INDIA is a place that can be at once intimate, and yet remote. Even to those well schooled in the Indian scene and sounds, the country is far easier to wonder about, even adore, but a lot harder to live with and accept. Even the natives are for ever, as the expression goes, restless.
So greatly varied is the country it cannot be grasped fully by any single mind. Heaven knows many have tried over the centuries. Down through the ages, India learned to so completely get wrapped up in itself, that it seldom engaged others in any conscious way or display overt assertiveness. Nor did India ever seek to dominate others.
Such is our India, one for the world, even if at times not of this world. Speaking in an infinitely varied tongue, and laden with endless grievance, she can seem aloof and inaccessible at times. Even, devoid of a sense of her place in the larger world.
Although historically venerated as Bharath Matha (Mother India) by her children, India is more like a perpetual new mother who never seems to graduate to the status of a mother-in-law. To the modern world at large, she is only shyly aware of desire and self-knowledge. In the big bad mansion of the brave new world, she is just the recently-wed, still a daughter of the house. Still tending to her infant, nary a moment for the rest of the household, or the world. It really could not be be otherwise, for every epoch of her history and every moment of her life, has been an epoch or a moment laden with renewal and recognition. Ever familiar, India is ever brand new.
SHE IS a mass of contradictions: she amazes and exasperates, consoles and confounds, rollicks and ruminates, submits and synthesizes, titillates and thrills, whimpers and whoops.
As an ‘advantaged’ citizen of the times, it behooves the author — to wonder about the nature of this country and its people; to speculate on the origins of these contradictions; to ponder the comings and goings of the tides of time. The processes shaping it all, of what has come to pass and what might yet.
THIS then is a voice of wonderment about a civilization in search of self, about a people who remain unfinished.
As a legatee of this ancient land, nothing less will satisfy.
Acknowledgment of Photo:
The richly meaningful photo above, “Woman Praying Behind Taj” was taken by the immensely talented Indophile photographer Claude Renault. A cropped version appears on the masthead of the blog.
The photos of Claude Renault cover the whole length and breadth of India. They capture the intimacy and color of the land like few others. Claude Renault kindly permitted me to use the photo. Should this blog survive birthpangs and see the light of the day clearly and well, I intend to feature more of his photos in some sort of a sidebar widget, provided I earn his permission. His photo collection is huge, and worth every second of your time. Please visit the wonderful, magical, and extensive photo collection of Claude Renault. You won’t be disappointed, I promise!
Symbolism of the photo:
When I first saw this photo at Claude Renault’s website I was instantly struck by how the Taj was not the whole story of the photo. We have all seen thousands of pictures of Taj from dozens of angles and hundreds of lights and lens settings. But this particular picture humanizes the Taj like few others, with little gimmickry involved. I knew right away it captured something of what I was feeling, at that very moment of time.
This photo captured, at least for me, the many layers and textures of India: groups of simple citizenry going about their ‘little lives’ in the shadow of a wonder of the world, while in the distance, the land, the river, and the sky merged into a monochromatic murky haze. Not unlike a look back into time.
An aged lady, an even more aged monument to a lady, and an ancient river of a lady, that’s a trifecta.
A head that is bowed toward the waters, a back towards the marble edifice; frail female worshipper bent in crescent form and the enduring sturdy white stone of the crescent culture; two symbolic gestures from two diverse worlds.
Do I need to go on? Ah yes, of course, the great Indian trash by the sacred river…