Monday, May 30, 2011

Painted-canvas scroll from Mumbai

When Christine, our daughter Emmanuelle and I were returning from Sydney to Paris in 1969, we stopped over for a couple of days with French friends in Mumbai (then known as Bombay). One of the objects we purchased there—with the help of our hosts: the French commercial attaché and his Breton wife, one of Christine's school friends—was a painted-canvas scroll, 1.25 meters in width and almost 5 meters long. Upon moving into the house at Gamone, I became the guardian of this treasure, since I happened to have three adjacent walls that were disposed in such a way that the entire scroll could be viewed.

If I understand correctly (which I surely don't, because my awareness of Indian culture is on a par with my knowledge of Australian Aboriginal languages and traditions), the images are intended to depict and celebrate the glorious achievements of an ancient maharajah whose forces rode to battle, not only on horses, but also on elephants. This is the fellow in question, at the center of the scroll:

We see him here, elsewhere in the vast scroll, riding in parade on a splendid black steed, surrounded by guardsmen mounted on pale ponies, while a pair of his subjects are applauding as if they were watching the Bastille Day parade in Paris.

Oops, it probably wasn't a parade. The maharajah was no doubt riding into a pitched battle! We see the brave nobleman, in the following segment of the scroll, attacking warriors mounted on an elephant. Just behind our hero, the severed head of a tiger has fallen onto the ground. To the left of the elephant, a little blue man appears to be messing around with brightly-attired women, but I don't know what he's doing, and whose side they're on.

In the following segment, our hero appears to be moving through seaside territory (blue water with white fish), accompanied by exotic beasts that might possibly be multicolored camels.

I'll leave off there, because there are many scenes in the scroll, but my ignorance of what exactly is happening prevents me from acting as an intelligently-plausible guide.

Maybe Christine and I should put this scroll on the market, in the hope that it might interest an expert capable of appreciating it seriously. Meanwhile, the maharajah and his cohorts have been gallivanting around on the wall behind my TV set at Gamone for nearly two decades. I'm ashamed to say, though, that they make so little noise—in spite of the horses, elephants, tigers and camels—that I'm barely aware of their spectacular presence.

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