Thank You, India

We’re a little jealous of Patty Catto. Not only did the Kansas City Art Institute professor recently take a sabbatical (the envy-inducing paid leave that allows academics time for study or travel), but she went to India, where she got to spend some quality time with monkeys. And we love monkeys. Catto’s hotel room looked out onto a rooftop where she could see monkeys playing with their babies, tickling their stomachs while their mouths hung open. “You just knew they were laughing,” Catto says.

At the Art Institute, Catto teaches belly dance, creative writing, poetry and what she refers to as “wisdom literature” (works with a spiritual bent). As she traveled through Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, her focus was primarily on studying dance — specifically, watching Gypsies. They were, she says, “nice and amazingly energetic, whirling and twirling in the dust of Rajasthan.” The Gypsies also train bears to dance, Catto says. “Every four to five miles, you’d come across another bear and another Gypsy.”

In Jaipur, Catto observed dancing puppets controlled by 14-year-old boys with a sense of humor. “The puppets do traditional dances,” Catto says, “but when they learned I was American, they said they’d have the puppets do a Michael Jackson dance. So the puppets start bumping and grinding. They even had a snake puppet bumping and grinding.”

Elsewhere, Catto encountered cows wandering through the busy streets. The country is a place, she decided, where “nature and culture are at peace with themselves.” And she’ll tell us more about all that at Thursday’s Patty Goes to Bollywood: Journal Readings From India.

Catto didn’t research India’s film industry, though her experiences have a cinematic quality to them. And don’t expect a slide show at this travel talk — Catto didn’t take any photos. “I didn’t want to go as a tourist,” she says.