Thursday, 26 January 2017

Art, Demonitisation, Life and Death in India Jan 2017

In India I enjoyed the work of Jitish Kallat and experienced Hindu and Christian death ceremonies for friends.

Delhi was chilly and foggy and I had to keep my fleece on most of the time. I stayed with jasjit in Haus Khaz. The house is now up for sale so this might have been my last visit there.  On Saturday evening I went with Kris and her son Arnav to the opening of a major exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art. The exhibition was of work by Niitsh Killat a Mumbai based artist. He is interested in natural cycles of life and death, Indian food and environment. One of the most impressive works was a depiction of his father’s lunar calendar from birth to death with the moons represented with chapattis that were either full of half eaten to symbolize the waxing and waning of the moon done as photos. In other pics he captured the Indian environment and made an auto-rickshaw skeleton out of animal bones. He also had two stories about 1 rupees, one in black font about a desperately poor girl in West Bengal committing suicide because her mother did not have one rupee to give her for school food, in white font was a parallel tale by a telecoms company linking callers in different states for just one rupee. In another piece he used a series of 20 figures to capture the experience of going through a security check. There was a wonderful uninhibited energy and reinterpreting of the environment. Kris is a sculptor and was greeted warmly by several artists and by the many Delhi gallery owners at the exhibition. However her time for art is severely affected because she has a full time teaching job and a frail mother with dementia living at home; so she just promised pieces for future joint shows. Her son Arnav came to stay in Bevan st  about 10 yrs. ago , he is now 17 and young giant who wants to do geophysics. He was bright and interested in the art, which we all enjoyed.  The next day I went to a fascinating exhibition called past Time in Bikaner House which explored themes around memory, loss and partition. There were some fascinating sculptures, one of a twisting series of old film looped between two points, the top about 15 feet above the bottom.  it twisted like a knot of hair One of the most striking pieces was an ipad that had been loaded with text and digital images of people and places in either india or Pakistan. It conveyed the horrors of partition and one saw people aging in the process. There is no museum of partition even through the event involved 14 million people relocating and maybe 500000 dying.   It captured the sense of loss very eloquently.

I spent 3 days at the ENLIST meeting. We are making good progress with the protocol needed for the two trials on using Methotrexate to treat patients with ENL.  Our consortium has 8 partners of whom probably 7 will be involved in the trial, so our meeting included people from Ethiopia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Nepal.  The meeting was hosted by the Indians and TLMI. Joydeepa was an excellent host and we stayed in a hotel close to the airport. The hotel had a grand marble staircase and beds with elaborate wooden headboards. But one could not charge electronic items overnight and we nearly had a disaster with over loaded plugs in our meeting room. We also had a trip out to the local mall called Ambience which was full of foreign brands, I could have stocked up in Marks and Spencer here in Delhi! I enjoyed browsing though a large Fab India outlet there. But Joy commented that the prices were too high for ordinary `Indians.  We had a fine Keralan meal for the group in the mall with excellent spicy prawns and fish curry.

I then went on to Hyderabad to visit the Blue peter clinic because we have a new head, Aparna who took over a few months ago.  Here I joined another consortium meeting but this time for Indian NGOs working on leprosy.  A group of research active Indian centres are joining together to do some joint work. Good to see. I stayed in another nice hotel and I had a good view out over the old part of Hyderabad.  However in this hotel the lift was not working one day and so i went down the fire staircase I found it locked between the 3 and 4 floors as a “security precaution”.  When I raised this with the managers they only dimmed perceived that it might be a problem in a fire or that they might be breaking the law. To my amazement the lock was put back on the next day.

When I was in Delhi I went to Indira Naths house to celebrate the first anniversary of her husband death.  This took place at home with a local pandit.  He lit a small fire in the living room with small pieces of sandal wood. We sat around and put herbs on the fire, the flames then shot up when he poured oil on the fire.  We passed a brass plate with an oil light and marigolds on it round and chanted.  About 20 people were there, mainly friends, their daughter is in Oxford. After the ceremony we eat typical Delhi food of okra, potatoes, dahl and fresh poori. I felt privileged to be there and to be part of the ceremony.  Death arrived again in Hyderabad; I had arranged to have supper with my friend Sujai with whom I have cooperated over 25 yrs. I knew that he was nursing his very frail elderly mother at home. I arrived to find that she had died and her corpse was in the centre of the room in a glass-lidded coffin. Decorated with wreaths.  Sujai’s sisters had come down and many friends and relatives from their Christian Church were there. He and I went upstairs and chatted whilst various funeral arrangements were put into place. it was strange to have different deaths at the beginiing and end of my stay. I had been supposed to fly back to London on Sunday but had to defer by a day, There must have been something in the air that made me stay an extra day. I was v touched to be part of the family that evening.     

I also experienced the effects of demonization. This measure was introduced by the modi governemt last November.  They made the old Rs 500 and 1000 illegal. People were able to bring notes in and change them. The aim of demonitisation is to move Indian towards being a cashless economy, reduce corruption, black money, counterfeiting and terrorism finance.  However there has been a severe shortage of the new Rs 2000 and RS 500 notes. People were also only able to take RS 2000 per day out of their bank accounts.  There has also been a sever shortage of notes. SO people queued for hours at ATMs and often came away empty handed.  The NGO who were hosting us offered to change money for us.  My friends have problems running their households.  The people who have been hits worst are the cash labourers and there has been a 40-50 job loss in small and medium enterprises.  People were able to pay larger amounts using etransactions.  But using pay tM which is the governments favoured operator attracts a transaction fee of 2.5%.  Just before New year the amount of money that one could take out was increased to RS 4200 per day. I think the economy will take a hit for the last two quarters, I suspect that people such as women and daily labourers will be most effected since they have no cushions for actions like these. It might have some good effects, it might reduce the lavish weddings that have become the normal in India. The government is already claiming that It has already reduced violence in Kashmir.  Tourists are also suffering, Steve tried several cashpoints all empty. 

I used uber cabs to travel round Delhi, there are now 5000 drivers and one feels much safer with details about the driver and being able to monitor travel. They are also much cheaper, but  they are also contributing to the congestion on the Delhi roads. And the drivers have to drive long hours to earn enough in the day.

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