Edited to 14mts from a 2 and three-quarter hour real-life float down the Ganga by the artist as a re-enactment of a real event in her life in 2007.
The Drift is an expression of homage, a rite signifying surrender and an act of passive resistance.
It is dedicated to the creation of a parallel counter river within that flows backward and points to the source.
This happened way back in 2007 in Kashi.
I traveled across the Ganga in a rowboat till I chanced upon a Tapu, one of those impermanent itinerant islands that form every summer only to disappear with the rains…
There I got off and waded randomly a few 100 meters upstream.
Off that island, where the river flows from east to west in a self-reflexive backward loop, I quietly lay down in the water…
Back slightly arched, eyes closed, face skywards I surrendered to her meandering currents that held my weary resistless body close to her cool undulating one.
The water unobtrusively shut the sounds of the outer world and opened my ears to the inner fugue of the body…
The whoosh of breathing, the thrumming of pulse, the hum of plasmic gushing intensified by the hue of the summer sky that slowly began to be dotted with a downward circling spiral of black crows.
Down they came … closer and closer, revealing intimate detail of feather, gradations of color…
I proceeded without a word amidst a line of marigolds to sit in the gap bordering the island where I had landed, the color of flame, that had taken root there from the seeds of the drifting garlands floating loose from the neck of the corpses being endlessly readied for cremation at the upstream ghats …
Thawing slowly in the sun I experienced the first stirrings of the completion of an inner drifting life that had stuck at no place over all these years nor gathered anything as it graced the routes of the various currents it traversed in its floating.
… To say it changed my life would be too dramatic. Enough to say quietly that it affirmed something in me to repeat this act, once life, now art, in May 2010 floating in the Ganga for over an hour a and a half with fellow sojourner, Shantamani Muddaiah’s sensitive camera eye as witness …
The drift is a homage to that parallel counter river within that flows backward ever, pointing metaphorically to the Origin.
At the end of the drift, we landed on a small island. It was surrounded by clear water like flowing glass less than a foot thick on the granulated river bed marked with myriad tracks left by waterbirds and various nameless animals. In a moment of inspiration I asked to be covered by the shroud I picked out of many at Manikarnika Ghat where two months ago I had spent an entire Shivaratri, a lone woman beside the pyres the doms tended with their long bamboo poles all night.
The red zari worked shroud gleamed.
“You look like the corpse of a bride” Shanta shivered later.
A layer suddenly peeled off a painful memory of her childhood in her native village where many a married woman had ended the wretched stagnancy of life in the Kaveri’s flow.
“Is that a marriage chunri or a kafan, Radha?” Asked Koumudi, puzzled.
I recounted my own bemused question to the shopkeeper at Manikarnika-
“Yeh Devi ko chhadaanei ki kapda Hain ki kafan?”
“Donon keliyei hoti Hain behenji” he reassuringly answered.
“Dressing the bride. Like polishing firewood”, I tasted anew the irony in Arundhati Roy’s metaphor from her ‘God of Small Things’.
“Haan, donon ke liye hoti hain, Koumudi.”
It is certainly used interchangeably for both.
That length of sequined zari worked red cloth is, well and truly, universally applicable.