Its’ been a little over 15 days since I’ve been back in India. India is shining. There is an abundance of conspicuous spending, there are more Mercedes cars per square mile than ever before, people take off to exotic locales around the world for a holiday at the drop of a hat. Its’ the land where a Volkswagen Buggy costs 2200000 rupees and no one bats an eyelid to spend that. There is a new and nifty looking symbol for the Rupee, which is yet to find its way onto computers everywhere. There is nothing you don’t get here – from a Fendi Spy bag to the latest Bentley you can find it all.
Chennai was far more traditional in its demeanor, years ago. It still probably is compared to its other cosmopolitan sisters from the north. There are still kutcheris attended by patrons in silk saris and diamonds on one side, and on the other there was a weekend Electronic Dance Music festival filled with youngsters who were bumping and grinding to house and trance. It seems that somethings have changed, there is more industry , more construction, more people, and more money in the city than ever before. Then again, its the same old Chennai that just supports more people now. Her roads are congested, grandiose residential houses are razed to the ground to raise apartment buildings that cost the earth($8.1 million for a four bedroom apartment in Poes Garden and its sold out! and yes it is $$$ not Rs). Food inflation is at 16.44%. Infrastructure is yet to catch up with demand in a country where they just spent 70000 crores on the Commonwealth Games(which in itself is a fiasco which also got fixed in 36 hours!). As much as all that is food for thought, I believe the day the political system is cleaned up, Chennai and as a whole India, will clean up very very nicely in every sense of the word.
None of the above irk me as much as the sight of men openly scratching their balls!(pardon the language, for I am out of polite or democratic words to voice this) Why does anyone have to subject another human being to an action that is meant to be private? Was there not a reason to call the genitals , one’s privates? I understand, the heat and the sweat are a potent combination – but I will never understand why anyone else needs to be privy to the consequences of that combination.
So much for serious dabbling, and back to photography and all things beautiful. I spent an afternoon at Dakshinchitra – a living village that is built to preserve the rapidly vanishing architectural styles of the south. The four southern states(Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamilnadu) are represented with their architecture and a smattering of local artisans working on everything from handicrafts to a loom – weaving silk saris. Architecture was thoughtful even in those days of pre-engineering wonders, before electricity was commonly available in India, before the industrial revolution swept away the world. Cross ventilation, function and form, abound. Adornment, embellishment and beauty , coexist. It took my breathe away to take in the simplicity of ideas. Back doors and front doors are in a straight line and are huge to facilitate cross-ventilation. The center of the house has a square or rectangular courtyard , again to facilitate ventilation. A vat of water is always placed at the back end of this courtyard, so that when one returns home – they can quickly wash their feet without having to traipse the dirt through the rest of the house. Rooms are large with huge windows and are off the main corridors along the courtyard. Homes were always large enough to stretch from one street in the front to another at the back. The intricacies of each pillar that supports a beam, the woodwork and craftsmanship on each piece – is nothing but a dream. India is a country filled with artisans, who are rapidly being left behind by the IT boom. As much as the economy and the country has benefited from all that, true quality craftsmanship is fast vanishing . What’s left today is a very poor knock off that is sold at an exorbitant price, with the foreign tourist and rising incomes, in mind.
I happened to have a pleasant and eye opening conversation with a man who was working the looms there. He was working away at an old fashioned loom weaving an extraordinary silk sari. Even his children have forsaken the old art for greener pastures. His is a dying art form – there just a few hundred people left, all belonging to his generation. When they are gone there is no one left with the know-how.He told me how, often what we get at a store these days are machine made silk saris, which cannot interweave threads like a loom can, which in turn means that the weave is not strong enough to last a long time. To make the tension of threads just right, so that the sari falls gracefully when pleated, the threads are inter woven tight and a metal piece is rubbed over it to test the tension. The heat from the friction is then cooled down with water, and not just any water – it has to be the purest water you can get. If the thread used is genuine silk, interwoven with kora silk(a type of silk) only pure water can be used. Apparently, any other water will undo the tension after first wash! For this reason, Kanchipuram silks are only half done in Kanchipuram these days because of their lack of pure water! They are finished off at Kumbakonam – whoever knew?
Its been a learning to step out of the country and come back to appreciate the dying arts. The USA is all of 200 odd years old, but they preserve and maintain that short history with kid gloves. India is centuries old and there are Indians who claim to be tradition bound – why then , is it all dying away?
I post this picture because to me this is how India is in someways, the cow(my symbol for tradition, religion and conservative behavior and the symbol of everything that is India to an outsider) will continue to sit in the middle of the road for as long as it shall please. The traffic is modern India, it will always ebb and flow around the cow. No one will disturb it, no one will hurt it, no one will hit it. Unless the cow decides, no one will make it go away. It will be the gentle giant which will brandish its horns every now and then.