|by Michèle Gerber Klein
Just out of the terminal in New Delhi after my 21-hour trip from New York I am assaulted by mixed scents of jasmine, rose and the smoke from dung cakes Indian workers burn to cook their food and warm their shanties. Through this dense night air I can see no stars.
Some even walk on their hands. Then they run along side us pointing at their open mouths. This is how they beg. In front of the Imperial, a Sikh warrior with a bright silk turban and fierce mustaches bows low to greet me. My hand bag must pass through the metal detector. Such is my welcome to India, a country brimming with what Rudyard Kipling called ‘strong light and darkness’: a land of contrasts with the fastest growing population in the world. It’s where the Bronze Age and the twenty first century collide.
By the Arabian Sea in Mumbai, also called ‘gateway’ to the continent, stiffly ornate British-Victorian architecture nudges the crescent of sky scrapers that stretch around the bay.
The frilled opulence of the late Raj’s palaces dominates the slums of Jaipur. Further to the north, in Agra and Deli giant Islamic mosques and tombs rise like vast jewel boxes from wide terraces or water gardens of heavenly delight. The remains of delicate, sensual Hindu temples and palaces carved with images of magical lovers both human and animal and ruined by the Mogul conquerors lie close to the massive, abstract, Islamic tombs, or border the holy Ganges in Varanasi which is the heart of India. There are no cities without shanty towns. Everywhere, streets teem.
|The Victorian Church Gate Railway Terminus, Mumbai.|
|Evelyn Laurentzen Bell underneath peacock lintel in the courtyard of the Maharaja's Palace, Jaipur.|
|Inextricable from all this bustle, push and shove are the animals. It’s not just the sacred cows that gridlock roads unhurried by the jam of busses, taxis, motorcycles and dib haws all honking ceaselessly. Or the vast variety of birds: crows are ubiquitous as well as parrots, mina birds, herons, vultures and pea cocks. Or the pets: goats, the elephants, painted camels and festooned horses used for ceremonial occasions. It’s the light-footed, elegant wild dogs that frolic all around. Here, all animals tame or free are fed.
|Wild dogs frolic in a public park in New Delhi.|
|Similarly, one sees western clothing but often, men and women wear colors, fabrics and embroidery stitched, dyed and woven with methods discovered thousands of years ago. A case in point, the sari, almost as ancient as Hinduism itself, has been traced to an Indus Valley civilization dated 2800-1800 BC. Dabbawalla’s, the lunch-box deliverers of Mumbai are more contemporary. They wear white shirts and Nehru kepis.|
|Varanasi shop door.|
|Gallerist Frederieke Taylor models Mahal's emerald necklace in a Varanasi jewelry store.|
|A marble Ganesh is robed with pashminas in the window of a jewelry shop in Mumbai.|
|Fruit in the Kahn market, Delhi.|
|Way side produce peddlers, out door stalls, small stores are crowded in a huddle. Street hawking and trafficking of all kinds abounds. It seems that everyone has something to sell from jewels whose price and scarcity is beyond imagination, to grass to feed their holy cow. Restaurant architecture is often modern but open fire grills are the stove du jour. And the aromatic cookery, much of it Hindu/vegetarian derives from archaic recipes.
|A religious man. Street, Varanasi.|
|Pilgrims from Tibet at the Deer Park, Dhanma-cakkappa vattana, where Buddha preached his first sermon. The round shape of the temple is the shape of an inverted begging bowl.|
|Chef and waiter at the Olive Restaurant, Delhi.|
|Tradition meets modernity on the steps of Varanasi.|
|Artists in India discover new meanings by re-arranging timeless symbols to comment on change in their world. Bharti Kher decorates smashed mirrors and wardrobes with patterns made of pasted bindis. Anju Dodiya’s self portraits play with occasionally sinister images of the wedding necklace. “Rescuing”: the ceremonial statues of gods and goddesses that have been “returned” to rivers Subodh Gupta resurrects them in his work.
I am reminded of my friend the sculptor Joel Shapiro who told me it was his peace-corps experience in India that gave him the “possibility of making art.” Now I understand him. Here, where history weaves into the present icons and rituals of daily existence art is not separated. It’s pervasive and persuasive. It’s part of the fabric: living and art.
|Bharti's daughter helps with the pasting.|
|Reena Kallat, portrait composed of “official stamps” comments on the drop of status of many people from certain regions of India.|
|Reena's husband, Gitsh Kallar, in his studio.|
|The T and T team of Thukral and Tagra.|
|Jajannath Panda, pashmina-enveloped rhinoceros.|
|A “Beyond the shop gate” painting by Atul Douya.|
|Atul Douya in his studio with Sarah Suzuki, assistant curator, MoMA.|
|Anna-Marie and Robert Shapiro in front of a photograph of Subodeh Gupta in the farmhouse of collector Anupam Poddar.|
|A work exhibited at Poddar's Devi Art Foundation.|