It’s no secret; India is my passion. When I read that Mira Nair would be talking with photographer, Prabuddha Dasgupta about his new book of photographs, “Edge of Faith,” at the Aicon Gallery on Great Jones St. in NYC , I called my friend, Elena, to see if she wanted to come along. She likes multi-culti themed events and readily agreed.
I wasn’t surprised when Elena picked me up, all decked out in her India garb: long kurta with strings of beads. I, too, had carefully chosen my Indian attire.
We arrived at the bare white gallery early and staked out our seats. I had to remind Elena that I didn’t want to sit in the front row. She always likes to be right in the middle of the action. We were greeted by a few big sculptures in a red resin like material of Gandhi listening to an ipod. Two chairs and a small table were set up in the front of the room surrounded by cameras. The mood was very congenial. The room started to fill up. Most of the audience was of Indian origin but sprinkled in were Indiaphiles like myself.
A lovely, well dressed young woman sat in front of us. It appeared to me that she, too, had put on her best Indian attire. Elena is a jewelry designer. She couldn’t stop looking at this woman. Finally she tapped the young woman on the back, “Isn’t that a Dosa?” She asked, refering to the long tunic she was wearing. I actually design clothing and textiles but I always thought that a dosa was something you eat, much like a crepe. The woman turned around and smiled, looked at Elena and answered, “Isn’t that a Dosa that you’re wearing?” Elena admitted that it was and a conversation ensued about the upcoming annual sale and all the bargains to be had. Elena complimented the young woman on her slender silhouette. Then she moved from her wardrobe to her jewelry. First it was her earrings (her neighborhood pawn shop) then it was her necklace (Amrapali in Bombay) and then to her ring (Forever 21). By this time I was getting embarrassed by Elena’s relentless interrogation. But I became intrigued by the woman as well. What was her connection to India? I sensed in her a similar love for India. So I asked her my questions. She had inherited her interest in India from her mother who is an artist and had traveled to India in the 70’s. Her mother’s theory is that India changes your life. I think she meant for the better but she didn’t elaborate and Elena didn’t ask about that.
Elena kept firing away with more questions. The woman answered without hesitation or impatience. She said that she is a writer. Then Elena burst out, “Nina’s a writer too. You should be friends on Facebook.” Elena doesn’t even have an email address. The woman looked at me intently. “Your name is Nina?” I said, “Yes, it is.” She said, ” So is mine. And I’m on Facebook.”
The lights went down and an announcer stood before us. I saw Nina reaching inside her purse. So I dug out my visiting cards, as they are called in India . I have three separate cards: my clothing business, my travel business and my writer’s card. I selected the writer. And we exchanged cards. The last round of admiration was for our cards. She admired mine with Ganesha and I admired hers. Prabuddha Dasgupta and Mira Nair took the stage.
Dasgupta spoke briefly about the book and his work. A video of the black and white still photographs followed. One photograph bled seamlessly into the next, depicting the lives and homes of the disappearing Catholic community of the former Portugese colony. The photographs are sentimental yet maintain an objective distance from the subject, resulting in an unusual tension, sometimes achieved through the play on light or the use of mirrors that reflect the subject from afar. The work is exquisite. One can almost smell the mildewed walls and decaying books, time nearly stops as a subject stares out the window and the smiles of the women melt your heart. You understand that this world is doomed to disappear. And you wish it were otherwise.
My guess is that Mira Nair is a true friend of Dasgupta and knew that her presence would attract a larger audience for him. They chatted casually as two good friends might. She asked him leading questions and he spoke about his work, his life and this project. It was such an intimate conversation that we all came away feeling as if we had made new friends with this photographer and film maker.
When I got home I took out Nina’s card. I saw that she has a website, www.theajnabee.com, so I searched for it. It’s a weekly about all things Indian related and very artisically designed. I browsed through it and when I got to the very bottom I saw that it was powered by wordpress. So many connections, so many incarnations.