Containers of life-size bodies of women with severed heads greet us at Yoko Onos exhibition,intriguingly titled Our Beautiful Daughters,in Delhi. The silicone bodies in varying sizes and shapes are very real to the touch all the more shocking in that these are without heads and each rests on a bed of coal. As the inspirational art works arouse thoughts of horrifying tales of crime committed every day,the installations memorialise womens perseverance and their grave dignity.
On the occasion of Onos visit,memories of that exhilarating time when John Lennon and the Beatles first visited India,in the late sixties,too come alive. The group was on its way to Maharishi Mahesh Yogis ashram at Rishikesh and while in Delhi was staying at the Oberoi. For most of us it meant standing for many hours outside the hotel,and when they finally appeared for a brief moment before stepping into their limousine it was like the very gift of the gods.
The Oberoi itself had only been erected in the early part of the decade and had caused many to gasp at its height. Barring the Qutub Minar it was the tallest structure in Delhi and many wondered if it would fall!
The sixties were memorable for it was the first flush of being daring and breaking boundaries for the post-Independence generation. The teenagers that we were,there was the excitement of gyrating on the dark floor of the newly opened discotheque The Cellar in Connaught Place. There were secret liaisons at the backgates of Miranda House,visits to Delhi Universitys Coffee House and rendezvous in the tombs of Lodhi Gardens to be rudely interrupted by goons asking for money. After the sighing romances of Georgette Heyers rakish regents with simpering damsels,the directness of relationships seemed exciting in Peyton Place and so daring. Grace Metaliouss sensational book spoke of sleazy,slutty underground life in a respectable New England town,with rape,abduction and murder in addition. Yet,to a recently liberated generation engaging with mixed parties,smoking and even taking a drag,it was a red sign to freedom. To lose virginity was the forbidden fruit,both desired and feared. But what do you do,oh what do you do,when virginity is lost? Will anyone ever marry you or were you spoilt forever? It often seemed best to read Valley of the Dolls and find more sustenance.
The undergrad parties seemed special with actual beer and rock music. People danced but girls still waited to be asked. For many,there was the sad ringing of tunes like,Hey there Georgy girl,why do all the guys just pass you by? Another group talked of revolution. Their joints thickened the air,their studiedly torn jeans and tousled hair became the fashion as they dreamt of a world without landlords.
Nothing could match the sixties in its sense of a future. The fifties had been a-fumbling and a-floundering in a newly independent country but the next decade was surer and as all roads led to the PMs house at Teen Murti,there was a promise of many good things to come. The boundaries were being broken,and how. To sit at Bankura outside Cottage Industries and sip cold coffee and talk to a hippie many passed through Delhi was to glimpse a brave new world where there were no divisions. It was a time of yearning for a better future with Simon and Garfunkels Sound of silence playing on winter afternoons. Then came Lennons Imagine inspired by a poem in Onos 1964 book Grapefruit.
And it set imagination on fire to conceive of a world with no countries or religions. In an interview,Ono indicated that the lyrical content of Imagine was,Just what John believed that we are all one country,one world,one people. He wanted to get that idea out. The accompanying film,directed by Lennon and Ono,begins with the couple strolling through the grounds of their Berkshire home and as they walk to the front door,they disappear outside and appear inside. The film is primarily of Lennon playing on a white grand piano in his white living room,while Ono opens the shutters,bathing the room in sunlight.
It seems in the fitness of things then to have Yoko,in a black suit topped with a black hat,visit us in these global times and set us all aflame once again with her installations which view the world as spiralling forward with breathtaking speed,breaking all barriers. In her performance To India with Love which took place to the rhythmic notes of the sitar and the beats of the tabla,and contoured the multiplicity of being feminine,there emerges a strain of the utopian existing in the present and a reminder that one must follow ones dream.
The writer is a Delhi-based art historian and curator
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