Home > Culture, Travel > A tale of a few cities

A tale of a few cities

A work-related trip to Warsaw last month offered the perfect opportunity to extend my travel into an eastern Europe vacation. Courtesy some commendable planning from the wife, and despite some serious tension over visas, managed to get Warsaw, Prague, Salzburg and Vienna into a 2 week schedule. Austria had been on my must-see places list for ages, while Poland & The Czech Republic (no longer Czechoslovakia, as i learnt while researching for the trip) had the mysterious allure of being the sort of names that one has heard often enough, but don’t really know anything about, beyond a few basic geography references.

And it turned out to be a fascinating couple of weeks. Warsaw reflects a modern city juxtaposed with a strong acknowledgement of its past, Prague is steeped in centuries-old history everywhere you look, Salzburg is even more picture-postcard-pretty than i had imagined, Vienna throbs with the sophistication of its culture. Despite barriers of language  (English not being the prevalent language in any of these cities), an efficient public transport infrastructure and a helpful local populace made getting around an incredibly pleasant experience. Had a wonderful time overall.

Another abiding memory of the holiday is how a rich history of art & culture is so deeply integrated in the ethos of these cities. Warsaw proudly celebrating Chopin’s 200th birth anniversary year, the magnificence of the frescoes & sculptures in Prague, the omnipresence of Mozart & the enthralling art  museums  in Austria.. this trip was like being transported a few centuries back in time.

As i mulled over this, a parallel thought which struck me strongly was how a rich artistic legacy is closely inter-twined with the progress of a civilisation.  Europe’s history reveals  that the era of the Baroque and Classical periods (16th -18th Century AD), where art & music thrived, was followed by the Industrial Revolution which paved the way for western dominance of scientific thought in the last 200 years. A post by Dilbert creator Scott Adams refers to a book called ‘Art and Physics’ by Leonard Shlain, which makes a case for co-relation between the flourishing of art & scientific innovation.  Shlain uses examples throughout history – from the classical Greek sculptors to Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, and from Aristotle to Einstein – to hypothesise that artistic breakthroughs have foreshadowed discoveries of scientists. Closer home, the Gupta dynasty which stretched between 4th & 6th century AD and is referred as the Golden Age of India for its patronage of artistic & scientific pursuits, produced geniuses like Kalidasa and Aryabhatta.

While it might be far-fetched to draw a conclusion of causation between the flourishing of art & a country’s progress, I can’t help wonder:  amidst all the chest-thumping about India’s march towards being the next world superpower, will our apathy and neglect of our artistic & cultural legacy be a stumbling block?  Because as i caught up with the pile of newspapers & magazines on a Sunday afternoon after coming back home, I came across this.

Dhrupad going the way of the dollar is not good news, I think.

Categories: Culture, Travel
  1. August 15, 2010 at 7:36 am

    Interesting observation about art and science. Not having read the Leonard Shlain book, I’m inclined to think the simple explanation is that when a culture is thriving and powerful, both art and science flourish.

    One cannot use the dhrupad example to say art is dying in India. I believe art is flourishing here, only in different form; one has only to look at popular cinema and popular music to see how many new singers / actors / producers are cropping up and new things are being produced. Not all of it is just popular junk, Rahman or Ilayaraja are two good examples of truly good music.

    • August 20, 2010 at 4:27 pm

      Deepa – I agree that the Dhrupad example is not a statement by itself, I used it more as a metaphor. As regards new forms of music, I don’t think quantity begets quality. My test of an artistic legacy is an art form that will command a following not just at the time of inception, but also, say, a couple of centuries later. Its my personal opinion, but am not sure that the names you have mentioned, greats though they are of our age, fall into that league (as against say, an M S Subbalakshmi, who will have timeless appeal.
      My lament is that there is nothing being done to even preserve & promote the incredibly rich history & legacy that we have – which by itself is a reflection of the awareness & sensitivity of our society towards art.

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