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Culture curry


The Elegance of Elephants

Rachel Dwyer, a professor of Indian cultures and cinema at SOAS, London, has written a beautiful review of Raman Sukumar's richly illustrated The Story of Asia's Elephants, in the Times Literary Supplement. The review is easily googleable, but to give readers a taste, here is an excerpt on elephantine metaphors of beauty from classical Sanskrit literature. Writes Dwyer: 'One of the most celebrated tropes is that of a graceful woman: gajagamani, "she who has the gait of an elephant" - a slow, elegant swaying walk. MF Husain, India's most famous modern artist, whose work in the past has featured elephants, made a feature film, Gaja Gamini (2000), in tribute to his Bollywood idol, Madhuri Dixit, shooting her mostly from the back, as she walked gracefully, in multiple roles evoking the spirit of Indian womanhood. While stock expressions such as "moon-faced women" and "women with hands like sprouts" can be negotiated, elephant images are more difficult. Women are described as having "thighs like an elephant's trunk" (meaning long and tapering) and have "breasts like elephant's head bosses". Similes comparing men with elephants, such as kings who have the gait of an elephant, a stately, regal walk, are less problematic, as these evoke images of power rather than beauty. . . In the Kama Sutra, among the four types of women is found the hastini or elephant woman, who is "gluttonous, shameless and irascible". '

Salman Did It

Salman Rushdie came in for a roasting this week for his post-Whitney tweets. Writer Benjamin Anastas in a general rant against the stupidity of Twitter said that what finally got him off it was a tweet by Rushdie saying: 'Thank you, Whitney'. Writes Anastas in his article for The Daily Beast: 'That's strange, I thought. Whitney who? And why is Salman Rushdie thanking her on Twitter? I'd followed Rushdie out of idle curiosity on one of my first days, having given up on reading his work after Fury, which has to be one of the five worst novels about New York ever written. (It makes sense, I guess, when your view of the city originates at Indochine or from your regular table at the Waverly Inn. ) Was he thanking the Whitney Museum for a favour? Or was I just missing something? A few clicks and I found out the reason behind his tweet. Whitney Houston had died, found floating in the bathtub at her hotel suite in Beverly Hills. The news wasn't particularly meaningful to me - I have a weird indifference to celebrity, even when I'm in the same room as a movie star - but it did feel completely wrong that I was hearing about Whitney Houston's death from Salman Rushdie. . . The next morning I woke up from a dissatisfying couple hours of sleep and lay on my back with my eyes wide open. Thank you, Whitney. 'I can't do this, ' I said to the ceiling." And there was one Twitter account less.

Holi in Vienna

The exuberance of India captured by photographer Abhishek Hajela is being showcased at the Atelier Bilder Gallery in Vienna for a month-long exhibition. It will then become part of the gallery's permanent collection. The Delhi-based, award-winning photographer has portrayed "the varied faces of India - stuff that is always an enigma for tourists". So apart from the Naga Sadhus from his Spiritual India project that was nominated by the National Geographic All Roads Photography Program, there are shots of a Sikh warrior on two horses, vignettes from the Rajasthan desert, dancers from South India, and colourloaded shots of Holi being played at Mathura and Baldev. Curated by Dr Johannes Passecker and Dr Priyanka Dutta, the exhibition also features paintings by Sisir Kumar Datta and Sonal Nathwani. "The idea," says Hajela, "is to bring Indian and Austrian artists closer". No better way than a cloud of abir.

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