A centerpiece of our project is collaborating with Indian artists who feel inspired by our historic archive. Today we met with a possible participant, Sanjeet Chowdhury (http://www.sanjeetchowdhury.com/) referred to us by a colleague of Ethan Shapiro, yet another of my high school friends. ‘Jeet’ is a filmmaker by trade, a photographer and collector of photographs by passion. He tells the story of learning that an Indian newspaper was destroying its entire archive of negatives and old prints. Jeet tried to find an institution to take the collection but no one was interested (this is a familiar story, even in the US.) So he pulled up his SUV and was given permission by the paper to literally shovel into his car as much as he could in 2 hours. He saved some 30,000 photos. The rest are gone forever. Jett has 3 apartments where he is storing his archive. He has an untrained office boy to help but no financial or institutional support. Jeet is instrumental in saving Kolkata’s visual heritage. And he is definitely interested in our project. He is putting us in touch with other potential collaborators. We meet as a group this weekend.
That evening, Jael took us to a dance performance by one of the leading choreographers and dancers in India. Sharmila Biswas is a proponent of Odissi dance, an ancient classical dance from Eastern India. The sounds of two singers, harmonium, violin, bansuri, mridagam and various other percussive things filled the beautifully designed, modern hall, part of the Rabindranath Tagore Center. After the concert, we met Sayan Mukhopadhyay a passionate young man who specializes in sanskrit classical music. Turns out, he sings with a friend of Max’s who lives in New York but frequently performs in India. And it’s that friend (Aaron Hanson) who helped us find our apartment in Kolkata. Maybe it’s being in the arts, maybe the world really is shrinking, maybe we are all the same person, replicated in so many different ways that we simply fail to recognize one another.
The concert was riveting, the dancers moving in unison, storytelling at its best. From the program notes, which along with the performance, was in English (despite the fact that there were only a handful of Westerners in the sold-out audience): “[This is] the music of life, fulfilling an essential need of human existence. It arouses, nurtures and soothes. A dance presentation involves the epitome of the aesthetics, art and culture of the society. It is a connection to history and to the national sentiment.”
Photography wasn’t permitted, and while I rarely let that stop me, respect for the magical environment I find myself in had me keep my camera in its bag. Afterwards, I was able to meet and thank Sharmila Biswas.
Art is far more than entertainment. But we knew that.