Saturday, 4 June 2011

Why did she eat that Fruit?  Why did she open that Box? Why did she test that Pot? Why is it a “SHE”?
When I was a child my dad used to tell me a story every night: Once up on a time there was a poor lady who lived in a small hut and she was struggling hard for her daily bread. One fine morning when she was sitting in her hut sadly, she saw a divine light which fell in front of her. She trembled with fear and firmly shut her eyes. She heard somebody calling her name and she slowly opened her eyes. A Goddess was standing in front of her!! She gave her a mud pot and told her, “…this will give you food forever…” and the Goddess suddenly disappeared! The old lady lived happily for a long time with her magic mud pot. But slowly she became so curious about her magic pot she ordered food again and again to test it. The food became a huge mountain in front of her! At last the magic pot disappeared in fumes! And the food left there became a mountain of poisonous snakes.
At that time I pointed out the lady`s curiosity as ‘evil’, and later in the catechism class, the curiosity of Eve as the misery of the world and so on. Religious stories, mythologies and folk lore have a grey tactic to engrave certain beliefs and notions which shape the entire humanity to tie them under a certain system. The existence of any system in this world is because of such mythologies which discourage rationality, curiosity and encourage censorship. India is known as the largest democratic country, and its Constitution contains the right to freedom, given in articles 19, 20, 21 and 22, with the view of guaranteeing individual rights. The right to freedom in Article 19 guarantees formally the freedom of speech and expression. But it becomes a piece of paper to peoples of peripheral areas and censors many diverse studies and opinions. And censorship becomes a comfortable way to suppress the skepticism and revolution in any system whether in politics or religion.
The belief in heaven and hell forces a person to be moral, and the mythological stories describing the disaster of curiosity make the person cowed and slavish. Kundo Yumnam from Manipur has grown up in an environment of chauvinism. Men dominated over women, rich over poor, powerful over powerless and adults over curious children. In Manipur, people live in turbulence and anti- nationalist protests and still use the scripts of West Bengal even though their language is so different from Bangali (now radical groups are reviving their scripts). We can figure out the class politics behind the introduction of the Bengali script in Manipur when we think in terms of the small population of Meitei who are predominantly Vaishnavite Hindus (Hindus who consider Vishnu to be the supreme deity, and the Meitei Hindus are said to have been converted by a handful of Hindus from West Bengal) and the rest being tribes of Nagas and Kukis.
Kundo has a strong quest for knowledge, her curiosity is instinctive in nature but it somewhere converges with the atmosphere and the place she belongs.
Her imaginary treasure box somewhere in the Khoj guest house, which stimulates her nostalgia, finally leads to the story of Pandora`s Box.  It was one of existing stories she had heard in her childhood. One evening she shared with us the feeling she had, in her childhood, about Pandora. Like I blamed the Old Lady for her curiosity in my childhood, Kundo had also asked, “Why did she open that box?” As an artist having political and cultural awareness she is trying to explore the politics of this Greek mythological story. She is rereading the story and is giving us a chance to decide whether to open the Pandora’s Box or not.

Masaccio, Adam and Eve Baished from Paradise 1401-28, Fresco, Brancacci chapel,Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence,Italy.

I keep six honest serving-men;
They taught me all I knew;
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
~Rudyard Kipling.

Kundo is working in her sudio

Read more about Manipur:

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