India 2

December 23, 2010


Mount Kanchenjunga (again)

On my first weekend in Calcutta, luxuriating in the Oberoi Grand, I noticed a colour supplement in the newspapers – Indian tribal art had finally become fashionable, with an artist achieving $31,000 at a Sothebys auction in New York.

Indian tribal art finally comes of age

TRIBAL ART:  I had been collecting this artist – Jangarh Singh Shyam from Madhya Pradesh, since the late 1980’s when I visited the Bharat Bhavan, an exciting gallery/museum complex in Bhopal.  It was one of the first to collect contemporary Indian art (which was about to explode) and tribal artists – long marginalised and discriminated against because of their lowly caste status.  On my many subsequent trips to India I continued to look for tribal art -I am after all a curator of Aboriginal art in Australia.  I collected and exhibited paintings from the Warli tribals who live in the foothills of the Sahyadri mountains (north of Mumbai), Madhubani folk/village paintings from northern Bihar, and later, I was one of the first to arrange exhibitions of  Khovar art from southern Bihar.  In 1994, Jenny Kee, a famous London/Sydney fashion icon and artist, her boyfriend the late Danton Hughes, and I went on a “tribal tour” of Orissa to remote villages.  Adventures included nearly being arrested for photographing near naked tribals at a weekly market high up in the mountains, to Jenny being swept up in a tribal wedding party walking along the road.

Jenny Kee in Orissa, 1994

When I organized the Australian/Indian Government artists exchange  and exhibition at the Crafts Museum in New Delhi in 1999, I ensured that Jangarh Singh Shyam participated joining Aboriginal artist Djambawa Marawili.  This was most enjoyable, despite language barriers, and a huge “collaborative” canvas (which had no evidence of any collaboration), is now probably wrapped somewhere in the basement of the Australian High Commission in Delhi!  Extremely unfortunately, Jangarh committed suicide while feeling isolated on an artists’s residency in Japan in 2001.  His son is now getting recognized for his own art, but unfortunately, other tribal artists I saw this time seemed to be imitating Jangarh’s unique visual vocabulary…

Later in January 2011, I am going to exhibit my collection of Indian art at the Cross Arts Projects, Kings Cross – a small exhibition to mostly work out what to do with it, and enjoy!

My mother, Pat Bourke, in Jaipur in 1990

MUM: Another adventure I had was with my mother who adored her trip to India in 1990 and was just ecstatic when she rode an elephant.  She has long been truly fascinated by elephants which I am only now beginning to fully understand and share in her enthusiasm.

INDIA:  I have been asked how different I found India after 10 years – and I didn’t find it very different.  What I had forgotten was just how alive Indians are!  They are just going for it – often against great odds, and mostly with a smile on their faces.  Traffic and queues (and queue jumpers) can of course test one’s patience.  There is apparently a huge increase in the middle class and it is good if more people have better lives and greater educational opportunities.  The GNP is projected to be 9% for the coming year.  Unfortunately, not everyone shares in this wealth, and the gap between rich and poor has widened.  I noticed a lot of zippy little new cars and some new flyovers, and some instant suburbs, but basic infrastructure like roads seemed as run down as ever, and many open drains and worrying loose cables.

This woman slept on the pavement each night opposite my hotel

Many people were fascinated with a recent documentary (Kevin McCloud’s Grand Tour) that looked at the slums of Mumbai, where it is expected over 8 million people will live by next year.  There is  85% employment in the slums, and most interestingly, a very strong sense of community that has been lost in wider suburbia, and that architects and city planners would like to replicate.  I noticed two women sleep on the pavement opposite my hotel each night, probably after a day of sorting garbage, and could only imagine what their lives are like.

80 million children between the ages of 6 and 14 don’t go to school.  Over a million schools have no buildings, or one teacher only, or no water or basic amenities.

But again, I can only reiterate my admiration for how well India works…given the challenges and the weight of  the population.

Morning prayers

READING: I very much enjoyed reading Nine Lives by William Dalrymple.  I had previously enjoyed his history of Delhi, The City of Djinns.  He is interested in how modern India is impacting on the past and traditions, and looks at nine extraordinary lives, and their religious and spiritual experiences.  These include a middle class woman who has found fulfillment living in a cremation ground, and a temple dancer who is worshipped as an incarnate deity for 2 months of the year, but is a prison warden for the remainder.  One of the many unique things about India is how, unlike most other cultures, the present is not disconnected from the past. Their mythological stories and epics are renewed, reinterpreted and evolving, with the Ramayan for example, a very popular television serial in the 1980s.

I loved the quote in the book from Shah Abdul Lalif a C18th Sufi master (especially as there was a recent hysterical wave of share-buying  in an Indian coal company): “Deal only with things that are good. If you trade coal, you will be covered in soot.  But if you trade musk, you will smell of perfume”.

One of my favourite writers is the grumpy but amusing VS Naipaul who I first read when I went to India.  I loved his writing as a returning  (for the first time) Trinidad-born Indian.  An Area of Darkness (1964) – I love the quote, “To be in Bombay was to be exhausted”, and then India: A Wounded Civilisation (1977).  Aravind Adiga (The White Tiger)  recently wrote that Naipaul’s India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990) was “so compassionate, so insightful in it’s vision of India as a land that grows through strife” that Indians forgave Naipaul his criticisms and fully embraced him.

Good news is that Vikram Seth is writing A Suitable Girl to be published in 2013!

HOLIDAY READING: Tony Fitzjohn’s Born Wild, David Suzuki’s The Legacy (I like his mantra of “clean air, clean water and clean food”) and familiarising myself with the intelligent and very relevant work of  Tim Jackson and Wade Davis, starting with their TED Talks.

COLABA: In Mumbai I rarely leave the beautiful harbour suburb of Colaba, near the now unfortunately infamous Taj Hotel, and the Gateway of India.  Although people still sleep in the street there, or camp beside buildings, I did find it rather odd to see in this suburb with some of the most valuable real estate in the world,  rather beautiful black and white goats tethered to fences.  I then realised that it was Eid-ul-Azha (EID) and they were to be sacrificed.  I was extremely upset.

Kittens at the Darjeeling Animal Shelter on Kukur Tihar

CAMPAIGNS: At the same time I was emailed about Australian sheep being sent to the Middle East, and for EID were also killed cruelly.  You can watch a most disturbing report that was recently screened, and to add your voice of protest email the Australian Government, click here.  We are complicit in this trade…and these “sacrifices”.


Unfortunately, I have just received this email and the permit has been renewed.
“Hi Ace
I want to apologize for not writing to you sooner. Between work being crazy (have been busy at both jobs) and the news about Tony, I got somewhat backed up with getting emails out.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries renewed their permit to Tony’s owner Michael Sandlin on December 14, 2010. While it is very disappointing, I am not discouraged and will continue to do whatever I can to try to help Tony.
Here is the link to the article about the permit renewal:
I am trying to keep people on Tony’s Facebook page interested and supportive, asking them to write to the contacts on this list and voice their objections to the permit renewal:
I don’t want people to forget about Tony.
I want to thank you for caring and supporting Tony, and for giving his story more exposure on your blog. It means so much to me and I hope we can continue corresponding.
I hope your Mom is well. I have a rare day of from work today; just home with my cats trying to update things online and respond to emails.
Please keep in touch – have a great holiday.
Dee DeSantis”
OPRAH: Australia has had Oprah fever and she got an unbelievable reception here.  I’ve been enjoying remembering when we went on her show last year, actually sitting beside her, meeting attractive Gayle King, and fellow guest Facebooks’ Mark Zuckerberg, this year’s TIME Magazine Person of the Year.  I promise I don’t know anyone who goes around shouting Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!

I love Derek Cattani's Christmas card

Whatever your beliefs or indulgences, Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings etc, I hope you have an enjoyable break with your families and pets.  I’m most appreciative that many of you find the time to read my blog, and respond and comment –  I love your animal stories and photographs!  Can I thank many of you for drawing my attention to interesting stories and issues and relevant campaigns.  Let’s try to make a difference next year, and I especially want Tony the tiger to be freed!  My best wishes for a more peaceful and a more sustainable 2011.

9 Responses to “India 2”

  1. Hi its great that you appreciated the work of Jangarh Singh Shyam. We too have put our heart and soul in promoting his family and distant relatives and ensuring that his art ‘Jangarh Kalam’ does not die out. Ouw website is exclusively made to promote Gond art world wide.

  2. James DeVere Says:

    Hello Ace,

    Great account containing all the great
    reasons why you’ve fallen for India again.


  3. Judy Says:

    god how fabulous is the new Himalaya photo. love reading your blog – it tells me all the things I should have known before but never thought to ask or only had the tail edge off! so tailed creatures… xx

  4. Ashish Says:

    Hi Ace, your comment that hardly in India knows about Christian the Lion is appropriate. I just saw the story on Discovery Channel today and then scoured the web to bump upon your blog. God Bless you for the amazing work you have done and are still doing.

    I can’t in any which way fathom domesticating a lion in today’s world. Wonder what those days were like…with paranoia sweeping all over, this is a different world we are living in..I am only stating the obvious that the footage of your first re-union with Christian was the most moving moment for me.

    • acebourke Says:

      Thankyou for finding and enjoying Christian’s story. We didn’t really try to “domesticate” Christian – he was young enough to “live” with us. But it is a very different world as you say – much more regimented. However, people should not be allowed to “own” wild animals and we were very fortunate with how it worked out – and of course Christian was an exceptional being!

  5. Heulwen Says:

    Dear Ace,
    I enjoyed your blog once again, and especially Derek Cattini’s card, Christian looks mischievious here, those eyes so deep in concentration as to what was going on, so lovely.
    Glad to hear that you enjoyed your holiday and saw a little more of India.
    I admire the photograph of your mother with the elephant, she seems to enjoy being able to stand so close to it.
    The bad news about Tony the Tiger rather upset me and he actually looks sad in this photo too. Many of my friends responded to my emails to free him, but I feel the owner must have friends in higher places to be able to turn a blind eye to Tony’s freedom campaign.

    I did hear that Oprah Winfrey was in Australia and had a ‘Welcome’ worth recording, I heard the chanting on the radio. I am familiar to this chanting, we have a welsh comedian here in wales called ‘Max Boyce’ who enjoys using his famous ‘Ogi, Ogi, Ogi, Oi, Oi, Oi.’ at Rugby matches, and on stage. Perhaps Oprah has met him on one of his tours, and taken a liking to it.
    You mentioned reading ‘Jungle Book’ while in India, in your last blog, one of my favourite films, and have bought it on Amazon for Christmas, it is years since I saw it, I liked the song ‘I wanna be like you’, which kept returning to my mind every so often, so I will enjoy watching it again in the peace and tranquility of our snow covered village, it becomes very quiet at this time of year.
    Best Wishes and good health to you and yours over Christmas and in the New Year 2011.

  6. Dear Ace, I met Jangarh Singh Shyam in 1996 at Bhopal and I collected several works of him. You can see some of them on my website :
    I am very exciting to discover the works that you have collected. Is it possible on the web ? Can you send me back some images ? Thank you so much for your contribution. Herve

  7. Ace: Thank you again for including Tony in your blog post.

    Unfortunately the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries renewed their permit to Tony’s owner Michael Sandlin on December 14, 2010 allowing him to keep and display Tony at the truck stop.

    Big Cat Rescue of Tampa FL has persistently advocated for Tony and his relocation to an accredited big cat sanctuary. They offered a permanent home for Tony to his owner, but were refused. Carole Baskin, CEO & Founder of BCR, spoke on behalf of Tony on a major news show “Issues With Jane Velez-Mitchell” and BCR has continually networked Tony’s story, produced videos of Tony, and issued an action alert for people to sign which reached key decision makers, etc.

    People around the world learned of Tony and supported his release from the truck stop. Over 40,000 people signed his World Society For The Protection of Animals sponsored petition, reported his story and kept people updated to any new developments, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund petitioned the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries objecting to the permit renewal.

    Despite all of the support and efforts, The LDWF renewed the permit.

    Supporters of Tony are disappointed but not discouraged and will not give up the fight for Tony and his relocation to the home, care and life he deserves. It has truly been a collaborative dedicated effort by so many people that has made Tony’s story global and hopefully, Tony has given a name and face to the serious problem of tigers in the USA.

    Tony is one of thousands of privately owned tigers in the Unites States, whose numbers exceed tigers left in the wild. Please see the very important video about captive U.S. tigers:

    You can voice your objections to the permit renewal by commenting on this article: and contacting the LDWF etc. here:

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