It was written just days ago by Julie Marsh, a former student of mine who completed her studies all the way through Indian history to a brilliant Ph D which drew many elements of Indian culture together.
She and her husband Michael Maher have been travelling in and writing about Asia, India in particular, for more than 30 years. They both know Indian culture very well, and love it dearly.
Unlike many, they do not look at India with rose-coloured glasses, unless roses are in front of them. Their knowledge of Indian philosophies and traditions are deep, and while some Indians might protest at my saying this, they understand some aspects of Indian culture more deeply than some Indians, who now live in a globalised world with globalised values.
And so this is Christmas, 2011, celebrated in a world far away from their cottage 15 kms west of Armidale. Enjoy this extract from her diary!
|Christmas in Bikaner|
|Back of a truck, on the road to Nawalgarh|
I showed them an animated sparkly card my brother had emailed me, and soon after the eldest boy began surreptitiously jiggling the stool, in order to get the tree to move the way the animation did. No use. I sang 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' instead. (yes, odd choice, I know!) The grandparents emerged to wish us Happy Christmas, the mother giving me a large hug and a fairly horrible celebratory scarf of scarlet and yellow tie dye. In return I desperately scrambled through my bag and came up with an expensive Australian hand cream (with, I admit, some unChristmaslike feeling of regret). You can see we weren't really in the spirit , more concerned with our departure and that feeling of slight concern about what the day would bring.
Detail on the walls of a haveli in Fatehpur
After that, a young man who acted as a tourist guide inveigled us to take a brief, unwanted tour of several nearby havelis. He distressed us by his mannerisms, clearly imbibed from young backpackers - he was cooler than cool, slick, a small town guy who wished to be far away - and who could blame him, at his age. He proudly announced he'd been drinking beer with an English girl the previous night. But it felt as if he was losing his soul: Western tourism has a lot to answer for in India. Yet I suppose it opens possibilities, too, in places otherwise on the fringe of changes that seem so desirable when seen on the movie screen.
Back on the road, and soon to the dense, busy, crumbling town of Fatehpur, where the rutted roads are almost impassable and where the havelis are the oldest of all, but to me the most beautiful. Here, the paintings are faded visions in exquisite soft colours, depicting scenes from religious stories, on falling walls fading into mould, or glimpses on the tops of shopfronts, or beyond green trees in forgotten gardens. A French woman has restored one of these havelis, though we did not find it, as we wanted to press on. Besides, there is something in me that likes the unrestored. I wish they could just be kept lightly cleaned, and not allowed to decay entirely … and if the surroundings were cleaner too, how romantic, evocative Fatehpur could be. Must once have been, when it was on the main desert trade route. But such are not the people's concerns; I guess they have the pressing matter of earning their livings, raising their children, to attend to. The old world has such value, beauty and knowledge, a loss surely that it is so disregarded, except by the few.