One of the nice things about rummaging through old photos are the memories they evoke. Six months ago, (to the day!) we met with old friends in Westphalia and drove out of town for dinner. The sun was setting on the rolling countryside in this part of Germany. The Valorous pulled up to the verge and we got out to look at the wonderful green fields. My oldest memories of Germany are of this green and gold.
But my overall impression of Germany is of an expanse of small houses, neat gardens at the back, a car or two in each garage. Petit bourgeoisie should have been a German phrase. But these natives are friendly, if occasionally a little lost about the best way to deal with foreigners. Although they live in streets which have quaint names like Kaiserstrasse and Wilhelmsgasse, they are perfectly aware that garlic can be used in food. I love going back to places like this, although it looks a little grey.
Walking through Jodhpur, I saw this striking doorway with two goats tied up outside it. The door brought to my mind the story that V. S. Naipaul reports about his father, Seepersad. The father was the first journalist of Indian origin who worked for the Trinidad Guardian. As a confirmed rationalist, in one of his articles he questioned his compatriots’ belief in animal sacrifice. This incensed members of his community who forced him to sacrifice a goat. According to Vidia Naipaul, his father did not recover from this humiliation.
What form did my father’s madness take?
He looked in the mirror one day and he couldn’t see himself.
–Conversation between V. S. Naipaul and his mother
(in Finding the Center)
I’m sure that a clever writer like Naipaul meant something more with this reported conversation than just what one reads. I’m pretty certain that Naipaul the son presents this conversation as a metaphor for Seepersad’s inability to comprehend those in his island who believed in animal sacrifice. I wondered as I took this photo what I did not see here. How strange to find a resonance with Naipaul’s Trinidad in this distant town!
Walking around Shaniwar Wada in Pune, I was impressed by this juicer. I’ve earlier seen this kind of a machine being used to extract juice from sugar cane. Here it has been put to use to extract juice from pineapples too. The man in the checked shirt got a large mug of pineapple juice. I guess a press of this kind can be used to extract juice from any hard fruit.
I liked the sight of that charm hanging over the machine: the lime and chilis on a string. The shopkeeper also has made the effort to put a garland of flowers around the press. That’s nice. The bells tied around the big wheel make a nice jingling sound while the press is running.
The area around Pune produces sugarcane as a primary crop. So I guess machines of this kind are fairly common. Then it stands to reason that the same machine will be put to other uses as well. Innovation!
Shaniwar Wada in Pune was the seat of the Peshwas in the declining years of the Maratha empire. The palace complex was built in the first third of the 18th century CE, and burnt down in 1828. A Peshwa was originally the prime minister of the Maratha king, but during these years became effectively the head of the empire, and the position became hereditary. Although the empire was not as strong as it was in the beginning of the 18th century, a large part of India’s politics was transacted in this complex. This former place of power is now effectively a walled garden for Puneris.
As we entered the main gate of the palace, I saw this middle aged man relaxing near the entrance. I wondered whether he was retired and found this a good place to get away from home and do some people watching, or whether he’d had a tiring day at work, and was just sitting here for a while before making his way home. It didn’t look like he was planning to stay here long.
From the ramparts I looked down at the front apron. Families were milling about, each trying to take a photo against the walls of the palace. As I watched, this girl positioned her family behind her and took a selfie. It took a couple of tries, but the one she’s examining in the photo above seemed to satisfy them all.
I positioned myself in front of this arch because the doorway and the stairs behind it made a nice picture. The photo would come to life when someone came down the stairs. I was lucky, the first people to descend were this young couple. I saw many couples like them in the complex. The seat of the Peshwas has now become a garden for couples to spend time in.
This lady was clearly determined to have a little time by herself. She was in a rather nice sari, sitting alone on the bench (it was very pleasant in the shade). She was quite relaxed while watching people around her. But she noticed me taking her photo and stiffened.
In 1818 the Maratha empire lost their final battle against the British forces in Khadki and Koregaon, not far from this palace. Just a short hundred years later, three or four generations, almost in living memory, the court of the Peshwas has become the playing ground of commoners. What could happen in another hundred?
After watching a little club cricket in India’s cricketing nursery of Oval Maidan, I crossed the road to take photos of the wonderful wrought iron railings that I’d noticed for years. Next to an elegant design in right angles set off by one wavy line, I spotted this young man lost in his phone. The right angles of his posture mirrored the railing. He didn’t notice me standing near him and taking photos. A passerby stopped to exchange a smile with me.
On the best of days, the rest of Maharashtra thinks of the residents of Pune as thrifty. Stories abound of how a Puneri will buy a litre packet of milk, empty the packet, wash it, and sell it to the neighbourhood junk dealer. Walking around Shaniwar Wada, the seat of power in India until exactly two centuries ago, I came across this Puneri institution. The red sign board proclaimed that this establishment deals in junk of all kinds. The black chalk board set rates for old newspapers, and, yes, empty milk packets!
As I walked by, the owner came out to lean on the door. Puneris are supposed to be notoriously unfriendly, especially to people from Mumbai. So I didn’t ask for permission, but clicked away. He looked up, saw me, and walked back in. I could imagine him muttering to himself, “Tourist!”. So typically Puneri.
I’m suffering from a cough and cold even as the temperature climbs into the mid thirties (Celsius, in case you are confused). The humidity has already started creeping up, reminding me of how bad May will get. Right in front of the window I see a mango tree beginning to fruit. If these fruits stay on the branch, they would ripen by the middle of May. Mangos are the compensation for the discomfort of summer. But it is very likely that these mangos will have become panha well before they ripen.
This is also the season when you get the most colourful moths. Walking to the lift the other day I noticed many of these two kinds of moths sitting on the wall, basking in the morning sun. They are about two centimeter long, and extremely visible in the light. The fact that crows and other birds do not make a quick snack of them probably means that they are either poisonous or not very tasty.
It has become warm enough to remind me of the medieval English song: “Sumer is icumen in/ Lhude sing cuccu.” A Koel is a cuckoo, isn’t it? I did hear a Koel the other day, but I think that was a ring tone on someone’s phone and not the bird. It’s nor really summer yet.
Walking through the wonderful exhibition called India and the World at the museum in Mumbai, I noticed something that everyone knows. The oldest artifacts of humans are stone axes and blades. Then, almost as soon as agriculture is invented, we begin to find almost everything that we use in our daily lives today. What a massive change in lifestyle that was!
Grey limestone, Lagash, Iraq (2450 BCE)
Wood, shell, limestone, lapis lazuli, and bitumen, box from Ur, Iraq (2600-2400 BCE)
Jade pendant from Oaxaca, Mexico (1400-400 BCE)
Calcite tablet from Egypt (2686-2134 BCE)
Terracotta pot from Balochistan, Pakistan (3500-2800 BCE)
Agate bull with gold horns, Haryana India (circa 1800-1400 BCE)
When the waters of the oceans were locked up as ice, the lowered sea level created land-bridges across the planet. It is incredible that our most ancient ancestors walked across them, and settled into almost every one of the continents. As the glaciers retreated, humans found themselves in a slowly warming and wet world. In a geological eye-blink, a span of just over a thousand years, agriculture was invented independently many times over. And with agriculture, came the first cities.
The oldest “modern” object I saw in the exhibition was the piece of decorated pottery from Balochistan, almost 5000 years old. The box from Ur celebrated their life; the face that you can see in the photo here shows agriculture and animal herding. The calcite tablet from Egypt, about the size and shape of an iphone, and the limestone tablet from Lagash show the first writing. And you can see the exquisite jewelery of Oaxaca and the Indus valley in the remaining photos. Bowls and boxes, jewelery and writing; truly we live in the shadows of these early civilizations.
A special exhibition at the Mumbai Museum had been talked about for months. Everyone who had gone to see it was raving about it. The Family and I finally found the time to visit it on the last day of the show called India and the world. The exhibits unfolded a story of parallel developments and trade throughout the known world over the last four thousand years. We spent two hours walking through the galleries with our audio guides. At the end The Family said “We should have come earlier.” Indeed, now looking back at the few photos I took, I wish I had the time to go back and examine the works again at leisure.
By many modern accounts, today’s world sprang from the great churn brought about by the Mongol breakout of the 13th century CE. The resulting violent mixing of the Islamic and Chinese civilizations with Europe and India created the dynamics which is still playing out. This is what I think of as the second wave of globalization.
Benin bronze panel (Brass and bronze, circa 1745, Nigeria)
Dish found in Purana Qila, Delhi (Porcelain, circa 1350, Jingdezhen, China)
“Sadrazam (The Grand Vazir)” in the album “Habits of the Grand Signor’s Court” (Ink and watercolour on paper, circa 1620, Turkey)
“Queen Victoria” by Yoruba artist (wood, late 19th century, Nigeria)
“Discobolus in Zhongshan suit” by Jianguo Sui (2012, painted bronze, China)
“Throne of guns” by Cristovao Canhavato (recycled weapons, 2001, Mozambique)
“Balwant Singh hunting” by Nainsukh (Ink and watercolour, circa 1750, Himachal Pradesh, India)
The gallery which you can see above contains a few pieces which resulted from this churn. The traditional Yoruba style carving of the queen Victoria is a wonderful example of this. The Chinese porcelains found in Delhi are proof of old, and underappreciated, trade links. The throne and discobolus are part of an ongoing conversation about global influences.
After a long morning spent watching wild life in the rain forests of Kerala, we came back to the village where we were staying. It was a little late, and the market had closed. The roads were deserted. It was clearly time for a siesta. I noticed for the first time that the shops lacked doors. That’s not a problem clearly; it is easy to indicate when a shop is shut.