Friday, February 26, 2010

Presentation of my travel

What follows is a translation of the speech I gave for the oppening of my photo exhibition on Thursday, the 25th of February 2010 at the restaurant "Aventure Exclusive" (127, Championnet street, Paris XVIII).

I choose to give a two-part presentation, where I will firstly give my thoughts about India before I went there, that I will then confront to the reality as I experienced it during this trip. I often get asked my reasons to go to India in the first place, for what often seems like a rather long time (3 months), and I find myself answering with a few clich├ęs like I always enjoyed Indian food, or I really liked Indian movies and such. Although these are all quite true, I essentially decided to go there because I wanted to get away from home, as far as possible. And India struck me as the perfect choice to escape from my European reality, as it seemed so radically opposed to our lifestyle. Getting away from the West, and check out how things felt like on the other side of the world.

India as I imagined it to be was a poor country, with most people living bellow the poverty level, and in misery. People therefore escaped their rough life by watching the latest Bollywood, which offered a long enough entertainment (often lasting around 3 hours) full of twist and turns, of dancing and singing, so they could escape the daily routine. These movies, many of them I already enjoyed before going to India, would show a shiny India full of colours and magnificent landscapes that I was eager to discover. The cities, on the other hand, would be overcrowded, overpopulated with a diversity of people, beliefs and religions. Krishna followers would sing "Hare Krishna" in the streets with drums and bells. As for the concept of time, Indian people would assume a cyclic view, were the end is only an opportunity for a new beginning, offering an optimistic and peacefull view of the world and the salvation of reincarnation to fulfil your destiny. As opposed to our idea of a linear time, like an arrow going upward towards social fulfilment and ending with our inevitable death, which is in this view harder to deal with. Also, I was going to be mesmerized by the scents of spices, cardamone tea, and exquisite curries.

Let's talk about Bollywood first, because it is one of the reasons for my love for India that I tend to bring up the most, and my knowledge would almost inevitably impress as much the westernerns than the Indians I met during my trip. The theory of escapism that I mentionned seemed to be quite close to what I observed. It corresponded pretty much to the fact, and the explanations that I was given by some locals. However, I would like to give two precisions about the relation to Bollywood films that I witnessed. The first one is that people would adopt behaviours in real life that were inspired by the films, and many people know by heart many of the old and more contemporary songs. India definitely sings and dance, and not just in films. I was able to confirm it by spending a week-end on Diu Island (state of Gujarat) with seven Rajashtani friends. Dilip Singh and his friends were singing songs from the movies everytime we were in public transports (train, coach, moto rickshaw). Their favourite game was to sing in turn, and starting each new song with the last syllable from the previous one. When it came to my turn, I had to improvise with the few Bollywood songs that I knew, or fall back on the odd French classic. My mind is inevitably on our trip to Diu Island on the morning train, a trip that takes no less than 8 hours, and which was filled with joyfull singing and laugther. Here we can see that people are far from being mere spectators, but that they become actors/singers in real life, mixing with the life in films. In the respect that trains are a metonimy of Cinema, one could identify the beautifull Indian landscapes showing through the train windows with the roll of a film projecting images. The other observation, parrallel to this one, is that real life events inspire movies and many very "real" topics can be found, amongst which terrorism, the indian-pakistani conflict or issues around the casts system. For instance, the movie New York (watched with Juliette and Aditi in Delhi, July) deals with the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, and A Wednesday (watched with Rimjhim and her husband in Kolkata, September) tells the story of a terrorist threatening the Mumbai police forces. Also, the TV film Un Hazaron Ke Naam, in which I acted (Mumbai, July), tells about the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai.

Then, the astonishing landscapes are not always were you expect to find them. The countryside in West Bengal was beautiful with its terra cotta temple contrasting with the luxuriously green hills (in Bishnupur). But I really fell in love when I found myself lost in a tiny village in the mountanous region of Sikkim, next to this immense National Park (The KNP). Mountains, in this region, are treated as buddhist deities, and so are some lakes, which adds to the impression.


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