Our Amtrak train to Union Station was about 40 minutes late and I was checking at the bookshop at Penn Station what I could pick up to kill the time without spending too much. A banana (from Honduras, the sticker said) cost one dollar, The Washington Post 1.5 dollars and The New York Times, 2.5 dollars. I picked up the NYT convinced that it would last longer than the banana and The Washington Post. (As against 2.5 bananas for NYT, our Times of India back home cost about 1/3rd of a banana. Was that good thing or bad? I wondered.)
Then I remembered that the entrance charge for the Aquarium and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as well as Museum of Modern Arts in NY was $25. (Of course in Washington DC, the entrance to museums is all free.) But even with $25 entrance, the number of people visiting these museums was quite good. Why was that so?
From my experience I could say that these places gave a very satisfying experience, and one reason for it was the passion of the people working there. The young boy and girl who were feeding the giant turtle in the Boston Aquarium seemed to be enjoying what they were doing so much! To me it was the mark of success of the American society that it provided so many of its people the opportunity to work at things they love. And even those who worked for the money, they did it with a quiet dignity, grateful that the work and the money gave them the opportunity to do what they love, play music, go on trips, raise a family, keep a dog, whatever. But most really loved what they were doing.
Take this girl at the Museum of Fine Arts. She was going around, telling everyone, “I do not want to distract you from what you are looking at. But there will be a fifteen minutes talk on a very fascinating painting in Room No 11. Please do come, you could find it interesting. It starts in 5 minutes.” I went to room No 11 at the appointed time. There were just 3 of us. She waited for about 2 minutes and tore into her talk. It was a painting of a woman in pink silk seated in a room. You could barely see her face. The girl told us, that is, the three of us, how bold it was for the painter to fill the screen almost completely with a riot of pink. She asked us if we could see what the lady was sitting on. We said No. She said: Didn’t it add to the mystery? And the painter didn’t really want to distract us with a chair. And so on. Everything she said was sensible. Not some airy fairy arty stuff. She was interacting with us with full on enthusiasm, not at all fazed that we were just three. I don’t remember the name of the painting or the painter, but I do remember hers: Anne Bible. (Maybe someday, she will be my Facebook friend and I can narrate her about this talk?)
Then I remembered my visit to the National Gallery of Modern art (NGMA) at Bangalore to schedule a screening for our alumni association. The curator of the Amrita Sher-Gil retrospective there had no interest in telling me anything about the painter or the paintings. When I met the Admin Officer for my task at hand, he said he was retiring and they were looking for a new guy. It was turning out to be a difficult task, because they wanted a CA who also had an MBA degree. CA with an MBA degree? Were they serious? Apparently they were.
Anyway, since we had packed visits to the aquarium, public library and the arts museum on a single day, we know we could not cover everything on display. The Boston gallery is supposed to have the largest collection of Monet outside France, but I did not know that. So I missed the Monets altogether. I spent sometime in the section on musical instruments, and a section on gems and jewelry to please Jayashree. There was a show of a contemporary artiste and his quilts, titled ‘Quilts and Colours’. I quite liked that.
Then there was the Egyptian section, with mummies, mummy coffins, artifacts, hieroglyphs, and the rest. It was quite fascinating, but not very pleasure-giving, to me. It was kind of morbid. Egypt could not have been a very happy place. I cannot empathize too much with this desire for immortality…mummifying yourself, having a son who can give shraaddha, and things like that. I do not think much of societies that lays too much store on the life after death. Why not the life here and now? Why not work towards filling THIS life with happiness and joy?
For that we had to move down to the museum café. It was a brightly lit place with sky high ceilings. They were offering a package for $25 wherein you could taste four different wines and nibble at the salads and cheese. Having chosen the free day to save on the entrance fee, we were not the least bit tempted to taste what surely must have been excellent wine. We chose some English afternoon tea instead and sat down to admire the tall, luminous fiberglass shrub that towered above everything else in the hall, quietly radiating photons of joy.
- Bajirao Mastani