BLACK HORSE AND THE ROYAL TANK
WORDS BY GENESIA ALVES AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA
I don’t get Delhi. It doesn’t seem to me to be a great place to land unless you have a big wallet to cushion your fall. The glorious parks and gracious avenues, sophisticated soirees and cultured cuisine make no impression on me once you hear women say they worry about being outdoors alone after dark.
But during the day, in tiny pockets, it’s fine. Even nice. I’m a tourist in the capital of my country and I love Hauz Khas (rough translation: Royal Lake). Or perhaps what I recognize Hauz Khas to have been. I ignore the big neon shop signs, the trendy high-street brand store doors swallowing and spewing endless streams of eight foot tall Punjabans with their glorious shampoo-ad manes and knee high boots, all boobs, no butt, shopping bags as large as their personalities.
Delhi can be high society with aspirations to high intellect. In Mumbai, they say we talk too much about Bollywood. Which is why I cannot for sure tell you when exactly I fell in love with F.N. Souza’s paintings. But it was definitely on a visit to the house of a friend who lives next to Shah Rukh Khan. He was showing us his Souza painting of Christ. We drifted to talking about Salman Khan’s paintings of Christ. We were laughing. It would have been a bit infra-dig for Delhi.
In Hauz Khas, our little caravan comprising of my husband, our three children and I saw a discreet sign. DAG. Delhi Art Gallery. We entered. Our children, used to being taken to museums and galleries, entered happily. The lady at the entrance smiled at us. The gallery had a wealth of Souzas.
“You young people, every new generation thinks it invented sex.”
In Mumbai, the Kala Ghoda (Black Horse) area is metamorphosing. Around it, vested interests train jets of sly purpose at it, hoping to sculpt this district (malleable and vulnerable suddenly because of Mumbai’s politically-powered champions of unbridled “development”) into something monetisable. Let’s make it Times Square. Let’s make it the Village. Let’s make it Hauz Khas.
On our 17th wedding anniversary, my husband and I abandon the children with my family to walk around South Mumbai. We have been walking here for more than 20 years. Things have changed. The ghost of Wayside Inn looks at Rhythm House and wonders how it still makes money. Jehangir Gallery echoes a little on the inside since Café Samovar closed recently. Two cafés, a couture patisserie, a boutique, anti-terrorist barracks and armed policemen outside the old blue synagogue. New.
The Delhi Art Gallery. Also new. We walk in conscious of that familiar frisson of excitement. This clever little gallery is here, in our city, showing their selection of the Bombay Progressive Artists Group. I’ll leave you to Google the details of the group, but the work is a revelation. This is modern Indian art, some of which predates Indian independence. It is brilliant, muck-raking, intuitive, avant-garde… and as you climb up – the gallery is housed over three stories – increasingly risqué.
Right at the top are a few sketches, erotic and astounding not only for their excellence but also for the sheer bloody boldness of it all. “You young people, every new generation thinks it invented sex.” Who said that? Never mind. Here it is. Sex and genitals and crumpled sheets and brazen women. I have a Catholic girl moment and chortle. This is classic F.N. Souza and even if it took the Delhi Art Gallery to bring him to Bombay, I’m glad he’s here in our ruddy Black Horse District. He’d never have thrived in Delhi’s Royal Tank.
Delhi Art Gallery, 58, Dr. V.B. Gandhi Marg, Kala Ghoda, Fort, Mumbai 400 001. Phone: 022 4922 2700