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
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.
the tube to the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery this
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
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
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
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.
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.
view from our Delhi hotel room.
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.
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.
Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent 1885 - 6
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.
Moon Drawing 1970
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?
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
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
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.
And filled with
thought-provoking bits of history.
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?
inspire as much great art as it destroys, however, as this magnificent
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
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!
of the many reminders that India has faced internal terrorism itself for
much longer than we have.
were a lot of police everywhere as they prepared for an anniversary and
parade the following day.
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.
Balbir on the right in his own richshaw.
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 email@example.com
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
goats, horses, dogs, chickens, bicycles, motorcycles, trucks, cars,
people, people, people; packed into such narrow streets as if to seem
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
look closely in the mirror, you can see Susan and me (with camera to my
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
though we've seen this exact scene a thousand times on TV and in books, it
still takes the breath away in person.
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.
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.
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.
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
"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.
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.
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.
filling the sky in every direction!
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
the vats of water that are heated to wash the clothes.
laid out to dry on the hot sand.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
the morning ritual of setting the accumulated trash ablaze.
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.
there's the heartbreaking sight of all the low cast children who collect
whatever can be recycled.
wore a filtering mask and many of the people hold cloths over their mouths
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.)
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
observed in China, spitting is not only an accepted practice, it is
"Gentle Youth" India, conte, 21" by 16"
- Susan Lyon
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"
8 1/2 by 7 1/2 pencil - Susan Lyon
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
in the morning and afternoon we visited a few of the famous sites as well
as the Amber Fort.
Susan getting the traditional Henna painted onto her hand.
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.
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
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.
well as being holy, cows are almost a part of the family.
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
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.
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.
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,
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
, 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.
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
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.
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
"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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
"Woman with Jug" 20 by 12 oil
- Susan Lyon
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
(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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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, and more color!
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
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
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.
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
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
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.)
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.
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!
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
and that most people's ideal probably would be for both a boy and girl
rather than all boys.
"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?
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
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.
typical Indian kitchen in this area is outside.
family kindly made us some Masala tea.
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
all the way up to the French Revolution, we call the system an
villagers had looms right in their yards where they worked most of the day
and even into the night.
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.
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.
they've been dried, the children paint the designs on them.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Wow, saw a fantastic
dance program at the Indian
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
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/
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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
just as much as Tibet. We told them of our fears of coming to
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.
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.
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
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.)
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
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.
in the next sentence, the driver pointed out a Mosque and said that every
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
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.
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!
hope of the future.
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.
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.
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.