Rai Krishna Trust Exhibition Invitation, Banaras, 1998
Rai Krishna Trust Exhibition Invitation, Banaras, 1998

Banaras

Elle Décor NYC text by Marcus Leatherdale

India is an overwhelming immersion of the senses... good and bad. Some might consider this unnerving... I usually relish the experience. In New York, I walk about with my senses shut down. I can't recall the last time I really used my nose. Whereas, in India, there is this indescribable aroma which is unforgettable... the fragrance of jasmine blossoms, countless spices and the wafting smoke of burning incense and dried cow dung, all blend into the misty dawn. At sunrise, I am often awakened by the chattering madness of the countless green parrots and monkeys who live in the old banyan tree nearby, while a flock of brown eagles circle ominously overhead.

India is the most magical place on earth.

I live in a two hundred year old, three story house in the ancient city of Banaras. Built around a central courtyard, the floors and ceilings are of stone and the walls are whitewashed. Residing in the "old city" quarters, the most antiquated part of Banaras which runs along the banks of the river Ganges... as an "Aadha Hindustani" (half Indian),in what is thought to be the oldest living city in the world... and certainly the most holy in India... I am grounded by the humility of Humanity.

A place where, in the dark and narrow alleys, things pretty much go on as they have always done for centuries. Where,for all the arguing and hiring of a sweeper, I was unable to stop the neighbours from dumping their garbage in front of my house. The problem was finally solved by painting Hindu deities on the facade... Shiva the destroyer, Hanuman the monkey god, Ganesh the elephant god and Durga the demon killing goddess... all very colourful and large. Hindus will not throw trash at the feet of their Icons.

I affectionately call them my "Garbage Gods".

Banaras has the best and the worst to offer, as does New York. Similarly, there is a constant flow of changing faces of pilgrims, asthetics, and travellers... all coming for their own reasons to the home of "Shiva and Durga"... as opposed to the gods of New York... money, sex and ambition.

My life here is far more relaxed. I have set up my portrait studio on the roof, under a white cotton tent. Santosh, my streetwise assistant has to constantly watch out for monkeys and scare them off with a big bamboo stick. They love to use the tent as a trampoline, leaving it in shreds. Monkeys in Banaras are as cute as alley cats... big, mangy, grey bullies, some the size of Cocker Spaniels, and very destructive. Any unfortunate object that falls into their clutches is either, preferably eaten... or destroyed.

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