Traffic. Delhi has a traffic problem. On several commutes to meetings and events we’ve sat in the car for almost two hours. It’s not like Dallas traffic where you can opt out, take a back road or at least plan to be stuck on 75. This is serious congestion all the time. We just sit. Horns honking around us. Horns are an important tool for drivers in India—on highways any time you pass a vehicle you honk your horn—all of the beautifully painted trucks have signs on the back that read “Blow Horn”. In traffic you use them to get the huddle moving.
All this traffic, all this patience and in 8 days I have seen not one expression of road rage. Can you imagine? No one is late because everyone knows that when you get there you get there. No one is stressed—at least seemingly so. In this land of Shanti, it just is. I keep hearing people say “the traffic has been really bad today.” But hasn’t the traffic been bad everyday?
Yesterday I met a wonderful thinker, curator, inventor and socially conscious gentleman Anubhav Nath. He runs OJAS Art a beautiful garden-side gallery in New Delhi. From his website:
“Ojas” embodies the creative energy of the universe and is also described as the nectar of the third eye. It is our endeavour to bring to you the newest and freshest ideas in the contemporary art space.
Anubhav met us at the hotel where we talked about art, India and Texas and many things. He interned several years ago with Christine Starkman at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. He also assisted the Asia Society Texas Center with a recent exhibition of devotional paintings from his family’s collection. Now, in addition to the gallery space, he runs a foundation offering safe harbor to the children of the streets of Delhi. They are housed, clothed, educated. And most importantly: loved. I’m hoping to volunteer there on my next visit.
After a lovely Assam tea at the hotel he takes us in his car some distance to his gallery. Note that he’s already made this trip in traffic to meet us. We step out of the car just off the very busy street and walk through a metal gate. Suddenly wonderland greets us—I told him it looked like a golf course. The property belonged to his grandparents and he designed the space for exhibition, office, shop and garden. The history of the land is told only through a massive tree on the complex with hundreds of roots encircling its majestic trunk. The garden is appointed with graceful sculptures—just the right balance of old and new. We sit in his office, dappled in natural light and I enjoy a hot masala chai as we pour over the catalogs and projects of late. I like him. His is tall, expressive and his energy fills the room. He understands the power of art. I know in some way we will work together. We talk about the Crow projects and muse on many possibilities. We explore the installation—Anubhav only represents four artists—a demonstration of his focus and vision. This gallery is not about profit or gain—in fact he winces when I call it a gallery. This is a place for connections and dialogue. This is an art space for the future.
We visit some more, and I pick up a few lovelies in his museum-store for the Lotus Shop. He has a great eye. Our window of time together narrows, and he very kindly offers us his car and driver to take us to our next meeting at the Imperial Hotel. It takes 45 minutes to get there—in Dallas it would have taken about ten. We sit in traffic, horns bleating and the inside of the car warms up. I shudder to think what this is like in June. I think about Anubhav and how he is stirring up so much goodness in the world in a great cauldron of art.
A late lunch at the Imperial Hotel is the perfect send off for Stacie and Jill, our Amazing Team from the Crow. Caron and I will stay on for follow-up meetings a few more days. We sit inside the restaurant of legend: The Spice Route. We are educated on the interior design based entirely on the properties of Feng Shui. The food is delicious and elegantly served by gentlemen with white gloves. We walk the grounds of the hotel—built in 1936 at the height of the British reign in India. If the walls could speak!
Before Stacie and Jill fly away we make one more stop at the Craft Museum very close to our hotel. It is (another) garden-like complex where artisans from diverse regions of India sell their handmade crafts. It’s closing time and the sun dims across the roofs of each stall—the last shoppers linger a little longer. We purchase a few more lovelies for the Lotus Shop mastering the artful practice of the barter and walk toward the exit. Much to our surprise we cannot exit. As it is the end of the Republic Day Celebration and the ceremonial Beating of the Retreat, the streets are momentarily closed for Prime Minister Modi’s arrival at the nearby India Gate. We peer excitedly through the heavy gates. The street police motion to the museum guards to close the gates fully. Somehow in all of that commotion I am able to catch a tiny glimpse of the cars. The air is tinged with anticipation. We wait a few more minutes and are “released” back into the street. There is not a human in sight. The miracle of India happens again: magically the police system is so organized it can clear streets on a moments notice. No one seems to mind—it’s just another mystical expression of patience and acceptance of organization amid chaos. I am amazed.
The next hour is a flurry of events. In thirty minutes we:
1. Retrieved 6 bags delivered to the front desk; 2 were temporarily lost and then found (yes, the ones from the jewelry shop)
2. Bought and packed a very large suitcase for our Lotus Shop Treasures. We are redefining the term “trunk show”!
3. Greeted two different tailors, tried on their works of art for sizing both in the lobby and in my hotel room
4. Scavenged for money to pay the tailors
5. Very swiftly I moved from 415 to 720 for the extension of our stay. Apparently I was supposed to check out of 415 by noon.
6. Spoke with the lost and found about a lost shirt that was found yesterday, never delivered and is lost today (maybe we should call it found and lost)
As I called down to the desks for various needs to accomplish #1-6 I realize that every employee of this hotel knows exactly who I am. They know I am missing bags, shirt, needing money, changing rooms. They know I didn’t check out. It’s so amusing. I imagine their conversations behind the desk (“Do you see those silly Americans changing clothes in the lobby?” “Why is she wearing cowboy boots with a saree?” “Is she ever coming back? She hasn’t checked out!” “She never tips enough!”, “She actually thought she could wire money to the hotel!”)
Confusion aside I have since secured a little cash. I have not found my shirt in the lost and found. Stacie and Jill and The Trunk made their flight and most of the clothes fit them. I still need to tip the “floor boy” on the fourth floor and the hopefully the person who finds the Eileen Fisher Tank top again and brings it up to me.
Caron and I enjoyed a lovely dinner of snacks in the hospitality lounge (hence the reason for the room change) and walked the gardens (with an armed escort—it wasn’t that fun) before what we thought was a motion to retire for the evening. As we crossed the lobby we ran into three famed brothers in the Indian art world who insisted on buying us “a” drink in the bar. Three hours later we are dancing to Madonna and Prince and I learn more than I want to know about the treacherous underbelly of the Indian Art Market. What an education. These gents tell us sad stories of gain and loss, suicide, jail and ruin. I know it’s just a perspective, but wow. I will remain very happy and content in my world of socially conscious exhibitions, noble change, art and love.
I fall into my pillow just before 1 am hoping it was all just a dream. And in some ways it is.