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 January 8, 2001      TIPS to search 1billion Web pages fast!

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It's presumptuous to create a site on Indian culture. To encapsulate the country's diversity in a few hundred web pages and explain its mystery in user-friendly language, is usually a disappointing attempt. The Kamats didn't attempt anything so ambitious, and succeeded beyond all expectations.

Kamat.com turned out to be a delightful montage of random images depicting India - all as seen though the eyes of a small group of individuals.

Krishnanand Kamat is an amateur photographer and writer. For the past 40 years, he has travelled extensively throughout India, capturing it all on film, feverishly writing about it in letters to his wife, Jyotsna. She added these letters to her own continuous research into Indian history and culture.

With the arrival of the Internet, their son Vikas and his wife Hiryoung Kim helped them put it up as a website. "Kamat's Potpourri is really just a family's homepage," says Vikas Kamat, unassumingly.

The theme of the site is Kalarunga or The Timeless Theatre. This is a huge collection of photographs and articles on topics swinging from pre-historic paintings to Banga Darshan (encounters in West Bengal), Crawling Royals (snakes of India) to Jainism Potpourri. Images of puberty rites for boys are freely juxtaposed with an illustrated commentary on the exploitation of tribals by Government officials.

The mosaic, says Vikas, "is neither comprehensive nor systematic" but, as Krishnanand writes, "has recurrent motifs of Indian culture that transcend time.

The site cares little for linear logic. A section titled 'Flowers' has one link to photographs of a bustling flower market, another to floral motifs in Indian art and, curiously, one to a verse from the Bhagwad Gita -"I accept anything given with devotion - fruit, flower, leaf and (even) water."

Similarly, the Sikhism Potpourri would first reveal a metal sculpture of a horse-mounted Sikh warrior, then a picture of a smiling Sardarni in Punjab and then, abruptly, excerpts from texts on Ranjit Singh and the Sikh nation.

For more gay abandon, it's the Kamat Carousels. Indeed "a fun way to navigate Kamat's Potpourri", these take the surfer from one topic to another, merely on word associations. For example: 'The sky is blue. Blue is the colour by which Indian artists paint Krishna, although Krishna himself was a black man. Kali is the black goddess worshiped throughout India, and is especially popular in West Bengal. Refugees from Bangladesh regularly infiltrate into Bengal, thus further impoverishing the state.' Keywords within this paragraph are each hyperlinked to related images and web pages.

There are other navigational tools too, as well as a Kamat Potpourri search, image search and an Open Web Directory search.

While frivolous and light-hearted in presentation, the site is intelligent in its commentary. The introduction to Mahatma Gandhi is spot-on when it says, "If anything, Mohandas K. Gandhi was a constant experimenter. Spirituality, religion, self-reliance, health, education, clothing, drinks, medicine, child care, status of women, no field escaped his search for truth." The Mahatma Gandhi album is particularly well-done, with cartoons of Gandhi by R. K. Laxman, as well as an 'Ask Gandhi' section where his beliefs appear in question-answer format.

Snakes, tribal communities and erotic arts, here, may appear to pander to the West's image of India. However, the absence of commercial elements like Bollywood, cricket, politics and stocks speak of a sincere endeavour to portray the traditional, unchanging India.

Explains Vikas Kamat, "The idea behind our site is that ours is a complex, diverse nation, much beyond the Taj Mahal, Bollywood and, now, IT. We're documenting the undocumented India."

Tour the site long enough, and you tend to agree. It all comes together slowly, becoming one enduring image - a beautiful quilt of irregular, multi-coloured patches, completely hand-woven.

Take a quick tour of the other sites on Indian history

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