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One soul, many lives

A poet, a tarot reader, a filmmaker, director of the Dalmia Group and above all a writer—Laxmana Dalmia is all this and much more.

Anshu Khanna

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Laxmana Dalmia.
Laxmana Dalmia.

She is a woman of many talents; many lives lived within the span of one. A poet, a tarot reader, a filmmaker, director of the Dalmia Group and above all a writer who looks at words as imaginary paintings that reside within our souls. Hence her recent work where she compiled all per prose in one book, One Soul Many Lives, was a coming together of her works and art from a hundred leading maestros of India.

Laxmana Dalmia is always lost with the threads of her thought, expressing them through verses and words. We meet her in one of the most distinguished old havelis of Delhi, driving down the long, very long drive-way of the Dalmia residence in Delhi. One of the many splendorous old homes where the far branched-out Dalmia family lives. Given that the grand patriarch of this family, Ramakrishna Dalmia married six times and had more than a dozen children. A typical manor built in the early 19th century, the house is majestically perched and to date remains preserved in its original form.

Laxmana Dalmia, the quietest amongst the Dalmia scions, is also the introspective daughter who grew up trying to catch “my father’s much distracted eye on silly little me even if it were for a Nano of a warm moment”. At the same time basking in the deep reservoir of her mother’s love. Laxmana Dalmia, born to the last and sixth wife Durgesh Nandini, is an author, poetess, filmmaker and activist who simply traced her mother’s footsteps and began walking in them.

 “My mother, who was a renowned writer in Hindi, introduced me to the world of literature. She would ask me to read aloud whatever she had written and then write it neatly as none could read her handwriting. My first attempt at serious writing was when I edited her biographical novels. Encouraged by my mother, I started writing when I was 13. Once I started I haven’t stopped,” smiles Laxmana dressed in a rich Bandhej sari.

A quest for words recently led her to launch her debut book, One Soul Many Lives, a compilation of verses that capture emotions in myriad hues. Free-wheeling in style and simply written from the heart, the poems take you on a walk called life. Life as Laxmana sees it. She talks of love beyond titles and bonds. The kind she has shared with famed theatre actor Aziz Qureishi who stood by her side from the moment they met at college in the 1970s. Ever since they are together as true soul mates.

She writes on the dichotomy of today’s world that builds walls and divides while offering lip service to egalitarianism. A sense of equality amongst people that IPTA introduced to India a few decades back and Laxmana as active member and treasurer of the organisation strives hard to keep alive. “IPTA is the reflection of my core values. I feel we have to not just feel equal but be truly equal as a nation.” Then in another poem she is a caring grandmother to her adopted son Rudra Dalmia’s children. A single woman who preferred to live in love, she doted on her two adopted son’s family. Laxmana Dalmia is an entrepreneur, with many years of experience in the world of multimedia. She has been actively involved in production, writing and direction for TV, radio and theatre.

 In tone and tenor her poems are like her heart speaking out loud. “When I read them now, I find that I have written more than I knew I was writing. If someone asked me what kind of poems I have written — I wouldn’t know how to typecast them. They are just my interpretations of a host of experiences. Life has made me run through an entire gamut of emotions ranging from fear, insecurity, frustration, jealousy, hatred and anger to love, comprehension, compassion, balance and then perhaps spirituality.

A filmmaker and theatre person Laxmana thinks visually and hence invited leading artists like Anjolie Ela Menon, Jayashree Burman, Raghu Rai, George Martin, Pooja Iranna, Benoy Verghese to match visuals to her verses. “It was such a fluid way of allowing two creative realms to co-exist together. Right from the spectacular launch to the book itself, I think we were able to weld the words with art very well,” says Ashwini Bahadur, the one who put it all together.

Agreeing with her is artist Jayashree Barman. “Poetry is an aesthetic representation of reality… it is ornamented with the choicest of words, the music of rhymes and the art of brevity. So yes, poems I have grown up with do crop up in my mind when I paint. I was pleased to paint Laxmana›s words and found the meanings of the verse translated into my palette.” Anjolie too, whose art is like poetry, found the inherent simplicity in Laxmana’s work endearing. Joining in on an exclusive shoot she felt that art is art, in any form.

George Martin, the intense artist who expresses through colour, created a special piece for Laxmana’s book. He says, “My work reflects the transition between conscious and subconscious states, investigating the tension between the natural and manmade situations. I often connect myself with time and space or images and memory, psychedelic outburst of colours. Laxmana’s poem Shadow or Substance — I transformed to visual poetry. Here images and shadows give a third meaning to the viewer.”

Pooja Iranna, who painted the poem titled “Nostalgia”, found an instant vibration with the words. “Yes, I believe that art is fluid. It is a downpour of expression and many times easily and effortlessly flows. My whole work revolves around this very beautiful poem. It’s a set of five works with dark backgrounds signifying thick dark nights with bright incorporated structures signifying nostalgia and memories of moments spent in them.” For the curator, this was a unique show, both in real installations and the book. “At the art show I tried to create a fairy-tale setting which felt as if you were walking through an exaggerated book,” says George.

 And to sum it all, Laxmana recites one of her favourite poems, The Devil and the Divine. For me, the boat filled with people, gliding in the foreground, represents people who have been victorious in eliminating the ‘devil’ and have climbed the bandwagon towards ‘divine’ salvation. The second boat with two figures, I imagine, is like the lone person making a clandestine, ignominious pact with the devil. The flautist playing ‘His’ tune is equally energising and encouraging — almost like a salutation to those who have risen above the odds and challenges life has thrown at them! “

 The poem and photograph by Raghu Rai are individually and collectively composed with cognitive and emotional elements that can be juxtaposed to create a reality every human faces, almost every day. Each word that is written in the poem and every nuance captured in the photograph say at least these two same things: “Don’t ever let the devil win!”, “Forgive, Forget and move on!”

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