Yesterday morning the designated taxi arrived exactly at 9 AM to take my brother to the farm where he goes every Wednesday. And at 9 AM the Polish girl, Basia also arrived. She comes every Wednesday to clean the house. My sister-in-law had left her money and instructions for the work in an envelope which i handed to her. She was OK with English. She looked like a teenager, but is probably a few years older than that. In 3 hours, she scrubbed all the bathrooms, dusted the house, cleaned the kitchen, vaccumed the whole house and mopped the tiled areas. She is like a large number of Polish young people, who move to Western European countries where they can earn more than in their own countries. As we sat together and shared a simple meal of bread, cheese, jam etc., she told me that she had been working in Holland for > 3 years and her sister had been here for 7 years. She was like any other youngster, the term ‘servant’ does not exist in the lexicon here and she cleans houses just as every one else does whatever it is they do, to earn a living! It left me thinking, how far our Indian society was from equitable treatment of all those we interact with!!
While Basia was cleaning the house, i finished catching up on all the emails etc.. and then i had the day ahead of me. Gopal was not due back till after 4 and it looked a sunny and clear day through the windows. So, i decided to walk into Haarlem and visit the Frans Hals museum. Haarlem dates back to pre-medieval times and has seen its cultural and economic heights in the 16th and 17th centuries when it was an important trading post and harbor for the area. It has also been the home of some great artists and Frans Hals, is probably the best known of them.
The museum is housed in a ordinary looking street and has a deceptively simple entrance.But inside, it is a small and wonderful treasure house of art. Currently, the museum was having a special exhibition “Celebrating the Golden Age”. This is a collection of paintings from many sources, of the depiction of various scenes of rejoicing and celebration, painted by the Dutch Masters of the 17th century. The additional bonus was the unbelievable, floral decorations in the halls and corridors. This is a special effort of the “Friends of Frans Hals” who do these arrangements to celebrate the spring.
Walking through the museum on a working day, i caught a group of teenagers eagerly darting from painting to painting and making notes – obviously a school assignment. A young guide was also escorting a group around with detailed explanations of the art – of course, in Dutch and of no use to me. But the English audio guide was very instructive and i noticed that there was a special audio guide tour for children – shorter and more tailor made to their interest i suppose.
The museum, of course, has a wonderful permanent collection, mostly of the Dutch masters. Some of the “Still Life” pictures – for which the Dutch school was famous – are amazingly “Real Life” – you want to stretch out and eat the stuff. It also houses this amazing 12′ X 15′ 18th century dolls house, in exceptionally well preserved state.
After having spent an interesting 90-120 minutes, i strolled out, wondering how different the Indian idea of education is. Is it not more important to open the windows of the mind in the young rather than shut it with facts that may never have to be recalled?
And then i strolled through the shopping street, picking up a few things here and there. The street was busy, full of bustling people, children returning from school…..And then it started to rain. Out came the umbrella, but that was not enough – i had to take shelter under a building. The downpour lasted all of 15′ and then it was back through the woods, and the quiet neighborhoods to reach home – tired and a bit wet, but satisfied with a day well spent.
Gopal got home soon after, dropped off by the taxi, after a hard day of labor at the farm, weeding the fields. But, he seemed to have enjoyed it. These simple activities keep him engaged and give him pleasure – our normal routines have become too complex and challenging for him.
And so ended another day in Haarlem……