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Niek Hiemstra – Challenging Arts, Challenging Medicine

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A retrospective of Niek Hiemstra’s work was on view at the Ann Bryant Art Gallery, East London. The exhibition opened on the 25 March, when I went to see his work.
I never knew Niek personally but we did meet at various exhibitions held at the Ann Bryant Gallery in East London. He came with oxygen support and looked happy in the environs of art and aesthetics. He passed away of lung related disease in 2013
When I walked around looking at his water colors, acrylics, chalk works and pen and ink drawings, I was struck by the topics he chose to draw. There was an immediate connection; his works portrayed the common man and surroundings where he had lived. A certain artist even told me that each of his art has something missing but then I realized imperfection is in itself the true art, Niek from his humble Dutch beginnings imbibed the master’s stroke of imagination and creativity. Bright landscapes, impasto brush work, light and shade compositions took my breath away. But there was more to come. His portrait works were displayed on the first floor.
Its these portraits that make me write today. Helpless as these patients lay on their hospital beds, Niek’s brush brought a possible glint in their eyes. His self portrait in Ward 33 shows an edematous face gasping for breath from the oxygen mask. The coils of oxygen tubing that he neatly drew challenged and humbled contemporary medical science. The fine art of healing pathology remains garbled at times and so are our ethos and ethics that bears the brunt of such indomitable challenges. The sharpness of a glass mirror reflects the chiaroscuro of many such dreams that we share with the creativity of a visual artist. Art, Artist and the Healer share a common galaxy of creativity and skills but each in their own way continue to be symbiotic to the other.
In times as these, rare as it may be, an artist like Niek Hiemstra arose not only to challenge medical science with all its disparities and disproportions but even in his own love of visual arts, he strikes with an equal brunt force. The shadows at the corner of one’s eye turn violent. Niek Hiemstra rejoiced in the violence of such colors, such living.
In the passing away of Niek, medical science lost an unknown immortal, in the galaxies of visual art, we have one more star.
As a dedication to the famous Dutch artist Breitner, It is said that when streets of Amsterdam are grey and rainy, people of Amsterdam whisper grimly, ‘Echt Breitnerweer’ (Typical Breitner weather). I believe too, as a homage to Netherlands born Niek Hiemstra and his inexhaustive passion for life and arts, East Londoners of South Africa, may also say, ‘Echt Niekweer’ to a stormy weather in East London.

Amitabh Mitra is a poet, artist and a medical doctor based at East London, South Africa. He heads the Department of Emergency Medicine at Cecilia Makiwane Hospital in Mdantsane.

Stranger than a Sun, Poems and Drawings of Amitabh Mitra

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A semi-autobiographical account in prose poems spanning my life in India, Bhutan, Niger, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Drawings of havelis, palaces and the fort of Gwalior.

Excerpt-

Yet we are forever lonely. We were lonely even when we were together. Your sudden laughter at an afternooncafe in Connaught Place on that day made people turn and look at us. Your whispered smile said, Aren’t we all structures, trying our best to resemble each other. It was then my turn to laugh, spluttering Nescafe on your face. Loving was the ultimate loneliness then struggling to keep up with desperate evenings. And as we shared our nights of gentle violence, gentle killings, an evening took us back repeatedly to where we had never lived. This is the evening I try to share with you today. When the train comes to a screaming halt, these are evenings we could never correspond. Loneliness takes us over again with an avenging belief.

The Ninth Annual Neil Aggett Memorial Lecture, Kingswood College, Grahamstown 24 September 2014

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There was always something wonderfully counter-intuitive about Neil Aggett as an anti-apartheid campaigner—he was white, qualified in medicine, and young. He had a life of privilege ahead of him and could have chosen to live comfortably with those of his skin feeding off the benefits of white advantage. It would of course have been easy to fit-in with the powerful socialisation that comes through family; as I understand it, his father left Kenya to escape black majority rule and establish home in white South Africa. Then there was the rigid discipline and compliance demanded by his school culture, hardly an environment for breeding left-wing radicals. Yet he stares power and privilege, school and family socialisation, in the face, and goes the other way.

This is what I call uncommon leadership, and it is a quality as rare and needed under apartheid as it is rare and required after apartheid. This is the relevance of Neil Aggett to all of us today. It was much more difficult then to lead against the grain and to defy the expectations of your community for imprisonment, torture and even death were very real threats everywhere, but especially under the sadistic sense of duty of the Eastern Cape High Command. And yet it is difficult today in a culture that allows for expressions like “our turn to eat” and where speaking out against wrong can, once again, threaten life and limb.

And so my approach to this 9th Neil Aggett Lecture is to speak to this important legacy of the first white man to die in detention (at 28 years of age), and to challenge especially our future leaders, the young men and women of this distinguished South African school, to map out for yourselves a path of uncommon leadership in our troubled country.

Read the full lecture

Jonathan Jansen
Jonathan Jansen
Rector of the University of the Free State
Born in Montagu South Africa
Jonathan Jansen is the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State. He is the Honorary Professor of Education at the University of the Witwatersrand and Visiting Fellow at the National Research Foundation. Jansen also serves as an Independent Non-Executive Director for Advtech Limited and is the Chairman at the School Evaluation and Teacher Appraisal.

Charcoal Portrait of Neil Aggett by Amitabh Mitra

The Art of Vijay Mohite

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Noted artist Vijay Mohite, whose works were on view at the Lalit Kala Akademi recently, was a master of creating abstracts which spoke the common language of love

Encountering Vijay Mohite Sahab and his wife Aruna at Gwalior during 1970s was the most formidable experience for a young doctor keen on mastering visual arts and poetry. Both Mohite Sahab and I belong to Gwalior. I imbibed his words and they still stay with me. His art, the few that I saw then, remain etched in my mind.

Medicine took me to remote parts of the world but in a tiny corner of my mind, the vastness that is Vijay Mohite remains. Each time I came back home to my parents at Gwalior, the fort and his art made me think, and I was left trying to find words for creations so beautiful, so magical, and yet so hard to explain.

Vijay Mohite’s works have always been acclaimed as abstract compositions. They were probably seen as removed from the place and his life at Gwalior.

If one analyses all the pieces, his art comes out as a spectacular understanding of familiar forms and shapes. Feelings are the mobile language of Vijay Mohite’s art. In dynamic proportions, its relative understanding of the earth, the sky, the people and the fort all being of Gwalior is depicted in mammoth togetherness of strokes that might be mistaken for impatience.

In the clever mastery of juxtaposition of colours, the eye sometimes rolls to create a bonding.

In the immediacy of such flavours, such organised textures, such ways of recall, Vijay Mohite continues to talk to us about blistering summers and severe winters, he tells us about the earthly foliage that lives within all of us.

Rhythm and suggestiveness in sudden blues, reds and oranges that sparkle from his huge canvases are of a caring togetherness. I would even think of his sudden laughter, such sudden shower of colours happening in total awareness. A curtain seems to have moved apart.

For togetherness was always the theme of Vijay Mohite’s work. His togetherness with his wife Aruna, daughter Nandita and stranger dawns and dusks that he revered, were all his inspiration for such work, such language never created by any other Indian artist.

During the same time as Vijay Mohite’s most creative period, poetry and visual art in a unique Indian juncture revolutionised the landscape of global creativity. Thoughts entangled in colours and words gave way to a new religion in India.

This movement had artists like Sabavala, Ram Kumar, Krishen Khanna, Akbar Padamsee and others; each proved that they had streaks of brilliance in them.

Vijay Mohite took to this movement like a heretic; his poems in colour were of savage radiance, rehearsing in unforgettable ways, themes embedded in life within many lives at Gwalior.

Today, in the absence of Vijay Mohite Sahab, I go through his work again and again.

It’s just like a poem stuck on to my memories. His structures were different but spoke the common language of love.

Amitabh Mitra is an artist/poet/emergency medicine and a trauma physician in East London, South Africa.

First Published in the popular news daily, The Hindu

Nadine Gordimer

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Gopalkrishna Gandhi was appointed India’s High Commissioner after the Apartheid rule fell in South Africa.  A rare insight of the world of Nadine Gordimer who passed away on 13 July 2014 and her feelings about India as narrated by Gopalkrishna Gandhi in an article published in the Hindustan Times

Read about her visit to Calcutta as featured in the Hindustan Times

My tribute – Charcoal on Paper

Amitabh Mitra

Six Delhi Poets

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Delhi is a city of dreams and dervishes, a city with innumerable skies and stranger horizons spreadeagled over a stretch of rapturous melody. Thoughts lose streets at traffic jams and belief remain an undeterred sun.

Such is Delhi

Such are its Poets

The Poetry of Keshav Malik, Rakshat Puri, Dan Husain, Subroto Bondo, Nibedita Sen and Suman Keshari can only be uniquely explained in its Indian hues, a solitary percussionist finds a gypsy beat suddenly on an evening tainted with color of old summers.

The watercolor cover of this collection, done by me is rebellion of love; its tryst in a destiny, Delhi remains the same.

Amitabh Mitra
14 January 2014

Cover Art by Amitabh Mitra

Read the complete anthology

Dilli, An Anthology of Women Poets of Delhi

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Delhi – a city described as home to everyone yet belonging to no one. I feel that that is the best feeling ever. A city that has the ability to make one feel such emotions simultaneously is quite rare. I came to live in this city ten years ago and at that time I never wanted to be a part of it; I wanted to go back home- to that sheltered, protected environment where I had grown up. Something made me stay; several years later I can’t think of living anywhere except in this city. The charm and the spell that it casts on one’s mind are indescribable. The people, the food, the history- it takes years to understand this city and I believe ages to know every nook and corner of this mysterious place. Mysterious, yes that’s the word for this city. It can make you experience different worlds as one move from one corner to another. The fascinating bit about the city being that every part is distinct from the rest. 

To celebrate and to meditate about the city, Dr. Amitabh Mitra came up with the wonderful idea of publishing an anthology which talked about the city and the interesting angle that was added was that the city be described by women poets who were below the age of 30. We got a tremendous response and it took a lot of time to go through all the submissions and finally select the poets we have featured in this anthology.

It was a delight to go through all the works and each work is distinct and unique in its own way. The way this city has been described in so many beautiful ways is for you to read and be mesmerized.

 

Celebrate with us the city called Dilli !

 Semeen Ali

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Foreword

 I met Dr. Amitabh Mitra a few years ago through my 1978 released album “Train to Calcutta”; I was humbled by his kind words. His many artistic attributes besides being in a busy occupation of being a Doctor makes me respect him for the way he so constructively uses his time, and therefore, whenever he asks me to be a part of any project he undertakes, I only feel grateful for the faith he reposes in me. Thank you Doc!

I am so glad that Dr. Amitabh Mitra has compiled this anthology of poems on Delhi, and especially by women poets of Delhi, and that too below the age of thirty – a perspective I am really looking forward to reading.

I came to Delhi as a young boy of ten in 1960 with the little boy’s excitement of being in the capital of the country, with a sort of chip on my shoulders and that feeling that I had arrived. I have loved Delhi with all its past and its present, from the Indraprastha to the high-rising concrete and the NCR and its ever-changing chameleon temperament, but I don’t know if I really share its ethos now. Being a singer/songwriter, I always listened to the lyrical and poetic Delhi, its political and social attitudes. The city gave me so much to think and I just reacted through my urban folk songs. I am excited to read these young poets to experience the influence that Delhi has had on them.

My curiosity in reading this anthology is more because I understand that the poets are all below thirty years of age, which means they were all born in the eighties. Lots happened before then, in fact, according to me, the best time in Delhi were the seventies. It was the watershed and a milestone period which possibly dictated the modern times in India and I am curious to know if their poems are based on stories they have heard from their parents about the preceding years or are the poems typical reactions to the mid-nineties that we from the previous generations were trying to resist and the youth were trying desperately to get back and hold on to the ethos and emotions of the seventies through music and the arts.

I grew up in those dichotomous times – the Vietnam War, a tragedy of human barbarism, the moonwalk, and a technological invasion of outer space and arrogance of the human mind. There were these great movements of Women’s liberation, Leila Khaled’s of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine ( PFLP) hijacking of a plane, Marianne Faithfull’s assertion of female sexuality, and the turbulence of the Naxal uprising. On the more gentle side of human emotions, there were the Hippies, a community that grouped together to resist consumerism and materialism in their developed nations and who came to India looking for Nirvana through transcendental meditation. New concepts of Spirituality and, Universality came about while an undercurrent of the corporate market was slowly raising its ugly head. People like Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and so many others were singing in support and in solidarity with young people. It was our first attempt at globalisation, not through the market but through people.

Emotionally Delhi has always fascinated me and always will, perhaps because it is the seat of power and it dictates the governance of this huge and diverse nation. I came to Delhi with its big houses, wide avenues and beautiful historical monuments. I lived in Delhi witnessing the enormous changes that were taking place and changing its social patterns. I anguish over Delhi’s aspiration of becoming a Super “A” Capital and completely ignoring life.

As a songwriter/singer I have sung about the vibrancy of Janpath in the 70’s, I have sung about the children huddled together around a fire while others danced at nightclubs in five star hotels on Christmas and New Year’s eve. I have sung about the various voices needing to be heard in protest for the rights of people. And I have sung about the great epic Mahabharata which this city experienced many centuries ago.

I am excited about the relationship of these modern poets with this great city and how they perceive it through their poems. And I am sure; they have re-lived the decade before them through their parents, who grew up in the dichotomous times that I have mentioned.

Really looking forward to the book and thanking Amitabh for his thought.

 Susmit Bose

Art by Amitabh Mitra

A Poets Printery / Cyberwit.net India Publication

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The Heart only Whispers….. Love Poems by 60 Indian Poets

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Edited by Glory Sasikala

Published by Poets Printery and Pubros Consultants

Cover Art – Amitabh Mitra

Hard Cover/Jacket Edition – Splinters of a Mirage Dawn

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Message from Nobel Peace Prize Winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu

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A message from Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu for the Editor, Harry Owen, poets/artists and the publisher who created this immortal book, For Rhino in a Shrinking World.  Poets Printery, its web designers, graphic designers, printers and Amitabh Mitra feel proud that we took this bold step towards Rhino Conservation.

Dear Friend,

Thank you so very much for this beautiful gift. I look forward to a good and perhaps disturbing read.
I certainly support your campaign against the ghastly attempt at eradicating these splendid creatures so gruesomely. You can if you need to, publicise my support of your campaign.

God bless you,
+Desmond Tutu.