Shockingly Modern

The most striking painting in New Delhi's National Gallery of Modern Art, India's premier collection, is up a flight of stairs, in a room on the first floor. Usually hanging in a distant corner, it gives you a jolt when it springs on you. It's a rectangular oil panel: a group of adolescent Brahmins, bare-chested and with gleaming, sacred threads dangling around their torsos, sit cross-legged against a burgundy background. One of them stares at you, one turns away, and the central figure, with a white-and-red paint mark on his forehead, looks beyond you, as if seized by an inspiration. The...

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