Some closing thoughts from India

The view from my balcony as I write this. Jodphur Road, Kolkata.

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“And I wonder- I hope my trip will tell me- what is the story, the narrative, the experience by which moving through the digital village allows the audience to learn as much about themselves as they do about India.”

I asked this at the end of my first blog written in Dubai Airport before I had even touched Indian soil.
I was sent here to understand something. I was sent here to create an idea that would somehow thread the digital presentation of Bengali folk arts into a complete experience for a British audience.

What I have learnt is about story. We need story. If you remove everything that I thought necessary to tell stories- tell them well with brilliance- if you remove those things it turns out that they still are told- well with brilliance. They will force themselves out, with whatever there is, to explain, to sate, to heal and calm, to move.

And also that story without context, without clarity, without the achievement and glory of explaining something, everything- that is product. That is tourism. That is marketing- buy a trinket, see a trinket, listen to a trinket. That is staring at the Great Wall of China thinking it is a sun deck for giants.

And also that standing in the middle of a place where everything is new, everything is strange and different from ‘ordinarily’, everything is foreign, standing in that place is exhausting, is cleansing, is profound in terms of self, is frightening. All at the same time. Experiencing different cultures is an act of self discovery. Discovery of new views on self and your own culture. All things are comparable.

I’ve been here 10 days. It’s nothing. In this time, in time ten times, 100 times the time, one will never understand someone else- let alone a culture of someone else. But what one does understand, what one is presented with constantly, endlessly without pause is the understanding that ‘I’ has, standing here seeing THAT with MY eyes, hearing THAT with MY ears. Because that is the only way we ever see anything. Unless you are a God.

The Baul Fakirs without context, without story, are men too lazy to get a job, music too alternative to get an audience, a belief system too radical to gain a mass following. That is not their reality. That is not my understanding of their reality. From where I stand, where I hear, where I see and touch and smell. And feel. And understand.

Without that sense of self discovery, that sense of better understanding, of profoundness- without that, without ‘I’, then the presentation of folk art from another world is at best an advert- come here on a plane, sit in a hut. At worst it is staring at ‘other’, staring at the different, the foreign, the strange, through a rarified digital window.

The difficulty of all this in Bengal is that so much of the received knowledge I had, the cliches, the assumptions, they are true. You see, smell, hear them every moment- the poverty, the beauty, the little anecdotes that I was sure before were a bit racist. And they in combination make up the reality- make up the thing to be understood. But they are not it. They are the little squares of colour that make up the whole- they contain only signs to meaning, they are not the stories, they are the words that the story uses. Whilst I have been here some people in the UK have been kind and attentive enough to send me corrections to things I have written- particularly about the Baul Fakirs and the Patachitras. I am genuinely thankful for their knowledge and generosity but I haven’t included them here. I am not the Rough Guide and the information often contradicted what the people guiding me were saying. This is a record of my trip. My attempt to share my attempt at understanding. The endeavour to share my ‘I’ with more than my own mind. I really appreciate it if you have read along- you have kept me company on a profoundly moving experience.
I make no guarantee of fact. But I do promise that this is exactly as I understood it (or as best as I could convey it through writing): this is as it was able to be explained to me by those who of course have their own ‘I’: this was my reality for ten days: these things happened and this is how they looked and felt to me standing here at ‘I’.

I brought an SLR camera with me. I’ll upload those images to an account when I’m back tomorrow and post the link here if anyone is interested in seeing more images.

I am away back to England now. Home to my ‘us’. My wife and dog. And the bloody cat. My rather magnificent ‘ordinarily’. I am a lucky man.

And then to South Africa. I’ll keep this going on that trip- although it will change tone and purpose. But those who know Lucy Hind, Dave Toole, or Development Lab or are interested in how Extra-Ordinary (“two clowns, one with no legs, one with no clue”) gets on in South Africa, I’ll try to post news and reports here.
To all of you who read along: any thoughts you have had I would love to hear them if you have the time: my understanding is not anywhere near finished. Thanks for the company and your attention and I hope it was worth the trip. It was for me.

Alan

The view underneath my balcony when I returned home tonight. Jodphur Road, Kolkata.

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