1903-47 marks a period of fundamental change in India. A strong force swept the country which compelled the world to recognise the power of spiritual energy. Mahatma Gandhi evolved the spiritual methods, and a rare band of individuals adopted and a rare band of individuals adopted them. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay is such a person who changed the course is such a person who changed the course of her comfortable existence to join the national struggle first as a Sevika volunteer, later designated as an organiser of woman workers in the Indian national congress and finally as a member of the National working committee of the congress.
In this book kamaladevi describes the events of the turbulent years as she lived and experienced them. She writes about her close association with fascinating leaders of the nationalist movement including Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rabindranath Tagore, Sarojini Naidu, Motilal Nehru, Acharya Kriplani, Jayaprakash Narayan. She spent a total of 5 years in jail, and here recalls some of her experiences.
After Independence, Kamaladevi left the congress, and did not join the government though invited to in several capacities. She did not consider it necessary to be in political power to execute powerful ideas. The urgent task before her was rehabilitation of the refugees. She sought Gandhiji's advice who promised her his support on condition she generated her own energy and labour and did not depend on the government. She set up the Indian Cooperative Union. She persuaded thousands of homeless refugees from west Pakistan to mobilise their internal strength and to rebuild their lives through their own labour, through cooperatives. The original township of Faridabad in Haryana is testimony to the combined efforts of the refugees who had lost hope, and the persons who restored their faith in themselves.
Kamaladevi has focussed on revival of the theatre, puppetry and handicrafts as a component of cultural renaissance in the country. Travelling to inaccessible areas in search of authentic handicrafts, she remarked, "There is so much beauty in the simple articles which are used in village homes. But we have forgotten to honour the craftsperson. "As chairperson of the All India Handicrafts Board, she introduced national awards to be conferred on worthy craftsmen.
Women's advancement has been the focus of kamaladevi's activities, and she has not only has also promoted far-reaching educational reforms. The Book contains important accounts of outstanding women of the period – Bhikaji Cama, Annie Besant, Margaret Cousins and others.
Kamaladevi has travelled widely in Asia, Europe, America and Africa. She has a reputation for being an adventurer, both in her journeys and her ideas.
Author of several books, Kamaladevi has a subtle style of expression, and in this book she chronicles the tumultuous events in her personal and national life with intensity and humour. Above all, the book filters an exquisite light on the personality of the author, with her deep commitment to human dignity.
Inner Recesses Outer Spaces, first published in 1986, has been out of print. A second edition was long overdue. Those who knew Kamaladevi wanted to re-read the book, and those who did not, wanted to acquaint themselves with the life of this remarkable woman who had shaped the lives of many. They wanted to hear her voice. Inner Recesses Outer Spaces is that authentic voice of one who believed in the extraordinariness of the ordinary.
Raja Rao, the great writer of rare sensitivity and insight, known for his many works, particularly the Serpent and the Rope, knew Kamaladevi over a long period, especially before Independence. He has written a very insightful preface to the first edition. There is little for me add as I cannot match his friendship with the author, nor do I belong to that generation. Nevertheless, it is my privilege to situate Kamaladevi in the India International Centre as the institution which is now republishing the work.
Kamaladevi is remembered by a host of old timers as that gracious presence, immaculately dressed, sitting in the last – but – one row in the Auditorium , watching performances and making an incisive comment. More, she is fondly remembered by the cook, the mali, the old colleagues, N.H. Ramachandran, Premola, kutty and of course the Directors, particularly Eric Gonsalves and, most of all the Trustees, especially Professor M.G.K. Menon and the late Dr. L.M. Singhvi.
A close associate of Dr. C.D. Deshmukh and Durgabai Deshmukh, Kamaladevi Guided the activities of the IIC in his absence. She has left an indelible mark on the institution, its character, its commitment to values and to its vital role in providing a forum for articulating concerns over a large canvas, ranging from the political to the social, the artistic, on which she brought to bear her vast experience, her unflinching commitment and she brought to bear her vast experience, her unflinching commitment and her effortless courage and all a total negation of self centeredness. The new wing of the IIC – the 'Kamaladevi complex' – named after her, commemorates her memory, but in so doing, it reminds, or should remind, this generation and the generation and the generation to come, that there was one who broke barriers and fought battles with extraordinary ease and felicity.
Her world was as local as universal. She knew every nook and corner of this country, but also others in the East and The West. With unassuming ease she could converse with the villagers, the craftsman, the puppeteers, the musicians, the dancers, the social workers, the women's groups and of course, politicians as also scientists. With ease she asked Einstein how he felt when the atom bomb fell on Hiroshima. Without flinching, she could write a letter to General Zia-ul-Haq to return the innocent boy who had unknowingly strayed into Pakistani territory. With intensity of purpose, she drove to Meerut to rescue a girl who was burnt for lack of dowry.
Her commitment to the cause of the handicrafts and handlooms is today legendary. The all India cooperative movement was her brain child, the establishment of the All India Handicrafts Board a result of her advocacy.
She gave dignity and value to hand – made crafts. This was a logical sequence of Gandhiji's call for khadi and swadwshi. This is not the occasion to recount all this and more examples of her untiring effort to not only revive craft tradition, but also to give prestige to the arts of puppetry, masks, and much else.
Understandably, she was the Vice Chairperson of Sangeet Natak Akademi. She returned to the SNA as Chairperson with inspired fresh vigour and new energy. As Chairperson of the Centre for Cultural Resources and Training she was responsible for making a link between the hundred other areas for which she is remembered, and will be remembered. The second edition of the volume will no doubt refresh our memories.
And finally, I recall an incident which is pertinent in the context of the Litle. With some reluctance I share this. The memory of that moment has never been erased. I live and relive that telephone call, 'Kapila, please come immediately' – I drove as fast as I could to find her lying on the floor with blood oozing out from the skull. She was not thinking of her wound; instead, she commanded: where is the title of the book? In an instant I suggested Inner Recesses Outer Spaces' The doctor arrived only after she remarked, Yes, I agree that is an appropriate title.
Srimati Kamaladevi is perhaps the most august woman on the Indian scene today. Firmly Indian and therefore universal, highly sophisticated both in sensibility and intelligences, she walks with every – one, in city and country with utter simplicity. And so natural her movements, she crosses India constantly, trying to help some troupe of traditional dancers in Manipur (and brings them back to Delhi) or goes to a miserable village near khutub to help poor families make decorations for an honourable living. This is how in fact the whole world began to know and use Indian handicrafts. Once walking with her in Paris, taking her to see a play of Sartre (I think the 'No EXIT') she seemed as familiar there is indeed something utterly elevated about her presence, so that one wishes one could only live and breathe at her level of existence. I think too her patience with us seems to come from pride as her devotion to handicrafts arises out of compassion. Thus, I feel, in her Memoirs, she has been understanding and fair to everyone. I have never found any statement here which, with all the complexity of Indian political and social existence, is a single petty remark. And that is saying a great deal in the context of our present day world.
Born into a fairly comfortable upper class family, with a mother as wise as she was courageous, who gave her daughter at once protection and freedom, understanding and education; offering, too, space for sports, dance to act in plays, against all social conventions too. Then the girl goes out because of some Yakshini's guidance, to meet the proper people, learning organisation from Dr. Hardiker's Seva Dal and meeting the Karves and Pandita Ramabai in Pune, trying to see what should be done to lessen the humiliation and suffering Indian women silently bear because of some un understood and often outmodedcustoms. Then with Mrs. Cousins, she works for the all India women's Conference, and becomes without wanting, a leading figure in Indian reform movements, a woman talking to women as a woman, were she the formidable Begum of Bhopal or the sweet Vicerine, Lady Irwin, But soon she enters the giddy universe of Gandhiji and the Nehrus, and works through time and distance, it seems to me, with miraculous ease- to live in the atmosphere of politics, without, as it were politics. And she finds herself again group of delegates hosted their flag, but India having no flag at that time, at Kamaladevi's instance three women tore a sari each and made up a flag, of red, green and white and stuck the flag in its proper place – may be the first such flag of India at any international conference. Thus there she meets ardent revolutionaries like Viren Chattopadhyay (her brother – in - Law) and Madame Cama, that fiery Indian nationalist of whom the british were so afraid. And that other, the American Agnes Sumedley, once a wife to Viren Chattopadhyay, then a hero in Communist China.
Kamaladevi seemed to have asked for nothing and so received everything position and praise from those who understood worthiness. At her age she looks truly beautiful as only an artistic temperament could shape and keep a woman. Significantly, therefore, she starts her memoirs with flowers gathered in her mother's garden.
Throughout all this, however, Kamaladevi never forgot the poor, their traditional riches of festive dances, their sense of colour and their handicrafts. In fact in Shantiniketan, Tagore and she speak of this the riches of our countryside and one day the Poet is so moved by this innocent an inspiring young lady he invites her to listen to him sing, and then talks to her of nature, of rhythm, the rhythm that runs through the mystery of creation. It seems to me, reading these memoirs, there is a similar magical rhythm and naturalness to kamaladevi's life. For what astonishes one indeed is the spontaneity with which events occur, as if a magic wand took her through the extraordinary seeing it all as natural, the quotidian appearing as the truly creative.
There is too, a great gravity about Kamaladevi's story, which to me proves, what any serious and disinterested being realises little by little, that to forget oneself is to live the miraculous, something that Gandhiji has reminded us again and in our own time. All this, may I say, is the wisdom and meaning of India. And it is, of course, with this creative naturalness, the book ends in sheer poetry, the nobility of which will be discovered one day as among the most beautiful pages written in the India of today.
For, in the heart of the human is the abhuman. (In the heart of the abhuman however is not the human – there can be no duality in the abhuman) The dancer becomes the dance. Often in the deep human identification with another, in the deep courage kamaladevi reveals, almost by a terrible attraction she seems to feel towards the awesome, the impossible (the Abhuman) she plunges into the forgetfulness of herself, which appears to throw her into a state of exhilaration, the dance. For example when she is in Ethiopia in the midst of a civil war, or in Kashmir against the Pakistani marauders, she wants to face the adversary (for, to her, 'Bandits are human too') but the commander will not allow her so near the danger zone. The visit to Palestine while not allow her so near the danger zone. The visit to Palestine while the battle raged and fight into Chung – king while bombs rained. Actually that is the extraordinary aspect of such courage, aspect of such courage, everybody welcomes her. 'She is from Gandhi's country' . . . the bandits of Ethiopia cried out and she was treated as an honoured guest.
This is the strange fact about Kamaladevi; she touches the limits of herself only to drink of its purity, I almost said, of its sweetness. And so it is when she meets the extraordinary humans she has met, almost in every field of human activity open themselves to her and reveal their most secret natures. There is, for example, Vincent Sheen she meets at Gandhiji's funeral. He knew, he says, that Gandhiji was going to be shot – so he had to be there on the spot, as it was. But how did he know the event was going to be. 'To me', Vincent Sheen says, 'My inner eye saw it as my sixth sense became keenly aware of it.'
But it is when she touches all, that she dips into herself most naturally. Drawn always by music and the spontaneous images that music creates, she discusses this with O.C Gangoly and remarks, 'I grasped his belief that the reality lies behind external appearances.' And then she asks, almost like a child, 'how does one conjure up this reality' and he answers 'why through the very air around' and she says to him 'Only Indian art draws its inspiration from a single core, the universe as a totality ... There is no basic difference in the various divergent manifestations of life such as human, animal, vegetable worlds, because a single life line is running through them all.
So that when she meets Balasaraswati, the great dancer, Kamaladevi's whole universe of feeling is opened up. When the dancer's eye caught her presence 'What they roused were not fires but an inner quiet that comes from a sense of fulfilment. It was almost like (the) two (of us) floating together. Later they become very great friends and one day when Kamaladevi was visiting the danger, Balasaraswati was playing with her grandchild. 'She (Balasaraswati) was just a woman happily watching the child trying to be the big Bala, seeking approval, a happy nod from a smiling face . . . a giant of an artist, yet at heart a sweet simple woman. The dancer is the dance. That is what this memoir is all about.
That she would ask me to write this preface, is the gift of a great privilege, so I have been utterly honest.
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