France heads for a long Indian summer

PARIS, April 10, 2010 (AFP) – India is flavour of the month in France with the spotlight swerving from the fairytale world of maharajas to tribal craftsmen in a buildup to a year-long celebration of one of the world’s richest and most diverse cultures. A recent exhibition of priceless autochrome colour photographs nearly 100 years old drew more than 100,000 visitors — a record for the Albert Kahn museum in Paris — captivating visitors with everyday scenes and palace life in a country whose native rulers behaved like God.

That was followed by an ongoing show at the Fondation Pierre Berge Yves Saint Laurent again showcasing the wildly decadent universe of the erstwhile ruling class who squandered millions a night at gaming tables in Nice and Biarritz, and ordered priceless jewellery from top Parisian bijoutiers.

The Maharaja exhibition focuses on the fabulous clothes and jewelry they sported, some acquired for sums equalling the budget of a small present-day nation.

A case in point is the famed Patiala necklace ordered by the king of a former princely state in northern India — the most expensive order ever handled by the House of Cartier.

The pendulous multi-layered art deco necklace delivered in 1928 comprised nearly 3,000 di