Book Review: In Loving Memory
In Loving Memory is in Haimanti Dutta Ray’s own words a memoir where a doting daughter recounts how she had seen her father the late painter Shyamal Dutta Ray, who passed away in 2005, at close quarters as well as her reflections on the art fraternity to which her father had belonged. This book is not in the genre of a tribute. At the core of this novel is the brave and beating heart, at once vulnerable and determined, unwilling to let go of all it has ever loved. The book isn’t about lamenting the loss of a beloved father; it is primarily a daughter’s reappraisal of his influence on her life that has been willfully accentuated, and a celebration of this.
The memoir travels backwards and forwards which means the author hasn’t adhered to chronology. Haimanti writes:
“As a memoir, it (In Loving Memory) is relatively punitive. It has been so because I want my readers to realize that ‘memory’ by its very nature, defies order.”
She further adds:
“I would like this book to be like one of the flowers that were offered at his feet on that day. A memoir – also a labour of love – from his only daughter.”
Shyamal Dutta Ray was born in Ranchi (erstwhile Bihar) in 1934. He took to drawing and painting at a very early age. A serious ailment had forced him to remain confined indoors and had to be homeschooled in his early days. A graduate from the Government College of Art and Craft, he went on to become an art teacher at Jagadbhandu Institution in Calcutta. He received several awards in recognition of his work. He was also a founding member of the Society of Contemporary Artists.
Dutta Ray’s forte was the reinvention of water colour as a medium. After the wishy-washy use of the medium by the earlier generation of followers of the Bengal School, his water colors introduced a new depth and intensity to the medium. His works convey a melancholy mood. Whether it is the passing away of gracious lifestyle in Kolkata or the stark contrast between the very rich and the very poor, Dutta Ray captures in his images a pensive comment on life. Broken walls, crumbling plaster, cobweb-filled rooms, empty houses where gardens have become wilderness record a transient world.
My fascination with this book is not with the writer but the man about whom it has been written. Recently I finished a translation of a text book on painting. While doing some background work on the same, I came across Shyamal Dutta Ray’s water colours and fell in love with those. Most of his work reflects the city life of Kolkata, with its happiness and sorrow, struggles and strifes, poverty and hope. The works also exhibit a sense of irony, surrealism and awareness of a disintegrating society. Naturally, when I saw the book up for review, I grabbed it with eagerness. I have come to know a little about this wonderful artist but here was a chance to get to read an engaging account of the artist as a private individual as seen by his near and dear ones. There can be little doubt that this would be an authentic account of the many charming facets of his personality. And rightly so. Haimanti doesn’t disappoint. She has written not just about the artist, but about the man behind those beautiful canvases that adorn the walls of several museums and private collections.
Coming to the book – the writing style is simple and to the point. The inclusion of some of Dutta Ray’s paintings is an added bonus. I am definitely going to cherish this one for a long time. I am glad I picked up this book.
Read the reviews of other books rated 4 stars by Team TP HERE