How do you leave when you go! Not in words or romantic conceits. But in a picture bound on all four ends — a picture best ‘cinematised’ in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. He writes, “What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? — It’s the too huge world vaulting us and it’s good-bye.” Do books going places, on assignment or fancy, look on until their human conspirators disperse into dots? Do they lean forward to the next gamble of new hands and homes? As we imagine motility, Musafir – The Traveling Sketchbook, is listening.
Musafir was hatched up in the hope of starting an art project owned by a community. Viewing the world from @musafir_thetravelingsketchbook on Instagram, in the middle of a busy itinerary, the book is discovering real cities – their people, on our behalf. Initiators Priyanka Kashyap and Toshi Singh say the project was inspired by the likes of Brooklyn Art Library’s The Sketchbook Project and Daftar Asfar. “When Priyanka came up with the idea during one of our casual chats, we instantly knew it had legs. She wanted it to be called Musafir,” shares Singh, whose art finds motivation in the everyday. Her rendering of their vision through a stop motion video gave Musafir its wings.
Overwhelmed with joy, they admit they had not expected the number of entries to swell so. “While putting up the call for contribution, we thought we’d be lucky to get even 15 participants with satisfactory interest. To our surprise, requests kept pouring in. We had to close the call on the same day,” informs Kashyap. They held on to the desire of seeing the explorative tool of collaboration essay creative practices and veiled histories. She elaborates they had to work around logistic problems so that more participants could come on board. Keeping the sketchbook size in mind, and with 44 allies waiting on the plan, the book was divided into two volumes; each readied to traverse different countries. “To optimise transit time and stick to an economical process, we decided to use one book largely for India and the other for our international collaborators,” the artist from Assam explains.
Musafir I will trot through Thane, Mumbai, Chennai, Vellore, Palakkad, Kannur, Kozhikode, Mysore, and Bengaluru after which it returns home in Melbourne, Australia. Its global counterpart (Musafir II) will bottle flavours and feelings – some melancholy too – from Melbourne, New York, South Yorkshire, London, Barcelona, Luxembourg, Belgium, Amsterdam, Jakarta, Singapore, and a couple more cities in India.
Warmth in a morsel of food
It is no revelation that Musafir is an extension of our bodies. It’s physically out to chronicle the “perfect culinary experience” that, trapped in the interjection of time and fondness, has been our most comforting recourse. “Our food experiences are deeply integrated with our sense of belongingness, relationships and identity. We live far away from home and the recalls hit us harder than ever,” shares Singh. Her Bihari Chicken Curry is the first artwork of the series. As her father cooks in the illustration, he induces wafts of the curry with an edge of his stainless steel turner. She admits it is her favourite dish for recollections associated with the preparation. “A mouthful of this and I’m transported to my childhood days in Patna,” she gushes about the context of foods lending unvisited meanings to the ordinary.
Thane-based Shubhangi Chetan draws and writes about her Aaji’s prawn and crab curry. Her grandmother passed away in 2018, but her memories will live forever. The third piece by Dinesh P Rajan is a ticket to collective nostalgia. Rajan from Puducherry reminisces the euphoria at wedding feasts by recreating a scene from the 1957 film, Mayabazar. We see demigod Ghatothkacha pumped up to polish off all the food to foil the marriage of his cousin’s boo to a rival. He says food served at weddings has to be the ‘peak food’ of any society!
As Musafir tours 41 more destinations to bring back inspiriting pictures and messages, we wait for answers. “Do makers really disperse into dots each time the book leaves?”