This week saw the start of the 49th season and the resumption of physical meetings. After months of zoom it was good to have the personal interaction badly missed by many of the members. The society provided a simultaneous zoom transmission for those not able, or uncomfortable with attending such a gathering.
As is tradition, it was The Chairman’s evening, and David Woodthorpe presented some of his favourite images taken during three visits to India, the country which has captured his heart. India, he explained, is a place where everything that bombards the senses of western visitors and appears to be extraordinary and at times quite shocking to us, is in fact quite normal. Unlike European countries which differ in quite minor ways, India is a world apart in terms of the history, religion, culture, behaviour and sheer number of people. With a population of 1.3 billion it is more than 20 times that of the UK.
David began by showing images from some of the iconic Sikh and Buddhist temples in Delhi, Guwahati and across Rajasthan explaining how many of the temples prepare and provide thousands of free meals a day to the poor, hungry and homeless of the city, funded by donations. During the pandemic as the numbers of needy grew the Gurudwaha Bangla Sahib Sikh Temple in Delhi increased its provision of meals from around 30,000 to an eye watering 100,000 meals a day and expected to increase that number. One of David’s favourite buildings is the Lotus Temple in Delhi, a Baháʼí House of Worship.
Many of the temples are of a scale difficult to comprehend, with for example, the Ranakpur Jain Temple having 1444 individually and uniquely carved marble pillars supporting 80 domes over 29 halls.
In Varanasi, possibly the oldest inhabited city in the world, it is normal from the banks of the mother river Ganges, to launder clothes, to bathe, to drink and to cremate bodies. It is difficult for the western visitor to comprehend these simultaneous activities. But every evening the Aarti Festival, a well-choreographed ceremony restores peace, calm and tranquillity to the Ghats.
India has retained an enormous wealth of ancient buildings, maintained in superb condition and accessible to all. Members were shown images of a wide range of forts, castles, palaces and historic monuments. But it’s the very talented, colourful, characteristic, often beautiful or handsome and happy people who really make any visit to India unforgettable. David showed many portraits and scenes of people carrying out their everyday activities, whether at home, in markets, at work or simply relaxing or playing.
Rajasthan is a land of colour with the Amber Fort, The Blue City of Jodhpur, the Pink City of Jaipur and the White City of Udaipur, all of which are populated with colourful characters.
Of course, no presentation would be complete without reference to the special wildlife and David showed images of One Horned Rhino, fearful Monitor Lizards, Gharials, Crocodiles, colourful birds and Butterflies from across Northern India.
David concluded his presentation with some amusing examples of the transport system from the Toy Train of Darjeeling, goats on Motorways, incredibly overloaded vehicles and the rather dangerous habit of farmers choosing to drive the wrong way along the fast lane of motorways!
Such is the captivating sub-continent which is India.