07 May, 2021

The Eternal, Ephemerised

Is it a time, a place, a culture or a look; or does being Indian have to do with intensity?

The Eternal, Ephemerised
Whatever its failures, at least the late summit reintroduced the Taj to all of us. That 17th-century gift of perfection remains part of everyone's image of India. Alas, there are other pictures too. An image imploding inside me for years, and one that hits me again and again—for I am a constant traveller by rail—is of the parade of litter and excreta offered at all windows when a train rumbles into or out of a station. It is a sort of two-sided guard of honour for the traveller. If windows are open, the scene caters to the nose as well.

India does not approach the doors of the senses with a shadow or a soft tap-tap. It hits the senses frontally and hard, with inspiring or shocking sights, stirring or deafening sounds, overpowering smells, flaming colours, tastes that water mouths or trigger tears, and touches that may bless or pinch. Assaulting the sixth sense as well, India can traumatise the spirit, or transmit ecstasy to it.

Thus the Indian temple offers clanging bells, incense smoke, flower scents, chants trying to reach the finishing line, shoves from the...

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