India Holy Song (excerpt) 2000

"The fascination India exerts on the traveler has less to do with the splendor of its palaces, its glorious past, its wealthy maharajas, than with the intense poetry of the omnipresent sacred, most strikingly reflected in the unsettling beauty of the faces of Indian women. The fiery radiance of their saris, the extreme grace of their movements, the dignity of their bearing, make possible a note of brilliance, of seduction, in this country so familiar with misery.

The light breaks thick and violent on the arid grounds of Marwar, at the gateway of the Thar desert. But in the morning, it lies tenderly on the silhouettes of women who pass, fragile sparks, blazing dots which brighten the immense expanse of the sands in search of water. They crisscross these naked landscapes, these desolate plains, with the joy of small feast day flags. Sometimes on the ghats, after the drudgery of washing, they seem to dance a mysterious ballet, letting fly behind them the long pieces of fabric, draping themselves with the still-wet material, their only music the invisible breath of the scorching wind which dries the cotton of their veils. Cyclopean, they observe us secretly. But behind the iridescent mask one can imagine a smile: courageous, candid, attractive—which a brutal, painful history has not managed to erase. Amazing women. Colors.

In a quiet, out-of-the-way village—unknown to tourists—the majority of these famous fabrics are dyed. It is here that the cloths that adorn the women, grace the forms of warriors and wrap the turbaned heads of priests and peasants are colored. Upon one's arrival one senses that, by chance, one has stumbled upon part of the essence of India's mystery. This is where an intimate, everyday India is born.

Early in the morning, one discovers hundreds of workshops, each with its immense trellises of dried bamboo, erected towards the sky in skeleton-like structures. Then the workers—men and women—arrive, and the factory begins to come alive. One washes and abundantly rinses the still-white fabrics. Nearby, engulfed in an acrid smoke, the antique wood-burning boiler starts up. Steam rises from the metal tanks, huge devil-cauldrons, bubbling with amaranth, saffron and pink-red tints. The workers, drenched in sweat, feverishly hand-turn the hellish cranks.

Women and children soar skywards on ladders, drawing up with them the fabric which is coiled and uncoiled, and which climbs and undulates in space like a gigantic snake. Then, the miracle is completed. The immense veils are spread in cascades on the black bamboo to dry—multicolored in the wind—stretched along hundreds of meters of supports. One enters into the light and the color which they unfurl, undulating in long ribbons of vermilion, emerald green, gold, against a background of blinding azure. One continues into the heart of the cries and the laughter of welcome, amid the whirling veils, parting them only to be transported, enveloped, submerged in this radiant tide which rises and falls as far as the eye can see. The joyful turbulence of a festival of color."

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