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Love potions & Pottermania

Witching wands and healing hands, politics and pen-pushing. That’s Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, a self-proclaimed witch for some time now. But this time, the maladies are rather different.

“I mostly treat nerve-oriented disorders. Nowadays, I have a lot of patients coming to me for things like stress and depression (not evil coconuts and blood-sucking dolls). A large reason for that is the family unit falling apart. What I am basically doing is good ol’ traditional psychiatry. Sometimes, it’s just severe neurosis,” says the woman in becoming black, at the release of her second book, Sacred Evil, on Thursday.

What “annoys” Ipsita at times, are the requests for love potions. “When they are young girls, it is quite understandable. But not so, perhaps, when someone much older asks for it. Earlier, there were potions and spells for such things. But I don’t do herbology. Sometimes, if they are very persistent, I give them a spell. Who knows, it might work…”

Ipsita, as usual, held the audience in thrall while reading extracts from the book at Oxford Bookstore and then demonstrating her healing skills, holding the hand of a volunteer, tapping her with her ‘atham’ (wand) and reciting Egyptian chants. “I felt like an electric current was running through me,” said the bemused volunteer.

Up next, Ipsita admits somewhat reluctantly, might be an institute for Wicca studies that she’s not sure of yet. “A senior minister in the Vajpayee government approached me a couple of months ago for the project. I will give him my answer by the year-end,” she hedges, before embarking on an animated discussion of what she’d like the curriculum to be. “A study of the ancient, esoteric aspects of world cultures, mixed with some practical experience in controlled conditions. The idea is not to demystify, but strike a balance. Some people, however, might not like the idea of an institute teaching witchcraft…”

So, what’s the secret of the black magic woman' “It’s the oldest religion or art of healing in the history of civilisation,” she answers. “It went underground in the Middle Ages, but it’s back. New Age is in, and along with it, an acceptance of witchcraft. Rationality is good, but it has become barren in today’s times. Now, people want something new. For that, they’re going back to the past.”

After a couple of years writing break, during which she also spent time on her Book of Shadows (“a record of a Wiccan’s work that is published after her death”) she’s back to basics — “treating” people. As for her critics, “I was an unbeliever myself once. Attitudes are changing, and although I would prefer it not to be the case, maybe Harry Potter has helped,” laughs Ipsita.

— Nisha Lahiri

LUNA LIKES
(Dancing screen queens)
Madhubala
Rekha
Madhuri
Luna Poddar rehearses with Prerna kids at Gyan Manch before a show. Picture by Pabitra Das

Twinkle toes

You might have spotted her in a film or two, or caught her at a show, in India or in England. For this 31-year-old, all the world’s a stage. Luna Poddar, a student of Indian classical dance from age four, through “a series of accidents”, has made her way across the country, to Bollywood and beyond, to learn, teach and perform her one true love in life – kathak.

On screen, stage or in the classroom, she has practised her passion, from Padatik, London, Pandit Birju Maharaj’s troupe, Devdas and Tollywood, and now has a school of her own in south Calcutta, called Prerna. Luna has travelled across the ocean and back, and the memories are many. “It was at Padatik that I was ‘discovered’, by the director of the London Arts Council in 1991,” she smiles.

For the next five years, the winner of the Bharat Nirman Award 2003 for “outstanding young person of Calcutta” divided her time between the UK and India, as she spent “at least six months a year” teaching at universities like Birmingham and Wolverhampton, as well as the Midlands Arts Council. In between tutoring, she “widened horizons” with performances, from Edinburgh to London, the Russian Way Dance Festival and with troupes like the Pakistani Nahit Siddique Dance Company and the Sri Lankan Bimba Dance Company, and even working with music director Nitin Sawhney.

It was through Maharajji that Bollywood came calling, first in Aan milo sajna in Gadar and then Kahe chheda in Devdas, both choreographed by the maestro, both made painful by the heavy costume and jewellery, but both “great fun”. It was during a show that she was spotted by director Buddhadeb Dasgupta. Luna made her Tollywood debut as an adivasi girl in Uttara, following up in a film with Debashree Roy. “I do like acting and I have had a few offers, but I am into too many things at the moment,” she explains.

Now, she’s happy being involved in Maharajji ’s troupe, and has started Prerna this year, with 20 students, at her Lake Gardens home. Her experience with mentally-handicapped children in the UK, too, she has put to good use, volunteering with Manovikas Kendra. “At the moment, I am content. Let’s see what the future holds next,” she signs off, keeping a keen eye on her girls rehearsing for a show at Gyan Manch.


Mother figure

When she was alive, every well-known artist from Bengal had joined the Mother Teresa bandwagon. At some point in their careers, they had tried to paint the nun. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Calcutta has organised an exhibition of photographs and paintings that pay homage to Mother Teresa at the St Xavier’s College auditorium. The paintings are from the RPG collection. Many of these are by leading artists such as Paritosh Sen, Shuvaprasanna, Yusuf Arakkal, Bikash Bhattacharjee, Shuvaprasanna, Paresh Maity, Samir Mondal and Sanjay Bhattacharyya. There are also others whose fame is entirely dependent on the theme they chose. They are Sanatan Dinda, Prasenjit Sengupta and Ritu Singh.The artists turned her into a deity long before the Vatican even got a chance. Long before she was formally beatified, they had painted her with a halo, invisible though it may be. In her trademark sari uniform she is deeply contemplating the godhead, even when she is handling the deprived.

There are also 50 photographs on display that highlight her entire career right from the days she started her good work with 11 sisters. They show her among the hungry and the sick, picking up the dead from the streets and even with leprosy patients in Calcutta and Titagarh. Twenty-six of these are from the ABP Group, 12 are from Chitrabani and eight from Mother House. Father Sunil Rosario has to his credit eight colour photographs showing the beatification ceremony in Rome. Catch the exhibition on Saturday, between 12.30 and 3.30 pm.


Goddess grab

Slowly but steadily, Durga puja is attracting more and more foreigners. They are fascinated by what they feel is a great explosion of collective creativity as manifested in the pandals, lighting and images of the goddess that have moved into the realms of the bizarre. Tomek Kawiak, a Polish sculptor, came to Calcutta in 2002 during Durga puja and worked with Aloke Sen, who has for years designed the image with a message at Mohammad Ali Park. The process was filmed by Philippe Nahoun. The works that Tomek produced after that encounter are being exhibited at the Academy of Fine Arts. The project is dubbed Hope in a Pocket.

It comprises installations and 27 small paintings. The bright hued, multi-limbed Hindu gods and goddesses understandably cast their spell on Tomek. The accent is on the bright and the gaudy. In the image of Kali, the tongue is embellished with spangles and shiny zari. Krishna, the American version of the deity, wears blue jeans. In the printout of a photograph, a modern woman with short hair looks at herself in a mirror as she wears a bindi, dancing-girl style. His largish collages are a collection of such vignettes that the West still looks at with awe and cannot make sense of. Krishna, in a smaller work, is juxtaposed with the famous flute player by Manet. The smaller works are painted by hand but the images are borrowed from cliché-ridden calendars. The end product seems to be a vast assemblage of kitsch without the artist trying to take an objective view of it. The show is on till November 9.

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