When paintings came to life… A visit to Constable Country

Every place that I have travelled to has been memorable for different reasons. Some of the places have had a mythological significance attached to them, others have had historical reasons and still others have been memorable for literary reasons. Each of these visits have been memorable as they saw my imagination of the written word I had read or the oral narratives heard about these places come alive. Then there have been places that have made an impact on me visually through photographs, paintings and movies. And again, seeing them come to life when I visited some of the places has been memorable. But none have been as memorable as a visit to Constable Country, the place that inspired one of the greatest painters of English landscapes—John Constable.

John Constable (1776-1837) was born in East Bergholt in the Suffolk region of England. He was brought up in the countryside and his deep love for the local landscape led him to record its beauty, its light, its atmosphere, its colours and its textures in his paintings. Though Constable’s genius is acknowledged throughout the world today, in his own lifetime he struggled for recognition as landscape painting was considered unfashionable. He was more acclaimed in France and sold more paintings there than in England, whose rural landscape he loved so much. Indeed, he had this to say to a friend:

I should paint my own places best, painting is but another word for feeling.

He received recognition in England only about 8 years before his death and the countryside that he made so famous through his paintings came to be known as Constable Country.  Every stile, every tree, the fields, the river Stour, the watermills, the cornfields… found an expression in his paintings.

The Hay Wain (1821) by John Constable

I saw a John Constable painting for the first time on the cover of a book on the life and times of the artist. The painting was a detail from The Hay Wain (see picture on the left), which is considered to be Constable’s masterpiece. What attracted me to painting was the detail and the different textures visible in spite of the scaled down size of the painting in the book. I bought the book, read it from cover to cover, feasted on the paintings and added Constable Country to the list of places I wanted to visit. This was in 1994 and I had to wait for 15 years for that wish to realise.

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That trip to Greece !

The Guest Post Series on “My Favourite Things” has contributions by those sharing my interests in travel, books, music, and on issues that I am passionate about. These posts are not always by fellow bloggers, and the guest authors are always those who have interesting experiences to share.

Today’s guest post is by Aditi, who writes about a trip she made to Greece last summer. At that time, she was on a year-long stay in Belgium as a Rotary exchange student from India, and the Greece trip was one of the many organised by the Rotary Club for exchange students in Belgium. These days, Aditi is eagerly waiting to turn 18 and travel to see the Taj Mahal. These days she also prefers not to think about her 12th Std. results which will be declared in a month or so.

Flashback to April 2011. Tenth of April 2011 to be precise.

My bags were packed, my passport and Identity Card were safely put away in my purse. I hadn’t slept the previous night, and yet wasn’t the least bit tired as I was so excited. I was waiting in the living room, impatiently shaking my legs for my host mother to get ready. Why? Because she was going to drive me to Trois-Ponts railway station from where I would take the train to Liège station. And why was I going to Leige station? Because that’s where I was meeting all the Rotary exchange students. Why? Because we were all going on a trip to GREECE !

Did you think that we flew to Greece from Belgium? Actually, we didn’t. We took a bus. Yes, a double-decker bus and then a ship. The road part sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? And actually it was to begin with. But in hindsight it was worth it because all the Rotary exchange students got to bond with one other. And by the end of the trip, we had become the best of friends with each other. I was always happy to be with the other exchange students as I saw myself in all of them. I never thought of myself as just “Indian”. I was Indian, American, Canadian, Australian, Mexican, Venezuelan, Taiwanese, Japanese—all at the same time. And of course, Belgian. Even today, I have a bit of all these countries in me.

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Mumbai Lens: The changing skyline of Parel

A couple of months back, I had this twitter conversation with a friend, who had just returned to Mumbai after 3 years abroad.

@mumbailocal Gosh. All these skyscrapers! The Mumbai skyline will soon look like a mad New York.

@sudhagee Welcome back, @mumbailocal ;-)

@mumbailocal A wee bit shocked by the randomness of it all. Huge, tall buildings sprouting from the usual landscape of shanties. That. @sudhagee

I wouldn’t have thought much about this exchange if I had not seen this view the previous day.

Highrises touching the sky. View (towards Dadar) from Lalbagh Flyover

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The forest of stories: A review

The background

It can be safely stated and assumed with confidence that no other story captures the imagination of Indians across caste, class, region, religion and borders like the Mahabharata. The sheer range of books, films, television serials, critiques, essays, poems, theatre adaptations, folk dances and performances based on this epic are a mind-boggling testimony to this. Each version brings with it the claim that it is a fresh re-telling or re-interpretation of the Mahabharata, a claim that is true to a certain extent. Each author/poet/director/singer/dancer brings a perspective to the story that is uniquely his/her own in their narration. And yet, each re-telling retains the essence of the story that is the Mahabharata.

Ashok Banker, the latest writer to come out a re-telling of the Mahabharata, is very clear that his version is not a “religious polemic”, or a “historical document” or “itihasa”. It is just a great story told in his voice, a story that he wanted to narrate all his life.

This is simply the Mahabharata of Krishna Dweipayana Vyasa retold by one man.

That man is me, of course. (p.xix)

The book review

The Forest of Stories (Westland, 2012, pp. 352 + xxii, Rs.295/-) is the first of 18 books in the Mahabharata series of Ashok Banker, who prefers to call it the MBA series ! The book is divided into 9 sections or pakshas, and each paksha is further sub-divided. In addition, there is an introduction to the series/book as well as acknowledgements and some information on the forthcoming two books in the series.

The book begins with the arrival of Ugrasrava Lomarsana (also known as Sauti) at Naimisha-sharanya, a school of learning and meditation for young brahmins, which is located deep within the bowels of the hostile and dense forest, Naimisha-van. Sauti is a renowned kusalavya or wandering bard whose renditions of poems and stories and epics have made him famous all over the land. His arrival sends the ashram residents, students and teachers alike, into a tizzy of hope: that they will be fortunate to hear Sauti narrate the epic poem Jaya.

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Celebrating diversity, understanding disability

Lior Liebling

So you have your Bar Mitzvah coming up, Lior?”

“Yeah.”

So what happens with the Bar Mitzvah?”

“With the Bar Mitzvah, I’ll grow up.”

“So, what will you do then? Drive a car?”

“No, drink beer.”

In the darkened screening room, the audience chuckles as the 12-year-old Lior Liebling delivers the last line with a naughty smile and a twinkle in his eye. Lior, which means “my light” in Hebrew, is the protagonist of an award-winning film by Illana Trachman, Praying with Lior. This documentary film is about Lior, a special child, a child with Down’s Syndrome, and a child who loves davening (traditional Jewish prayer) and singing, and who every one thinks has a special relationship with God. His faith and belief in Hashem (Hebrew for God) is simple: when asked if God has a smell, a taste or a form, Lior says, “No, no, no. God is God.”

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A Sunday morning walk in Mumbai

“Lets go for a walk. You can see a different side of Mumbai that way,” I said to a friend who was visiting Mumbai from Delhi on work and wanted to experience the city in a zara hatke way.

“A walk? In Mumbai?,” she asked incredulously.

“Of course,” I replied.

She laughed herself silly over my suggestion and then asked, “But where is the space to walk in this city? And what about the weather, the crowds, the traffic, the pollution, etc.?”

“The weather is not too bad in Mumbai now. Besides, if we go for a walk on a Sunday, the crowds, the traffic and the pollution will be manageable,” I responded.

“Er… what is there to see in Mumbai, apart from the not-so-clean beaches, the Marine Drive, the Siddhi Vinayak Temple, the Haji Ali Dargah, and houses of film stars?” she asked a little too politely.

Since this was the first time that my friend was visiting Mumbai, and was only repeating what she had heard from others, I guess she could be forgiven. But still, it was a matter of pride for me to present my city to a visitor in a way that only an insider can. “You and I are going for a walk this Sunday. No ifs and buts or whats and wheres. No arguments. Meet me outside Platform 1 at CST station at 8.00 am. And try not to be late, will you?”

The front façade of the UNESCO World Heritage site and Central Railway Headquarters, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus

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