seat 110,000 people and that it was designed by Bligh Voller Nied with a London-based partnership. Bhudevi was impressed by the sheer size and elegance of the construction - her camera was out instantaneously she tried her best to capture its beauty in the fading light. The game was a heart stopper with the Cats finally reigning supreme by a mere five points. Bhudevi was heard to exclaim to Gungaroo -"I'm getting too old for this" and then proceeded to join the chorus in a robust voice 'we are Geelong ...the greatest team of all'. It was a joyous but exhausting experience.

Sunday was always going to be a day for recovery and relaxation. The weather forecast was unseasonal - 28 degrees in August is a bit bizarre. Bhudevi had been hanging out for a sweet treat at the Portugese cafe Sweet Belem. Moowa who was always happy to indulge her friend suggested they have breakfast there - and what a breakfast it was! Croissants and coffee ...yum! Armed with a brown paper bag containing four Portuguese Tarts (the best in the land), they took off in the rag top with the top down, and turned towards the Harbour Bridge - destination - Balmoral Beach.

As they drove along through the city and over the bridge they passed through canyons of glass - post-modern architecture that lends itself to severe disorientation - the reflections were mesmerising - Bhudevi was almost delirious with excitement as she hung over and out of the car with her camera... as they crossed the bridge, Moowa said "I always feel like I am crossing a piece of history..." and of course she was...
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of the most recognisable symbols of Australia. The Bridge provides a frame for one of the most beautiful harbours in the world and holds a special place in the city’s heart. This Bridge has connected the Sydney CBD with the North Shore of the harbour since it opened in 1932 and is the world’s largest (but not longest) steel-arch Bridge.Way down below them, the harbour sparkled like a celestial palette of blue paint encrusted in diamonds - the sunshine sparkled on the tiny ripples that made the small white sails of yachts bob up and down on its surface like corks. In the distance Bhudevi pointed to the very recognisable 'sails' of the famous Jørn Utzon Opera House, its tiled white surface glistening in the light like a beacon at the edge of Bennelong Point.

They finally arrived at Balmoral Beach only to discover that half the population of Sydney had chosen the same activity on this beautiful day. A carpark was secured after a lot of patient 'cruising' and the friends settled down at the edge of the beach on a bench. Watercolors and drawing materials were employed to capture the environment - yachts, children swimming, lovers gazing, picnics, cruises... a number of watchful sea gulls waiting to pounce on scraps of food. Their feathered friends did not have to wait long - Moowa and Bhudevi had just started to dine on their catch from the 'Bottom of the Harbour' fish and chip shop - skewers of calamari, fish bites, potato cakes and a special treat of king prawns. As Moowa lifted her prawn to her mouth, a swooping seagull dived down and wrenched it off her. Her friend was in shock - on lookers, including Bhudevi watched in horror as Moowa lost her prize. She eventually recovered from the incident, and the two packed their paints and left to explore Sydney further. By now, Bhudevi who was getting rather cold in the on shore breeze donned her colored shawl to cover her shoulders- Moowa found this quite amusing - the only being at the beach in shorts, T shirt and woolen pashmina! Later that evening she recorded the image in a drawing.

A stroll in Jubilee Park allowed them to see the city across the harbour, the location gave them an ideal vantage point from which to observe the layers of history in the architecture of the city. They then crossed Anzac Bridge, spanning Johnstons Bay at Glebe - another one of Sydney's most recognisable landmarks. From two 120-metre-high towers, 128 stay cables support the reinforced concrete deck. Bhudevi explained that it is the longest cable-stayed span bridge in Australia and among the longest concrete cable-stayed span bridges in the world. and her friend added that the bridge is a key link between the Sydney city centre and the suburbs to the west.

They also travelled over Iron Cove Bridge -a heritage listed bridge linking the suburbs of Rozelle to the southeast and Drummoyne to the northwest, across Iron Cove in the inner-west. They discussed how the original bridge that was constructed of wrought iron lattice girders and opened in 1882 was replaced in 1955 due to the increasing traffic demands.

It had a been a big day for Moowa and Bhudevi and there was nothing more fitting to complete the adventure than a Gelati at Bar Italia in Norton Street, Leichardt. Pistachio for Bhudevi and Lemon and Passion fruit for Moowa.

Another enjoyable and adventurous day was completed.

The next morning Bhudevi accompanied her friend to work at the University, where she had some business there herself. The two friends had a coffee together and completed the form filling tasks of an ethics application for Bhudevi's research. After lunch, a taxi whisked Bhudevi off to the airport here she was re-united with Gungaroo and friend for a flight home.

And in the shadowless unclouded glare Deep blue above us fades to whiteness where, a misty sea line meets the wash of air ...
John Betjaman 1906-1984

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Power and Powerlessness

About five years ago when I was asked to be enduring power of attorney for my parents' financial matters I had seen this as an honour ... the recent reality of enacting such an honour is burdened with a number of emotions - the image captures some of them in words ...'drowning not waving'...

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Journey ...

Once upon a time, in a faraway land where the heat baked the earth, and monsoon flood made rivers rage filling the plains with fertile soils, there was a forest. In a small corner of this vast country lay a stretch of land covered in rich verdant shelter. Here, amidst the swaying timbers of teak, sandalwood, jambool, peepul and rosewood, langurs swung happily from branch to branch. The canopy of the forest was filled with birds - bul buls, brightly colored parrots, shiny black ravens ... and down in the dense undergrowth prowled tigers, leopards, cheetahs and mighty elephants whose carefully placed steps avoided their smaller friends the snake, the mongoose and others. Here, in this paradise peacocks cried out intoxicated on the perfumes of jasmine and kachnar and every now and then one could hear the gentle whoosh of the breezes as they travelled across the land through the forest on their way from the Arabian Sea to the Indian Ocean.

It was here in the State of Harayana, in this majestic forest bordering a National Park, that I once stood - a tall and stately specimen of Indian Rosewood also known as Aguru in Sanskrit. My wood holds many medicinal properties and because of its durable qualities is often used for furniture making, carvings and martial art weaponry. Thankfully, I was saved from the latter.
So it transpired that, one day in the searing heat of the 'hot' season, in the rage of an unseasonable storm I was felled down by violent winds that lashed the forest and cut down many of my species. After the storm abated, it wasn't long before the men and women of a nearby village, eager to harvest the fallen wood came to saw, cut and collect their prize and take them home for varied uses. Every part of my being was put to use - leathery leaves for perfume, small sticks for kindling, larger limbs and trunk for slabs to be turned into furniture or housing. However, that was not all - because it is here that a new story begins.

In the village lived a fine wood carver - people from all over the land came to seek out her works of art, for not only did she create the most delicate and beautiful pieces of carving but she was a woman - a highly unusual craft for a woman in her time. She worked from salvaged wood and for many years now had kept her eye out for a suitable specimen of Rosewood. She had a special project in mind - she had been commissioned to create seven elephants for a family who were about to leave their watan (homeland) for a Australia.

Over the next year the woodcarver skilfully plied her craft – delicately turning the limb of Rosewood that she had salvaged into seven sturdy but elegant elephants. The ‘family’ ranged in size representing the mother, father and five children. Often, she had worked long into the night with nothing more than the dim light from an oil lamp – insomniac mosquitoes buzzing and biting tested her patience – but her strong hands had persisted, continuing to chip and carve as they shaped the hard wood. Each elephant had its own character reflecting meticulous detail in the skin folds, the eyes, the tail, trunk and enormous feet. The final touch had been the placing of the ivory tusks which she had crafted from salvaged material found in the neighbouring grasslands of the National Park.

The day to handover the elephants finally arrived. All the villagers gathered to greet the dapper stranger who had come to pick up his commission. They had also wanted to bid farewell to us - the elephants whom they had come to know as they had emerged from the fallen limb of timber. We were taken back to the big city of Bombay, to the fonseca family - home of our new owners. The children had squealed in delight at our arrival, caressing us and wanting to play with us. In the months that followed, we were wrapped, packed and parcelled off in a gigantic container along with all their worldly goods – and on the fourteenth of January 1967 we set sail for Melbourne, Australia on the ss Oronsay.

On arrival at our destination we were finally transported to our new home in Geelong, where we settled in with the family.

Since 1967, we, the seven elephants have taken pride place on the long shiny black mantelpiece that bordered the ornate gold moulded fireplace in Aberdeen Street. This room was filled with beautiful artefacts and mementos from India. Over time, from our position on this mantelpiece for forty two years we have been able to observe all the comings and goings of the family. There have been weddings, birthdays, christenings, anniversaries and numerous family gatherings at special occasions like Christmas and Easter. Then one day in the year 2006, the family was cloaked in sadness as they mourned the death of their beloved mother. Somehow, things were not the same after her loss – it seemed that the ‘soul’ of the home was lost. The dapper stranger who had commissioned us could not bear the loss of his beloved and slowly even we, on the mantelpiece were forgotten by him.

We have many stories to tell, and contained within those stories are many family secrets. However, as a species we are loyal and the secrets will stay with us in silence. There is a reason why I have chosen to relate to you this story of re-incarnation. It is a story of transition from tall timber in the Harayana forest to stately elephants on a mantelpiece, from faraway India to the island of Australia. You see, today is a sad day for the family – both for us the elephants and for the fonseca children. Following the placement of their father in care, the family home is to be dissolved. Today, they have gathered together to sort and divide the family treasures.

As artefacts we have a great symbolic significance in the family history and the division of us as a group was to be based on eldest to youngest. However, this naturally required that we be separated. Almost ceremoniously, each sibling picked us up and as she did, I observed a hidden tear in her eye. Their brother was absent, so elephant number four still stands on the mantelpiece awaiting collection with a few others in the collection. As we were plucked off our long occupied post – one sibling said: “you know, elephants do not like their family split up like this – they should stay together” … on hearing this the eldest spontaneously replied: “ all the more reason to always remember each other and come together with our elephants to celebrate re-union”. They all smiled and made their ways to their respective new homes.

I now sit in a very auspicious position on the sideboard in the home of the eldest sibling. I was thrilled to discover that she has long had a love for our species – and to my great surprise and joy found that along her shiny black window sill stood many elephants like me – wood, stone, ceramic, metal ….Alas,I would not be alone.

So, this is a story of love and loss – of separation and new beginnings – new frontiers and finding ways of staying together, of transition, renewal and re-incarnation ..and a story of a journey which will no doubt, continue...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ideas for this Blog Site

Hi Everyone,

I am finally home from my travels and as promised am taking the first step to getting this Blog site functioning. I have thought about how this may work and have come up with the following idea:

I will use either a quote, a thought, a photo, idea or personal experience etc and create a small story around it as it relates to me, my identity and my sense of who I am am and my place in the world. I believe that our lives are made up of these fragments/shards of existence - and it from these fragments that our lives take shape, and the story of who we are emerges.

To make the Blog successful it will be most useful and interesting if you, the reader contribute to the Blog by using the Comments facility and of course, you may choose to start your own Blog as a branch of this one.

The ultimate aim is to create an interchange of stories that weave together to form a quilt - a storied landscape.

I will post my first story soon - so join in - check out the instructions for posting comments at the Blogger website - you will need a G mail account. (this does not cost anything)