Wednesday, November 12, 2014


As often happens to Westerners in India, I have been ill. The heat, dust, noise and chaos of Varanasi have taken their toll.

Kriti Artist Residency is an cool, clean and quiet oasis where artists are well cared for by Petra Manefeld and Navneet Raman, owners and directors. Their extended net of friends and acquaintances is truly impressive.

Petra took several of us on an early morning walk in the narrow streets of old Varanasi, where shop keepers were preparing for their day.

 After walking for sometime and ending up on the ghats, we decided to take a boat back to Assi Ghat, passing the main burning ghat, Manikarnika, where hundreds of devout Hindus are cremated each day, breaking the cycle of rebirth.

I have enrolled in an amazing Indian Miniature Painting Workshop with the master painter, Raja Ram Sharma, who as luck would have it, is scheduled for an exhibition of his contemporary miniature paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago next year. His demeanor is quiet and unassuming, and it is truly humbling to learn from this man who spent over 22 years of his life training and refining his painting. Student after student, including me, handed him their bumbled efforts and with a few, efficient, deft strokes, he transforms the painting into something clear and viable.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Bangalore, Mysore

Bhagya and I wandered around the streets of Chik Pet, the old market in Bangalore, first to buy art supplies, then to explore the small sari weaving shops. In one tiny shop, lit by a single florescent light over the loom, a couple sat working in tandem on opposite sides of a single loom. They invited us in, gave us plastic chairs to sit on and served us tea and cookies. Bhagya translated from Kannada and as their hands flew nimbly at their work, we learned that their work was to prepare the silk structure for the weavers. The man told us that he quit school at age 12 to take up his trade and that he had been at it 45 years. None of their three grown children have taken up the trade, so the skill will die with them. We shopped at Bhaskar Art Center, a small, crowded shop also run by a husband wife team who know exactly where everything is. As a customer, you sit at the small counter and request to brushes, etc, before making a purchase. We left Bangalore at 4:30 am to drive to Mysore in time for Agnika's Classical Indian dance rehearsal for that night's performance. There were numerous people to thank and acknowledge, a long process that involves speeches and gift giving that interspersed the many guest performers and the crowds of children studying with master dancer Shridhar Jain. Agnika's performance was impressive; she's been studying and performing for at least six years.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


And cold it stayed for the remaining three weeks of my stay in India in January, cold enough in the north to cause deaths of some of those living in the streets in Delhi, and cold enough probably contribute to the nasty cough I developed after a few days in dusty Varanasi. It was a strange time, following the kidnapping of the young Delhi couple, the rape of the woman and her subsequent death. There were many protests and demonstrations. My Indian friends were saddened and shamed by the events and the grim frequency of rape that occurs, unreported. The trial was underway while I was in Dehli.

Varanasi. How do I do justice to that complicated ancient city, India's spiritual capital, rebuilt in the 1700’s on the same stone foundations raised by the 1200 Mohammed Ghauri invasion? People come to Varanasi as pilgrims, but more importantly to die and be cremated on the ghats by the Ganges, cleansing their karma of past sins. The sight of shrouded corpses laden with marigolds, carried by white clad, shaved headed mourners chanting songs was frequent, as was beggars, and men folded up into neat, lean shapes, sculpted by decades of shop keeping in impossibly narrow spaces. 

Making Pan
I stayed for two weeks at Kriti, an artist residency and exhibition space in Varanasi. My fellow residency mates, from Switzerland, Germany and The Netherlands, and I bonded easily, after hours spent in Sarnath, where the Bhudda gave his first sermon. Pressed together with hundreds of monks in many hues of orange, crimson, saffron and maroon, as well as many other foreigners needing to register to see the Dalai Llama. Difficult for me and many of the westerners was what appeared to be total lack of organization and the inefficiency of handwriting each person’s documentation information in a vast registration book. Miraculously, I did receive my little card but when the time came and my friends departed to hear him speak, I felt too sick to go. The other event I regretfully missed was the Khumbh Mela, a three hour drive away, where millions (this year 80 million) gathered peacefully in a once every twelve year Hindu Holy Bath in the Ganges ritual of devotion.

Morning on the Ganga

One of many bike shops

Blank Bound Book Stall

Kite Flyers

While at Kriti, I spent time beginning to absorb the city. (It was quickly apparent that I hadn’t given myself enough time, although it was what I could fit between teaching semesters). I marveled at how different the people, their clothing, language and way of being differed from the South. Riding bike rikshaws was a fun challenge. The high seat behind the bicycle pitches forward slightly. The cabbie encourages propping ones weight against a narrow metal bracket in the center of the footrest. Otherwise you grip the outer edges of the seat and when the cart lurches and clatters over potholes and brick pavers, you pray your butt returns safely to the seat.