Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Notre Dame Cathedral and my visit of 2006

It was with much agony that I read about the devastating fire at the famed Notre Dame cathedral and the damages thereof. To me, the Notre Dame does not belong to the French alone. It belongs to humanity at large. All heritage sites are remnants of the legacy of our forefathers. Human beings of all nationalities, races and faiths, along with all other living organisms- share a common ancestor and any achievement of a branch of our clan is the legacy of all of us. 

Notre Dame Cathedral. Standing more than 400 feet high with two lofty towers and a spire, this marvellous church is considered a supreme example of French Gothic architecture

The astounding sites of Machu Picchu of Peru, Pyramids of Egypt, Bagan of Myanmar, Angkor Wat of Cambodia, Great Wall of China, Roman Colosseum of Italy, Acropolis of Greece, Stonehenge of England, Borobudur of Indonesia, and the Ajanta caves of India all are reminders of the achievements of our ancestors and they need to be approached with great reverence.

The Notre Dame is no exception to the above. It belongs to humanity.

 Notre-Dame de Paris 
Architectural - French Gothic- details of the facade showing details of the portal of the Last Judgment Central portal of the west facade. 

I visited Paris in the summer of 2006. It was my first visit to Europe.  

I had stayed in London for a few days and visited Edinburg as also Glasgow. One fine afternoon, I landed in Charles de Gaulle airport and took a taxi to the Holiday Inn Montparnasse located on a leafy street in the heart of Paris. The driver was a Sri Lankan Sinhalese who was very disturbed over the political happenings in Sri Lanka at that period. It was three years before the LTTE was totally annihilated by the Sri Lankan army in 2009.

In front of the Louvre museum 

Apart from my visits to some of the must-see places in Paris that included the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre museum, Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, the tree-lined Avenue des Champs-Elysees and a Seine Cruise, I did visit the Notre Dame Cathedral as well.
More than the beauty of the French Gothic architecture, this symbol of French identity and pride had witnessed the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte, the beatification of Joan of Arc and in modern times, the funeral masses for Charles de Gaulle and Francois Mitterrand.

Quasimodo, the bellringer of Notre Dame and Esmeralda the beautiful gipsy immortalized in Victor Hugo’s novel, “The hunchback of Notre Dame” lived here. The book has many translations in Malayalam too.

I had with boyish curiosity wandered around the cathedral and saw the amazing panels in Gothic architecture. The central portal of the west façade had caught my imagination. It had the “last judgement” depicted over it with amazing details. At that time, I had only a 3.1 megapixel Sony Coolpix digital camera to take snaps of these wonderful panels. Smartphones were yet to be popular. The camera had cost me close to a whopping Rs 25 K, bought from Dubai in 2003 through a friend while I was working in Southern Africa.

Seine Cruise. River Seine runs nearly 800 km  through France on its way to the English Channel

By the Eifel Tower 

I remember my visiting the Aux Tours de Notre Dame, a restaurant very near Notre Dame for a tea after an exhausting walk.  It was a much-overpriced a place with one cup of tea costing 6 euros. I told my Pakistani friend with British citizenship half jocularly that this restaurant proved that the twine shall never meet between the East and the West. Seeing his blank look  I clarified as follows. While the restaurant owner here makes 1800 Euros (Rs 135000) by selling 300 tea, his counterpart in Kerala makes just Rs 600 for the same business. The Frenchman can easily get a return ticket to India and manage a month’s expenses with that money while the Indian could hardly get a cooking gas cylinder with his earnings doing the same job!

Aux Tours de Notre Dame, a restaurant near Notre Dame . 

I hope the French will bounce back soon with all the help from the world community and preserve the treasures for posterity. We have a responsibility to stand with them in this hour of need by expressing our solidarity.

As rightly said by the great man, André Malraux; “In a world in which everything is subject to the passing of time, art alone is both subject to time and yet victorious over it.”

Let us preserve the art of our forefathers. 

South India
17th April 2019

PS: André Malraux, cabinet minister for cultural affairs, under French President Charles De Gaulle, was one of the most colourful personalities of the 20th century. His autobiographical work, Anti- Memoirs that has over 100 pages dedicated to India, is a brilliant work in literature. Malraux a great admirer of eastern philosophy with particular reference to Hinduism and Buddhism had visited India many times between 1929 and 1974.

Writer Raja Rao, in 1936, arranged a meeting of Malraux with Pundit Nehru in Paris. Malraux, asked Nehru an interesting question: ‘Why did Hindus expel Buddhists from India?’ Nehru, the historian as he was, admitted that he had never thought about this. Dr.Peter Tame, a researcher who wrote about the above conversation argued thus. “Actually Hindus didn’t expel Buddhists, but the Brahmins didn’t like the Buddhist philosophy very much as it was liberal and not rigid. The Brahmins thought it was an attack on their privilege.”

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