Excerpt and images reprinted with permission from India_Contemporary by Henry Wilson. Thames and Hudson: New York. September 2007. Hardcover. 192 pages. $40.00.
India has gone global and there’s a rush to be part of it. Banished are the hackneyed images of a poor, post-colonial subcontinent. This is a modern country with a youthful voice that we increasingly must listen to—and not just through a call center! Today, India shows off a culture informed by its past but transcending it, making it an exciting contemporary influence on our lives. “New Indian chic” is everywhere: cuisine, fashion, music, film, travel destination, not to mention the new well-being lifestyles, yoga and Ayurveda.
Indian homes reflect the subcontinent’s geographic and climatic differences—the subalpine Himalayan foothills, the subtropical far south, the desert-like west, and the vast enveloping coastline. And then there are the strong religious influences and sensibilities which continue to have a bearing on the family home.
India today has an advantage which few other countries in the world possess: the ability to dream in more than one language. It can pick from its own rich tradition and culture and at the same time from the Western psyche through long association. And like the West, India has never been (metaphorically speaking) regimented, unlike its major competitor, China: it is a country of the individual rather than the collective.
India has always had the capacity to tolerate and assimilate both aggressive and passive visitors. This is particularly true of architecture: the Mughal language was taken up by the Rajputs; the Victorian style from Britain took on a local flavour to become “Indo-Saracenic.” More recently, with considerable verve, India adopted Art Deco, perhaps the first pan-global style. Even the State was prepared to experiment with the avant-garde when, in the 1950s, it invited Le Corbusier to design the new city of Chandigarh. More recent times have seen the “Five-Star Look” and “Punjabi Baroque.” Style today represents a mixture of the distillation of the past, interaction with the present nationally and internationally, and the understood need and instinctive desire to look and plan for the future.
Old techniques have become less important. Stone and wood have been joined by steel, glass and concrete, while air conditioning enabled architects to abandon traditional solutions to the problem of ventilation. But today an ever-growing number of architects, interior decorators, and clients are also taking environmental impact into account. Here is an explosion of creative energy, pent up and now suddenly unleashed.
Images (top to bottom):
In the small reception room of this home in Rajokri, New Delhi, designed by Lakha and Anupam Poddar, is an artwork by Atul Dodiya (inspired by the logo of the London Underground). The coffee table, of cement, was designed by Anupam Poddar; the silver lotus candle stands on it are products of his company, Devil Designs.
Brigitte Singh’s garden in Amber, Rajasthan. The tub chairs, known as muddas, are made throughout northern India but particularly in Moradabad. On the pier wall is a metal candle holder made by Bastar tribals in Madhya Pradesh. The table was wrought by a local smith and finished with Jaisalmer stone. The floor is of Kotah stone. An old carpet weight is used as a doorstop. The traditional chics are lowered in the afternoon to protect the verandah from the worst of the heat and to dissuade inquisitive monkeys. In the foreground is a bronze arti, or ghee-fuelled lamp, from Kerala in South India, very unusually mounted in a wooden pillar.
In the main reception of this home in Gurgaon, south Delhi, Raseel Gujral Ansal contrasts rich dark wood finishes with tactile-textured and leather cushions [the latter, seen in the foreground in the reflection, by Fendi] and Murano glass, which she loves for its translucence and jewel-like quality and color.
Henry Wilson is a photographer who has contributed widely to magazines, among them Architectural Digest and The World of Interiors. His perceptive photographs have done much to bring the variety of India to the awareness of the West. He lives in Britain.