TheCalmDev (Dev J Haldar)

ravings, rantings and ramblings


Many years back, my artist friend Sharmistha and I planned to put up an exhibition that would have her works and my words. Many years since, she has realised that dream as she releases her solo exhibition work called DURGA – Dynamics of power, gender bias and a story of widows in India.

Sharmistha is an advertising professional, who nurtured the artist within as she dabbled with oils and canvas and made her way to the Delhi art circuit. Her artistic calling led her to pick up a camera and turn a photographer. She invested her all to get project DURGA off the ground. She was aided by her friend and colleague Rakhi Biswas.

Rakhi is a senior fashion stylist with years of experience in fashion magazine, enacted DURGA convincingly. Her involvement and enthusiasm was critical to the project. Sharmistha and Rakhi travelled to Kolkata, Benaras and Varanasi to etch out every facet of a woman’s life in today’s time, with a special, sensitive angle towards the widows of India.

Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, a social reformer and founder of NGO Sulabh International Social Service Organisation has lent his patronage to this project. He is responsible for the transformation of the widows of Vrindavan by giving them a life of honour and peace. Dr. Pathak and his team of diligent social workers were able to identify and reach out to these hapless women and understand their basic needs. They were as basic as two square meals a day, immediate financial assistance and medical aid.

I am honoured to have written for this exhibition and caption each shot.

The collective labour of love starts its public exhibition on 8 March at Gallery One on MG Road, Delhi. If you are in Delhi or are planning a visit, consider this as a personal invite to go see the exhibition and then take in a moment to reflect.

Women, often called a reflection of Devi DURGA, are loved and raped, celebrated and dishonoured, worshipped and abandoned, philosophised and commoditised. What does that make us? What do we make of the society we build and live in?

The below produced piece, is a small narrative to the exhibition.


|| Ya Devi sarva-bhuteshu, Shakti rupena sansthitā ||

The Omnipresent Goddess is the embodiment of Power. The Sanskrit shloka roughly translates to the above.

Durga the Invincible

Durga in every woman

According to Hindu Mythology, when the celestial gods or devās could not control the menace of the demons or asurās, they convened with the powerful trinity of gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. It was their collective wraths that gave birth to this extraordinary woman. Thus, did Durga the invincible, come into being! She defeated the oppressive king of demons – Mahishāsura and restored balance to the world.

But a woman, born of man! That is certainly a man’s perspective! Indians, the world over, have celebrated Goddess Durga as the embodiment of ‘stree Shakti’ (feminine power). It becomes crucial to see how a woman in the present world, finds her place in an increasingly patriarchal society of India. It is a place where her voice is deliberately muffled and she has to fight for an equal status – social, economic & even sexual – which the man so takes for granted.

A widow at Vridavan

Abject life of a widow in Vrindavan

Perhaps, the biggest case of social injustice till day is one that is faced by widows. Their plight portrays a fine picture of neglect and social irresponsibility. Despite our motherland making exponential progress, the matriarch is target to stigma, superstitions and social dogma.

Widowhood is a curse, still, in our country. Upon the death of her husband, the fate of many a woman changes overnight. She is forced to give up all worldly pleasures, wear only white and have her hair cut off. Often, she is mentally and physically abused and thrown out of home. Little do we know of her abject condition and a life of endless hardships; not to mention humiliation?

Even today, majority of widows, from the farthest corners of India, turn up at the holy city of Vrindavan, in search of solace and an honourable existence. The Government of India has taken steps to offer them a nominal pension. Several NGOs have set up shelters, providing them with a respectable life in their sunset years.

Marital status is a social classifier for women

Marital status is a social classifier for women

But not much has changed over the years in terms of their social acceptability. 

It must be strange for a society, such as ours, that idolises Ma Durga and yet turns a blind eye to a million destitute mothers and wives, treating them with so much indifference and hostility. It makes us all look a tad hypocritical, don’t you think? A society that propagates respect to women, only in relation to her status with a man!

The hand that fed is cast-away

The hand that fed is cast-away

It is time we realised that there resides a DURGA in every woman, whether she is the well-educated lady from the upper echelons of society, the quintessential middle class working woman, the village simpleton or the old and bent widow in Vrindavan.

Being Durga is not a plea for showing respect; neither is it a sash to wear fashionably. It is a way of life. It is a system to be thankful to the mother that bore us all.

For, without DURGA, we are all, nothing.


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