Remembering Prof. Walter M. Spink

We organized a 3-day webinar in memory of Prof. Walter Spink with the hope to encourage research in the areas of Indian art and architecture. While we gained a lot of information about Ajanta and Prof. Spink’s work, the event was an eye-opener for many reasons especially to understand how Prof. Spink arrived at his succinct conclusions regarding Ajanta.

We are always awaiting feedback to improve our programmes, therefore are very glad to have received this detailed and well-thought feedback from Usha Sridhar. She has described the events (spread over 3 evenings) like we couldn’t ever have and the entire team of organisers and speakers are very thankful for her kind words. We also thank Dr. Geri Malandra and Asha Kamat for their wonderful feedback(listed below).

A detailed feedback for the 3-day webinar in memory of Prof.Spink — Usha Sridhar

I would like to thank the Sambhasha center for holding an online session on an important topic like Archaeology. It is not often that we get to hearing popular talks on Archaeology. As is evident, India has several interesting archeological sites, Ajanta caves being among the more popular among them.

Many of us not trained in this field visit these places to primarily appreciate the aesthetics of the art, sculpture and culture associated with the sites. It requires an erudite person to offer a deeper understanding of the material. Alas, this is given the least importance as it is hard to find people well versed with these historiographies to explain the nuances of the sculpture and paintings. So I found the session very interesting as it tended to bridge the vital gap between lay persons and
scholarly in this field.

The talks on Ajanta caves was spread delightfully over three days. Thanks for that. Except for the first day when the talks were mainly anecdotal in nature, the others were technically heavy in content. So for a novice like me, who was greedy to grasp every single detail that was being generously shared by the speakers, it would have been a bit hard to take the whole content in one go, if the entire session had been held on one day.

The sessions were well structured and the themes thoughtfully planned. The speakers were familiar and well acquainted with their subjects having invested long periods of time in learning and working to gather personal experience. The talks had serious overtones when the audience was being taken through the topic. There were lighter moments too when the speakers shared personal anecdotes.Never has one person so dominated the discussion of a historical site as has Prof Walter Spink. I was
stunned to know he had dedicated over six decades to study the artefacts in the caves. This is much
more than the time it took to create the Ajanta caves (according to his estimate)!

On the first day it was a joy to know about the scientist: Spink – the researcher, and Spink- the human being. Ajanta caves must have had a treasure trove of information about the artefacts for a foreigner to frequent the place ever so often to unravel the mysteries of the place. That he did so using not only scientific research methods as well as piecing information he received from myriad sources in India for this purpose, speaks volumes of the person. He was dedicated to the subject and was thorough in his
investigations. It did not matter to him that he was in an alien land, learning the culture and history of a place he had never been acquainted with previously. He was willing to move out of his comfort zone and experiment in a new place. He was passionate about what he was studying and was willing to take the risk – even if it meant rubbing the Indian experts the wrong way. This was possible only because he believed in himself and his research methods. As a social scientist myself, I understand the importance of being thorough and the need to delve deep into a topic on hand.
Thanks speakers for bringing out the many facets of his personality. You were able to weave together his work and your experiences with Prof – and that came out so subtly in your talks.

I was eagerly looking forward to Dr Shreekant Jadav’s talk the next day and he did not disappoint. His long association with Prof Spink had enriched the findings made in Ajanta. He took us through the many photos he had clicked painstakingly in the twenty odd caves he had visited with Prof, over several years. His description of each of the photos he presented was illuminating. I got a bird’s eye view of Ajanta caves, sitting in my study. How so much sense could be gleaned from what were shown – I wondered. Sometimes the images were dark, the paintings were peeling away, the sculptures were partly broken … But how can I forget, that a person with an eagle’s eye and a researcher’s brain was going through evidence without missing anything.

My interest in Ajanta caves and Prof Spink had now been kindled. I was wondering what was in store on the last day. How could anything be better than last night, I thought? But I had thought wrong.

The best part was kept for the last. In came Shubha Khandekar and spun her magic. She had taken upon herself the onus to talk on Prof Spink’s legacy and what it meant for the future. She spoke of her guru, her mentor; as she repeatedly kept referring to him, in glowing terms. What drew the students, researcher, experts, to him, was his knowledge and the simple way he explained complex concepts. He had the uncanny ability to summarise and interpret what others missed. Devil is in the details! According to Shubha, he shook up the Ajanta landscape with his sharp thinking and brave conclusions that he espoused after years of meticulous research. He was transparent and scientific about his research methods and was ready for any scrutiny of his work. While the early scholars had assumed that the Ajanta caves were built over two centuries, Prof Spink thought otherwise. It was
built over eighteen years, he stated. He was firm about the timeline. This was nothing short of a crime thriller! Shubha believes that his work has wide implications. She, with the help of like-minded fellows, has plans to popularize his legacy.

This feedback is an appreciation to Sambhasa center for organising the event and the speakers who
spoke that day.

I have a few suggestions:
– Let this not be a one-off event. Please create a formum to debate the works and views in this
field. It is especially essential since there are many divergent views on this issue. Please do
invite speakers with differing views.
– It would be a good idea to include half hour atleast of Q&A. The participants should be able
to interact with the speakers to have their doubts clarified …
– When an online session like this held it is best to have a preparatory check with the speakers
before the start of the session, so that the technical glitches can be minimised. There were
ever so many times I could not hear the speaker and had to be content with drawing my own
conclusions from the slides presented.

More feedback…

Dear Team Sambhasha, I could finally take the necessary time to view all of the videos from your seminar  in honour of Walter’s second death anniversary.  I regret that I was unable to join during the event. Each presenter was Read More …

Geri Hockfield Malandra, Ph.D

The lecture was extremely engrossing.  The way you narrated, is the way I like listening to and understanding a topic.  In  the first session, all those who were fortunate enough to have met and interacted with Dr Spink, mentioned, he Read More …

Asha Kamat

Congratulations Shubha, you have taken lot of pain in making the charts. Only someone who has gone thoroughly through the text can make such charts. I am sure you will continue the work of Uncle Walter.

Dr. Shreekant Jadhav

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