When Sonia Gandhi visited Brussels for Bozar, there was a ceremony to pay tribute to the thousands of Indian soldiers who died fighting for Belgium in World War I, writes Upala Sen.
I was in Brussels for Bozar: a multi-faceted Festival of India, the first of its kind in Belgium. Reeling from the glitter of the inaugural ceremony, I knew that I would have to return for a more careful dekko. The inaugural ceremony did take us through the festival’s highlights, but I was too distracted. After all, I had never seen so many diamond merchants and their glitter in one giant sparkle ever before. I returned to Bozar to see, among other things, the much-talked-about Tejas — the exhibition of 1,500 years of Indian art.
It was one labyrinthine journey through Indian myths and theories of creation. Basalt manasas (the serpent goddess) from West Bengal, lotus motifs from Khajuraho and Sanchi, terracotta yakshis (nymphs) from Mathura and a hundred other works of art adorned the halls. There was one varaha that took up the space of an entire wall.
The terracotta laughing boy was a showstopper. Visitors gaped before for the makarmukha pramala (gargoyle) and watched Mahesh Thottahill’s documentary on the artisans of India. I started when a lady next to me tore a strand of her hair and then held it up for her partner to see.
I was confused, until I noticed the English translation of the text she had been reading. An explanation of the ancient Indian system of measurement, it read: ‘1 paramanu = 1 paramanu, 8 paramanu = 1 rath renu or a speck of dust raised by a moving chariot, 8 rath renu = 1 balagra or tip of a single hair etc.’
Eight out of every 10 visitors had an audio guide. The few unguided lot I cornered said “Non Eengleesh” and went back to fathom the writings on the wall.
When Sonia Gandhi visited Brussels for Bozar, there was a ceremony to pay tribute to the thousands of Indian soldiers who died fighting for Belgium in World War I. In the dimly lit hall at the Palais Des Beaux Arts, I stood amid all that respectful silence, and thought of all that had been said of Tejas.
The organisers, the curator, the sponsors, the ministers, the governments… everyone had been thanked for making it a success. But no one mentioned the unknown artisans behind the proud display, the ancient architects of this incredible India.