Other States

At every bend there is learning at a human level in India, says U.S. fibre artist

As someone who has seen more of India than many Indians do, U.S. woman rates Kolkata as the best city in the country

Fibre artist Brianna Leue, who was born in Massachusetts, grew up an adopted child in a foster home and at 15 found another set of parents, who had already adopted a boy called Sunil from Hyderabad.

Two years ago, Sunil, now a young man, decided to come to India in search of his biological parents and asked Brianna if she would like to come along. Brianna was already in love with India — by then she had read almost everything related to India that came her way, from Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda to Tagore’s Home and the World to Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Mistress of Spices — and this turned out to be the opportunity to step into the land she had built in her head.

Upon landing in Hyderabad, she was horrified to find the India in real vastly differing from the India in her head, created mostly from pictures dating back to the 1970s. “I was expecting a handmade, traditional world,” says Brianna, 30.

As the weeks rolled by and the two travelled across India, the horrors gradually gave way to fascination. From Hyderabad they travelled to Bengaluru, Mysuru, Wayanad, Goa, Vadodara, Kutch, Varanasi and Jhalawar and finally flew back from Delhi.

“I am glad Delhi was not our first experience,” she says recalling that visit in late 2017 when the city was under a thick blanket of smog resulting from stubble-burning. The following year they returned again. This time Sunil came first — he still hasn’t found his biological parents — and Brianna joined him two months later in Hyderabad.

She then travelled to Pushkar, Kashmir, Ladakh, Kolkata, Siliguri, Meghalaya and Nagaland and then back to Kolkata. As someone who has seen more of India than many Indians do in their lifetime, Brianna rates Kolkata as the best city in the country. “It has more trees. It has a vast mixture of the old and the new, of Indian and western, of different religions and cultures. You see BMWs alongside the old yellow taxis,” she says.

Pushkar and Nagaland have left a lasting impression on her. At Pushkar, she spent about two weeks learning Odissi dance, which turned out to be an experience in self-realisation, one of the realisations being that Odissi wasn’t meant for her. And garbage, the sight of which would torment her throughout her travels, began to inspire her. She lived on the outskirts of the town and while cycling home would collect discarded clothes from heaps of rubbish and wash them and turn them into pieces of handicraft.

And in Nagaland, where she spent two months in the home of a family from the Konyak tribe in Longwa village, she picked up life-lessons from the elders which she says are going to stand her in good stead. Among the things she learned: make your life simple; take care of those around you; take care of things you already own [instead of replacing them with new purchases]. “These are things I already knew, but at the village I got to live and experience them in new ways,” says Brianna.

In spite of the extensive travels in India, Brianna insists she has only felt the tip of the iceberg and will keep returning. “At every bend there is learning at a human level. There is so much to everything, everywhere,” she says.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 5:51:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/at-every-bend-there-is-learning-at-a-human-level-in-india-says-us-fibre-artist/article30436979.ece

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