One week later, I am on my way back to HCG, Health Care Global, my hosts’ central oncology hospital in Bangalore (one of 22 in India), this time to paint portraits and a wallpaper installation at Swasti, Bhagya Ajaikumar’s gallery in the hospital lobby where works are sold to raise money for HCG Foundation that provides support for patients in need. My wallpaper patterns are based on portraits of oncology patients. Responding to both their stories and their clothing. I am using pigments procured at the Mysore market mixed with gum arabic, a traditional Indian painting method.
On the day of New Year’s Eve, we drove to the Chamudi Hills, to run up the hill to the Temple with a giant bull statue. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to run as long as I did. Ajai, a practiced runner, pulled ahead while Bhagya and her friend Shan Re, engrossed in conversation, dropped back, so that when I reached the summit, crowded with buses of Indian worshippers, I made the error of turning back down the way we came, where I believed Ajai had gone before me. But I didn’t meet any of my companions on the long descent, nor were they waiting for me at the car. Fearing my hosts were in a panic looking for me, I started back up the hill. About an hour had passed by this time, and my relief was considerable when I recognized Ajai’s brother Amar, who is training for a marathon, having left the house hours before us came running towards me. Happily he had both a cell phone and a car to take me back to the house.
Later, nine of us piled into the car to go to the market, where I was swept up in the crowds of vendors and shoppers. Stacks of bananas, apples, mangoes, and many other fruits I did not recognize, piles of flower garlands, spices, pigments for ritual and decoration, everywhere a profusion of abundance and diversity, ingeniously displayed in tiny stalls. I love moving through the dark, rich spaces with Franck, who is completely at home in Indian culture. An enthusiast by nature, he is an epicurean guide, bringing my attention over and over to some delight I may have missed. And young men with trinkets hovered, trying to guess where Franck, a Frenchman, and I were from. Perhaps our identity was less obvious since we were with our Indian hosts and their friends.
The women spent a long time in a jewelry stall, looking at hundreds of bangles to wear for the New Year’s Eve party that night. Continually, I have to remind myself to make the conversion to dollars to remember how little everything costs. Then, in several scarf shops, we created hills of scarves, fingering silk, wool, and pashmina, each one shimmering and beckoning in its own way. As Anjali remarked, even though one store may have literally hundreds of variations, of nightgowns, for example, no other shop would sell exactly the same merchandise. I return to the house with two silk scarves, six bracelets, and bags of pigments for my wallpaper project.
Bullocks, cows, water buffalo, horses and dogs, some tied up, some wander freely beside a busy and dangerous highway, where commuters on foot dressed in saris, dhotis, and more western wear mingle with bicycles, motorcycles, carts, the tiny open air auto rickshaw, trucks, buses of all degrees of quality, most painted in brightly colored patterns and devotional images. The drivers continually honk and flash their lights at one another, playing a game of chicken as they vie for right of way and speed on roads that display skull and crossbones as warning signs.
Everywhere there is new construction, some of it seems to have been started and abandoned half way through. Amazingly, even some of the higher end structures are shored up with bamboo scaffolding, lashed together with some kind of twine.
I have seen very few westerns since my arrival. Maybe four.
The ability to beautifully and efficiently stack anything, whether straw, coconuts, fruits or tires, often in balance defying combinations, whether carried on someone’s head, or in a cart or spread on a brightly colored cloth on the ground beside the road, is delightful to behold.