Flying high in Delhi’s art quarter

September 29th, 20102:27 pm @


Time for a break in the only cafe we could find.

The rickshaw driver wasn’t really sure where to go – neither were we, all we could give him was the name of the area. “Lado Sarai,” we kept repeating, even though the long-suffering bloke kept telling us: “this is Lado Sarai”.

“Well, in that case, just keep driving around, hopefully we’ll know it when we see it.”

Which is exactly how it happened. The dead give-away in the end was the proliferation of four-wheel drives with white and blue diplomatic licence plates. When you’re looking for one of Delhi’s “artistic quarters”, the presence of embassy people is as good as a flashing neon sign. As we buzzed past an increasing number of foreigners in our little green and yellow three-wheeler, we told the driver to stop. We’d arrived.

Lado Sarai, in Delhi’s deep south, is a hive of artistic talent. While in other parts of the city travel agents, restaurants called Moti Mahal and shops selling DVDs of dubious provenance crowd each other for space, here it was art galleries – as well as a Kashmiri arts and crafts centre. No self-respecting tourist destination in India is without a Kashmiri arts and crafts centre.

And so we ambled along the main strip, ducking in and out of various galleries to see what was on offer. We’d already picked up a couple of artworks in Kerala, so we weren’t really in the market, but it was a perfect way to spend a gorgeously sunny Saturday afternoon where getting out of the house didn’t mean being scorched alive (summer) or drowned (monsoon).

It also meant I could indulge my fantasy of being a wealthy industrialist (and/or philanthropist) who, transfixed, stares at a painting before rubbing his chin, nodding his head and saying: “I like like it. Wrap it up.” This explains my unusually large collection of postcards from various art galleries around the world.

That afternoon, however, it wasn’t paintings that would open my wallet, but a Japanese sculpture of an American subject. Its medium was tin and plastic and it was, I guess, truly modern in that it was interactive. (Well, potentially.) I didn’t find it in a gallery, but in a hole-in-the-wall antique shop – of which there are many in India, possibly outnumbering Kashmiri arts and crafts emporia.

Its blue and white lines jumped out at me from among a jumble of dusty gramophones and Yashica cameras. I was, in a word, transfixed. I’d never seen something like it before and while I’m no connoisseur of such things, it certainly struck me as unique. It was a Japanese toy model of a Boeing 2707, what would have been America’s answer to the Concorde – if cost and reality hadn’t intervened and canned the project in 1971.

America's answer to the Concorde never took off.

Decked out in Pan Am’s iconic livery it also “worked”, according to the shop assistant. While not able to achieve supersonic flight, it could, with the addition of two D-size batteries, flash its lights and taxi. An attempted demonstration had to be aborted, however, when the only two batteries he could find were dead. A bit of a metaphor for the whole project, really.

Still, working or not, it looked like a classic of could-have-been aviation. If only Leonardo had been able to board one of these in Catch Me If You Can, Tom Hanks wouldn’t have stood a chance.

“I like like it. Wrap it up,” I told the shop assistant.

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