Search Results for: hopper

Edward Hopper and the eternal moment


1. The exhibition

On a rainy Saturday afternoon in September, during a weekend in Lausanne, I spot a notice for an Edward Hopper exhibition running at a local museum. I have never seen a Hopper original, and I soon start towards Fondation de l’Hermitage – a 19th century residence that houses temporary exhibitions, – looking forward to a quiet afternoon in the company of paintings I love.

Movie, Mall, Bazaar

(Part 5 of the Bangalore Days series that began here.)

Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu, a Kannada movie starring Anant Nag, begins with a boy playing with an elderly man. The game isn’t an innocent one. Using the old man’s failing memory to his advantage, the boy attempts to trick the grandpa-like figure. Soon he is stopped by a nurse, but we are the only ones to sense relief: the old man, an Alzheimer’s patient, isn’t aware of what has transpired.

The backstory emerges gradually. Venkoba Rao has been admitted to the old-age home by his son Shiva. Incapable of facing the situation of his father’s condition, and unable to bear this responsibility after his mother’s death, Shiva distances himself from his father. One day Venkoba Rao slips away from the old-age home, gets muddled up with a couple of contract killers, and the rest of the movie follows the twin threads of a son’s search for his missing father (of ‘Wheatish complexion, average build’: the film’s title) and the tragi-comic predicaments of criminals who are stuck with a man carrying few memories but plenty of wisdom.

The ending brings a resolution. Son and father are reunited, and along the way the son finds himself too: Shiva now regrets his earlier decisions. A neat and feel-good conclusion that reaffirms a comforting belief: this is a society that still cares for its elders and values how they are treated.  

I watch the movie at the Mantri mall in Malleshwaram. Physically and commercially the multiplex movie experience in this city mirrors what one sees in the West. Standing in the dimly lit windowless foyer, with digital screens beaming trailers and counters stacked with bottled drinks, I recall evenings we stood on M.G.Road waiting to be let inside The Plaza. On the sidewalk were magazine sellers competing with hawkers peddling roasted peanuts or corn cobs. Traffic eased by unhurriedly, and the expectant buzz of cinemagoers on the pavement made this wait a part of the movie experience: we could not have imagined it otherwise. This was during the nineties. Nowadays, before you enter the foyer inside a multiplex, you pass through a security check, and surrender your camera’s battery. Smartphones are permitted without fuss, but even a small point-and-shoot camera is problematic. Inside the cinema hall, the glow of mobile phones is a source of amusement and discomfort, especially when people take calls when the movie is on. In the nineties crying babies were the only source of interruption. They were hushed or taken outside, but a ringing phone triggers a different response. These new babies demand immediate, on-the-spot attention. (more…)

Games people play

The lines behind the REWE checkout counters were dense and busy. Christmas was behind us, but grocery shopping showed no signs of lulling. I placed my items — aubergines, thyme sprigs, olive oil, lemon, cheese, yoghurt, sambal oelek sauce, avocados — on the conveyer belt. The woman behind the counter was one of those sprightly, chatty ones who make you wonder if this isn’t the best job in the world. Middle-aged, in her early fifties perhaps, she wore her golden hair in a plait. A round face with wise wrinkled eyes. Simple stud earrings. No makeup.

When my turn came, I greeted her and asked: “Haben Sie eine papiertüte?” Do you have a paper bag?

“Ja, hab ich,” came the reply, as she scanned the groceries and put them aside.

The typical response here is to hand a bag over to the shopper. The woman did no such thing; she continued to scan my items. At one point she looked at me with a cheeky grin, and said: You didn’t ask me for one, did you? You only asked if I have a paper bag.

I laughed, and said: That’s a game I play with others!

Well, now you see that others can play it too! She smiled and gave me the bag.

Istanbul’s Hauptstrasse

Living in Germany we’ve grown used to the concept of a pedestrian shopping street at the center of a city or a town. Cities here have an altstadt, with buildings a few centuries old, and the altstadt has a main pedestrian thoroughfare, often the Hauptstrasse, with shops lining both sides. Towns and villages with no distinguishable older sections are also organized (this is Germany) around a Hauptstrasse. The Hauptstrasse in Wiesloch, the provincial town I live in, is a kilometer long traffic-free cobblestoned stretch that features cafes, restaurants, bakeries, beauty salons, pharmacies (one of which claims to be the world’s first fuel station), a bank, a post office, and a variety of large and small shops. This is the town center. Locals come here to socialize, to buy the daily newspaper or brotchens, to chat with shopkeepers. On Thursdays a vegetable market springs up in a nearby square. During summer festivals spread their stalls in and around the Hauptstrasse. Nothing much happens elsewhere in Wiesloch. In Heidelberg, where the Hauptstrasse runs parallel to the Neckar for a couple of kilometers, the scene is metropolitan. Tourists and locals walk in droves all year, shopping, eating, sightseeing. In Mannheim, another city nearby, the pedestrian shopping street is called Planken, and it features a tram line.

This familiarity with the pedestrian shopping street leads us to seek similar avenues in the cities we visit. In Europe this is easy, but in the U.S., where the historical core (the “downtown”) of most cities is now a business district with high-rise buildings, there is no Hauptstrasse. (Moreover, the only pedestrian streets in the U.S. are all in Disneyland.) Indian cities feature commercial districts or famous roads (like the Marine Drive, or the ubiquitous M.G.Road), but I know of no main pedestrian shopping street through a historical center. What about Istanbul?


Nietzsche at the flea market


On a weekend not long ago I visited the flea market in town. It had sprung up on Schwetzinger strasse, a narrow one-way street I use everyday on my drive to work. Spots on either side where cars are parked on a normal day were now taken up by long tables spread out with odds and ends, and behind these tables sat the sellers, old women with striking hairdos watching passers by with indifferent eyes, and behind the women stood their cars, small Volkswagens or Renaults, reconditioned versions of a long-obsolete model, as though these old automobiles were also up for sale. Walking along this familiar street now flaunting an altered character was like traveling forward or backward in time, into a future or a past that was vaguely familiar and yet whose contours and rhythms I could not identify.



From the window of my room I could see the workers in an adjacent plot. Sometimes I heard the clink of metal on metal, or the piercing roar of a drill seeking water, and late in the evening there were voices, laughter even, with a rough edge. The men – there were eight or nine of them – started the day early. I woke up to the hum of a generator, and found them at work, extending the foundation, perforating a sheet, mixing cement. They worked in pairs or in threes; I never saw a solitary figure. Who were these people? Where were they from? Where were their families?

These migrant workers figured, as abstractions, in a document I was reading. The government had started a project to give people an identity. Every resident Indian would receive a number, a unique identifier, that led to other benefits. Workers like these could, with this number, open a bank account. Or acquire a loan. It promised access where little, they said, existed today. Identity, reduced to a number, was the foundation for prosperity: get your number, the rest would follow.

The media called it an important step in the nation’s march towards greater progress. There were murmurs of dissent – on privacy, security, and cost issues – but these voices were all but lost in the noise from supporters, and the government was not ruffled: five million people had received their number; over a billion would follow.



The other day I saw a sketch that showed a girl walking in the woods. Above the trees, tracing the outlines of the highest branches, were three words: WAITING FOR SPRING.

I’ve been waiting for spring for a while now. If one was to believe the radio, everyone in this region has been waiting for spring for a while now. Two months ago when I returned from India, I assumed, based on the experience of nine winters, that I had escaped the most severe part. But Nature mocks our confident notions of having understood her, overturns what we take for granted: I soon learned I had landed in the middle of a harsh and extended winter. Eight weeks hence there are traces of snow on the sidewalks, the car windscreens need to scraped free of ice each morning, and the grey countryside feels like a frame from a science fiction movie portraying an apocalyptic landscape.


Notes from a recent India trip

1. Arrival

At the Bengaluru International Airport everything seems new and shining. The modern interiors, polished and spacious; the immigration officials, courteous and efficient; the H1N1 desk, sophisticated (with high-tech equipment measuring, from a distance, the average temperature of passengers in a queue) and orderly; the exit gate, sparse (no swarm of taxi-wallahs waiting to assault you) and organized (a handful of drivers carrying placards, Volvo buses to the city). Is all this only a facade? Or has change renewed other dimensions of life in Bangalore? I’m eager to find out.


Media and Society

Family Matters (October 2012)

Being and Foreignness (December 2011)

An Indian in Germany (November 2011)

The private and the public (September 2011)

Who will it be tomorrow? (March 2011)

Responding to poverty (Jan 2005)

Two malls and a street (Jan 2005)


 Literature and Art

Rediscovering India (August 2012)

The left hand of darkness (October 2011)

The enigma of a literary festival (April 2011)

This is a five-part essay (Feb 2011)

Edward Hopper and the eternal moment (November 2010)

The kingdom of Nek Chand (March 2006)

Two lives (Jan 2006)



The Russian Hedgehog (Feb 2012)

The bus ride to work (Sept 2011)

Seven things I love (May 2009)

Remembering Grandpa (April 2009)



2008 in lists

A summary of the year in lists of notable experiences/events/things: 

Books – Fiction

The Reader (Berhnard Schlink)
The Book of Other People (edited by Zadie Smith)
Sea of Poppies (Amitav Ghosh)
The Enchantress of Florence (Salman Rushdie)
The White Tiger (Arvinda Adiga)
Thank you, Jeeves (P.G.Wodehouse)
The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery)
Buddha – part 1 (Osamu Tezuka)

Books – Non-fiction

The shadow of the sun (Richard Kapuscinski)
The Halo effect (Phil Rosenzweig)
Fixing Climate (Wallace Broecker and Robert Kunzig)
Cultural Amnesia (Clive James)
A Little History of the World (E.H.Gombrich)
Antiquity (Norman Cantor)
Essays in Love (Alain De Botton)
Edward Hopper (Lloyd Goodrich) (more…)