Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Suffering Moses

The 19th century essayist and poet, Matthew Arnold said, "Excellence is not common and abundant. On the contrary, as the Greek poet long ago said, excellence dwells among rocks hardly accessible, and a man must almost wear his heart out before he can reach her."

Perhaps almost wearing your heart is the cost of excellence, the price of creation.

When I was fifteen I took my first and only trip to Kashmir, not realizing that generations would grow up thinking of that enchanted place not as the paradise we did, but as a battleground.

There was this shop in Srinagar owned by this old artist/artisan who made the most exquisite papier mache, (not the stuff you get in the state emporia), delicate, multi-layered, intricate flawless pieces. He signed all his work on the bottom, in a sprawling calligraphic signature...the same name as his store, 'Suffering Moses.' His name was Moses. I had to know, had to ask him, 'Why Suffering Moses?"

He looked at me, intently, his eyes a strange shade somewhere between green and grey, the pink skin of his cheeks glowing, "Young lady. How else could I make anything beautiful? Only by suffering, right? I suffer for my art. You create nothing good if you don't suffer."

And that to me, is the relationship between excellence and suffering. Thank you Suffering Moses wherever you are.


temporal said...

in the stillness of mid-lake

is it ever possible to create when harmony reigns?

on a windless day the sail boat in the middle of the lake might appear picturesque…but it is not going anywhere!

the artist has to have a degree of sensitivity that exceeds the norm ( whatever that maybe)

unless the artist’s boat passes through storms, rocky seas, leaks and countless unexpected adversity how can s/he absorb that pain that results in that fire in the belly so necessary for creating… any work?

keep them coming J:)

Anonymous said...

I was lucky enough to visit Kashmir this summer, and the shop is still there. The work is beautiful, and the man who runs it is intelligent, interested, and friendly. I think he is a relative of the original artisan.

Thank you for your writing. I thought you might like to know that Suffering Moses is still there.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, Suffering Moses did amazing work. I visited and bought many things in late 1982 - but there was already an imitator nearby using the same shop name with just a tiny "Jr." in the sign, and there was no relation or similarity in the quality of work. Caveat emptor.

Anonymous said...

Just unpacking a box of my parents things from their house in Boston when I was a child in the 50's, out came an amazing lacquer cylindrical box signed 'Suffering Moses " on the bottom. I remember being intrigued by the delicate golden & flower design of this box and it's strange signature as it sat 'in state' in the off-limits living room. It was surely a gift from Indian friends and colleagues of my father. Knowing your story helps me to cherish it even more.

Anonymous said...

I have been searching for "Suffering Moses." My mother before passing away would point to a red flower strewn laquered box and say "remember. this was done by Suffering Moses." I thought she also said that about a piece of artwork I now have hanging on my wall that is gilded and decorated with small birds and flowers. I am glad to know there was a real person with that name. I have found too that I have been more creative in times when I was trying to transform personal suffering or sadness or make sense of suffering in the world

Anonymous said...

I have a glass bangle box made by Suffering Moses that my parents bought for me on our family vacation in 1961. I was 9 years old at the time. The box is old, yellowed and somewhat chipped by now but I still use it, opening it to select a bangle or two almost every day.

Anonymous said...!/photo.php?fbid=10150692100910607&set=a.10150353065010607.580743.853630606&type=1

Anonymous said...

The shop still stands proudly at the bund, I visited it last year 2011. The collection is something you would never find anywhere in Kashmir. It is a historical treat if you browse through the photos there Nehru, Mountbatten, Indira Gandhi...the list is very long. The visiting card of the shop mentions established year as something during mid 19th Century !!!

Anonymous said...

I was there in 1995 and had a long talk with Suffering Moses. I was only 19 at the time - and meeting him was a great experience. I still have photos of us together. I brought home boxes and Christmas balls - but was so unlucky to have most of it stolen. But the memories are still there.

Anonymous said...

I visited Suffering Moses in 1986. I met both Moses and his wife who was from Boston. I bought a beautiful embroidered Salwa shemeez and some boxes signed by Moses. He was an elderly Muslim and his wife was American. Moses was quite a character. His shop, he said, he had arranged to look like a Museum as each item he sold was special. Suffering Moses the man, and his shop are one of my most lovely memories of Kashmir.

Chaa Chaa said...

My parents gifted me with a small wooden box signed by Suffering Moses in the 1960s. This charming present whetted my appetite for India. Ten years later I visited his shop in Srinagar. Upon entering, the keeper flicked on the lights and proclaimed, "Welcome to the museum. Feast your eyes!"