The uncrowned queen

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay's retrospective photographic tribute (1903-1988) is being held at the same gallery where Ravi Verma's original paintings were displayed. This is mystically meant to be and not a coincidence. Painting and photography are two different modes of expression; one is an inspired image artistically painted, the other is an inspired, experiential, aesthetically and lovingly lived image.

The diamond-like sparkle in Kamaladevi eyes captures the visionary soul's future. An illumined being, she was dainty and delicate. One remains glued to each photograph in an attempt to catch the Time-Spirit in which her life flowed with austerity and sincerity.

In one of the exhibits, one can feel her anxiety and determination during the freedom struggle, and in another, her easy versatility to mingle with the highest, tallest and humblest - all with an inner equanimity beyond the boundaries of gender. Ultimately, she emerged as an individual of strength, untouched and unpolluted by politics, and waking from a dream to the reality of those turbulent pre-Independence days.

In a colour photograph where Kamaladevi is seen holding a khadi yarn, she looks like an image straight out of a Ravi Verma painting! By touching the lives of millions of craftspersons, she revived indigenous embroideries and artistry. Today, these embroidered saris are a designer's paradise of fashion, capable of attracting the export market.

Kamaladevi studied at the Bedford College in London. Such did she benefit from the psychology lectures there, that she put them to use in her sociology fieldwork. Similar to William James' theory of tripartite metaphysics of pragmatism, pluralism and radical empiricism, she gave her own tripartite of individualism, subjectivity and altruism. As an individual, she built her subjective experience in universal altruism!

She presented the Charter of Altrusa International Bangalore in 1976 when she was 73 years old, wearing a typical indigenous deep blue Dharwad sari with Kasuti work. Her address, I still remember, emphasised selfless service to the community as a basis for social service. It was a thoroughly empirical, pluralistic pragmatism.

Kamaladevi's indigenous genius, culled from the eternal Indian culture, made even breathing in her very presence refreshing. Her nourishing touch has made the organisation grow from strength to strength, so much so that in 2016, the International President further fortified the ties, taking it to a global level.

As I stepped out of the exhibition, the caption on one of the photographs - "Uncrowned Queen" - lingered in my thoughts for a while. Soon, my mind saw a crown studded with rare precious stones that no queen has so far worn. Those precious stones were aesthetics, ethics beyond gender and head-heart-hand crafted social justice that Kamaladevi stood for! This show was a tribute worthy for posterity. The exhibition is on until January 31 for those who need to know that the queen is crowned now!

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