The Strange Truth About The Shiny Cherubs
Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON
The photograph of this bronze cherub is a follow-up to my post yesterday, Victoria Across, a photo feature about the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta. Take a close look at the photo (above) of a bronze cherub in the grounds of the museum and tourist attraction. Notice anything strange about the shot?
Yes, you're right. The area around the cheeks of the cherub are shiny, but the rest of the face is dull and the bronze has turned black with age and exposure. Strange, isn't it? It's not just one cherub. There are quite a few of them in one area, and each cherub shows exactly the same symptoms.
I was about ten years old when I first spotted this strange fact. It was during a school excursion and I was completely intrigued by the sight. What on earth would cause a certain portion of the bronze to remain shiny while the rest of the cherub was in stark contrast? There had to be a very specific explanation. Well, read on ....
I watched the cherubs very carefully for the next half an hour or so. Then I saw a group of adult tourists approaching. I watched as they began to admire the cherubs. And then the answer became patently clear to me as I watched what they did next.
Allow me to digress for a second. Children are very special in Indian culture and when grown-ups greet a child, a very common and acceptable gesture is for the adult to reach out with thumb and fingers spread and caress the cheeks of the child. The adult's thumb caresses the right cheek, while the fingers are spread across the left cheek.
Yep, that's what I saw all those years ago. The group admired the beauty of the cherubs and one by one they stretched out their hands to - you guessed it - lovingly and tenderly rub the cheeks of each cherub.
So the next time you visit the Victoria Memorial, you'll know exactly what causes this phenomenon. It's so cheeky, but so true.