India 2006

    Germanton 2005 / France 2006  

 

1-21-06 - London

            We are off again! For the last month I've felt uninspired and have just been writing and preparing for the trip; photographing paintings, framing, building crates and shipping things off to galleries; everything but painting. Several times I tried starting something, sketching it out in charcoal on the canvas, laying out my paints, and even mixing up the first color. But each time I just couldn't find the inspiration to start and I now have three canvases with sketched out scenes sitting abandoned against the wall of the studio. Reading the paper or watching the news just depresses me more. The pointlessness of the war in Iraq and its inevitable creep toward Civil War, and the deep debt we are incurring simply to make the rest of the world hate us makes me feel hopeless. I stopped following the news and hope I am wrong at where it's all heading. When we finally settled into the seats of the first plane, I felt an incredible relaxation come over me. 

Susan taking in the view atop our London Hotel.

Took the tube to the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery this morning. Interesting to see the slow progression upward of painting and sculpture through history to its height in the late 19th century, then its abrupt decline in the 20th, at least based on what one sees in the museums. London is the typical city now, little different than NY, Beijing, or any other modern metropolis. One has to look hard to see the subtle differences; the slight variance of shoe, car, or building style. We hardly feel like we've left home thus far.

            Children shriek with delight as they stir up a tornado of pigeons in the square; couples walk hands entwined; an unwashed man rolls out of his blanket right in the middle of the sidewalk, goes two steps into the festively red phone booth and relieves himself in unashamed view of all. Buzzcut youths wear the team colors of their rugby heroes and overflow the pubs where they worship their warrior deities. Goths, pensioners, tourists, hustlers outside the "sex shops," parents rolling their baby carriages; all mingle together in incongruity. Most walls have at least one or two photos of trees, beaches, and rural landscapes; as if fulfilling some primal visual need unmet by the actual surroundings. Can you tell I'm still a little depressed?

The view of London from our hotel window. Beautiful in an industrial way I guess, but no match for the woods and mountains surrounding our house in North Carolina, in my opinion.

1-23-06    9:00 pm - Delhi

As I sit in our hard bed in the Connaught hotel here in Delhi, I'm struck by the all pervasive smell and thickness of the polluted air and then the cacophony of sounds in the city below. Watching the sun nearing the horizon a few hours ago, it was amazing how red it turned as its light struggled to touch us through the haze that hangs over everything. Well before reaching the horizon, it disappeared altogether behind the man-made cloud bank. 

The view from our Delhi hotel room.

As darkness fell, I was aware of the contrast with the London nightscape we'd left this morning with its brilliant miasma of lights with hardly a dark gap to be seen anywhere. Here there is nearly complete darkness with only isolated pools of dim streetlights scattered around and occasional flashing signs. The sounds of music, honking horns, alarms, shouting voices, and heart-beating drums, is subtly disturbing coming from such darkness below our sixth floor window. It both draws and repels one with its mysterious lure of finding the source of such pandemonium hidden beyond the veil of light. Imagine a carnival at its height, but with all the lights turned out.

I guess it was actually yesterday when we woke up in London, checked out of the hotel and left our luggage there while we took the tube to the Tate Museum to drink in the two rooms of Sargents, Waterhouses, and the few other masters worth seeing there. Sadly, more than two thirds of the Sargents alone weren't on display, held in storage somewhere in the basement so the showcase of modern paintings could fill the larger rooms. I had to wonder what the curators thought of the much greater crowds who filled the two small rooms with these old masterpieces in contrast to the sparse numbers of people who walked with hardly a pause through the larger modern wing containing the paintings they'd personally decided to acquire with their public funds? I suppose it is just proof of how few people are smart enough to appreciate the "real" art in the museum. Maybe they should just keep one hundred percent of that old popular junk completely hidden from view until we come to appreciate what they know to be far better? I sure am turning into a grump in this journal; usually such nonsense just makes me laugh at the ridiculousness of most things. But nothing could take away from my enjoyment of the strong emotions the great works of the past elicited in me and the rest of the viewers. Emotion and really saying something worthwhile with well-honed technical skills was my great lesson of the day.

John Singer Sargent Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose 1885-6

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent  1885 - 6

Below is one of the museums recent acquisitions. I'll let you judge for yourself whether it moves you to any emotion other than anger or laughter at the museum curators themselves who would choose such things to represent the great art of our time. I'm sure there will be many who will e-mail me to "explain" why this painting is greater than Sargent's, but the point is that if you have to use words to convey the meaning of a visual work of art, you have failed already.

Jeremy Moon Drawing 1970

The only strange thing on the flight occurred when the attendants had us all cover our eyes while they walked down the aisles spraying the passengers with a coconut scented "disinfectant" upon landing. From what I'd heard about India, I wondered if they didn't have this backward? 

1-24-06    7:30 pm

As the music and fireworks rose in volume last night around 10:30pm, I gave in to curiosity and went out into the darkness to find an Indian wedding in progress. The groom rode a white horse, there was a full band, fireworks, and a crew of men carrying lanterns that encircled the entire procession; complete with a portable generator to provide the power. Men and woman danced wildly in the center while others watched from the edges or set off the fireworks. The noise was absolutely deafening and I was amazed they could stand it for long. The joy, colors, music, and free flowing emotions were infectious.

            Today we toured several beautiful monuments and older ruins within Delhi. The architecture was incredible and we found Delhi to be a very nice city. The new section is much more modern and tidy than many places we'd visited in other countries while the old section is nearly indistinguishable from third-world Khatmandu, except on a far larger scale. Susan bought several costumes that we're excited to pose models in when we return home. We were laughing about the fact that many of the guidebooks on India suggest skipping Delhi altogether, which seems unbelievable since just about every street holds something of interest to us.

Here's Susan at one of the many historical sites.

The beauty of which is breathtaking.

Well maintained...

And filled with thought-provoking bits of history.

Here's some ancient Hindu statues that have had their heads taken off when the site was turned into a Muslim holy place. Because of the Old Testament's ban on idols, both Christians and Muslims have throughout history taken offense at realistic artworks on occasion. Least you think this sort of artistic mutilation unique to Muslims, a similar fanatical smashing of statuary and destruction of paintings occurred when Christianity became the official Roman religion. Since Rome had acquired most of the surviving masterpieces of the greatest Greek artists like Praziteles, Lysippus, and Pheidias, their works were lost forever in this artistic purge. Since sculptures were a lot more difficult than paintings to destroy, Christian Zealots were told that knocking off the noses was sufficient to drain the power from such idols. Most visitors to museums probably don't realize that the lack of noses on most ancient works of sculpture was not accidental. Ancient writers report that Greek painting was just as advanced as its sculpture; sadly no examples survived Rome's conversion to Christianity. An interesting book on the subject is "The Alphabet Versus the Goddess" by Leonard Shlain, recommended to my by my friend and fellow idol maker, George Carlson.

I wonder what religion these residents of the site are?

Religion does inspire as much great art as it destroys, however, as this magnificent tower attested.

1-25-06    10:19 pm

Well, another enjoyable day. Neither of us slept that well last night as we are still out of sync with the ten and a half hour time change, so we weren't completely awake as we set out for a temple run for charity and then the Indian History Museum, with so much beautiful ancient sculptures and paintings.

 We then went on an unsuccessful drive to banks and money changers and hotels to exchange money, but every place was either closed, only changed money for bank customers, or their computer system was down. We finally just changed the small amount allowed at our own hotel and went to lunch at a nice place that served southern Indian style food - very spicy!

One of the many reminders that India has faced internal terrorism itself for much longer than we have.

There were a lot of police everywhere as they prepared for an anniversary and parade the following day.

Afterward was the day's highlight. Our driver, Balbir, took us to Old Delhi and parked on the edge of it, then hired a couple of bicycle rickshaws to take us down the narrow and overrun streets.

 

Here's Balbir on the right in his own richshaw.

Balbir is the the best guide we've ever had on any of our trips and it was such a pleasure having someone so great for the entire four weeks. Often we would feel bad at having him wait for us while we went to draw or take photographs or just explore for hours at a time, but he always replied, "It's my job!" The best part of having your own driver is being able to go out into the countryside or the desert and simply explore, meeting people and seeing things you never would on a tour. Everything is so cheap in India that it cost the same to hire the car and Balbir as it would to simply rent a car in the US. His e-mail address is currencytravel@yahoo.com

Balbir is soft spoken and has a wife and three boys, which impressed our Delhi guide yesterday immensely, who said he just had his first son three months ago despite three and a half years of marriage. Listening to him talk of how important it was to have sons who will take care of both parents in their old age, and how many more boys than girls are born in India, I had to wonder if the three year delay in their first child had to do with one or two pregnancies that hadn't passed the retirement test. Yesterday's guide was very open about the process of arranged marriage and the caste system as well. He didn't think much of "love marriages" and explained that he chose a wife of a slightly lower social standing than he so his wife would feel lucky and be content. As nice and interesting as our guide of yesterday was, it was relaxing walking around with the quiet Balbir today.

Oxen, goats, horses, dogs, chickens, bicycles, motorcycles, trucks, cars, people, people, people; packed into such narrow streets as if to seem impossible! 

Along the sides of the road people got their hair and beards cut, cooked food, sold all manner of things, repaired machinery, or simply splayed out on the ground and slept as the flood of humanity walked over and around them.

 

"Modesty" conte crayon, 16" by 12" - by Susan Lyon

If you look closely in the mirror, you can see Susan and me (with camera to my eye.)

When we disembarked, we went into a Muslim section with an even narrower street hung with tarps to protect the many spices from the sun. For about half a mile the spice street ran, with such visual and olfactory overload as to make the head spin. Every street was an explosion of interesting faces, colors, and sounds. Some connecting streets were so narrow that both my shoulders touched the sides and two people couldn't even pass each other.

Inside a Mosque.

Imagine being an electrician here!

The Muslims are about twenty percent of the population of India and have had a very tough time throughout its modern history. (twenty percent of a billion is still 200 million - larger than the entire population of Muslim Pakistan.) Despite the slight nervousness we felt in going into this poor section of town, especially with the world situation as it is and us the only westerners we saw the entire time we were in there, we never heard a single angry word or action directed at us and everyone was uniformly curious and kind. I did take many photographs, but it was hard to be inconspicuous since every head turned toward us wherever we went. One little boy, upon turning around and seeing me, simply starred and starred at me in open mouthed wonderment, rendered speechless.

In the courtyard of a Mosque, this boy politely came up to me and asked if I would take a photograph of him and his father. Throughout our trip many people did the same, as if saying, this person is important to me, he is worthy of having a photograph made of him or her.

Before we left on this trip, many people asked us if were scared going to places where there were Muslims, but the images we see on the news are not representative of the majority. The proportion of extremists are no greater than anywhere else, including our own country.

Then back to the hotel to watch the Australian Open, then American Idol - it feels like time traveling back and forth a few hundred years as we come and go from the hotel.

 

The Ghandi Memorial.

1-27-06    7:15 am

A long day yesterday, but all very nice. The drive from Delhi to Agra takes about four and a half hours, but we took our time and stopped at a few temples and to take a couple of photos of people, camels, and other interesting things along the way. The highway is very well kept up and the traffic not bad at all, a welcome contrast to our trip to Tibet! As throughout Asia, the road is used by a wide assortment of vehicles from the most primitive to modern, though the Camel carts are a new one to us and I was surprised at how big the camels are when you're actually standing right next to them in person. 

At one building construction site, a dozen woman in bright saris carried baskets of sand and gravel on their heads to a mixer that made cement, then was hoisted up three stories and carried by more woman to be dumped where needed by the workers.

All along the road life went on in a relaxed individuality that added up to the appearance of frenzy. The mixture of modern and ancient methods of everything is the most striking feature and the feeling of being caught in a time of extreme transition is profound. Oxcarts compete with tractors, black-skinned men wash completely naked at a water pump, old men sip tea before their shack, farmers work fields of rice and mustard beside their huts of straw, cow pies, wood, stone, or concrete. 

Here's some huts made from dried cow dung, some with grass on top for the roofs. The cow dung is also used as fuel to cook with.

Smoke belching chimneys everywhere! The supply of milk to the city comes in by bicycle, or trucks laden with milk jugs and people piled on top of that. Without refrigeration, the milk must be sold and then consumed within hours of being extracted.

Balbir says that driving in India takes three things; good brakes, a good horn, and good luck! His parents live about eight hours north in the Himalayas on the Chinese border in a remote area where they grow potatoes, mustard, rice, and a few other crops. This is where he grew up and he takes his family there for two months each year in the winter when the tourist season in Delhi is at it's lowest. He proudly tells me that he owns two cows and one buffalo. Balbir learned to drive when he was fourteen and left for Deli alone to become a driver at age sixteen. He's now thirty two.

Many of the trucks and cars had these driving instructions painted on the back and it was one of the only signs I've seen obeyed!

We checked into the Hotel Trident, which is beautiful! The two stories of rooms are laid out in a circle around a courtyard garden with a pool in the center. Cable TV, a soft bed, and even wireless internet access. This trip has been the easiest we've ever taken so far and we find it amazing to think that we've been a bit afraid of India for so long based on the many horror stories we've heard from people about this country. Susan was having anxiety attacks a few weeks before leaving as she read the harrowing tales in travel blogs about the places we're traveling to. In fact, in the several dozen she read, all were bad! I imagine you could make anything hard if you wanted to, or be unlucky, but unlike so many places we've gone, there is a clear choice here. You can hire a car and have a pleasant drive and stay in a nice hotel. Things are very cheap here, so even this doesn't cost much. If you choose to stay somewhere for a dollar, I don't understand complaining about it and painting the entire country as backward. You could just as easily make yourself miserable in the United States as anywhere else through such choices. Sometimes I think some travelers like hardship and telling everyone how tough everything is somewhere merely to make themselves seem like adventurers. Certainly we've been to places where there simply was no other option than the tent (Nepal), disgusting guesthouse (Tibet) or a dirt-floored hut with a family (Peru); and those were interesting as well; but here in the major areas of India there is certainly a choice and I'd hate to think that so many people are avoiding traveling here because of all the negativity.

Even though we've seen this exact scene a thousand times on TV and in books, it still takes the breath away in person.

In the afternoon we visited the Taj Mahal, which was truly spectacular as the sun set and painted it orange. I most enjoyed all the colorfully dressed Indians. There are lots of western tourists here, and we were as much of an attraction to them. One large family with ten children came up to me and shyly asked if I'd take their picture so they could see themselves on the screen. I photographed each child and showed them their face on my screen. Susan sat down to rest for a while near the line to enter the main building. Finally one woman got up the courage to say hi to her and then the flood broke and everyone was smiling at her and holding up the circle symbol that means beautiful. Its easy to forget that what we see as exotic is ordinary here and strange to think of ourselves as seeming out of the ordinary to others.

This is one of the small archways to the left of the main central one, to give you some sense of the magnificent scale of the Taj Mahal.

Many forget that the Taj Majal is still a Muslim holy place and if you go around to the back you will see some of the worshipers washing in the fountain and praying at a Mosque behind the main building.

1-27-06    6:18 pm

Well! Just returned from walking some of the back streets of Agra while Susan rested in the hotel, watching tennis and doing some sketches. The place is an artist's wonderland, but quite a challenge to photograph. Even though Agra is a major stop on the tour circuit, everyone normally just stays one day to see the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort so most of the people in the town itself have only seen a westerner through the window of a bus. I saw not one other westerner for the three hours I walked around and everywhere I went just about everyone wanted to say hi and I was so swamped by excited children that getting any sort of candid photo of people with their water buffalo, pumping water, or whatever else was nearly impossible since all the children would rush to wherever I pointed my camera. I would have to point it in the opposite direction of what I was going to shoot so everyone ran over there, and then spin around and snap off one or two shots before being blocked by the mass of faces and raised hands. But the experience was more than worth it, nevertheless, since seeing and meeting everyone face to face is always the most memorable and spiritual part of trips.


"A Charming Smile"  India by Susan Lyon
16" by 20"  oil

            We've been to enough places around the world to recognize that Agra is a somewhat dangerous one. The obvious signs are easy to see - men with shotguns over their shoulder are on many corners, sometimes several if it is a carpet shop or a construction site. The more subtle signs when you go into the twisty streets of the neighborhoods (where there are no guards, police, or military) are the certain swagger and challenging look in the eyes of a few of the teenagers and some young men. It's the same look I've seen in Chicago, Lima, etc. and mainly occurs where young boys grow up poor but in sight of the wealthy with no honest prospect of achieving it for themselves. Once off the farm, there is little to occupy such children and they soon learn to fight and then to band together to take what they cannot earn. 

A sign, literally, of things to come in the town.

The greatest defense in such places is a smile and walking right up to those staring at you and holding your hand out to shake it. I had no bad experiences, but could feel the underlying possibility of danger nonetheless and would never venture in there at night. The people at the hotel and even the shopkeepers along the main street try to talk me out of walking into the neighborhoods each time I leave,  but there simply is no other way of seeing this side of India as well as the monuments without taking some risk. The thing to remember is that most of the people, as in all dangerous neighborhoods, are honest and hardworking and it's sad to see the danger they must live with every day in order to earn their bread.

            The construction sites are another wonder. Tents of tattered cloth and plastic house the workers, which include men woman and children. The men do much of the skilled labor, while the woman carry loads of building materials on their heads in baskets, while the children do anything from bending rebar, to wrangling oxen. Many of the sites have small temples set up alongside them where people can give offerings to Ganesha and the other Hindu Gods. I left an offering at one and the man watching it (with shotgun slung over his shoulder) placed a dot of orange past on my forehead.

            In the morning we went with Balbir and our guide to see the Agra Fort, another Unesco world heritage site that was utterly spectacular! Half of the restoration money was coming from Unesco and they were busily working on fixing it up and I especially loved taking photos of the porter women as they looked down at the tourists from windows in a second story. They wanted me to come up and see what they were doing and take photos of them (and get a few Rupees as well, I'm sure), but they had been locked behind an iron gate and no one could find the boss who had the key. I handed in a few Rupees in any case for some of the photos I'd already taken and then we headed back to the hotel for some lunch. 

"Three Windows" oil, 26" by 40" by Scott Burdick

The Taj Mahal from Agra Fort. Sadly, the pollution is slowly eating away the marble of this wonder of the world.

1-29-06 Sunday 5:50 pm

I'm sitting on the rooftop area of our Hotel in Jaipur, which is where our room is also located. The sounds are chanted prayers in the distance, and thousands of finches in a single tree below us in the hotel courtyard. The rooftops of the city are filled with young boys flying kites, which crowd the entire sky with dashing and circling colored squares, only outnumbered by the flocks of birds that are everywhere here. They make me think of the book about Afghanistan called "Kite Runner." Every tree and power line is filled with fallen kites no matter where you go, which gives the entire city the appearance of being decorated for a festival. 

Kites filling the sky in every direction!

If you look in the upper right of this photo, you'll see all the colorful dots of kites tangled in the power lines.

Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and the main section of it is quite modern. The drive from Agra was pleasant, though some sections of the road were torn up as they are expanding it to become a five lane highway someday. The number of camel carts on the road have increased greatly and many are colorfully decorated and even painted with designs.

Every vehicle in India is utilized to the maximum, with the top of every bus and train packed with people as well. Even children's school buses have kids hanging off the back bumper and sitting on top.

On the way here we stopped at Fatehpur Sikri, built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1571. The most interesting part of the architecture was how the Emperor wanted to respect all the various religions under his rule, so each section was built in a style to pay homage to a different one; Muslim, Hindu, Christian, and several others. It was an interesting contrast in talking to our guide, Imam, about the problems in the last fifty years between Hindu and Muslim and the discrimination many Muslims have suffered under. I was surprised to hear our guide tell us that the constitution forbids a Muslim from being elected Prime Minister.

It's hard getting used to the vast differences in perspective when traveling somewhere like India. In the United States even most of the poor have running water, television, electricity, food. Even the wealthiest Americans have basically the same things as I do. Their house may have an ocean view and more rooms, their car is more expensive, wrist-watch made of gold, and their television larger; but the differences are more cosmetic than substantive; more a matter of prestige and social status marking than anything else. That isn't the case here. Balbir asked me if I was rich and I reflexively replied that I was far from rich. He asked if I had a car and I said we had two used cars, realizing even before I finished saying it that by his standards I was wealthy beyond imagining. He's been a driver all his adult life and still takes the bus with his family back to his parent's village since the car he drives is the travel company's. Most families live in huts and houses half the size of our bedroom, the clothes they wear are their only ones, and hunger isn't just an abstract concept. And yet... I'd have to say people in general seem more content. Sometimes it appears that no matter how much you make or acquire in the United States, you are always comparing yourself to those who have more and feeling discontented.

This is a very typical house in the India countryside, sometimes made of grass, sometimes of mud or dung. The entire family sleeps on the floor, except during the rainy season, when they construct a raised platform to keep them off the wet floor. I noticed some of the huts had small holes that go under the hut for the goats to sleep in to keep out of the summer heat.

By the way, Imam also said he was very lucky since he has three sons and no girls - Susan bristled at this but said nothing until we were alone in the car. So far everyone we've met has only had sons and I wonder if that is merely a sign that the people we meet who work in the hotel and tourist industry are well off enough to afford the test that will tell you the baby's sex. I asked one of our guides if the greater number of boys is making it difficult for some to find wives, and he said, yes, that is starting to happen. I imagine that in twenty years, girls will be very valuable indeed as all these prized sons start competing for the few girls to marry! In many ways, I wonder, as I did when I fist saw this phenomena in China, if it isn't some deep, natural way of slowing the population growth when resources get stretched so thin. After all, it's really not the number of children one has in the long run that will determine the growth of the population, but the number of girls. If every Indian had their wish as to the sex of their children and had only boys, the population would plummet to zero in a single generation! 

I wonder if there is some correlation to the desire for boys as poverty rises in a society where it is the responsibility of boys to care for the parents in their old age? Certainly it seems that as civilizations become wealthy, people stop worrying about the sex of the child as much and, with the ability to care for themselves in retirement, population growth itself even reverses. This was the case even as far back as Roman times, when it was observed paradoxically that only the poor can afford many children. Our own population is only rising in numbers due to immigration, and those first world countries in Europe and Japan that limit immigration are actually having a sharp decline in population that is threatening their future economies. Certainly it is obvious that India's population is reaching the breaking point as it strains it's resources, and one has to wonder if the entire planet is as well.

Yesterday and this morning I woke up at dawn and walked over to the Vegetable Market near the hotel and took lots of photographs! What a feast of faces, movement, and activity. It is exhausting photographing there because everyone is so interested in meeting me, or asking me to take a photograph of them, their child, or father; or of simply shaking my hand vigorously. Once a man yelled angrily at me to leave, but that was one negative among several hundred positives. Describing it all would take twenty pages at least, so I'll let the visuals do that later.

Because this is the desert, the heart of the day is balanced by pretty cold nights and you see many people warming up around fires until the sun comes up.

The markets are at their most interesting in the early morning as the farmers arrive from their long trek into town to sell their produce.

"Agra Horse Cart" Pencil  8" by 12" - Scott Burdick

"Girl from Agra" India
11 by 8  charcoal - Susan Lyon

"Man of Character" conte, 19" by 18" India - Susan Lyon

The other thing we did yesterday was seeing what they call the "Baby Taj," which is just what its name implies, a smaller version of the real thing - not many people were there. Then we walked around the old section for a bit as well as went down to the river where people were washing clothes, herding hundreds of water buffalo, and some setting little candles with offerings in floating leafs into the water with prayers. The river was unbelievably filthy and the entire bank was a mass of garbage. Poor children ran alongside you begging and some of the boys threw rocks up at the crowded bridge above the river, knowing that none of the men who screamed down at them could do anything since it would take half an hour just to get there. 

Here's Susan finding herself the center of attention with the Taj Mahal barely visible in the background though the haze of pollution.

An island in the center of the river seemed to be the city's Laundromat, with some people stopping their rickshaws on the bridge and lowering down bundles of laundry for the long line of washers to beat out against the rocks and then lay out to dry on the sand. There were also acres of grass tepees stacked to dry and huts made of the same material. Woman walked the open areas after the herds of buffalo passed to collect the valuable dung, while boats poled themselves up the river to unloaded their cargos of clean laundry at the shore.

Here's the vats of water that are heated to wash the clothes.

Then laid out to dry on the hot sand.

And taken by boat to the shore to be picked up or delivered to the owners. Even if you could afford a washing machine, without running water in even well-off homes, they just aren't that practical. A refrigerator is illogical as well, when power may be out more than it is on each day.

Notice some of the Ballywood movie posers in the background.

1-31-06 Tuesday, 5:30 pm

Susan and I are in such constant motion it's hard to set aside a few moments to write in the journal; putting down even a small percent of what we see every day would be impossible. Yesterday started with my usual morning walk through the back streets of the old section of town and today Susan went with me for a little while, though while she accompanied me we stuck to the main streets, which are challenging enough! Each town certainly has its own flavor and while this one is frenetic and always crowded with a constant background sound of beeping, the people are very friendly even in the poor neighborhoods and there isn't the underlying unease of Agra. I haven't seen many guards with guns here for the shops like Agra, though I did see one young schoolboy (around eight) accompanied by a well dressed guard in a traditional white coat, turban, and long mustache. He had a long rifle draped over his shoulder and the two talked like they were used to each other and I assumed the boy was from a wealthy family who could afford a guard for their prized son.

The well or pump is an ever busy spot in all towns in India. People feed their animals, wash their clothes, collect water for cooking, and water their animals. One never sees them empty for long.

"Holy Man" oil, 24" by 18" India. by Scott Burdick

The most difficult thing to deal with, especially in the morning, is the overpowering pollution and dust. The car and bus fumes are part of it, but the dominant irritant is the piles of trash people haphazardly scrape together and then set ablaze absolutely anywhere; in the middle of the street even. The smoke causes a constant haze and the accumulated ashes get swept back and forth continuously by people everywhere with the straw sweepers used here. No attempt is made to pick the dust and ashes up to be hauled off, so they simply get pushed this way by one person, then back the other way by a second and so on, with each sweeping merely stirring the dust up into accumulating clouds that make breathing a chore. 

Even the garbage is colorful -- maybe I should paint this scene and see if the Tate Museum would like to acquire it for a few hundred thousand?

Here's the morning ritual of setting the accumulated trash ablaze.

Everyone does their part as the pigs, dogs, and cows see what they can dispose of in the trash -- of course, they tend to deposit as much as they consume.

Then there's the heartbreaking sight of all the low cast children who collect whatever can be recycled.

Another young recycler.

Susan wore a filtering mask and many of the people hold cloths over their mouths and nose.

Susan wearing the latest in Indian fashion.

 Then there is spotty covering of cow, camel, ox, elephant, and horse dung on the smaller streets that makes most of the city smell more like a cow pasture. The smell reminds me of descriptions I'd read of London and New York before the invention of the automobile. Cows, huge bulls, goats, and pigs roam everywhere, browsing through the piles of garbage and some of the vegetables that fall off the carts going to market. Here and there woman milk the cows and collect it in large silver containers to be sold and consumed quickly before it spoils. We've no doubt passed by some of the sources of the milk in our tea and the banana lassis I love so much (Susan can't eat the lassies since every time she's tried on past trips, she's suffered afterward.)

India has their share of Transvestites and Eunuchs, as well. They are as much a part of the tradition as the multitude of deities and sub religious sects. Hinduism has over three million gods to choose from, after all!

"Sack of Potatoes" India
9 1/2 by 8   pencil - Susan Lyon

As we observed in China, spitting is not only an accepted practice, it is considered healthy.

Pals.

"Gentle Youth" India, conte, 21" by 16" - Susan Lyon

The tiny narrow streets are a wonder. Like I said, even though this town is fifty percent Muslim, I have no worries here. It is a little exhausting, though, since everyone, young, old, and in between wants to shake my hand and make some sort of communication. Many people ask my country and I at first felt nervous at what the reaction would be in saying the US, but people are just so excited to hear that and just light up at meeting an actual American. I experimented by saying Canada, Ireland, and Austraila a couple of times just to see the difference and it was marked by the lack of enthusiasm I got when saying America. How strange it is to see our presuppositions so off the mark. The sound of the call to prayer five times a day gives the entire place a magical feel.



"A Shawl to protect from the Sun"  India
8 1/2 by 7 1/2  pencil - Susan Lyon

We saw many places where wealthy Indians were distributing food to the poor. Poverty is seen as a natural thing by many here; again the belief of caste playing a major role. While being born into a low caste means you can never rise above it theoretically, until you are reborn in the next life, it also means that the higher castes feel duty-bound to give to the poor in order to keep from slipping to a lower caste when they die.

"En Route for Day's Errands" India, Oil, 12" by 9" - Susan Lyon

Yesterday in the morning and afternoon we visited a few of the famous sites as well as the Amber Fort. 

Here's Susan getting the traditional Henna painted onto her hand.

Once this dries in about thirty minutes, you wash it off and all that is left is a brown stain of the design. It lasts about two weeks.

Our guide for the tour of the monuments was a middle aged man who was surprisingly a bachelor with a passion for movies. He'd already seen King Kong twice since its release a couple of weeks ago and was an encyclopedia of American and Indian films. He said that Indians mainly like happy endings so when a Hollywood film comes out with a sad ending, they will see it, but then see the numerous Bollywood remakes that change the ending to their taste. He said that "Titantic," for example, has fifty Indian knockoff versions, each with an alternate, and happy, ending.

As well as being holy, cows are almost a part of the family.

After our morning walk and a nice lunch at a traditional restaurant called "Indiana," Balbir Singh, our driver, took us off to several places to shop for costumes for models. One of the jewelry shop owners spoke very good English and I enjoyed taking to him about Indian and world politics as well as his son, who lives in Silicon Valley and works for Adobe. He was actually going to visit him and his three year old granddaughter next month - finally someone with a daughter, though I don't know if it counts since they live in the US.

Well, Susan is doing some sketching, so I think I'll get out my pencils and pad and join her - there's some musicians set up in the courtyard that might be fun to draw.

 

Friday, 2-3-06   7:15 am

            We've been here in the Pushkar area for two days now and once again we are amazed at how different each place we visit is from the last! Of course the palaces and tourist monuments are starting to get monotonous, but the actual towns and the flavor of the dress and even the people's attitudes shift with each move we make. Here Camels predominate and we've reached a true desert environment. With extensive irrigation from the underground aquifers the farms all around are lush and beautiful with the mountains as backdrop. This is the heart of winter and it is still in the eighties and even low nineties during the day, while in the summer 100 to 115 is the norm. Ox carts, camels, and tiny donkeys finally outnumber cars and motorcycles and tractors so the place has the feel of what I imagine Tucson, Arizona maybe eighty years ago. Outside of town the air is clean! It is the first time since we've been here that I can fill my lungs without trepidation and it is a relief. The countryside around here is the first place I could imagine living if I ever chose to move to India.

"Woman with Drum"  16 by 12  oil - Susan Lyon

"Vegetable Basket"  16 by 12  oil - Susan Lyon

            We are staying about four kilometers outside of the actual town of Pushkar in the Pushkar Resort Hotel. Despite the grand name, it is simple, with basic cottages that mostly have electric power, simple bathrooms, and even a TV with a few stations. The best part is the pool with water pumped up from a well that is numbingly cold. Like everyone else here, we take a break in the afternoon and rest by the pool while the worst heat of the day goes by. I love the shock of jumping into the pool to cool down, but the water is so cold Susan hasn't been able to bring herself to follow. From the amazed looks of the colorfully dressed gardener woman and staff, I don't think they see too many people swim in the pool. There seem to be only a couple of people staying here and we continue to be an attraction. While Susan lay in the hammock in her swimsuit, one of the gardener woman dressed in her exotic sari came over and touched each of her toes, while singing what sounded like a Hindi lullaby. The woman are especially fascinated by Susan's light skin, which she sees as a curse since it is so easy for her to sunburn. Here light skin is a sign of beauty and a sure ticket to a wealthy marriage for any woman born with it. What must they think of foreign travelers laying out in the sun by the pool in an attempt to gain the bronze glow of the Indian woman?

"Carrying Her Day's Work" India 12" by 9" oil - Susan Lyon

            Pushkar itself was a disappointment to me when we first walked into it. For hundreds of years it has been a very holy site and the lake that the town encircles is sacred. Stairs go down to the water where pilgrims bathe and purify themselves in the holy water so I was especially looking forward to seeing this place, but when we started down the main street toward the lake all we saw was stall after stall of tourist shops and for the first time we were assaulted by beggars and all manner of hucksters pretending to give you "gifts" of marigolds for you to throw into the water as offerings. If you accept the marigolds, they will mercilessly badger you for "offerings to the poor," which only go to themselves. For the first time we also saw lots of westerners, mostly dressed in the hippy style that seems to be a right of passage for college aged travelers, or older people coming to study meditation or yoga. There was a similarity to Kathmandu , but more commercial.

Rather than buy things in the stores of the large towns, we liked to drive out into the countryside where people were actually making the things. Here's one of the masters of his craft that we bought a rug from. Even though he lived out in the desert in the middle of nowhere, many stores order rugs from him. Here's his card below.

            But as I wandered about, I realized that such places have an authenticity all their own and it was fun seeing what this unique mixture of Indian Pilgrims and tourists have created. There were lots of people who called themselves gypsies, which makes sense since the Rom language is Sanskrit-based, which originated in India. I was struck by how ethnically distinct the faces of the Gypsies looked, no doubt due to their intermarriage in their own group despite its wide ranging geography. Some of us separate ourselves by borders, some by religion, some by philosophy.

             

2-7-06   10:15 AM

            Time has certainly slipped by since I last wrote, partly because we've been doing so much, and partly because the days of travel have tired me out. Susan and I are sitting at a table by a fountain and pool at the beautiful Khimsar Fort Hotel after a couple hour walk this morning through the town and the countryside. It is very much a desert here and the rolling sand dunes are only two kilometers from the town. Both here and in the surroundings of Pushkar, the farms are all just sand irrigated with water pumped up from the aquifers and fertilized mostly with piles of goat dung that are delivered by trucks, camel carts, or simply woman caring baskets of it on their heads. In reading the papers, it seems that the aquifers are steadily emptying over the last few decades as the population and need for farms has grown so that this area seems headed for a water crisis in a few more decades.

            It's so fun walking or driving around the countryside and meeting the people, who are universally excited to meet us and, unlike in some of the touristy areas or even in the towns near them, never ask for money or mind being photographed. The days we spent in Pushkar were fun, though draining due to the constant begging and crowds. We did find a deserted temple courtyard where I sketched the temple and Susan some cows, but even there, by the time we finished, word had spread and we had a large crowd around us watching. This wouldn't be as much of a problem except that people encircle you completely so that you can't even see what you're trying to draw.

            One of the more notable experiences I had was going into a Bbopah camp just outside of Pushkar one morning and walking through the small tent city, built basically from scraps. People had their goats, the basic shelter, and a fire. One girl was washing the dishes from the morning meal by simply rubbing sand over each plate and pot. The simplicity of their lives was such that the first emotion was pity, but as I got acquainted with the people, I realized they were quite happy and really no different than anyone you might meet anywhere in the world. No doubt this is far closer to the way human societies have lived for the majority of our history than the artificial environments we now see as the norm. One family invited me into their camp for tea and the father played his traditional instrument while he and his wife sang. I was amazed at how expert he was with something that looked like little more than some scrap wood and string. I noticed that across the road was another camp, but the Bbopah people all warned me that they were gypsies and it would be very dangerous to go there. At the time I thought they might be exaggerating, but took their advice and didn't go over there despite all the people who waved excitedly for me to cross the road to their camp.  

It was amazing the beautiful music this man made with his home-made instrument.

            After Pushkar, we came here to Khimsar Fort and have spent the last few days going to the nearby Naguar camel and cattle fair, where people from all over the area have gathered to sell livestock and enjoy some entertainment. Walking through the vast camp of animals has such a medieval feel to it.

Camel trading is a serious business and the negotiation can go on for a long time and become quite heated at times. Once the deal is struck, however, everyone laughs and has tea together.

Here's a close-up of some of the patterns and designs people create with simple scissors by trimming the camels hair. These patterns are both artistic and serve to identify camels as we might use brands on cattle.

"Mother and Baby" India
8 by 7  charcoal - Susan Lyon

You can't really tell the extent of it from the ground, but the encampment of tents, cattle, horses, and camels went for miles.

"Cattle Trader" India, oil 24" by 18" - Scott Burdick

 Universally, people are friendly and excited to meet us, offering us tea and food wherever we go. The only exception are the gypsies. Once again all the people warn us to keep clear of their area at the cattle fair, but when they see us even from afar, often times they swarm over, grabbing at our clothes and trying their best to steal anything they can. I have to forcefully slap their hands or yank the wrists of the woman and children to keep their hands out of my pockets and they often try pinching you to draw your attention so another might get something from you on the other side. I've literally seen the parents spurring three and four year olds on toward us, encouraging them to get what they can either through begging or theft. I long ago read a book about the Rom, which is what the gypsies call themselves, and it talked about this culture of thieving and their rational that God had granted them permission to do so, and I can see clearly now why everyone around here stays clear of them. Susan is especially disgusted at the sight of them teaching their children to steal and we've had some interesting discussions of the morality of this. Certainly it seems obviously wrong from our point-of-view as the ones with so much, but are they any more immoral than the supposedly upstanding British soldier or citizen who basically took what they wanted from India no less boldly and on a far greater scale than any gypsy could dream of? Or what of the bountiful resources of our own country, itself stolen from the Native Americans? Morality is generally a luxury won by the immoral actions of ancestors.

"Naguar Fort" pencil - Scott Burdick

            Please don't get me wrong, by the way, since not all gypsies are like this. Just this morning I photographed a gypsy family of about eight people who tour hotels entertaining with their music and dancing. They were all so nice and proud of the fact that they were able to earn their living through their art and had even toured Australia last year for two months performing.

Here I am contemplating a purchase. The camel itself didn't cost much, but shipping might be prohibitive.

This dancing camel stole the show at the contest to see who had the best dressed camel.

            A couple of nights ago we went to the fair to see some dancing and music and expected just a small group of people watching. What a surprise when we saw the vast traffic jam and huge crowds descending on field where the stage had been set up! It was actually somewhat scary and we almost just turned around and left. But then someone told us that some seats in the front had been set aside for press and VIPs so I asked one of the armed guards if we could go sit in there. He asked for my pass, which I didn't have, of course. I told him I worked for a travel magazine and they let us in and gave us a seat in the very front row. There was singing and dancing, both traditional and in the modern Bollywood style you see on television and an older woman and her daughter who were Hindi pop stars who also appeared in movies here got the biggest response of all since they were famous throughout India. Apparently they were the reason for the overflowing crowd. 

It was so loud, however, that we both wished we'd had earplugs. Eventually, though, there was so many people trying to get a view of the spectacle, that the crowd was surging dangerously against the barrier behind us like a great wave straining a breakwater. Dozens of police smacked their long bamboo sticks on the edge of the barrier, hands, and even a few heads to try and keep it back, but as things grew more chaotic and the noise got to us, we decided to leave before the finale. 

"Puppeteer" Naguar Desert Festival- India
40 by 30  oil - Susan Lyon

Getting out was a challenge, though since we had to force our way through the mob of people trying to see over the exit gate. I hid my camera under my coat and Susan wrapped her shawl completely around her head to make herself inconspicuous and we eventually made it to the car without incident.

            The Khimsar Fort Hotel is about forty kilometers from the Nagur fair, but well worth it. It is the nicest place we've stayed in so far, having been built around the ruins of an ancient fort and completely in the style. Even the smallest details are perfect, the staff is incredibly friendly, and each hotel area has guards so there is no worry about anything. The next day, when I went back to the fair with Balbir, Susan met the mother and daughter singers we'd seen at the concert the day before at the hotel shop. They were also staying at the Khimsar Fort Hotel and were shopping for clothes as well. Susan said that everyone who saw them were so star struck it was strange for an outsider to see. The woman laughed at all the attention and told the salesgirls they should concentrate on Susan since she would probably be more likely to buy something than her.

     

Peacocks were everywhere.

2-8-06    8:30 AM

Well, Yesterday afternoon was intense. After considering taking the hotel's "jeep safari" along with a large tour group that was staying for the night in the hotel, we decided instead to simply drive around the countryside with Balbir and explore. The back roads are mostly just sand so we got stuck many times, but always there were lots of people and children who ran to the car and helped push it out. Even walking around this morning, Susan and I are struck by the culture of helping out anyone in need that prevails in the countryside of India. When we walk, many people offer to give us a lift on their tractor, motorcycle or donkey cart and this is the same for locals. It's common to see people slow down so someone can hop on the back for a lift. It would no doubt be very easy to hitchhike across the entire country.

We stopped at a couple of farmer's huts. The first was made entirely of straw and was so small it was hard to imagine the entire family huddling together on the dirt floor during the cold desert nights. They were surrounded by the lush field of mustard they cultivated and the few goats they owned. The next family we stopped at was much the same as the first except their tiny hut was made of adobe. Again the floor was only about eight feet by eight feet for a family of two parents and four children, The cooking area was set in the floor off to the side and a tunnel outside of the hut went underneath in a small cave for the goats to sleep in during the cold nights as well as during the intense heat of the summer. 

"WowW""Woman from the Countryside"  India
8 1/2 by 7 1/2   pencil - Susan Lyon

The days were so hot now at the height of the winter it is hard to imagine living here in these huts during the summer with no electricity or air conditioning. I took a bunch of photographs of this family and had the older girl come with us back to our car for us to give her one of the sets of colored pencils we brought with us. Once we reached the car, however, a dozen children in modern school clothes surrounded us and tried grabbing the colored pencils from my hand every time I attempted handing it to the girl. One little girl was particularly aggressive and kept shouting something over and over at me so that I asked Balbir what she was saying. He told us she was saying that the little girl didn't need pencils since she was just a farmer and didn't go to school while she herself was in school so deserved them more. I laughed at this and finally succeeded in giving the pencils to the farm girl. The logic of the school girl made me think sadly that she might be a great politician someday.

We continued driving down the road for a while and then started seeing a few tractors with people in them who had red pigment all over their faces and clothes. Interested, we turned down a sandy track where they seemed to be coming from and soon came across a huge crowd of around five hundred people, dancing and celebrating in a long procession. There was a central tractor piled high with people around an old fashioned horn-shaped speaker that projected music over the heads of the procession. A sea of colorfully dressed woman carrying metal jugs with coconuts on the top was surrounded by men and children who danced and happily threw handfuls of dry red pigment on each other.

""Krishna Procession" India, oil  26" by 40" - Scott Burdick

Susan and Balbir stayed with me for a little bit, but as more and more red dust covered us, and a sea of children surrounded us, they retreated to the car while I continued struggling to take my photographs of the explosion of color and emotion. It was like being in a war zone with the red dust flying into my eyes and every one of the children so desperately wanting their photograph taken that they jumped up and down with their hands in the air before me. Once again I had to point my camera in the opposite direction of the procession to draw the children over there and then swing around and take a few unobstructed shots before being blocked. When the crowd had passed, I ran alongside in the sandy desert scrub to try and get in front again, but a man on a motorcycle motioned me to hop on behind him and soon we were flying along. My hat promptly flew off into the charging stampede of fifty children trying to catch us and I figured it was gone for goon.

Once off the motorcycle, the children were almost immediately on us again and I was surprised as one of them ran up and presented my hat to me! The frenetic dance of streaming children, celebrating Hindus, blaring music, and occasional dashes on the back of the motorcycle continued until we reached the main road and where Balbir and Susan sat in the car, surrounded by red painted people. Balbir was having a time keeping the kids from climbing up on the car and every time he opened the door, someone would throw in a handful of red pigment. When I finally made it to the car and we slowly got ourselves out of the mob, he smiled happily and said, "Better than the hotel Safari?" I heartily agreed that it was!

As we got out of the car at the hotel, the tour group was returning at the same time, and they stared at us open-mouthed, our faces and all our clothes completely covered in red. As on every trip, the greatest experiences are never on the itinerary.

 

2-9-2006    7:00 am

In one of the temples of the ancient Maharajahs our guide excitedly insisted we go inside the kitchen. "It is so amazing!" he emphasized excitedly so we entered a bare, unadorned room with stone walls and stone ceilings, about the size of our modest kitchen at home. We could see very little that was amazing and were confused at the guide's continued wide-eyed awe as he looked around the dark box of a room. "Isn't it amazing," he said again. "It's the size of a normal home!" Finally we understood, remembering that most people's homes were the size of our entire kitchen with the cooking area merely a fire on the dirt floor. To this man and most others, the amazing courtyards, architecture, and splendidly adorned rooms of the forts and palaces were just too far removed from personal experience to conceive, but the kitchen was something even they had at home and seeing one so large filled them with wonder at the extravagance of it. This is no doubt why television has such an impact when it reaches these remote places. The main American shows we've seen played here are Baywatch and Friends and to someone who has lived so simply and mostly contentedly all their lives in a thatched one room hut, such wonders of big breasted women running on the beach and "huge" apartments in NY with coffee shops to hang out in, surely sows seeds of jealous discontentment never before present. Knowing that there are vastly rich people out there somewhere far away, unseen, their lives unimaginable, is one thing, but seeing it every day in all its details while living in such primitive conditions must be an experience few of us in the US can imagine.

"Woman with Jug"  20 by 12  oil - Susan Lyon

I guess my mind goes to these issues because of the hotel we're staying in here in Bikaner. The Lallgarh Palace  is the previous residence of a Marharajah and his family until only five decades or so. The halls are vast and ornate, the indoor pool drained, the walls covered with family photos of the Marharajah's family as well as dozens of big game trophies the entire family, men, woman, and children have proudly slaughtered and hung within this time capsule of the twenties and thirties. The bedroom we are staying in has a ceiling around twenty feet high and the room is huge. The dated decorations go only as high as a normal room, giving the empty whiteness above the feeling of being stretched upward at the last minute - Susan says it looks like the stage set of play with all the incongruity of space above the area that has been staged for the actors. Few other people are here and the enormous hallways echo with our footsteps as we wander around, rarely seeing anyone else and it has a general feel of haunted uneasiness.

Balbir took us to a cheaper hotel in town where we ate on the rooftop overlooking the rather industial city. The food was good, unbelievably cheap (about $4 total for everything), and there was even gypsy dancers and musicians. The rooftop was crowded with the people staying at the hotel, mostly earthy Germans and French, who smoked and drank and even danced with the gypsies more than they ate. We've had the best experiences at cheaper restaurants Balbir has suggested rather than at some of the expensive tourist restaurants that are overpriced and simply not as good service or food.

 

2-12-06 8:10 am

 The old section of Jaisalmer is an ancient fortress within a huge wall three miles around. Up on a hill its twisty streets and buildings are mostly stone and it its beauty is marred only by the reckless motorcycles that honk and speed like kamikazes everywhere. Only the upper two castes of Indians are allowed to own houses within the walls; they have the caste system to measure worth, we have the dollar. One of the great challenges of any system of society is the way it organizes the levels of its people and convinces the have-nots to accept their place at the bottom, continue their essential work without attacking the have-everythings. We saw first hand while traveling in Nepal a society that had become skewed with the gap between rich and poor so extreme that the social contract of caste was breaking down into all-out warfare and insurrection. The rebels call themselves Maoists, though this is simply the catch-all label that is often chosen or applied by those seeking a better life by overthrowing the system that enslaves them and redistributing the land and wealth more equitably - which, if successful will simply start the cycle of wealth and power consolidation all over again. Such a dangerous imbalance was what spurred the income tax and estate tax in our own country. All societies pendulum back and forth between this balance of wealth distribution and a swing too far in either direction leads to collapse of the society. 

Now, here's people who actually work for a living, compared to us lazy artists have it easy but still find time to complain!

      True communism is certainly too perfect a system to actually work with such imperfect creatures as humans. At the top, power corrupts those in charge who start working more for themselves and their families than for the collective good, and, at the bottom, not everyone works as hard as everyone else, causing the hard workers to resent the lazy workers who benefit from their labors. Without the individual motivation of personal benefit, everyone soon simply does the minimum, leading to the necessary use of force to compel work, and eventual totalitarianism.

Here's some Indian's harvesting their carefully cultivated sweet pees.

Once they have a few baskets full of peas, they will walk the five miles to the market to sell it, then back home to continue the daily chores of hauling water, fertilizing their fields with goat manure, etc. Most of the farms here are basically just sandy desert soil -- without the manure and water pumped up from underground, farming would be impossible.

            The beauty of the Indian system is that it takes into account all of humanities weaknesses, which is why it has endured for so many millennia. For now, at least, the caste system still works, though cracks are beginning at the fringes as views of the industrialized West creep in. Susan and I talked a lot about these contrasts, seeing the merits and detriments of both. Ideally, the United States is considered a meritocracy, where the idea that anyone, no matter how lowly born can rise to the top through their own talent and hard work. With everyone having an equal opportunity for success, this ideal should mean that the US is drawing on a far wider pool of talent than a country like India since it is wasting so many potential Edisons or Einsteins who are born in the lower casts with no chance to use their natural talents for the good of all. 

Oh, I'm sure even venerable Albert had to have his nose wiped by his mother!

      Of course, in practice, the United States does not offer true equal opportunity to all. Money is our caste system and ensures that the wealthy will have the best education whatever their talent or ability. We applaud ourselves for the scholarships and merit-based entry systems to our universities, but by that time, the effect of twelve years of preferential treatment in schooling has done its work and some even use the predictably unbalanced test scores to "prove" the essential superiority of their own class or racial group over the lower classes. Many of the best universities also give preferential admittance to "legacy" students; basically those who have had a parent go to the school, and since it has only been in the last few decades that minorities were even allowed to attend these paragons of truth and learning, it is essentially an affirmative action program for rich white families.

It is so easy to see the dysfunction of the caste system and feel superiority, but one needs to admit the many similarities within all societies, without which, it would collapse. Our own upwardly mobile sensibilities, for instance would be severely strained without the constant buoyancy that props it up by the continual influx of immigrants willing to fill the vacated and essential jobs at the bottom. India is a very old civilization that long ago had to find some stability without such a constant immigration. Not everyone can be the president or a CEO; all jobs are important and convincing people to be content with those at the bottom is the eternal challenge, be it through caste, slavery, or simply out of hunger since all manual labor is, to some extent, coerced. In the US, we do this with the promise that if you do your menial job, your children will have better. Here, the promise is that if you do your job and live well in this lifetime, you will be rewarded by being born into a higher caste in the next lifetime. Indians are just as upwardly mobile in sensibilities as we are, after all, but just is a much longer term!

Here's a simple illustration that even the illiterate can understand. It is illustrating the idea of the preferred path of reincarnation for the person who lives a good life. I don't know, sometimes I think the rabbit might not have it all that bad; maybe just for a couple of years at least it would be nice to relax.

"If you're so smart, then why aren't you rich?" is the often quoted saying in the US and leads to an almost universal feeling of discontentment and disappointment in one's self. One Indian said to me, "You in the West think that this life is your only chance, while we Indians see it as only one in an unlimited chain of lifetimes. We are content knowing that this is the life we deserved by our past lives and if we live it well, will be rewarded in our next incarnation." The truth of reincarnation doesn't matter as much to me as the beautiful way it has resolved one of the fundamental problems of societal organization with minimal use of force and by giving people peace of mind as well. Isn't this the root of all religious belief, after all? The proof of its success is how long it has worked in one of the oldest civilizations in the world.

 

Here's a traditional Hindu marriage I came across while out driving in the countryside with Balbir. They were so excited to have a foreigner show up as it was considered a good omen for the couple. They asked me to pose with the couple for a photograph.

2-13-06    9:30 am

Yesterday was intense. Both Susan and I were exhausted from the constant exploring and traveling so took the morning to simply sketch by the pool in the hotel, thinking it was the one place we would be left alone. Soon we had the hotel staff crowded around us, watching me draw the tower of the Fort Rajwada (converted to the hotel) and Susan drawing a printout of a photograph of a little girl. Susan really hates people watching her draw and is uncomfortable in general being the center of attention of people she doesn't know, but how can you tell people as sweet as the hotel staff that you just want some alone time. This seemed to be the theme of the day for Susan. The things she thought would be difficult for her, the food, the roads, the begging, haven't been much of an issue, but the thing that has most surprised us more than anywhere else we've traveled has been the outright attention we receive!

Many of the people we met had never even seen a photograph of themselves, so seeing themselves on Susan's video camera screen was a wonder.

Everywhere we go, people simply stop, turn and stare at us, oftentimes chatting and giggling among themselves as they point and don't even try and disguise the fact that they are discussing us like some museum artifact that isn't alive. If we stop to rest, we will almost immediately have a crowd of people surrounding us within feet, literally blocking our view of everything like some human-walled isolation chamber. Susan once took out her umbrella and lowered it over herself to try and block herself off, but everyone simply got down on their knees to peer around and under the impediment to their curiosity. People touch our arms, our clothes, hats, and are genuinely surprised when we make it clear that we don't appreciate this. Yesterday at the camel fair in the sand dunes, several woman of the upper, Brahmin class were standing in front of Susan, staring, discussing, and laughing at her. She confronted them, knowing they probably spoke English, which they did, and they instantly apologized profusely, making it very apparent that they hadn't even realized someone might be offended by such behavior.

The attention doesn't bother me much. In many ways, it makes it easier to take photos since it seems a fair exchange - me staring at them and they at me - than if I was invading their space alone. The main difficulty for me is that everyone is so excited to get their photo taken that I tend to get crowds of people trying to wave me over to have me take their photos, their parent's photo, their cow or goat's photos, etc. Many times I am so focused on what I am shooting that I don't even notice the crowds looking at us until Susan points it out to me. If I am by myself, I am the central attraction, but if I'm with Susan, she is far more interesting to everyone than I, no doubt because of her light skin, blond hair, and beauty. Everyone asks our age, are shocked at how old we are, and even more shocked that we don't have children. Because of the harshness of life here, the climate, and the many children woman have, most people our age look twenty years older than us. The occasional guides we have of the temples continually say, "You are young and I am old," only to find out that we are often older than them by a considerable amount!

Ok, I'll admit I'm not older than this woman, but I'd bet she's still younger than I'd guess from just looking at the wondrous character life has etched onto her face.

Here's a couple of other things that jump out at one. Men walking hand in hand, cuddling together everywhere and laying arms and legs entwined - it doesn't seem to be a sexual thing, but an expression of deep friendship (there are even laws against homosexuality here). You will never see a man and a woman kiss in public or even in a Hindi movie or TV show, for that matter. Cows everywhere! They will lay down in the middle of the busiest street and cause a traffic jam. Their revered status is balanced by the fact that they mostly eat garbage, much of the plastic they ingest eventually killing them. Make sure to have ear plugs handy at all times!

Color, color, and more color!

In the afternoon we had lunch on a rooftop in town and then went to a silver shop Balbir knew of that was just on the third floor of someone's house in a typical neighborhood outside the fort's walls. The house was the home of three brother's and their families - wives, children, parents, grandparents. Like every single house in India, it looked like it was in the midst of either being dismantled or built. People add on to their houses as they get the money, so there are piles of rubble everywhere, and half constructed walls on top of every building. If you get enough money to add a few courses of bricks, then you do so immediately rather than waiting till you've saved enough to complete the entire project.

On a wide mat on the floor where everyone no doubt slept, the brothers dumped out large kettles filled with silver objects, making it seem like Aladdin's cave after pile upon pile of treasure appeared. Susan picked out some necklaces, bracelets, and earrings that cost about a forth what they would anywhere else. I loved the intricate workmanship of everything, but since this was merely manual labor, which costs almost nothing here, everything was priced by the weight of the silver content without regard to the artistry. In the US, the prices would have been so much higher because of the workmanship and artistic content.

Don't you think a little bit of mystery adds something to the world? Bikinis are nice, but they do get a bit monotonous after a while.

Then we headed out to the Sand Dunes for the last day of the festival. The rolling dunes with all the camels and people was spectacular. The sun was intense and walking up and down the towering dunes exhausting! Susan was a main attraction and is in isolation in the room right now doing a sketch so she can be just a normal person for a change! Even this small taste of continual attention everywhere one goes makes me realize how horrible it would be to be a movie star or politician. I think if Susan had to deal with it for too much longer she would simply explode or become a very angry person.

"Enfolded in Color" India, oil  34" by 24" by Scott Burdick

"Little Dancer" India, oil 50" by 24"

"Colors of the Desert" India, oil, 36" by 60" by Scott Burdick


"Camel Race" Jaislamer Desert Festival- India
20 by 30  oil - Susan Lyon

Everyone is watching a camel race of the men of the village. It took about an hour to complete, which was perfect for taking photos as everyone was so intent on the race, they hardly noticed me.

"Watching the Camel Race" India, oil  46" by 24" - Scott Burdick

"Camel Rider" India, oil 11" by 14" - Scott Burdick

2-14-06    7:40 PM

We're in the Ajit Bhawan Hotel in Jodhpur, a beautiful place with little stone cottages for rooms, a raised pool and winding pathways through what seems like an endless garden. We turn on the TV and several of the Indian channels have a naked guru sitting cross-legged on a rotating lotus that looks more like a huge teacup from a Disneyland ride. The teacup rotates slowly around and around as the unclothed holy man dispenses his wisdom to a seated crowd of hundreds, themselves demurely dressed in white with plates of food in front of them.

            I am exhausted, my mental energy used up and I've just sat by the pool since we arrived and read and listened to Norah Jones on Susan's IPod, which seemed appropriate as her father was Ravi Shankar, the famous Indian musician. The desert drive here was beautiful and sparse. Balbir taught me lots of Hindi words interspersed with answering our questions about all sorts of things. The area in the northern mountains he comes from just became a state three years ago and is made up of Kardwali's, who have their own language and culture. Balbir said that his wife, despite living in Delhi still can only speak Kardwali and knows almost no Hindi, which makes it difficult for her and she relies on her three sons to act as translator when they go to market. Neither can she read or write. Like nearly everyone here, Balbir's marriage was arranged and his wife is from the same village as he (of 120 houses and approximately 1,000 people.)

Balbir's older brother is 44 and is also a driver in Delhi, but for a different company. His brother has four girls, the oldest of which is married. Finally someone with girls! I asked Balbir if his niece is married to someone in Delhi and he instantly said, no, that would be way too expensive! We are confused at this and he explains that his brother must pay a bride price to the husband to get him to marry his daughter and the price to marry a Delhi groom would be way too much for the daughter of a driver so she has been married to a farmer in their home village, which costs much less. I wonder how happy a girl who has been brought up in Delhi is to marry a farmer in a village in the mountains without even a single road and where no one even speaks Hindi. The bride price is yet one more incentive to have boys, but we aren't really that far from this practice with the tradition of the wife's parents paying for the wedding.

All I have to say is that for the amount of work Indian women do, it is quite a deal having them pay the groom as well!

Balbir's full name is Balbir Singh Chavhan. Balbir is his given name, Singh is the name all Rajput's have, and Chavhan is his caste. There are so many divisions and sub divisions of caste, that Balbir cannot even count them all. Balbir's youngest brother is just eighteen and still in school at his parent's village home and he also has two sisters who are both married with children. Balbir seems truly amazed when I tell him that there isn't much of a preference in general for boys over girls in the United States and that most people's ideal probably would be for both a boy and girl rather than all boys.

Reading "The Times of India" makes one think on so many issues from a different perspective. The lead headline is an interview with Prachanda, the leader of the Maoist Rebels of Nepal, who has made an alliance with the democratic forces and political parties that have been dissolved by the hereditary king. Strange to think that the United States should be supporting a king over elected leaders in this struggle. Thinking back to the journal I wrote when we visited Nepal, I remember commenting that the defeat of the king and what is basically an aristocracy would be inevitable if they continued to refuse some sort of reform or redistribution of land and wealth and I still feel that the fall of the monarchy and the success of the rebels is inevitable without major reform. I wonder why our own government can't see this and would choose to align themselves with such an archaic and doomed system?

On television, Tony Blair chides Hugo Chavez for aligning himself with an "undemocratic" country like Cuba and says there will be consequences for a country that would do such a thing. Does the United States and England really think the rest of the world incapable of noticing the contradictions of our own alignments with dozens of "undemocratic" countries like Saudi Arabia, China, even Iraq in the past, etc. when it serves our own self interest? Have we forgotten that it was the CIA who overthrew the first democratically elected leader of Iran in the fifties simply because he wanted to take back control of his countries natural resources? We may have forgotten, but the people of those countries have not.

The typical Indian kitchen in this area is outside.

This family kindly made us some Masala tea.

What most of these issues come down to is greed. Those who have, naturally try to hold onto what they have and to acquire more, using the power of their wealth to give themselves special breaks that the less fortunate don't have. Within a county these take the form of tax breaks that only the wealthy can take advantage of - tax breaks on a home mortgage, investment income, estate taxes, etc. Those who are too poor to own a house, to invest in property or stocks or other things that increase wealth through so called "capital gains" are left out of these tax breaks and end up paying far more or sometimes all of the taxes. When the upper segment of society is exempt from taxes, as was common in the middle ages of Europe all the way up to the French Revolution, we call the system an aristocracy.

Many villagers had looms right in their yards where they worked most of the day and even into the night.

Property taxes, graduated income taxes, and the Estate Tax were all instituted in the United States to combat this natural tendency for wealth and power to accumulate in the hands of the few who already have it at the expense of those who don't before an Aristocracy could subvert Democracy. It is a difficult balance to strike, since going too far in the other direction, as socialism does, takes away the profit motive and you degenerate into a system like early Chinese and Russian Communism. Let things drift too far in the other direction and you get an extreme Aristocracy like Nepal and pre-Revolutionary France, with the gap between rich and poor  growing to the point of explosive readjustment. The United States avoided such a collapse in the early part of the last century with the adoption of the progressive taxes I mentioned earlier and was fought desperately by the rich robber barons whom they were aimed at.

This village was close to a good source of clay so most of the villagers made pottery to sell to stores in the cities. Notice the ingenious use of the truck tire, which the father had mounted to the ground and got spinning with a stick. The momentum was enough for him to complete several little bowls before it stopped.

Once they've been dried, the children paint the designs on them.

In Nepal, the existence of a ruling aristocracy is obvious and extreme, but such a system is slowly taking hold in our country as well. The common belief most American's hold is that the richer you are the higher percentage of tax you pay; again the "progressive tax system." What is less obvious is that this progressive system only applies to those of us who's income comes from "work," as it's defined by the government tax code. A large portion of the wealthy elite's income comes from "capital gains" income such as real estate and stock investments, which has been recently lowered to a flat 15 percent (far below the average most working class families pay as a total percentage of their income, especially when you include social security taxes). Add to this the cap on social security tax even on work income and many at the very top pay a significantly lower percentage of tax than those at the bottom who get all their money from work income and are below the social security tax cap. Most statistics compare only the taxes on work income after all the preferential deductions are taken to come up with the illusion that the wealthy pay higher tax rates. Why someone should pay less tax on income that comes through simply investing your money than through "working" is beyond me. Add to this the many tax breaks that only those at the top can take advantage of and you have a system that is dangerously heading in the direction of a classic aristocracy.

"By 2015, those making between $80,000 and $400,000 will pay as much as 13.9 percentage points more of their income in federal taxes than those making more than $400,000." New York Times, June, 2005

I continually hear the serious suggestion by the richest segment of society that the capital gains tax be abolished completely. Since the estate tax is already in the process of being eliminated, what might this might mean for a typical billionaire heir in our country in the future? This fortunate one inherits a billion dollars upon the death of his or her parents and pays not one cent of tax (as he or she would if they won the lottery or even was given this money by anyone except a relative). Remember, there already was an exemption in the estate tax of several million dollars, so this only applied to the very wealthy. Without a capital gains tax, this well-born one invests in real estate and stocks and earns another billion dollars and never pays a cent of tax in their life; passing on this even greater fortune to their children, again tax free, and so on. Thus is an untaxed Aristocracy/Plutocracy re-born in a country founded on the idea that merit, rather than birth, should be the measuring stick. Like I said, there are many ways of organizing a society, and if we want an aristocracy rather than a meritocracy, we are certainly on the path to getting our wish. Unfortunately, Susan and I have no children to leave our money to, so we'll simply have to see if there are any children of millionaires we might adopt to will our estates to so they will not fall into the hands of the poor. Ok, I've probably made enough people mad, so I'll shut up for a little while.

Pulling a leather bucket up out of the well. One of the many reasons you see very few overweight Indians - their aerobics class goes on throughout the entire day!

2-15-06    8:30 pm

Spent the morning touring the ancient fort of Johdpur and its impenetrable defensive walls. An impressive museum within houses swords, cannons, and the various weapons of the past while the continuous crump, crump of the air force bombing range nearby reminds one that little has changed since its construction except the particular weapons. In the drive from Jaisalmer to Johdpur we also passed near to where India tested its first nuclear weapons and the newspapers here are filled with debate on whether or not to go along with the US effort against Iran's decision to pursue nuclear research. Air raid sirens woke us up around five in the morning and sound sporadically throughout the day and our guide says this is a daily occurrence. Like everywhere we've been in India, the electricity goes out frequently. Walking the streets is an exhausting exercise of dodging motorcycles, beggars, lepers, and even a bull that went after Susan with flailing horns as she squeezed passed it in the clock tower market this afternoon. The smells of animal and human waste, rotting food, and diesel fumes make it hard to take being outside for too long. Every restaurant is filled with hundreds of flies and we were so happy to get back to the hotel as the heat became unbearable and take a dip in the pool and revel in our beautiful oasis. The clock tower market is simply incredible! An explosion of color, animals, noise, smells, and beauty; but impossible to take for more than an hour or two.

"Selling Pottery" India, oil  16" by 20" - Scott Burdick

Well, back to reading the paper, watching the Olympics, and jumping at the occasional loud bang as a bomb connects with some unseen target just outside the city. Amazing to have a bombing range just outside of the second largest city in Rahjastan!

I could do an entire book on the funny signs we've seen in India. Just so you know, we never did try to embarrass anyone by requesting free entry.

Also visited a temple devoted to worshiping rats, believe it or not! Because it is sacred, you have to remove your shoes while in the temple and walking on the layer of droppings. People prayed to the rats and gave them offerings of food. Rats were literally everywhere, hanging from doorways, scurrying across the floor and even over your feet. Susan stayed in the car, but after I came to enjoy watching the little guys after a while. At least they weren't like the giant monsters we call rats in Chicago -- now those were scary!

2-19-06    5:45 pm

We are in Udaipur  and have been very impressed at how clean and orderly the city is, at least in comparison to the rest of India. For several years this area had been in a severe drought with the Monsoons failing altogether and the large lakes that are so essential and beautiful to the city had completely dried up. But there has been rain the last few years and the lakes have been restored to their splendor. All the guide books like "Lonely Planet" and a few others were very negative on Udaipur, in fact, because they were written at the height of the draught so we'd only left ourselves a few days here, though it has turned out to be one of the most beautiful places of all the one's we've visited and we are actually thinking of coming back to spend a couple of weeks in just this area alone. The surrounding hills and small mountain villages are lush and stunning in their beauty and there are lots of great hotels and guest houses everywhere. This is the fist place we've been in India where the power hasn't gone out every few hours and our hotel even has wireless, high-speed internet!

 

We passed dozens of these primitive irrigation systems, built up on mounds of dirt and rock, with the oxen going round and round most of the day, carrying water up to a canal that then goes out to the farmer's fields.

These are just recycled cans that fill with water at the bottom and then dump out at the top. About as simple as you can get, but it does the job without any gasoline, electricity, or motors.

Today's theme seemed to be religion and caste. This morning we went to a village where the government brings in artists, craftspeople, dancers, and musician from all over the county for tourists to see. Each family lives in the village for two weeks and then is replaced by another family. Our guide was from a village just a few minutes away and he was only working since it was Sunday. He'd worked here for ten years but recently finished university and is now a full time teacher in his village. We asked if he was married and he said that he'd been married for eight years and had a daughter, but then sadly mentioned that he was from the Brahmin class (which is the highest) and that he'd had a girlfriend from a lower caste that he'd loved and wanted to marry, but finally gave in to the pressure from his family and just about everyone in his village to have an arranged marriage within his own class (About 90 percent of marriages in India are arranged by the parents and the Sunday newspaper is filled with advertisements for brides and grooms, listing class, age, height, profession, darkness of skin, etc.) The deciding factor was the threat that his sister might be harmed and that no one would ever marry her if he disgraced the family by marrying outside his caste. This is no idle threat here, since every day the newspapers are filled with stories of the sisters and even mothers of boys who marry outside their caste being raped and even murdered as retribution for their brother's indiscretions. As he told us of this, the pain was obvious even after eight years. He said that his wife was a lovely girl and an excellent wife; though it was obvious he didn't love her and he admitted to still occasionally calling the girl he loved, who was also married.

As we walked around and bought some paintings and other works from the many artists, we came to a group of musicians and dancers. I noticed that one of the dancers expression became tight and angry as she looked at our guide, who wouldn't meet her gaze. After the performance, I asked him about this and he surprised me with his candor as he admitted she was a relative of the girl he'd loved but had to abandon because of her lower caste. Not surprisingly, we've found that those at the lower end of the caste system here wish for it to end and those at the top generally think it is simply ordained by the gods. I asked Balbir if he thought the caste system would ever change in India and he was certain it never would. At first I was surprised at this, until I remembered that the caste system isn't just a social system, but an integral part of the Hindu religion. People truly believe that you are born into your caste based on your past actions and that you will only move up if you live well in this life.

Before you are too dismissive of this system, it's important to realize some of our own very caste-like ideas on marriage such as marrying within a particular religion, race, economic class, etc. One of our friends from North Carolina once told me that she could never marry anyone who wasn't a Christian. If one truly believes in your religion, why should it be surprising that you couldn't marry someone who didn't agree with such a fundamental part of your life? But then I asked her if she could marry an African American who was a Christian. She hesitated and said she didn't think she'd have a problem with it, but wouldn't do so because her parents would be against it, adding that they weren't prejudiced, however, and that it was only because of the cultural differences. But I pointed out to her that she'd been dating a Christian boy from another country who they had no objection to and the cultural differences must have been even more severe than an African American boy. She agreed that was true, but just couldn't explain it. Until very recently in our country's history, interracial marriage was even illegal in many places. All of us have our prejudices, including the oppressed minorities themselves, though it's always easier to see all but our own and I certainly include myself in this. Only by constantly questioning and searching can you identify those shortcomings within yourself and reach a greater level of understanding. Just thinking about all of the misconceptions I had about this one country and how traveling here has altered my perceptions is humbling. The more we learn, the more ignorant we know ourselves to be. 

 

Here's a corner of town that farmers bring in hay each day that people buy to feed to their cows.

"Selling Hay in Udaipur" India, oil, 30" by 20" - Susan Lyon

"Haunting Gaze" India, oil  18" by 14" - Scott Burdick

10:30 pm 

Wow, saw a fantastic dance program at the Indian Cultural Heritage Museum at the Gangaur Ghat in Udaipur, then had a fun dinner on the rooftop at the Restaurant Natural City View, where they showed the James Bond film, Octopussy, which was filmed here in Udaipur. What a fantastic last day in Udaipur !

 

2-21-06    7:00 AM

Flew to Bombay yesterday (officially Mombay, though most here in India still refer to it by the old, British name.) We did have a city tour scheduled, but decided to cancel it since both of us were very tired and the combination of heat and the continuous traffic jam here didn't appeal. As in most places, the driver cautioned us not to walk around on the streets as they were too dangerous, which we ignored as usual and went for several walks and it is quite as safe as any city in the US. No cows, goats, or Tuk-Tuks here, and one feels less like they are in India as all modern cities look so much alike.

            Our friend Milind Mulik http://www.milindmulick.com/  is having a show of his wonderful watercolors in Sweden in two days and is unfortunately running into last minute visa difficulties so hasn't been able to leave the country yet. He asked if he might have three young artists come by to meet us and we said we'd love to meet them and see their work. They met us at the Leaopold Café a couple blocks from our hotel and we looked through their work. It turned out that one of the artists, Niranjan S. Mhamane had even e-mailed us a few times and we'd looked at his paintings that way. Niranjan had already graduated the five year program at the art school and the other two artists, Aditya D. Shirke and Mukta A. Avanchat were in their final year. They all had booklets with their work and they were fantastic! They reminded me so much of our group at the American Academy and the Palette and Chisel and their paintings were even more advanced than I had been when their age that I'm so excited to see what the future will hold for them and their work.

Aditya D. Shirke

            It all seemed so spur of the moment and casual to us that we were surprised when they told us it took them four hours of trains, buses, and then a taxi to get to the café to meet us! It was even more disconcerting when we'd say something like, "When we were in school, we'd paint afterward at an art club in Chicago …" only to have them all nod and say, "Yes, we know, at the Palette and Chisel." Through our website, the journal, and the links to other artists, there was little for us to tell them that they didn't already know. They were very inspired by the Plein Air Painters of America and the Laguna Plein Air Painters of America shows they'd seen in the journal and said that they were starting groups like that here. They knew all of our paintings and Susan and I were constantly embarrassed at how genuinely admiring they were of us. We feel so inadequate and are generally so frustrated at our own work that it's strange being looked up to like that. When I was in art school I remember how much I admired artists who were making a living at their craft and it was strange to be on the other end of that. Yesterday was the seventeenth anniversary of Susan and my first date and it seemed so strange to think at how quickly and seamlessly the time has slipped by.

Mukta A. Avanchat

            Coincidentally, each of their fathers were engineers and they said that their school was very inexpensive since it was sponsored by the government. They painted five days a weeks for five hours from the only two models the school employed. They were universally tired of painting the same two models for five years! This being India, it wasn't allowed to paint nudes, which is interesting to us in a place where you constantly see people strip off their clothes in public to bathe. They were very inspired by Richard Schmid's paintings and all had his latest book. They lamented how little of a market there was for realism in India since most of the big name painters were modern and abstract. In many ways it seemed that their art market was about twenty years behind the US and reminded me so much of when we finished art school and found so few galleries interested in our work. The Plein Air revolution and resurgence of realism we've seen in America will no doubt be hitting here as well very soon. It's amazing to see first hand the impact of the internet in the way these students are using it to learn from artists they never would have been able to study with. It makes me think of all the e-mails we receive from just about every country around the globe.

Niranjan S. Mhamane
his e-mail is
mhamaneniranjan@yahoo.co.in
I don't have e-mail addresses for Mukta or Aditya, but Niranjan will be able to put anyone in contact with them. I'm sure you'll be seeing their work in the future!

            After seeing their work at the café, we invited them back to our hotel and showed them some of our sketches we'd done on the trip as well as some of the photos from India. What were amazingly interesting scenes to us were commonplace to them, which made us laugh. When I showed them some photos from Tibet, they oohed and ahhed in wonder and we explained to them that was our reaction to India just as much as Tibet. We told them of our fears of coming to India and how so many of our friends and relatives though we were crazy to put ourselves into such danger. "But why?" they said as a group. "India is so safe and the people are so friendly and eager to meet you." We agreed this was definitely the case and were amazed ourselves that we'd been so nervous about traveling here at all. They'd learned much from us, but we'd definitely learned as well by coming here and having so many prejudices and misconceptions challenged. In going outside, one often looks inward in a way that is impossible otherwise.

2-21-06    5:30 pm

A month of traveling has taken its toll and both of us are tired and finding it harder and harder dealing with the constant annoyances of Mombai; the ever-present honking, people blocking our path with maps for sale, trying to get us into their stores, or grabbing our arms as they beg. 

We went to a vast network of shacks and outdoor washing tubs where thousands of men did the laundry for the well-off of the city. We also glimpsed some of the stacked concrete "apartments" that are simply ten foot by ten foot open faced boxes that families rent in the poor sections of the city. They have no bathrooms or running water and make you very aware once again of how well American's have it. And this is far from the worst places to live in the biggest city in the world (around sixteen million people.)

Our driver was soft-spoken with the usual mustache many wear here, though his constant monotone recitation of facts of the city and the buildings, combined with his heavy accent tended to make you drift off a bit. He proudly pointed out "expensive" apartments that famous actors lived in that looked like run down housing projects from Chicago. As we went by the oldest hotel in Bombay, he said with passion that it had been built by an Englishman and that no Indians had been allowed into it, which was one reason a wealthy Indian decided to build the five star Taj hotel (where we had lunch, by the way.) I agreed with him that such discrimination was horrible. We drove passed the Gandhi Museum and the driver was very disappointed when we didn't go in and it was clear that he idolized Gandhi more than anyone who'd ever existed. We certainly love Gandhi and all he stood for as well, but were running on fumes by then and ready to get back to the hotel and go to lunch. We mentioned that we'd gone to the Gandhi Memorial in Delhi and he was happy to hear this.

Almost in the next sentence, the driver pointed out a Mosque and said that every one in Pakistan was a terrorist. "You don't mean everyone in Pakistan?" I asked mildly and he became animated for the first time. "Oh, yes, I mean EVERYONE in Pakistan is a terrorist!" And then he went back to his monotone as a stream of anti-Muslim sentiment poured out. He said that all Muslims should leave India and go to Pakistan. I wondered aloud if this was practical, since there were more Muslims in India than in Pakistan, even though they are a minority here, but he was on a roll and went on to say that Bush was on the right track in attacking Muslims, but that he was being fooled by Musharif, the president of Pakistan, who he was certain was hiding and secretly funding Osama Bin Laden. He even blamed Gandhi's murder on the Muslims. "But wasn't Gandhi shot by a Hindu?" I asked. He explained the Hindu was upset by Gandhi's allowing Muslims to stay in India when they should have all been sent to Pakistan when the two countries split. Was he criticizing his hero, Gandhi, or merely pointing out the danger to anyone who would associate with such people? Strange how someone can so embrace a figure like Gandhi and so misunderstand all that they stood for.

Back at the hotel, the paper is filled with conflicts driven by religion. A Muslim Indian minister offers a reward to anyone who beheads the cartoonist in Denmark who made fun of Mohamed. There are also many Muslims who write into the paper supporting free speech and decrying the violence and call for the death of the cartoonist, but, as always, the front pages are dominated by the extremists and the commentators even have the gall to criticize Muslims as a whole for not "speaking out" against the extremists when it is the media itself that chooses who is heard in the first place, no doubt leading to the appearance that all of "them" are terrorists and extremists. With such constant distortion of reality, it's no wonder the news makes everyone so afraid to travel anywhere!  

The hope of the future.

Religion seems to bring out both the best and the worst of people. The most striking thing about all the religions we've seen everywhere we travel is the depth with which everyone is so certain that their way is the one and only right way. Many missionary groups go out to India and China and all over the world from the churches around us in North Carolina and I remember one man telling me with indignation how some of the local religious leaders in some country tried preventing them from preaching in their village. I asked him what he would do if Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists tried preaching in his town and he immediately said they would absolutely not permit it. He said that there was no contradiction in this since he was representing the one and true God and the others were simply deluded and on the path to Hell. When you are so certain about something so important, it is inconceivable to tolerate disagreement and this is the basic root of most of the religious conflicts I see all about me. 

History is filled with such conflicts and the brief moments and places where tolerance found a way for people of different faiths to live side by side together are rare. Of all the things we have in the United States, the thing I'm most proud of is this tolerance. Let's hope it continues and spreads (by example rather than force.) India is one of the youngest democracies of the World, after all, so we shouldn't judge it by the standards of where we are after hundreds of years of development. The problems and prejudices here against woman and minority groups would pale in comparison to our own country only fifty years after its founding, after all.

Thank you, India, for renewing my inspiration -- I can't wait to get home and paint!

Since putting up our India journal, we've gotten a lot of e-mails from artists requesting permission to paint from the photographs. I realize there is no way to stop anyone from painting from them, just as anyone can paint from something published in a magazine, but I would strongly encourage you to work from your own photographs and models because that is how you grow as an artist and express your own individuality. Art is about seeing the world through someone else's eyes and choosing your subject and composition, as well as experiencing it first hand, comes through in the painting. You are special and will see things no one else does and by challenging yourself to go out and find the faces you are interested in painting, you will gain so much more. Remember that Art isn't the simple technical act of putting brush to canvas, but the entire process. I put a great deal of effort into taking the photographs and even in setting up models in the studio and see this part of it as at least half of the painting. To work from someone else's photos would mean that a large part of the painting was someone else's vision. My hope is that by showing you how much effort and seriousness goes into this part of it, you will push yourself to do the same. 

Sincerely,

Scott Burdick (-:  Happy painting!

 

    Germanton 2005 / France 2006  

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