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Shove for the smile
Getting up close to the world's most famous painting is almost as tough as getting into a rush-hour Mumbai local.
Experts have spent years examining the world's most famous painting - Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa - to tell us who she was and why she wore that famous smile. They have gone at the painting with laser guns and magnifying glasses to tell us things the naked eye of a layman would never have noticed.
Some have suggested she was pregnant when she sat for the painting. Others have suggested she was constipated and therefore that famous half-smile. And there are those who believe the painting is a self-portrait of Da Vinci himself and the woman is, in fact, a man! Such details can only come from hours of careful study of the painting.
So, when you visit the Louvre museum in Paris, you hope to stand in front of the painting for at least a few minutes to take in the mysterious landscape in the backdrop and the delicate light that illuminates her hands and face. You want to find out for yourself how and why that podgy-looking woman became the most famous face ever on canvas.
But you may not get the chance. With Mona Lisa on every tourist's must-see list, there are hundreds of people in the room in which the work is displayed at any point in the day. They all form a tight semicircle around the large bullet-proof glass, from behind which the lady (or the gentleman if you wish) gives her enchanting smile.
To get close to the painting, you may have to use the skills of pushing and shoving that you acquired while getting into the unreserved compartment of an Indian train. That is the only way you will get past retired Russian wrestlers, Japanese karatekas and large British beer bellies which can be wielded like battering rams. There is also a small contingent of Indian tourists with their spanking white sneakers and flowery salwar kameez, all trying to push their way through to get closer and take home photographs of the painting.
You have to bob around like a boxer evading punches to catch glimpses of the famous painting from between hairy hands, balding heads and blinding flash bulbs. It can be irritating at first, but here lies the magic of Mona Lisa as well. No matter which corner of the room you are in, no matter how many people stand before you and her, Mona Lisa's eyes constantly follow you. This is, of course, not a new idea and others have noticed it too. But it is magical to stand in the midst of a thousand aggressive tourists and feel that the eyes of a woman, painted 500 years ago, are following you.
By the time you walk out of the museum, you realise you have only seen fragments of the famous smile and hope that your imagination is vivid enough to reconstruct the entire painting in your mind while sipping espresso in a cafe.
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