I have lived in India three times in my life and love to be there.
I have no legal or kinship or any other obligations there and come and go as I please. This always helps in the hierarchy of places in which to feel as free as a bird.
The vastness of the subcontinent. The variety of its flora and fauna.
Great Indian Fruit Bat (Pteropus Giganteus), 1777-1782, pencil, ink and opaque watercolour on paper, and details.
Attributed to a follower of Bhawani Das. Calcutta, India. Metropolitan Museum, NY.
Classified by the Indian Government as vermin, it is held sacred by some Indian populations.
A flying mammal, its nutrition is ripe and overripe fruit and nectar. It is meat and medicine for some populations.
It is polygynandrous; and continually threatened for its survival by the removal of its habitat.
The immense sun of India. Its immense rivers and rains, deserts. Mountain ranges of the rarest heights.
Fields at sunset near Porbandar, Gujerat. 2010
The antiquity of her human history.
The sophistication and embrace of her religions and spiritual practices.
The Temple of the Sun, Modhera in northern Gujerat. Built in 1026 ACE and extensively carved, the temple was designed to alight on the Sun god, Surya, long since plundered.
Her material cultures and her vivifying colours.
Bird Houses of carved and painted wood in Ahmedabad, Gujerat
Earring with royal emblems of elephants and tigers, gold, Ist century BC; Andra Pradesh. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Her foods: aromatic, sweet, savory; fragrances subtle or pungent.
Spices for making sweets in a market, Ahmedabad, Gujerat, 2010
Spices (and tea) long since exported via the Arabian littoral to the east coast of Africa and up into the Ethiopian highlands of my people.
Her symmetric gardens.
A garden within the walls of the Amer Fort, Jaipur. 2010
The pride of her peoples in the future of India.
The courtesy with which I was everywhere treated despite warnings that this would not be so and why go?
At the temple of Shiva at Somnath in Gujerat, people went out of their way to welcome me: foreigners do not come here much, I was told, welcome!
A representation of Lord Shiva at the gate of his temple, Somnath, Gujerat, 2010
This was true in the Jain holy city of Palitana, also in Gujerat.
One of hundreds of temples in the Jain holy city, Palitana, Gujerat, 2010
Jain worshippers, Palitana, Gujerat, 2010
As though the pleasure and the immense interest of my visits were theirs and not wholly mine.
I love to be in India.
Bound to her from infancy
and by an adult life spent in part in a Great Britain which India has long since culturally reverse-colonized.
India with its many contradictions and challenges and anachronisms
is, nevertheless a profoundly-found heartland to me: one of several of my multi-chambered heart:
and revelation and warmth all the way to the marrow of my bones.
I have been most affected, however, by none of this.
But by a visit I had one day with a man in a spectacular place:
A man from Kashmir outside Jaipur, 2010
old stables outside Jaipur. One of its buildings had been converted into a shop selling embellished textiles to my heart’s delight.
Garden, stables outside Jaipur, 2010
He invited me to stay awhile and drink some tea.
Are you a native of Rajasthan? I asked.
Guess, he said, where I am from.
Kashmir, I thought. Kashmir.
From below my conscious radar, pulsing there for who knows how many years.
To the tip of my tongue in a nanosecond.
But how, I thought, would I explain to him that I, a foreigner, could guess this?
“I don’t know”, I said. “Tell me, please.”
“Kashmir,” he said.
Srinagar, Kashmir, 1946, gelatin silver print.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, French, 1908-2004. On display at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia in the autumn of 2016
Women expressing joy at the beauty of the Kashmir Valley which rests entirely inside Indian territory.
Followed the history of Kashmir since August 1947.
The violence. The deaths. Invasions. The continuous state of siege and excuse to war. The betrayals. Fear. Fear.
The destruction of whole kin groups. Generations disrupted into an agony of sorrow.
The unfathomable dissipation of a culture. Gardens tended for centuries gone to wrack and ruin.
No end in sight. No end in sight.
And this in a spectacular landscape of still lakes protected by mountains of rare height.
Those of this man’s family who were not killed have fled. To other parts of India. And mainly to the Gulf States.
He said that he would not return. He has no family in Kashmir to whom to return.
A man from Kashmir outside Jaipur, 2010
This man lives in a sea of sadness.
The sadness which flushed out the word ‘Kashmir’ into my consciousness when he asked me to guess his origins.
It has been more than 70 years of this human loss.
Despite his two cell phones, he does not live in our contemporary time where everything is broken up into bite-size pieces until the next text message or addiction of ‘breaking’ news.
He lives in a few weeks, become a paralyzing eternity, in which his world was permanently broken for him and his family and for millions of others: August 1947.
On August 5, 2019, the Indian Government revoked unilaterally the autonomy of Kashmir (Jammu and Kashmir) by changing the constitution of India.
An autonomy which institutionalized the unique circumstances by which Kashmir, a majority Muslim state, became part of India in 1947. Later partitioned with Pakistan.
This revocation has flooded Kashmir with a large number of soldiers; imprisoned their chief politicians; and cut off all communications.
Nothing about India has displaced from my mind the memory of this man’s sorrow.
Not any heartening or disheartening thing I know of India; nor any of the experiences nor people which have bound me to the subcontinent since I was a babe in arms.
Not even my gratefulness for the experience of a world, unlike my own,
outside the writ of the one, jealous and difficult God under whose idea of everlasting heaven and threat of hell I was born and was raised and with whose legacy I continue to struggle.
My host’s sorrow was palpable.
It filled up the long room in which we were sitting and in which everything disappeared except this sorrow. Like clouds rising from the floor.
exile, civil war, the loss of whole generations
women brutalized as a tool of war
children traumatized for all their lives
the gratuitous destruction of homes and peoples and institutions
the suborning of the religious systems which sustain populations.
The state emblem of India on the iron gates at the approach to the seat of Government, New Delhi, 2010