Assuming that snow in Newark does not prevent us from returning this weekend this is my last post from India. Several themes came together for us in these final days. Last night we visited with old family friends of Marina’s — he a well-known poet and art critic, she a former dancer turned curator of theater arts materials from throughout India. He is in his 80s and we visited the apartment they have had forever. It reminded me most of an apartment an old college friend of my mother’s had in Manhattan. That woman was also a poet and her husband a small book publisher. The lived in the greatest location but in an apartment that had skipped several decades of renovations — such that the fixtures and sconces were of a sort not used in New York since at least the 60s and more like the 40s. And yet she and her friends — Bohemians all — had more life, elan, spunk, and creative brio then any collection of modern college kids. That was exactly the mood last night in another apartment in a great location with the most antique fixtures — light switches only seen elsewhere in museums.
We were talking about India and history, and she — the curator — mentioned that when the central statue in an Indian temple breaks or cracks it is never repaired, instead the temple is abandoned. That is because, to Hindu believers, the statue does not represent the God, the God is actually there in the statue. Should the statue be damaged, the God is gone — it is mere stone or plaster — there is nothing to repair. And in a way that is like all of the abandoned cities and forts we’ve seen — where in the West we would try to fix, preserve, and re-present them, here in a way once they lose their lifeblood they are abandoned. The best example of this is a site we did not get to see, Fatehpur Sikri http://asi.nic.in/asi_monu_whs_fatehpursikri.asp an entire city built when the great emperor Akbar decided to leave Delhi, used by him for a decade or so, then left as a ghost town.
And yet. Today we drove by the ultramodern new Metro — think of how nice the Washington DC metro stations are and then imagine an overhead new metroline made of concrete running sleek and long throughout an American city — on our way to the new Modern Art Museum. The museum is so new that in the building that houses the snack bar every other floor is empty — occupied only by light and the occasional large pigeon — creating a sort of art installation of its own. The museum is beautiful, clean, showing a terrific exhibition of new work by Anish Kapor. The building and grounds fit with the newest and best museums around the world.
So are the museum and the metro a new India — clean, strong, modern, world class. Or will they too crumble? Throughout India our boys have most liked seeing craftspeople at work — doing hand block printing, weaving, making paper. In America craft is often a hobby, only in a very few places is it an alive regional tradition. We buy readymade things, we do not witness fabric, or books, being built by hand. Will the modern India still have a place for the hand made? Or, as is already true for much handcrafted fabric, will the tradition be sustained only by the interest and money of wealthy Indians and tourists, while the handcrafters themselves wear synthethics?
I am merely adding to a pile of cliches in saying this is a land of fascinating mixtures, overlaps, and contrasts and this trip has allowed me to get a glimpse inside. Tomorrow I get to speak at an American school here while Sasha visits a 5th grade class — he is already asking about coming back. And yet he was also hit in the stomach at the sight of children and cripples begging — India calls and repells and gives us so much to consider. I hope these posts have been interesting to you.