Rishi Majumder meets Indu Shedde who has carved a niche for herself in fashioning intricate figurines out of the household subjis
Photographer: Rana Chakraborty
A Bharatnatyam dancer positions herself as the symbol of balance, her tiny feet together. The symmetrical folds of her saree wrapped carefully around hang tautly, anticipating the next movement. Her hands, poised for performance take position, bangled in red and green. Her eyes gaze out from a round face, flawless wheatish in complexion, towards the audience. A flaming tilak matches her lips. Her hair is perfectly combed, held together by a string of white flowers. Her feet and hands are made of carrot; her saree of cabbage, especially tender where it drapes her shoulder; the bangles of multi-hued chillies; the white of her eyes fashioned from onion and the black of brinjal; the tilak and lips from red chilly; the hair from more brinjal; the flowers from cauliflower; and the face, well, from potato. Her centre of gravity is a knitting pin. A twinkle alights in 80-yearold Indu Shedde’s eyes when she talks of art. Applauded variously for her vegetable sculptures, she uses her kitchenware to excel — like herself or like a Bharatnatyam dancer — in extracting joy from the mundane and the transient.
This is how she remembers her moment of discovery in 1960, accentuated by her daughters’ elucidations: “When working in the kitchen, the shapes and colours of different vegetables strike me— the karela being rough… the baingan being smooth…” So one day she experimented with an onion. “Its inherent circles make me think of a flower!” A single onion cut into two, made two flowers… “And dipping one in haldi water makes it yellow…” Add green onion leaves, and you have a stem!
“I started translating everything into vegetables,” Shedde recounts. So fashioned more flowers, a peacock, fishes, a woman, a family, Santa Claus… and over 200 uniquely different sculptures. The minute detailing on Bharatnatyam and Manipuri dancers to bring out each style led famed dancer Rukmini Devi to remark: “You’ve given the Bharatnatyam dancer South Indian features!” Another challenge was bringing to life a Boeing via vegetable (read gourd) to match an Air India Maharaja similarly conceived. She has similarly produced a hippie replete with long hair, and guitar.
She feels that she could not have done it without divine intervention. “The lord guided me to do it!” is how she remembers creating Krishna out of brinjal, cabbage leaves, cauliflower, curry leaves and carrot. After winning flower shows like those thrown by the Friends Of Trees, Fruit And Flower continuously, her exhibitions led her through regular displays in Span, Eve’s Weekly. Dharmyug and Manorama and hotels like the Taj Mahal and Centaur, till she finally represented India at the World Vegetarian Congress in the US. “Here the Japanese saw my sculptures and said — being nature lovers, they’d never realised nature could be used in such a way.” The Americans in turn, asked her to teach a long list of the country’s top chefs this art.
But Shedde refused and returned. “I wanted to be there for my two daughters,” explains the woman who chiselled her potential only after 10 pm, when her children were asleep. Also, being self-taught herself, she doesn’t believe art can be transferred so easily: “I can show them how to do it, but it’s all about ideas… which come from within.” Shedde, who grew up in Dharwad, which gave rise to artists of the stature of Bhimsen Joshi, was since childhood involved with one art form or the other. She’s moved on now, and very successfully, to paper mache sculptures and bags. “They last, unlike vegetables which wither. Also I’m too old to carve details in vegetables.” Can paper mache capture the fleeting moment of a dancer’s joy though? Or does age have a reservation against transience?
This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/8kon