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ARTIST BIOGRAPHY: Mithleshwari Karna

 Mithleshwari Karna

I am forty years old. I was born in a Kayastha family, which means only men work outside and women stay veiled inside. My village was remote and so we didn't have contact with outsiders. My neighbors were all Kayastha, and I was not allowed to go to school. What I did learn, besides housework, was how to make rice paste designs and pictures with dung.

My husband didn't want to marry, but in one year his mother, father, grandmother and brother all died and his aunt who was from my village said, "You can't keep eating your food in hotels. I'll help you get a wife."

I married him when I was sixteen, and when he found out I couldn't read and write and I knew nothing about anything, my husband was so angry. He didn't want to stay with me but my mother chided him saying, "Why do you want my daughter to read--does she work? You wear her sari and do her housework if you want her to go outside."

I stayed at my mother's house for five years. He was teaching Monday through Thursday, and every weekend he'd come to our house and then we stayed in our marriage chamber but not joking and chatting like couples usually do. People who looked in the windows at us made fun of us because we only studied.

By the time I came to live with him in his hut he was at peace about me. He had seen that I knew how to sew and make traditional paintings and I could cook and do rituals properly, and for these things he gave me some respect.

Our first son died when he was five. I thought I'd go mad but a doctor told me I'd have more. I had three more children, and meanwhile I did a lot of housework and sewing. Then I was invited to join the art center.

At first my husband didn't want me to join there, and he chaperoned me there and back when I started. Then he let me work freely, and now working with my sisters there all my worries have gone away.

I most like to paint the designs we Kayasthals make on marriage Chambers -- bamboo, parrots, "kobar" and god designs. If I could only make one more painting, I would paint Shiva. He is the one I give all my wishes to, but people tell me he doesn't sell as well as some of my other images.

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