Directed by Supriya Prasad Rauniar and produced by Aditya Kripalani, “Portrait Of A Willow Woman” is a documentary that revolves around Deeptimoni Hajong, an elderly indigenous (Koch community) farmer residing in a remote village in Meghalaya. The documentary unfolds her inner world to us which is steeped in poverty, misery and yet an indomitable resilience.
Nature as a haven
Nature is a broad term, as it comprises the diverse elements of both the physical and material world. It often acts as a muse for poets of pre-romantic and romantic age in English Literature. One among such poets is none other than the Poet Laureate, William Wordsworth, who views nature as a source of love, perpetual joy, soothing and healing power, knowledge and spirituality. He believed nature to be the universal spirit guiding anyone who likes to be guided by her. Deeptimoni’s bond echoes of this ethereal connection between mankind and nature, which Wordsworth depicted in most of his poems.
She had a turbulent life both as a wife and as mother. But her oneness with nature is evident in those frames which captures her reaping the crops with her bolo machete. It instantly reminds one of the figure of Solitary Reaper from Wordsworth’s poem of the same name that charts a picture of rustic life and it’s poignant beauty. Like the reaper in the poem, Deeptimoni, too, is alone but not by choice rather due to her circumstantial adversities. She has been married twice and now lives as a widow since both her husbands died. Being a mother of two mentally ill children, it seems life has been too hard on her but nature embraces her, providing her means for survival.
Stoicism in poverty
Robert Frost, another prominent literary figure in English Literature, highlights in his poem, “A Roadside Stand”, the cynical nature of city folks towards the villagers who are selling their locally produced goods with the hope that city people will buy them, but rather they whizz past them without a sense of empathy. In a few scenes of the documentary, we see Deeptimoni carrying fresh radishes from her harvest to Tura in order to sell them and earn money, but most people don’t want her vegetables. While she implores them to buy it, like Frost’s poem this scene highlights the plight of the deprived villagers, like Deeptimoni, who are solely dependent on city people for their livelihood.
However, Deeptimoni hides it all wearing a wry smile. Life throws new challenges at her everyday and at times she wishes to die. But then – “People who are born into poverty, don’t die too easily” because they have more hardships to endure in order to live the remaining days of their life. She is eighty two years old with a hunched back, which itself acts as a symbol of both ageing and the burden of misfortune and misery that has been inflicted upon her by life. Yet she stands strong like a willow tree, a tree that can grow and thrive even in challenging conditions.
Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” deals with the short and simple annals of the poor showing how these brave people did not get the opportunity to show their worth, how these people will be forgotten by the world in due time even though had all the potential, and the only way to honour them lies in the act of remembrance. The thirty minute documentary serves this purpose of immortalizing the story of an ordinary woman with extraordinary qualities who is truly an inspiration. Her existence is rooted in the traditional beliefs of her ancestors, her unwavering faith in Lord Krishna, her everyday struggles and mostly in her persistence and resilience towards life.
“The Portrait Of A Willow Woman” in a way makes us ponder on how fragile and frantic we become when at times things don’t work out the way we want, whereas there’s people like Deeptimoni who are invincible sweeping away every challenge that comes on their way. We have indeed forgotten to smile often, even though we are fortunate enough to have the basic amenities of life, while people like Deeptimoni who are astonishingly steeped in intense penury, smile at their misery, and many uncertainties life throws at them.
Maybe we have turned so greedy and weary in the process of running behind our dreams and fulfilling our quests that we have forgotten to celebrate life the way it is, but seeing people like Deeptimoni gently reminds us that life is hard but beautiful in its own way and all the difference lies in how we perceive it.