Random thoughts about life...some pictures...musings

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Amrita Sher-Gil in Munich 

I was in Munich for a couple of days and was at a bit of a loose end, when I got an email from my better half, forwarding an article on Amrita Sher-Gil. I read it with interest and learnt that there was a retrospective of Amrita Sher-Gil’s works on at the Haus der Kunst in Munich.

I arrived at Prinzregentenstrasse on a Thursday evening - the first snow of the season was falling around me and München looked like a city of fairytale and legend. The cab driver was suitably amazed that I actually wanted to go the Museum Haus der Kunst and not the famous nightclub P1 which is next to the museum, and which attracts the celebrities in Munich in droves (Boris Becker is a regular, apparently). He drove off, shaking his head and muttering “Es nimmt alle Sorten, die Welt zu machen“ under his breath.

My first impression of the interiors of the Haus der Kunst was that it badly needed a lick of paint. The walls were aquamarine and somewhat dated. The floor looked about a hundred years old. But I forgot about the walls and floor in about two seconds – as soon as I entered the exhibition “Amrita Sher-Gil: An Indian Artist’s Family in the 20th Century".

The exhibition was setup in three large rooms – one room for Amrita, one for her father Umrao Sher-Gil and one room for Vivan Sundaram(who is Amrita’s nephew and an artist in his own right).

I’ll not dwell on the paintings here since a lot has been written about them – suffice it to say that they were somewhat uneven in quality. Many were good, some looked like a daub a teenager might have done. I suppose that shows the maturation of the artist – from the time that she was a sixteen-year-old in Paris at the Salon to the time she died in Lahore at the age of 28. One thing which especially caught my attention was the colour of the eyes on one of her paintings of 2 Indian women from 1939. The eyes were pale blue with no eyeballs – as popularized by Modigliani. It looked so out of place that I couldn’t help wondering whether it was an experiment gone bad and whether Amrita would have wanted that painting displayed at all or buried quietly in the family backyard.

What was more interesting was a set of letters that Amrita had written to her parents, sister and husband. We always tend to think of artists as one-dimensional, as if all they ever did was paint. The letters actually showed that Amrita was, in many ways, a young women like any other – whether discussing shoes with her sister Indira (apparently she desperately wanted the “suede pair with medium heels”) or feeling unloved and starved for admirers and attention. She was a good correspondent, able to write fluently in English, French and Hungarian. She held forth at length on art and philosophy and was obviously highly intelligent. What made her even more human were the misspellings (she stuck steadfastly to the “ ‘i’ before ‘e’, except after ‘c’” rule and thus misspelt “conceive’” and “receive” consistently). One thing which the exhibition could have done better is to showcase the letters appropriately. They were just pages stuck on the wall. It would have had much more impact if the letters were properly framed and mounted.

Vivan Sundaram’s photographs had a peculiarly arresting quality to them. I looked closely and realized that they were actually digitally manipulated. Some of them were very inventive indeed. A photograph of Amrita and her husband Victor Egan superimposed on a landscape with snow by Amrita was absolutely brilliant – you couldn’t tell where the photo ended and the painting began.

Just as I was leaving the show, a cabinet with newspaper clippings caught my eye. It had a page from the “Bombay Sentinel” of 1936 which compared Amrita to “a modern Fragonard” and went on to wax lyrical about her in the flowery sentences typical of the late colonial period. My gaze flickered down the page – slightly below the article was a quarter-page advertisement for some capsules which were guaranteed to “Maintain your vitality, Miri Jaan” and had a picture of a well-endowed lady peddling these capsules. The bathos was stark – going by her letters, Amrita Sher-Gil would have appreciated that with a chuckle.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Chilling in Holland 

I found another old piece that I'd written in 2003. Most of the sentiments still hold, but I have got used to the long lunches after nearly 2 years of living in Holland.

In any case, here goes...

July 13, 2003 – Chilling out in Holland
Having been in the Netherlands for about a week now, I’m now able to appreciate the reason why a lot of Americans are frustrated with trying to get work done in this country. The Dutch know how to have a rollicking good time and are generally found putting that knowledge to good use. They work from 9 to 5 – you won’t catch a Dutchman in the office if you happen to stroll by at 5.01 pm. On Fridays, I have a strong suspicion that the official working hours are 9 to 3 pm, though the authorities fervently deny anything of the sort. Methinks they doth protest too much.

Weekend work – I haven’t actually tried this, but I’m sure that the Dutch would ask for the padded wagon to be sent around pronto and whisk me off to St. Jan’s Home for the Mentally Deranged, if I were to mention that I was actually getting some work done over the weekend. Nor is this strict delineation of work hours a purely Dutch thing – the whole of Western Europe seems to be of the same mind when it comes to this. They may disagree vociferously on all manner of subjects in their EU meetings, but they are shoulder to shoulder on this topic – less work good, more work bad. On my first day working out of our Düsseldorf office, I asked a colleague if there was a high-speed internet connection at the corporate apartment as I needed to send some official emails with large attachments. She looked at me in horror and asked “But you’re not on the weekend working, ja?” Notwithstanding the discourteous placement of the verb at the end, her meaning was clear enough – I’d have to be touched in the head to work on a summer weekend.

But getting back to the Netherlands, nowhere is the easy pace of life as evident as when you go for a meal to a restaurant. In the US or in India, there is a concept that every restaurateur holds dear – the concept of ‘table turnover’. What this means is that you provide quick and efficient service to the party at every table, so that they can have a good meal and leave satisfied, so that another set of diners can take their place. Whole courses in restaurant management are devoted to explaining this concept and how it can help improve a restaurant’s profitability. These courses, however, have not yet made it over the dikes into Holland. The Dutch show a fine disdain for the quick meal – dinner is not dinner if it isn’t at least three hours long. The general agenda for a meal may be visualized as follows:

1. Be seated at the restaurant, preferably al fresco since the sun is up till 10 pm in summer.
2. Look around you; take in the ambience, people-watch and get to know your fellow-diners better.
3. After around fifteen minutes, the waitress will be over to enquire after your health, hope that you’re having a nice time and to tell you that she’ll be with you in a couple of minutes.
4. About ten minutes later, the waitress will show up to take your order, chit-chat with you and leave.
5. ….. You get the idea! In general, the whole process is calm and unhurried and takes about three hours.

Don’t get me wrong – once you get used to the process, it can be quite enjoyable to linger over your meal and have long post-prandial conversations. It’s just a shock at first, that’s all!
In fact, after having been here a while, I’m beginning to veer around to the view that the Dutch are on to a good thing, which we need to encourage in other parts of the world. So if my boss is reading this - I’m not coming in to work next weekend, I’m going Dutch!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Netherlands Natter 

Going through my old files, i came across an article I had written back in June 2003 when I was coming to Holland for the first time.... it still reads pretty well, so i thought I'd stick it up... let me know what you'll think !

June 29, 2003
Two months in the Netherlands – I was bombarded from all sides with things to do and places to go to by family and friends when they heard about it. Everybody (and I mean everybody) has either been to Amsterdam or knows someone who was in Amsterdam. Consequently, everybody has a Point-Of-View on Amsterdam. There is a definite proprietorial air in which they expound on Amsterdam, its surroundings and its hedonistic lifestyle. From the sounds of it, all that Dutch folks do is smoke weed and have sex, not necessarily in that order.

Determined to add my voice to the chorus, I boarded the KLM flight from New Delhi at 0050 hours. There was the usual mad rush for the boarding gate as soon as the first call for boarding was made – everyone pretended that they were traveling with babies, had severe disabilities or were in seats 34 to 45. The jostling and edging continued till a newly married (as evidenced by her many red bangles or “chudas”) KLM ground staff member fairly shouted at everyone to form one line. Things quieted down and proceeded in quite an orderly fashion after that – as orderly as you can expect in Delhi!

The plane itself was an old B737-400. To travelers used to in-seat screens, it was almost a throwback to Orville and Wilbur – there weren’t even any personalized air ducts, for chrissakes! After a less-than-sumptuous dinner, comprising what looked like two chicken kathi rolls (whatever happened to plates , cutlery and the good life ?!), I fell asleep in my usual awkward foetal position and awoke only half an hour before landing, with a very stiff neck – about par for the course.

The best thing about traveling to Europe rather than to the States is that you get on a plane, you get off and you’re done. No waiting around for 3-8 hours for the connecting flight, no reconfirming to make sure that your luggage is on your connecting flight and not halfway to Timbuktu, no filling I-94 forms and then waiting in long lines at US immigration – gotta love that !

My bags showed up pretty quickly at Schiphol airport and I was on my way to the train station, which is under the airport. The ticket vending machine was hilarious – it was bilingual till, about halfway through, it decided that it had had enough of speaking lousy English and forged ahead in pure Dutch. Moving away from technology for the moment, I made a beeline for the manned ticket counter and bought tickets for s’-Hertogenbosch, or Den Bosch as it is known to every Dutchman.

Den Bosch is a town of 160,000 people situated about 100 km southeast of Amsterdam. Upon asking the taxi driver what was worth seeing or doing in Den Bosch, he responded after a minute of deep thought and suggested that I catch a train to Amsterdam!

At Den Bosch, I also found out the hard way that the Dutch believed that Sunday was a day of rest – all the shops were closed. Apparently, the shops in most of Holland open from 9 am to 6 pm on weekdays, 9 am to 1 pm on Saturday and are closed on Sundays. I subsisted on a basic diet of Heineken and chips from the hotel minibar on Sunday. The air was thick with the sound of my protests at this injustice!

To be continued....

Friday, September 17, 2004

So you think you're well travelled ? 

Well, so did I - until i found this website. (www.world66.com)
This site allows you to create a personalised map of the world and which countries you've been to. It can also create a map of which US states you've been to. I wish they had the same thing for India as well.

Looking at the map of countries i've visited, suddenly I don't feel like the all-conquering world-traveller anymore :)

Sunday, June 06, 2004

RSS/Atom Feed 

Just enabled the Atom feed on this blog - the URL is http://ujjwaldeb.blogspot.com/atom.xml.

So, if you're interested in my musings, feel free to get the feed into your RSS reader.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Sony Vaio 

I got a new laptop from the office today - a Sony Vaio V505, with 512 megs of RAM and 2.66 GHz P4. It's also got a DVD_CD/RW drive which should make Sholay-watching an even more regular affair - my wife is going to kill me ! Right now, i'm just reinstalling all my required software - i just wish someone would come up with an easy way to copy installed programs when you switch laptops, cos it's a right royal pain in my butt right now !

Oh,by the way, one great little utility which I think everyone should have is Anydvd. It kills the region protection on DVDROM drives - even those which are RPC-2 locked. For those who don't speak geek, that means that there is a hardware/firmware lock which prevents the drive from playing other-region DVD's. Anyway, Anydvd takes care of it all - you'll never know that it's there, but your DVD's will magically manifest themselves on the screen ! I'm watching my Region 2 Sherlock Holmes DVD's - works like a charm !

On the topic of Holmes, I'd like to put on record that the Granada series with Jeremy Brett as Holmes and Edward Hardwicke as Watson is,IMHO, the definitive film/television version out of the clutch of efforts to commit the great detective to visual media. Jeremy Brett puts in a masterful performance as the brilliant but definitely neurotic detective.

Sunday, May 23, 2004


I rediscovered the game of carrom today. I used to play it a lot while in college, but had forgotten about it for about 10 years. For the uninitiated, carrom is a board game which has the same basic principles as billiards - except that you have discs instead of balls. So when i got a call from a friend suggesting some Sunday afternoon carrom, with some beer to wash it down, I jumped at it. It was a real guys afternoon out - 6 guys got together to play a 3 way doubles series. I had a great partner, so we managed to win out in the end - but for once, it was actually the process which was fun !

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