In her neatly pleated orange saree and hastily done bun,Moyna Chitrakar wears the wary Bengali housewife look well. Her words come with a faint undercurrent of good-natured eagerness and a decisive,smiling silence precedes each answer. Chitrakar doesnt speak with the wordy flourish of a Bengali folk singer. The patachitra artiste,who performs with her scrolls,has recently made it to the New York Times list of best selling graphic novels.
I heard. It feels nice to be appreciated by people, her answer quietly defies the excitement of the question.
Chitrakar did the artwork for Ramayanas sita,where she collaborated with Bangalore-based writer Samhita Arni to tell Sitas story. I have told several other stories,painted and performed with several other scrolls. This,however,remains the closest to my heart, says Chitrakar.
The 38-year-old mother of two,however,is another story while performing. The coy recluse is replaced with a zesty storyteller. Her voice,with its faint nasal drawl and dramatic cadence in a high scale,is strongly reminiscent of the spirit of indigenous folk music etched in popular Bengali consciousness.
She is telling the story of how Sita braves her exile. Her song and the scrolls she displays talks about Sitas delicate feet walking on a difficult forest path. This is the bit that intrigued me the most as a child, says Chitrakar.
Born to a poor family of patachitra artistes in a small village in West Midnapore district,Ramayana and Sitas story were not just late-evening entertainment for a young Moyna,but a strong lesson in survival. The tribulations we faced while growing up seemed justified. I realised that human existence has both its share of joys and happiness. And if a princess like Sita can persist,why cant we? comes her rather philosophical reminiscence of her childhood.
Chitrakar started painting and performing to scrolls from the age of 14. I learnt scroll painting from my grandmother and mother. They hardly would perform before an audience,but they excelled in the art, she says.
The Ramayana,as narrated by the patachitra performers is broken into seven parts,the text of which is passed down generations as an oral tradition. In the text itself,theres a strong reference to Sitas plight and mention of how Sita feels. That is the section I love painting and performing the most, says Chitrakar.
Sita stands for what the Indian woman has gone through down ages. We are so much more liberated. I feel blessed and thankful to my predecessors for being such strong people, she adds.