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The Indian Express
September 26, 2021 at 12:00:00 AM
Sunday Long Reads: Of smaller towns, Mughal and Rajput paintings, book reviews, and more

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Sunday Long Reads: Of smaller towns, Mughal and Rajput paintings, book reviews, and more

Why are people leaving big cities for smaller towns “Mama, chhi, chhi,” squealed two-year-old Rudra. He was in a park with his mother Neha Dara, when he walked into a puddle on a rainy day. Dara, a travel writer who has spent most of her working life trekking in the Himalayas and exploring local markets in small towns, was horrified. Not because of the slush on his sandals, but his reaction. There had to be a better way he could connect to the natural world. In a miniature painting from 18th century Rajasthan, now in the Smithsonian in Washington DC, a dressed-up Radha, seated on a bed of flowers in a clearing framed by a thick forest, waits for her lover Krishna. It’s twilight. Will Krishna turn up for this tryst? Or is he going to stand her up? The painting is part of a ragamala (a set that illustrates Indian classical-music ragas) and conveys the pain of longing. Radha’s desire seems to be projected on the forest, set with blooming shrubs and birds in boughs. Instead of vague floral decorations, the artists of Kota went for detail and specificity — creamy frangipani and champaka, pink oleander, thick sheaths of a plantain, velvety celosia, and spiky flowers of the pandanus, called kewra in parts of India. We can see the fragrant forest, but what if we could smell it, too?
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