Brindarica Bose is a Zürich based visual artist, teacher and author of a short story collection. She tells The Woolf about her origins, her art, bringing people together and building a platform for unheard voices.
Welcome, Brindarica. How do you think about your own origins: geographically, culturally, creatively?
I have to describe the recipe of my favourite drink to reply to this question, and that is a cup of spiced ginger tea. To prepare it you have to first boil water with grated ginger and a cardamom (for aroma), then you have to lower the flame and add Assam or Darjeeling tea leaves (for flavour) and any ordinary black tea (for liquor) and let it simmer in low flame for 2-3 minutes. Then you can add 2 spoons of milk (an English custom) and sugar, and your cuppa is ready. Even if it is a cup of tea, it has so many flavours and cultural adaptations—just like me and my origins.
Geographically and spiritually I am from India. Culturally and creatively I am a mix of East and West. Born in Mumbai, to Bengali parents, I lived, studied and worked in five cities across India. In 2002, I came to Switzerland after marriage in my mid-twenties. My husband was born and educated here in ETH, in Switzerland. His family and cousins live here. As a family we share our roots in India and in Switzerland. My parents and sister live in India.
With a population of 1.3 billion, India is a subcontinent with 22 official languages and varied food and cultural habits from North to South. It is similar to the variety of cultures and languages we have here in Europe with its population of 781 million. Yet, there is a common thread within every continent or subcontinent, with similar traits and values which hold them together. From my childhood, ‘travelling’ has been a constant phenomenon in my life, so imbibing different cultures and customs comes to me naturally. I feel the attraction towards ‘beauty’ in all creative pursuits is a common human trait. Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Monet’s Water Lilies are a source of admiration for a Swiss as well as for an Indian. Yes, some expressions are typical from certain parts of the world, but that is what makes each of us unique.
To me being Indian means—being open, expressive, colourful, and celebrating life with a hundred festivals.
Being Swiss means—adapting to simplicity, being efficient and independent, and loving a love for nature.
Your paintings are full of colour and detail—snapshots of life in the form of streetscapes, mountains, flowers, people. What most inspires you to pull out your paintbrushes? Do you find you home in on certain themes from time to time?
Well, I believe beauty and inspiration lie everywhere. One doesn’t have to go to exotic places to find them—you can also find them in your day-to-day life, your room, your office, or the street that you can see from your window. All one needs is an artistic bent of mind and determination to make some time for art.
Yes, my paintings are quite colourful, and that is the ‘Indian influence’. Colours can evoke strong as well as subtle emotions and don’t always need lines or forms to define them. I try to exaggerate the colours that I see, as I find life beautiful with colours and I am aware that it can transcend.
Also, I keep indulging in various themes and styles. My main focus is nature, landscapes, cityscapes or still life. I love painting still life or portraits with oil colours, or urban sketching with a black fountain pen, but my favourite medium is aquarelle (watercolours). Aquarelle is the toughest medium to use as well. Unlike acrylics, you cannot make mistakes or cover it up. A good watercolour should be transparent, subtle and with confident strokes. Watercolours have a spiritual, ethereal aspect to them and I almost feel I am meditating when painting with this medium.
I also enjoy smearing charcoal or pastels in my fingers. If you come to my studio, you will see that I stand there barefoot with colours flying in the air, landing on my hair and sometimes also on the tip of my nose!
How long have you been teaching painting, and what do you enjoy most about it?
My mother was my first art teacher. It was she who enrolled me first to an art school, when I was eight years old in Kolkata (India’s cultural capital). I learned about different styles and the grammar of art from there: still life, composition, different colour mediums, clay modelling, batik, wood sculpturing, music as well as dance. I continued taking art classes every weekend till my early 20s. In Ranchi, we had a group of art lovers (Akanksha)—we used to go out for en plein air (outdoor) studies. Around that time, I also started teaching art to kids at home and in a few schools on weekends.
In my 20s and early 30s, art took a backseat as I had to focus on completing my studies (B.Sc, MBA), and thereafter worked full time for a daily newspaper in India, got married, changed countries, changed jobs, gave birth to two boys (who are now 7 and 11) and continued working in an international association, heading their publications department.
In 2015, I joined Migros Klubschule, in Wohlen and Baden, as an art teacher. I teach art courses in watercolour, acrylics, sketching, comics and urban sketching. I completely enjoy my weekly classes and it is a wonderful organisation to work with. In my course, I have participants who have stayed from my first day when I joined till now, and they are all amazing artists! In 2017, I also started my own monthly art workshops in Wohlen where I made many good friends—each session is like a picnic with an art theme. In 2018, along with a group of friends, we started a monthly workshop for kids in Zürich, based on the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concept, called ‘Wonder Kids’.
I believe life will always remain busy. The ‘perfect’ moment to rekindle a passion or hobby shall never arrive if we keep waiting for and expecting the right time to arrive. It is important to dive in and start whatever you want to do ‘now’. ‘Now’ is the best time.
What inspired you to publish your first book? And tell us about the title, Swiss Masala.
My family’s influence and my childhood habit of writing and journaling, and the realisation that the right time is now or never, made me publish my first book, Swiss Masala, in 2018. It’s a collection of stories I had written over the years after arriving in Switzerland.
In the book, the stories revolve around these expat protagonists, who are mostly women from India: for example, an Indian housewife undergoing a mid-life crisis and deciding to start something new (‘Drama Queen’); a young girl from Thailand coming to Geneva as a nanny and striving to survive on her own terms (‘The Migratory Bird’); and a woman who is gardening and entering a mystical parallel world (‘Brinda’s Garden’).
You’ve organised the stories according to spices: turmeric, chillies, basil, tamarind and cinnamon. How did you arrive at the idea for this clustering?
Well, when you think about India, Indian cuisine and spices come to one’s mind almost immediately. So, I thought why not segregate the protagonists based on their nature and the story plots? Some are fiery and resilient (categoriseed as ‘chillies’), some are more docile (‘basil’) and so on.
Tell us about your latest project, She Speaks. How did this project evolve?
The idea behind ‘She Speaks’ is to give a platform to female voices, especially those who come from non-literary backgrounds. ‘She Speaks’ is an anthology project written by women of Indian origin, settled around the world. I first discussed this project with a few friends who were scientists, teachers, bankers and engineers (and had a strong voice), and then these friends reached out to their contacts in 2018. Our aim was to dig into day-to-day women’s experiences and write a story about a female protagonist, reflecting modern times. We had 20 Indian women across the world who joined this project—in India, US, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. We helped each other at every step and took all decisions jointly, as this was a collaborative project. The book She Speaks was published globally through an Indian publisher this year, on March 8th, International Women’s Day. We hope to continue this creative process and give a platform to unheard voices.
And, finally, the Woolf special question: What’s one of your favourite works of fiction and why?
I love works where human nature is explored. I love Hermann Hesse, Rabindranath Tagore, Ashapurna Devi, and most classics starting from Leo Tolstoy to V.S.Naipaul; contemporary works like Elena Ferrante’s, Chitra Divakaruni and Jhumpa Lahiri’s works of fiction (I relate to the ‘Indianness’ in the stories). I find it hard to pick one book, but maybe I would mention Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth or Hermann Hesse’s essays, which are often on my bedside table. I even painted Lahiri’s book once, as I had taken it with me to the hospital, when I gave birth to my second child.
See more of Brindarica’s works in our Gallery.