• Patan dhoka, Lalitpur, Nepal
  • “Discussing Love is not bad”


    Daljit Ami

    A workshop on love legends with a mixed group of boys and girls was long in the planning and the University Campus College, Ghudha in Bhatinda District provided the appropriate platform. Despite having many high profile politicians from the area, it is struggling with environmental, health and agrarian crises. The college has students from rural working class and the lower-middle peasantry.

    The workshop started with artist Malkit Singh’s informal interaction with the students. Malkit Singh discussed the basics of painting as a medium while elaborating the finer points of art appreciation. He explained how ideas take shape and how shapes create meanings. Colours, curves, lines, patterns and shadows create symbols which can be decoded differently in different spaces, times and contexts. In the process, facts metamorphose into metaphors. Individuals become representatives.

    Malkit Singh delved into artists’ aspirations for fertile grounds of history and collective memories. Love-legends provide one such fertile ground, inviting artists of different genres to engage with them. Here Malkit Singh began to paint on a fresh canvas and invited students with questions, while I introduced the theme of the workshop.

    Once again, Mirza-Sahiban emerged as their favourite couple among love-legends. The discussion immediate revolved around songs and films invoking Mirza. Within the story of Mirza-Sahiban the students identified three sides; Mirza, Sahiban and Shmeer, Sahiban’s brother. Different students identified themselves with different characters, raising their hands to express their choice. Most of them were with Mirza. Second choice was Sahiban and third was Shmeer. Interestingly, their choices did not reveal any gender bias as both boys and girls empathised with all of them.

    Meanwhile, Malkit Singh was painting another version of his painting ‘Sohni and Buddha’. He requested a girl to stand as a model and painted Sohni on the canvas. It was explained that the model girl is a fact but on canvas she is a metaphor for ‘woman’. She could be representative of women of any time and any period who are trying to cross the river of social taboos. Students immediately realised that only they as witnesses of the occasion could identify the girl on canvas with the actual girl but for other viewers she could be any one.

    We asked them if anyone could be ‘Sahiban’ or does Sahiban represent contemporary women? Sahiban as a metaphor is very much operative in society as singers and filmmakers through the ages have invoked the ideas she represents. While looking into the representation of contemporary women through Sahiba we screened clips from two recent Punjabi films; Mirza, An untold Story and Hero Hitler in Love. While watching clips they narrated many recent incidents involving run away couples and social responses to couples making their own choices. They discussed passionately and repeatedly questioned the role of caste and social status (class).

    Here, the role of Shmeer was considered more important as a rational role was expected from him as Sahiban’s brother. One girl cried out, “Boys are responsible for the situation as they themselves wants to have girlfriends but can’t tolerate sisters’ boyfriends.” A boy responded, “Our society is such that we grew up with an ego, which gets satisfied through control exercised over women in different ways. Boys want girls’ attention but they don’t want their sisters to be attracted towards boys.” They pondered over the role of educational and social institutions in reinforcing the same ego. They talked about role of police in such cases where their social biases overpower legal rights of couples.

    At this point, Malkit Singh intervened with his painting which was nearing completion. The river in his painting is shaped like a snake. He said that this river might not be the Chenab, but it could be any river as it represents the hurdles between woman and her desires. He said that such things couldn’t be understood in isolation or as individual issues as there are layers to be peeled away. He discussed the role and meanings of colours as students asked him to explain things. Initially he responded to queries, but then responded that his paintings should not be understood through his eyes only, as they need to be read and interpreted like any other text. He explained that like social dynamics, every art production has layers, which are not stagnant. Each time it would have different meanings as viewers approach art work with their own perspectives. Here we requested them to express themselves on available charts. Many of them wrote poetry and prose whereas some of them experimented with colours. Two girls came up at the conclusion of the workshop and remarked, “We always wanted to discuss issues like love, but shied away. Now we can freely discuss it even afterwards as we have found that it is not bad.”


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