In my mind, each city I have been to has a unique place that pulls me towards it. The attraction is so strong that once within certain distance I literally start running to reach this point, as if some invisible force keeps pulling me from the center of my being. These places exist for a purpose; A purpose that connects to my idea of “being human”. Each of them either creates or strengthens a new layer of self realization – from “who I am” to “who I will be” shredding the cocoon of “who I was”. I remember three of these places very clearly.
First, is the Oxfordbook store located at Park Streetin Calcutta. Now, I must mention that it was a bit ironical. I walked through the largest second-hand book market in the world (College street, Calcutta) for 10 years of my life. And still the realization hit me not in College street, but in Park street. It was the year 2000, as I remember; I went to buy Robin Cook’s Chromosome 6. That’s when I knew I wanted to be in biomedical research and have a strong responsibility from the ethical standpoint.
Second, is the Animaster academy on Sankey Road in Bangalore. Although there were few fine art academy, art galleries in other areas of Bangalore, yet again it was this animation and cartooning school that stood aside. In 2005, that’s where the realization struck me that my connection with fine art is a lot deep rooted than I had imagined so far. It is not a mere hobby, but a spiritual experience – something that enables me to communicate with the world and beyond.
Third, is the place that brings the first two together, the place that makes science and art entwined, if not joined, in my life – the angel of Bethesda at Central Park in New York City. It was a freezing day in February 2012, when I ran down the staircases, ran across the terrace and then stood in front of the grayish blue statue of the angel.
The very first reference, where I saw this statue, was the TV series called “Angels in America”. It spoke about the story of the original fountain of Bethesda in Jerusalem with a reference to Gospel of john. The angel of Bethesdadescended from the sky in the middle of the market square. As her foot brushed the ground, a fountain sprang up from that spot. Whoever bathed in that fountain would be healed. When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, the fountain went dry. Legend has it though, at some point it will flow again.
I read later that in NYC, the fountain commemorates the Croton Aqueduct water system, which first brought fresh water to the city in 1842. The angel carries a lily in her left hand – a symbol of the water’s purity, very significant to the city that had previously suffered from a devastating cholera epidemic before the system was established. The stone angel at the center, created by Emma Stebbins, marked the first time a woman received a public art commission in NYC. Also, this was the only sculpture to have been commissioned to be part of Central Park’s original design. The angel at the center spreads its wings and stands above four small cherubim representing health, purity, temperance, and peace.
In addition to the mythological connection to healing and historic connection to purity of water, the statue, I realized, has something more to offer – a missing link hidden in the human history connecting fine art and biomedical science. NYC is well known as the cultural center of the world with countless number of art galleries, museums, young artists and performers. It is also known to be the second largest research grant receiving city (after Boston off course) housing nine biomedical research institutes with graduate and post doctoral training programs. Hence, I see NYC as the perfect place for merging science and art to many levels of life.