Written by Michael W. Meister
MY MEMORIES OF WALTER SPINK go back to my second year in India - 1965 - when I met an obsessive, kind, bubbling gentleman at the Foreigners' Registration Office in Pune. He was certainly the first Art Historian I'd ever met - of India or otherwise - and a model for that world of "seeing" that I was precipitously then beginning to enter. I remember giving him a lift back to his home on the boot of the Vespa I'd borrowed, then sharing conversation and tea, an honor for a man so young and green in the field as I. Walter was in mid-A obsession - Ajanta as a measure of this man's long creative career. We still could talk of those other caves nearby a Bhaja, Karli, Bedsa, to my understanding of which his earlier work would soon contribute so much. But I met the first, then his scholarship, and it was the man, than his scholarship, that could become a model.
I HAVE another image of Walter, from a story he told me, dropping in a stony field near Bedsa to "play dead" when some local boys began tossing stones at his family. I see his love for India and his love for his family combined in that sacrifice, and humor too. It was a grand gesture and a small one, clever but wise, protective and self-deflating. In his career his commitment to preserving and understanding that world-class gorge at Ajanta, and all his vast scholarship on related aspects, has been like that act - putting his body of work on the line.
I also remember being at Ajanta one year when Walter was there with his students and I with my mother shortly after my father had died. He was going cave by cave, not in numerical order but as the sun moved. In those years the caves with paintings were being conserved, and only with special permission, much paperwork, and trips to Delhi could anyone be allowed to enter their halls. Walter, however, was a sprite in spirit and the spirit of Ajanta in fact, known to all the watchmen almost from birth. He grandfathered my mother into his group, fabricating to them that she was one of his students - saving her her one chance of seeing this great legacy of world heritage, and under his remarkable guidance.
Over the years, Walter's repeated workshops and classes at Ajanta have educated generations of students, a few of them mine. I never myself have been able to be back in the caves when he was there in fact as in spirit. When my mother joined his lineage, the guards protecting the caves had protected their official responsibilities also by keeping me outside; I was a professional in their view and could come again with papers from Delhi. But if they thought I was not his student, how wrong they were.