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Brush strokes on the canvas of time
By Prabal Pramanik

These brush and ink works were made on handmade paper with Indian ink in 1986 in the hills of Western Himalayas.
Those were the days when tradition was the way of life. The old philosophy of these hills was the most important factor in the lives of the hill people in general.
The hills were covered with dense scrubs and woods, where wild animals of different species lived.
Most people here lived more or less in the way their ancestors had lived for centuries, with one day following the other in an easy fatalistic manner.
Deceptively enough, the modern world seemed far away. Surrounded by the woods, in a hamlet, I lived in my home with my mother, on the way to Dalhousie from Pathankot.
I had no electricity for nearly eleven years and there was no water tap at my home. Water had to be fetched from a temple tap about half a kilometer away or even from a natural spring further away. We collected and still collect rain water in a sizable rainwater collection tank also.
At night deep and dark woodlands were without lights as the sparsely populated villages that nestled in the forest had no electric light.
Leopards came up to the woods behind my home and foxes nearly everyday started their high pitched chorus cry in the valley stretching below.
It was a world of magic and mystery wrapped in mountain lore and faith, a world that is impossible to find today.
Drums beat at night to invoke the forest gods and the haunting tune of flute from faraway floated through moonlit mist.
On deep moonlit nights, the entire landscape was washed with a translucent greenish grey light.
I could see a stretching horizon of panoramic landscape from my home.
Two mountain ranges were visible in their magnificence surrounding my studio in the northern and eastern horizons, as they are still visible now on clear days.
Mud-built slate roofed houses were common in those days. People were generally satisfied with whatever available in the villages.
The way of life was much more oriented with nature, and life moved at a slower, enjoyable pace.
People were much more self sufficient as their needs were much less. The old traditional methods of work were simple and did not require expensive gadgets and electricity. Though I came from Calcutta, I adjusted to this simple and basic way of life, living in these green and blue hills with my mother, Dr. Kalyani Pramanik.
We fed our inbuilt wood burning stove in the kitchen with dry fagots, and I would love looking at the flames dancing. Those who have never tended a wood burning stove or a fireplace can never understand the joy of watching the flickering flames and the warmth of the reddish orange glow in the cold winter evening.
In the village tea shop in the evening, villagers sat and exchanged rustic yarns. Their shadows loomed large on the mud coated wall. They drank sweet tea and some smoked hookkas.
They enjoyed short-bread biscuits made in those tea shops.
When one lives in natural surroundings and also with nature without imposing the artificial values of the so called modern world to over-burden life, one comes closer to fundamental basics of life.
The feeling that I am a part of the eternal flow of nature (and not an “out side” element), comes in an easy way, through simple living with an open and understanding mind, sensitive to the subtle vibrations from the wide expanses.
Tribal people came down from higher altitudes in autumn with their live-stock to avoid the winter snow.
Gaddis came with flocks of sheep and goats. They came with sheep dogs and some times pack horses accompanied their flocks. They wore the tribal dress in those days and thick hand made shoes of heavy type. They came on foot all the way from villages near Bharmour. Gujjars came on their nomadic seasonal treck with their cattle and pack horses.
Blankets, cooking utensils and tent sticks were loaded on the pack horses. Sometimes chickens tied by their legs balanced themselves by flapping their wings when riding the horses.
Most of the Gujjars in those days went bare foot, though the Gujjar women wore heavy gold jewelry often set with huge colourful stones.
Gaddis and Gujjars would camp in our village. Some Gaddi groups would stay in our area for the entire winter. I took photographs of the tribal people and taped their songs sometimes. I made lots of on the spot sketches of Gaddi shepherds.
Many of the tribal Gaddi people had relatives living here, and they still do. As many Gaddi tribal people have bought land here and have settled here, there is a large Gaddi population at and near Bhamlada.
Except a few shops, most of the houses were away from the main road. The local people who lived away from the main road lived in secluded little settlements on the hill slopes and valley. Each settlement was a different world. These little settlements were joined with each other by uneven foot tracks, some times covered by boulders. The tracks went through bushes, up and down the hills crossing streams and terraced fields.
True, many developments were needed in those days, yet this rustic, simple world under the pollution free sky was free from many of the damaging side-effect of progress, physically and psychologically.
Career craving values, that breed much more frustration than the sense of achievement in the rural area nowadays, was non existent and the general honesty allowed people in those days here to live then without the fear of thefts. Corruption was much less here amongst common people.
The village people grew most of the food they consumed, and I too tended my vegetable patch.
Each dawn was a miracle. Before the sunrise, pale light crept over the dark blue hills under the sky still deep and shining with stars. All of a sudden, the sun would flash up dazzling in its brilliance, sending long streaks of light in many directions. The clouds of the eastern sky lit up and their borders seemed to be in flames.
The sun’s rays would colour the damp mountain mists hanging in the valleys pale yellow and the entire woodlands would rejoice in the welcoming light of the new day. The hill slope with dew drenched grass, shrubs and giant cacti sparkled in the light of the early morning sun. Birds poured out their hearts delight.
The mysterious melody of the forest of dense undergrowth below tall cheer pines and deciduous trees of many kinds can be experienced by only those who live with nature away from the artificial world.
Though the road from Pathankot to Dalhousie passed my house, cars in those days were few and far between, and the greetings from a passing shepherd or the postman bringing letters would be the only touches of the outside world on a warm afternoon in the hills for me.
Clear nights came in all the magnificence of the starry firmament with the milkyway stretching from one end of the horizon to another.
On wet days rain would patter on the foliage, and roll down the leaves.
The contours of the hills would seem to soften under the translucent veil of rain and water carrying mud and leaves would gush down the hillside in frothy flows.
Autumn bedecked the dense woods with russet and golden leaves, while the evergreens were bright with their verdant hue.
Long layers of damp cloud like mists spread in the valley, making the hillocks look like islands in a greyish white ocean. Winter came with chilling rain at night and fresh snowfalls over the mountains. Snow covered peaks in shades of white and greyish blue created stark contrasts against bright blue sky on sunlit days.
It seemed that such days with mother, my dogs, my books and art would remain unchanging, with the basic amenities of life only, managing with a very small amount of money, yet rejoicing in nature with a soul free from social pressures. Yet, change was setting in over this scenario in an inevitable manner.
This change has affected nearly every sphere of life here with positive and negative results both.
A great deal of change has come about in the tribal community too, and tradition is giving way to modern values and costumes rapidly.
The old way of life, with values and life-style is fading away. After the older generation passes away perhaps not even memories will remain of the old feelings.
It is easier to record old incidents, preserve some old artifacts, keep the collections of old materials for the future generation to see, but it is very difficult to preserve the real feelings of the people of an age that has passed away.
The changes in the value system bring about changes in human relationships in a drastic manner. There are changes in the concepts of success and loss, changes in the ability to absorb from life with sensitivity, and time turns over a new page in the annals of mankind.
These pictures were made at the moment of change, that came slowly first and then abruptly, but it will not be perhaps possible for me to convey the true feelings of the Shivalik hill people of olden times.
Yet, these first-hand pictorial presentations may allow you to have some idea at least of the relationship of the hill people and an artist who chose to live amongst them in the foothills of western Himalayas.

 

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BRUSH AND INK DRAWINGS
By Prabal Pramanik

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Old surpunch Dharam Singh at rest

 

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At the Gujjar camp,
note the pack Ox

 

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A porter with load in the hills

 

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Gujjars on the move,
the pack horse is loaded with their luggage and even a live cock

 

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At the tea shop in the evening

 

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Life in old Shivaliks

 

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Gujjar women with milk pots conversing

 

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Nomadic Gaddi camp

 

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A road-mender in the hills

 

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Nomadic Gujjar family camping

 

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Gujjars around campfire at night

 

 

 

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