The next thing that I am reminded of is ‘Alpona’. My grand parent’s house in Jadavpur, Calcutta consisted of a row of rooms arranged on the ground floor, about 1 m above the ground with a long balcony running along the entrances to these rooms. The rooms were arranged in an inverted U shape around a courtyard called ‘uthhon’ in Bengali. This was the open-air theatre for all the shows staged by family members, the balcony being the stage.
Every week, the central area [uthhon] was coated with a mixture of cow-dung, mud and fine particles of coal and water. The mixture was first applied using a broom [jharu] made from spines of coconut leaves, and then spread evenly with hand. This would dry and form a plaster making the surface dust-free, suitable for Alpona. For any occasion, children would sit on woven sheets [sataranchi] spread on the floor while the elderly members would sit behind them on chairs. There would always be an Alpona [design on the floor] at the entrance to welcome the guests. For weddings, the Alpona was done in the centre of the courtyard.
Talking about Alpona, performances etc. reminds me of Ranga Mashi* [Late Sukriti Chakraborty ]. She was a good dancer and painter, and an artist in every respect. I have grown up seeing Ranga Mashi and my mother doing the Alpona together. They used three types of clay, white [khori mati], yellow [geri mati ] and red [ ela mati ], soaked in water in separate containers to make thick suspensions. A small piece of soft, thin cloth held between the fingers was dipped into the suspension and slowly squeezed while the ring finger was used to draw and allow the liquid to flow into the desired lines or other shapes forming a free-hand design. It would always be first white and then other colours. I have learnt this art from them and still prefer to use the same technique instead of using a brush. In Singapore,I am forced to use poster colours since the indigenous colours are not available . Here is a simple example of
* Mashi- mother's sister/cousin