Post 3 – Settling In, First Contact with the the Kolkata Art Scene: Nov. 24


As we get older and become settled in our homes, we forget where things came from or how they made their way to us. Objects seem to accumulate magically, like dew in the morning (if we’re feeling good) or like mold growing in the night, taking over (if we’re not feeling so good.) Where exactly did that nice Horn and Hardart fork come from? Was that sugar container my grandmother’s or did I pick it up at a garage sale? We forget the thousands of decisions involved in a household. Where do I store the rice? The salt? In what? Where do I put my shoes? Not to mention that we have no idea what half the things are, or even how certain utensils are to be used. For example, there are no ovens, only 2-burner propane counter top stoves. You use a strange lighter to turn the gas on; you use what looks like a medical instrument to remove lids from pots without burning yourself.

I’ve often wondered what I’d have to go through if we ever moved. I only focused on the major issues; I hadn’t quite realized the crush of the little decisions. And that’s what’s been consuming us. That and internet woes.

We still had a few more days at the hotel, courtesy of Senator Fulbright, before we actually made the big move to our own apartment. That security was invaluable. The internet wasn’t quite as easy as I hoped. Who knew that an iPhone 5 uses a ‘Nano’ size SIM card, while the older iPhones use a ‘Micro’ size card and that both require a special cutter to reduce the size of the normal SIM card? Of course, few people have the Nano, so it required a trip to a Western-style mall just to cut the tiny card. Days have been spent this way.

9_11_webBut now we decided to put all these hassles aside and enjoy Kolkata. I had seen a billboard advertising a show at the CIMA Gallery, a place I’d heard of before we left Chicago. We made our way to the ‘Center of International Modern Art’ and met Pratiti Sarkar, gallery administrator, with whom we will no doubt develop a relationship (turns out, of course, we have mutual friends.) Their yearly sale was on. As expected, it was a mix of styles and talents. Not expected was a show of art by indigenous people of the area. We ended up buying 9 pieces. I didn’t think we could live with bare walls. We bought paintings from Mindnapur, including this astonishing representation of 9/11. We’d never seen anything like it. We also bought work from the Madhubany people in Bihar (the sun piece below.) Only in India 3 days and already we’re collecting!

Madhubany_webThe gallery is close to the Birla temple, a landmark white marble structure from the 1800s. It is a very strange experience to be in a place where everyone but you understands what’s going on. My training was in anthropology and it is very much my personality (except for occasional bursts into song.) This provides a good working approach, but it still leaves a space between you and what is happening in front of you. Filling that space is an adventure in discerning truth, complicated by the fact that we don’t yet speak a word of Bangla.

Birla_webHurshita proved her worth when, on hearing that we were charged 50 rupees (30 cents) to stow our shoes (a temple requirement) stormed back in and began yelling at the shoe tender. It should have been 10 rupees (6 cents.) She was upset that as foreigners we were being singled out. She said that it was a matter of respect, that if the message they wanted to send about the sacredness of this space was to be taken seriously, ALL people coming there needed to be treated equally. Money wasn’t the issue.

The woman has a voice! And a point.

6 thoughts on “Post 3 – Settling In, First Contact with the the Kolkata Art Scene: Nov. 24

  1. Your story about being overcharged for shoe storage reminds me of our experience going to the Kremlin in Moscow. Our host told us not to say anything as we entered as he was buying the tickets and the rate for tourists was signfiicantly higher than fro locals. We got through as locals.

  2. Art on the walls..a sign of cultural awareness, hope you will ship them back when you leave,Goo for Hurita! scamming shoe storing space is an insult that should not be abided, same price for sandals and wing tips? I hope so, love your tale on the things we take for granted in our fully supplied lives, I assume a micro wave is out of the questions? most college kids can tell you you can do just about anything with one…happy eating.

  3. Nobody better than you two to be living and witnessing and reporting back. I love the pieces you bought–such beauty. Take care of yourselves, enjoy, work, think, live, create. Wishing you the best always, Luz.

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