Local artist Shastri Maharaj has been painting for over 30 years. In 2011 he received an orientation grant from the Indian Government which enabled him to experience the life, culture and history of India first hand. The following is an account of his experiences and perceptions based upon his travels through parts of India over the three month period , October 20, 2011 to January 19, 2012. Part one of this article appeared in the Sunday Express (Sunday Mix, pages 1 and 3) on May 27.
So far, India is way too huge for me to ever imagine, understand and confront. Coming to India was supposed to be a spiritual journey. No where have I experienced religion and spirituality in my encounters with the people. It is the intangibility of the people that has found me in this dilemma. Trinidad's Hindu is not to be found in India. No one greets you with clasped hands, Namastay, Sita Ram or Namaskar. It is a handshake and hello in English. The Indian, by and large, is beyond such formality, that, I think, he understands is his birthright and there is no need to publicise and enact such a custom. India to him resides in a brave new world of the twentieth century, globalisation and the westernisation of the land which can only bring greater prosperity, contemporary lifestyle and on-going emerging technological advancements.
The Indians that I have met are all kind, polite, helpful, simple and down-to earth. The land of my ancestors does not in the least generate any negative connotations concerning my identity. Their acceptance of me is the fact that I look Indian. All that I have seen so far from Delhi in the north to Hyderabad in the south is a thread that unites the fabric that is all India in the way they shake their head. Their tolerance and acceptance for the Indian life style is their way of life, an Indian way of life...a Hindu way of life. No wonder you hear them say...this is India...it only happens here. This simple philosophy has been the religion and the spirituality that I came searching for in India. It has found me and I have had to come to India to discover this well kept secret.
It has been three months of walking among Indians. They come in all shapes, sizes and colours ranging from black to extremely fair. South Indians tend to have a dark complexion and some can easily be mistaken for Dougla or having a tinge of African blood. It is not unusual to see many people walking around with a bright red tika on their forehead. All the places, either homes or offices I visited had some form of an altar with pictures of their preferred deity .
Strange, as it may seem, this secret cannot be experienced outside of India. No wonder, visitors to India from Trinidad have provided differing views on their return to Trinidad on matters relating to religion and spirituality.
It is in Trinidad that the Namaskars, Sita Ram and Namastay are daily occurrences amongst Hindus. Bhajans, classical Indian things, satsangs, pujas, yagnas, and Hindi speaking young pundits provide a comforting feeling that Hinduism is here to stay for a very long time. On the other hand, I think I threw that concept out with the bath water some time now.
India, the new India, a developed country and not what most will call a developing country has shown definite signs of positive fiscal stability in terms of its modernised infrastructure, contemporary life style, technology, over flowing commerce and all that commercial activity that keeps multiplying on the streets. There is much money to be made in all sectors and there is evidence that such is happening among the people at all levels of the society. It is obvious that the demand for goods is by far outstripped by the supply.
India has a very high population density. Flying cross country one cannot but notice the massive, tightly packed never ending cities in all directions. All businesses appear to prosper from the road side vending to the car manufacturer to real estate.
India seems to remain outside of the loop of the recession. Firstly, the nationalisation of the commercial banks and an abundant gold reserve have both assisted in an equilibrium of the economic climate. As one Indian puts it "there is white recession and black recession..." White is for the very rich who requires foreign investments. Black allows the money to circulate within the country. As in all countries, the brunt of any economic belt tightening is felt by the middle class.
India is now faced with the mass exodus of migrant workers looking for work in the big cities. Rural life has had to compete with the price of progress and changing technologies. Traditional skilled craftsmen, metal smiths ,farmers in the downstream industries in Agriculture have all had to find alternate forms of employment. Rural life is now being compromised. The young are migrating and there is no one to promote and perpetuate the various forms of tradition.
Agriculture, the main stay of most of rural India is constantly embroiled in bitter economic policy and measures at the macro level. Many a farmer has been known to commit suicide because of the unscrupulous business practices implemented by hard ball politicians in league with the business sector.
Hopefully, in time, rural India may experience a greater injection of better roads, hospitals, schools, community centres and most important, incentives and subsidies for the revitalisation of the traditional arts and crafts, the traditional way of life and its on-going culture through its rich heritage of song, music and dance.
India is clearly a first world country. It is too big for me to grasp coming from a conditioned perspective that can only function in a dependent 1.3 million population in less than 2000 square miles. Not even my travels to Europe and North America have in the least prepared me for the enigma that is India.
Weather conditions vary tremendously from the North to the South. Delhi was my last stop. It has been cold in this January
month. The temperature ranged from five degree to twenty degrees. There was much snow fall, fog and low temperatures further north of Delhi. The power was down and many people were stranded in their homes. Unlike, Canada, there is no wind chill factor and the winter is very short in Delhi.
The option to go further north was shelved due to the prevailing weather conditions. Long train delays, blocked roads and heavy fog were definitely deterrents that prevented me from chancing it out of Delhi.
The majority of homes do not have a central heating system. A portable electric heater can provide some comfort in a room. It was not uncommon to see the locals clothed in shawls, blankets, sheets, wraps, scarves, sweaters, gloves and toukes. The priority was to keep warm at all cost. Little attention, if any at all were given to colour coordination and fashion trends.
Layers of clothing were necessary for the rickshaw journey by to the nearest metro stop from Vasant Vihar. There was sweat pants, trousers, two jerseys, one sweater, head wear, a leather jacket and a scarf to wrap around my face and neck to brace the cold wind to be experienced in the door less three wheeler. The rickshaw driver was well insulated in a thick heavy blanket wrap and scarf.
The three bedroom apartment was literally an ice box. The tiled floors were cold and so too, all the rooms. It is really a science to have a hot water shower in a cold room. Fogged mirror, wet and very icy cold tiled flooring and an over pervading chill in the air do require some skill in tiptoeing, towelling, shaving, putting on underwear, socks and the rest of clothing . Everything from planning to take the shower to dressing has to be well orchestrated, mentally and physically to reduce the impact of the cold....Did I forget to mention the cold toilet seat! One had to be fully clothed at all times in the apartment. It was necessary to wear a scarf and a blanket around the shoulders. Two or three layers of blankets were necessary for a warm night's sleep.
The bigger picture really, was the impact of the cold on the homeless and all those poor people squatting in make shift tenements all over Delhi. Their only protection being to huddle together around a bon fire during the day and the night. The unkempt children on the other hand appear to cope well in the cold, playing and laughing dressed in soiled looking clothing. As with most winter days, the morning and the sun start late, evening time comes quickly and the temperature drops late into the night.
This however, is definitely a first, to live in cold conditions without central heating. India has now provided an experience that I thought was unique to Europe and North America. There, camping out, going fishing, staying at the cottage at the lake or just spending time outdoors, walking sitting, looking at a hockey match in the winter all would require a similar dress code, including mittens and insulated winter boots. There is central heating and taking a shower is not all that uncomfortable. There is no need to wear an excessive amount of clothing indoors.
Preparations for coming to India revealed that October to February would be the preferred time of the year. However, it would seem that my sources were inaccurate. Delhi is way too cold in January and therefore makes travelling on one's own more awkward. Other than that, the weather has just been great throughout India. It was a rainless three months in India.