Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Today is the last day of my residency and I've been sitting at the computer most of the morning. The doorbell has been busy. One person called to see if I was interested in a portable gas stove cooking demonstration, a man from the water company downstairs came to collect the empty bottle, and someone else came looking for a Khoj person. I managed 'no thank you', 'it's here' and 'come back at three' ... in Hindi.
I haven't told anything of the Sunderbans trip as yet and I have some photos I'd like to share, so I will add some more posts post-Kolkata. However, here is one of my favourite images.
One morning in the Sunderbans, we came across some tiger pug marks. Sambhu said they were very fresh, probably from early that morning. They emerged out of the water, across the mud and disappeared into the mangrove forest. This tiger had swum across from one island to the other, most likely in search of food, a distance of about 1 kilometre. Just a trace.
It's my last day, and there is still more to write. And much more to think about. It has been an amazing experience, or rather an accumulation of experiences, that I'm sure I'll carry with me for a long time. I farewell some good friends and look forward to meeting them again. I will return in late January to finalise and install the work for the exhibition at Harrington Arts Centre.
A huge thank you to Khoj for hosting my residency, for their generosity and in making me feel so at home here. It has been great to share many things, especially all the fantastic meals we've eaten together. I can't recall how many conversations I've had with my friends about food and cooking. At the end of the day, friends, family and food is what sustains us all. I'm very glad to have been included in theirs. Special thanks to Abhida, Smriti, Bhutu, Kaushik, Paula, Chhatra, Tamal, Kazima and Sayak.
There is such a fabulous variety of breads here in Kolkata. My local dhaba, Azad Hind, has a bread maker out the front. Last night he was making rumalis over an upturned dome made of terracotta. We had a small mountain of them with dinner on Monday back at Khoj. They are paper thin, light and delicious.
Rumali means handkerchief.
As part of the Khoj residency tradition, I was requested to sing something. Blankness gave way to one feeble verse of that fine drinking song ... Nico's After Hours. My Bengali friends love to sing and have an incredible wealth of songs, from traditional to Tagore. They also have beautiful voices.
Early yesterday morning, I went to visit Edward and Kate Alkin's grave at the Lower Circular Road Cemetery, via the phulwallah at Lake Market.
The headstone has been cleaned, the lettering regrooved but without the need for reinterpretation. The back of the stone is polished to a mirror finish and some of the small plants are beginning to flower.
And although I know where his bones are now, I hope to find some more traces of his life still.
This clock was purchased for R/- 1,998 & 8 annas in 1897 by the Calcutta Port Trust.
I spent several hours there yesterday searching the archives register for any trace of my great-great grandfather, Edward Alkin and also great grandfather, Charles Macdonald Shield.
At 1.50 pm, I stopped for a cup of tea.
I compiled several pages of notes and references for another visit, and did find a report 'List of River Surveyors and Assistant Surveyors since 1878' in which Charles Macdonald Shield's name appears. He joined in 1900 and resigned in 1911.
In 1899, three River Surveyors drowned.
The file for 1895, the year that Edward Alkin died, was not available. I don't know if it might have contained anything relevant. Edward was in the Sunderbans and the Port Trust documents mostly relate to the Hugli and Calcutta, though I did find a later reference to the Matla river.
Other reports included:
'Arrival of their Royal Highnesses, the Prince and Princess of Wales', 1905;
a 'Summary of accidents etc of light vessels', 1881;
'A dying River Irrigation vs Navigation', 1902;
'Acquistion by European and Anglo-Indian staff on the knowledge of the vernacular', 1925;
a 'Petition from the widow of Mr G. Thurlow, second mate light ship, Canopus, for a gratuity', 1904.
I'm curious if Kate Alkin received any compensation after Edward died. I now want to find out what he was doing out there in Madaripore, who he was working for and what the conditions were like. It is possible that the India Office at the British Museum may hold documents that could shed some light on the Sunderbans in the late 1800's.