The popular impression of India may be set for a drubbing.
With a mixture of Hollywood hoopla and computer rationality, Los Angeles is about to be presented with a three-month museum exhibit intended to balance the subcontinent's teeming cities, cows-in-the-street image with an India that is moving toward producing all its own oil, is agriculturally self-sufficient, manufactures nearly all of its cars, trucks, buses and locomotives and has ambitions in the heavens. And one of the country's most famous sons, New York Philharmonic conductor and music director Zubin Mehta, is the narrator of the half-hour recorded tour for the exhibit.
Meanwhile, the California Museum of Science and Industry is noting that "India: A Festival of Science" is its biggest-ever exhibit with 17,000 square feet of display space devoted to everything from 8th-Century surgical instruments to warrior's armor to modern electronic gadgets.
The show is meant to highlight India's accomplishments in mathematics, physics, chemistry, metallurgy, transportation and communications. It's also the latest of a series of exhibits and new and refurbished buildings the museum has unveiled in the last few years in a bid for greater prominence on the city's museum scene.
But when it opens Tuesday at a 7 p.m. invitation-only reception-kickoff--with Gov. George Deukmejian and India's minister of state for education and culture, Sushila Rohatgi, scheduled to attend--the traditional India will not be forgotten. An elephant, especially rented for the day, will join sitar musicians and costumed dancers in casting a patina of romanticism over the hard-headed thrust of the exhibit.
Behind the exhibit's appearance here are seemingly unusual combinations of people and politics.
The exhibit is said to be the brainchild of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who conceived of the project as a public relations stroke for her country while on a trip to the United States about 2 1/2 years ago. The son and successor of the assassinated leader, Rajiv Gandhi, has been an even stronger supporter, partly because of his technological bent, said Asha Angela Anand, an Indian native who is coordinator of seminars and events for the exhibit.
"A Festival of Science" has also been instrumental in bringing together the largely individualistic local Indian community, estimated at 50,000 in Southern California, Anand said. She explained that Indians from throughout the region have been volunteering their help for the event.
Museum officials also are saying that Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, contributed substantially to the local costs for the exhibit. Sterling, however, was reluctant to talk about his participation during a brief telephone interview.
"I would prefer not to have any exposure," said Sterling, who has made a reputation as one of the most publicity-shy owners in the National Basketball Assn. Sterling, a real estate magnate with extensive holdings in Beverly Hills, did say that he has spent time recently exploring museums in New York and Boston and that he was fascinated with a Chinese exhibition he had seen.
100,000 Visitors Expected
While Sterling maintained a low profile, exhibition coordinator Sherrill Livingston pointed out the high-profile aspects of the festival during a walk through the cavernous hall with 45-foot ceilings that will house the 1,500 artifacts and working arts and crafts displays that make up the show.
With hammers and other tools dinning in the background, Livingston said she expects about 100,000 visitors to attend the exhibition before it closes Jan. 15. One emphasis, she said, is on "appropriate technology"--that is on displaying techniques and implements that fit a particular need without creating more problems than they solve. For instance, the exhibit shows how India uses solar power, windmills and nuclear plants to generate electricity.
Both Livingston and Anand stressed that a major element of the festival is a series of seminars that are meant to put the exhibit in a social context. One seminar, scheduled for Oct. 20, will be on the opportunities and pitfalls faced by Indian women in India and the United States. Another, set for Nov. 10, will feature experts on India discussing the future of democracy in a country beset by political, religious and ethnic strife.
For those interested in lighter or more elevated topics, the huge Indian movie business will be discussed next month and a look at India's space program is slated for Oct. 25. An Indian restaurant also will be operated throughout the show's run. And every Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the exhibit, a yoga master will demonstrate the Hindu discipline. Admission is $2. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Previously the exhibit has been in Chicago and is scheduled to travel to Portland and Seattle next year.