As I zip around this quaint and historic coastal town on a rented scooter on the third day since my arrival here, it occurs to me the only disappointment I've had to make my peace with thus far has had to do with Elite Bakery's otherwise moist, rich bread pudding cake not being as soul satisfying as it was when I first encountered it a few weeks ago during a site visit to the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. This small displeasure, however, is easy enough to swallow when one is at the centre of so much festivity. On this lazy Sunday morning, the Parade Grounds that, two days ago, played host to 300 of Kerala's finest musicians, who managed, not only to delight the audience after the inaugural ceremony, but also summon the clouds, which responded with a thunderous downpour, their clamour substituting any need for fireworks, is colonised by groups of boys playing cricket. Come sunset it will resemble the lawns of India Gate, or the shores of Juhu beach, made-in-China light-shedding yoyos will fling in the air, bhelpuri and panipuri carts will line-up around the periphery as tourists and art lovers will hobnob on the streets desperate for that forbidden draught of alcohol which is unavailable across the state every Sunday.
We have all learnt the fine and useful art of air kissing. It is what saves us the embarrassment of our sweat grazing against that of the acquaintance we would have otherwise hugged if the air were not so relentlessly muggy. Despite the threat of dehydration, we make our way across the many venues hoping to soak in everything. There may not be the euphoria we shared two years ago when this Biennale, India's first, debuted to much controversy and financial squabbles. Like all second editions, the reasons for celebration are different from their predecessors. We drink, we schmooze, we delight in conversations, we go from party to after-party because this time there is a shared consciousness of having finally arrived at something so significant, it goes beyond anything we had previously imagined. It is bigger than all of us. It is bigger than the artists it is showcasing, bigger than the expected audience of one million, bigger than the curatorial statement it is premised upon.
There are artists here who have outdone themselves. There are artists here who have been reduced to tears because of logistical failings. There are artists here whose practice seems, in retrospect, to have evolved to fulfil the exigencies of this moment, this context. There are artworks that surprise, that stimulate, that activate the imagination, that draw you in and leave you in a state of suspension. There are artworks that destabilise you, that make you want to be an artist, that compel you towards poetry, that energise your senses, and there are a select few that are so powerful they make you weep, reminding you of those haunting lines from Stendhal's diary, "My head thrown back, I let my gaze dwell on the ceiling. I underwent the profoundest experience of ecstasy I had ever encountered. I had obtained that supreme degree of sensibility where the divine intimations of art merge with the impassioned sensuality of emotion".