The Rijksmuseum was in renovation mode for the longest time and when it opened its main doors to the public a few years back there was such awe and mystery surrounding the building. I have visited the museum several times, when it was not in the current building but off-location, as a tourist, as a Masters student at the VU when we studied ekphrasis, when it just shifted, with the school book club in which we read Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist and went to see the Doll’s House spoken off in the book, with Apoorva for a romantic day out, and now with Bambi during his summer vacation.
What catches my fancy here? The Asian exhibits in the Asian pavilion. It is a small eclectic section that houses two gigantic Temple Guardians. There is a wonderful book by Katie Pickwoad and Harriet Impey for children on these two giants. There is a dancing Nataraja, which Bambi likes because of the religions of the world unit they were taught in school. I think it is a beautifully nuanced piece with such intricate detailing. I particularly enjoyed looking at all the Guanyin figures that are stoic and poised. I love the jewelry from Gujarat. There is also a Krishna from Orissa. I like to ponder over its presence there and my presence here.
I was born in Cuttack and what are the chances of someone born in Dr. Dei’s clinic to land up in Amsterdam, the improbability of it all is such a testament to life’s journeys, ones that are planned and ones that are otherwise. The ‘otherwise’ ones are always more compelling, stressful, adventurous, against the tide, and magnificent.
I started my life in a senior officer’s bungalow 10, Cantonment Road, a property that sprawls across acres of land, close to the Mahanadi river, today I live in an apartment in bustling Amsterdam. I cook guguni and chow down muri. My mother is a Punjabi who was brought up in Mauritius. We grew up listening to stories of gauteax piments and dhal-puri. That is all she wanted us to eat on our trips there. Every year in winter she would regularly make us jars of achard de legumes.
But I digress, for this would also make me talk about the rajma-chawal and baingan ka bharta my grandma used to cook. Straight from the lanes of Lahore, to youthful days in Shimla, and right to being an expat in Mauritius. What do I make in my kitchen? A heady mix – arhar dhal the way my mother-in-law makes it in Ajmer, mustard prawns like Nitya taught me in Cuttack, Parvati’s sambhar aloos in New Delhi, aloo-marich the way Anamika’s grandmother used to pack in her tiffin for college in Delhi, sometimes we air-fry bitterballen in Amsterdam, sunny side ups for happy days, like I said a heady mix.
How does Krishna lead me to aloo-puri mornings? How do the contours of his hand wrapped around his bansuri carry me to the ringing doorbell in cities and towns faraway? Of the circumambulation of Jagannath, of temples I have bowed in, rung bells off…I am here, I am there, I am everywhere. I turn, I spin, this axis of life it rotates.
Returning to the Rijks, the Asian pavilion was quieter in comparison to the great rooms of the Old Masters. We went on a weekday and there was barely any room for Bambi to get close. So we sat and watched and observed. You must prepare a list of what you would like to see before you go to the museum. Our suggestions to you would include (this is a short list and does not include some of our other favorites like The Doll House, glassware and pottery):
- Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and Jewish Bride
- Vermeer’s Milkmaid
- Asselijn’s The Threatened Swan
- The library
- Hooch’s A Mother’s Duty
- The Asian Pavilion – The Temple Guardians
- The gardens around the Rijks
A museum card will get you free access into the Rijks and you won’t have to stand in the long queues to get in. The museum is located on Museumplein with quick access to the Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk museum. Please do not try and do all the museums on the same day, it is impossible.
Fun fact: Approximately 17,000 fines have been handed out to scooters driving past and through the Rijksmuseum.