Some of my best moments have been spent in museums. I can spend days absorbing, engaging, immersing myself and expanding my mind. New York is a city of museums and it’s a sacrilege to visit the city without sampling what’s on offer at one of the museums. This past week I enjoyed a block party on museum mile, an area on 5th avenue between 82nd and 105th street. The museum mile festival started in the 1970’s with museums in the region, throwing open their doors to the public in order to get more people to visit as well as for monetary assistance during a fiscal downturn.
All the museums on museum mile are free for visitors between 6 and 9pm. Of course, while it sounds fantastic, the reality is only a couple of museums are possible because of long lines. Guggenheim and Neue Galerie had lines going around the block. The Cooper Hewitt line was more manageable. The Met is so huge, you need to pick and choose the exhibits or else you will never get to any other museum.
Periodically I check out the exhibits on display at the Rubin, one of my favourite NYC museums that specializes in Himalayan art. The museum is currently displaying the most stunning black and white photographs taken by French photographer, Henri Cartier Bresson. Among the thousands of pictures taken by him during his ninety-five years, are pictures taken during the period just after India gained independence.
This refreshing look at India from the eyes of a non-Indian shows a different glimpse of everyday scenes we take for granted like a beautiful jharoka but hidden just behind is a veiled woman. Or praying muslim women but facing away from Mecca and two women in Gujarat balancing water pots, walking down a surprisingly clean street.
His most famous body of work are the pictures taken post the death of Gandhij, capturing the grief of a mourning nation. Bresson happened to have been at the right place at the right time. He had just completed an interview and left the presence of Gandhi before the assassination but was the first photographer back on the scene post the assassination.
His pictures are invaluable from a historical perspective. No one else has managed to capture such poignant images. Bresson travelled along with the cortege when the ashes were taken in a train for immersion in Allahabad. He has amazing shots of people perched on trees to get a glimpse of the funeral procession winding its way down the streets of Delhi. Also on display are Bresson’s images of the death of Ramanna Maharshi as well as the spectacular wedding of the Maharaja of Baria to the daughter of the Maharaja of Jaipur.
Ceremonies reminds me of a Bar Mitzvah I attended this past weekend. It is a Jewish coming of age ceremony and was evocative of my childrens’ janoi or yagnopavita ceremony. It is interesting how different cultures have similar customs. Catholics have the confirmation, Jews have the mitzvah and Hindus have the janoi. It is all about children taking on responsibility and being initiated into an adult world. There is a solemn air but there is a celebratory element.
In ancient times, these ceremonies must have been more meaningful. These days, it is a time to celebrate and have a party. I doubt young initiates really follow through with expectations of the ceremony. Last year I attended a nephew’s confirmation. Both at the bar mitzvah and confirmation, I was struck at how the priest and rabbi involved the congregation and explained the proceedings making it more meaningful. The right sort of guidance is so crucial.
The yagnopavit ceremony in ancient India meant boys left the safety of their parent’s home and entered the home of their gurus where they learnt life skills. Today’s priests sometimes meet their initiates on the day of the ceremony itself. It is unfortunate the essence of Hinduism is getting lost in rituals. But that is a topic I will leave for another day.
The day I can’t wait for is Sunday and the BIG BATTLE between India and Pakistan for the ICC Champions cup. Bangladesh did very well to reach the semi-finals. They will be a team to look out for in future and their rise in modern day cricket is reminiscent of how Sri Lanka emerged after struggling for years. Led by young Virat, the Indian team played an amazing game. In the meantime, I have cancelled all my Sunday morning plans to settle back on my couch and bite my nails.