Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sunshine & Light

There's a reason India is the land of rain dances. The sun doesn't just shine here, it sears. It isn't just hot, it's often difficult to breathe. Stepping out into the street is sometimes an act of endurance. In this country, showers, or even cloud cover, are a welcome reprieve from heat, dust and frayed tempers. When it rains, life seems more manageable and the world, more tractable.

Even so, I love sunshine.

Sunshine makes everything seem possible. It has a way of percolating into the corners of a room, rounding out edges, slanting on books, illuminating dust motes, and making furniture look less shabby. Early morning sunshine is like a cup of hot chocolate that goes straight to the bones. In the afternoons, sunshine invites you to take a nap, and in the evenings, it has you lingering over cups of tea. And then of course, there are sunsets - great shows of fading sunshine that give you pause, everyday.

There is a particular strain of bright, harsh sunshine that seems unique to India. It has echoes in the hot spiciness of Indian food, and the unabashed color in Indian wardrobes. Indians are at ease with light and brightness. Which may be why we take sunshine for granted, noticing its absence only after an unbroken string of grey days.

There was a time when it was fashionable for artists to go to Italy and paint landscapes. They weren't there for the scenery, although that was certainly part of Italy's appeal. What they were pursuing was a certain 'quality of light' - a robust luminescence that lent the country its charm and inspired its artists.

John Ruskin, the great critic, often spoke about light, dedicating a chapter in his book 'Lectures on Art' to the topic. Ruskin believed that only the masters could truly illuminate their canvasses, and faulted Indian art (or what the world had seen of it then) for failing to accommodate the subtleties of sunshine and shade. Perhaps he had a point - it's likely that Indian artists were so accustomed to light that they didn't think to represent it. Ruskin believed that it took a certain intellectualism and sophistication to appreciate light  - "To a quiet heart, and healthy brain, and industrious hand, there is more delight, and use, in the dappling of one wood-glade with flowers and sunshine, than to the restless, heartless, and idle could be brought by a panorama of a belt of the world, photographed round the equator."

He was right. Sunshine does have its delights. And on a hot summer morning, perhaps we could do ourselves a favor and notice them.

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