I am an Indian, and have spent most of my life back home in the arms of my motherland. But the last decade my passport
has assumed the “status” of an NRI. My memory pinboard has a lot of vibrant flashes. I’ve grown up like most children, taking their mother for granted. Loving her, but taking her presence in my life as a given. I would often hear about “foreigners” loving the spirit and beauty of India. Not sure if I ever understood what it meant. There was so much around me to absorb, some through my own experiences, a lot through the stories of others.
But much of this meant little to me until I decided to explore an embedded passion inside me – that of photography. The way I saw the world and the way the world saw me, completely transformed. All through thin and thick lenses. The camera, is my way of hiding and looking out at the same time. That viewfinder, quite often becomes my keyhole. A keyhole from where I focus and observe, and that which allows me to see the world around me as if I’m not in it. I am almost aloof and completely involved at the same moment.
My camera gave me a reason to know India better. Through these pictures I am going to share a few glimpses of my photography and the journey they helped me embark on.
To hear a few words of wisdom from the monks at the oldest monastery in Ladakh. And to learn that the young students were also a little heartbroken when Sachin retired from cricket. While these boys pursued their education in religion, they seemed no different from my friend’s teenage sons when playing football during their free time. Sachin Tendulkar (who had then not retired) was the best conversation starter, as I might’ve done with any other pre-teen in a big “city”.
GYPSIES OF RAJASTHAN
To speak to the gypsies in the deserts of Rajasthan. While chai might have been the ice-breaker, their love for their animals was what was extremely touching. They were there to trade camels and horses, but mentioned how they never abandoned animals that were no longer in a condition to serve them. An old beast did not deserve to be ill-treated or deserted, and deserved to live a retired life. Their tight knit communities are a thing of envy for most people.
MY CAMEL FRIEND
Photography gave me the chance to meet this 11 year old boy, Suraj. I clearly don’t remember how we met Suraj. Perhaps while chatting with the gypsies (above). Before we knew it, there was this confident and sparky boy, chatting with us in fluent English. While I spoke to him in Hindi, he would answer back in English. He mentioned that he had been learning the language from tourists in the city. He did attend night school, but would try and make the most of his days interacting with tourists, learning about their cultures. I don’t believe that language makes a person intelligent, but the ability to grasp and learn without access to any formal learning, should be credited. I do want to look for him again in a few years time, and know where this spirited and lovely boy has reached.
While we walked the streets of old Banaras(Varanasi) one early morning, we met these 3 lovely girls. They had moved from Hyderabad which is in the southern part of India, to Varanasi (which is a few thousand kilometres away, and perhaps culturally very different). They mentioned how staying away from “home” wasn’t that bad as they had the most accepting, tolerant, and helpful neighbours. Their neighbours were now family, and the young mother could work when her little baby was watched over by this new family. Her eyes glowed when she spoke about her husband, who worked as a weaver in a workshop, brought back enough to support them with food, and to enable them to send their children to school. And no, there wasn’t a tablet or laptop that was in sight.
WRESTLE THE TRUTH
An opportunity to visit a centuries old akhada (a traditional gym of sorts) was not to be let go. We witnessed the men working hard with “equipment” made of rocks, mud, and ropes hanging from trees. Equipment that wouldn’t have really made it to a city gym. The elders of the akhada were the “trainers” to the younger students, and helped them with their “physio” requirements too. They would also guide the students in matters of life. The student-teacher relationships were very obvious, and the youngsters were quiet and respectful while the elders chatted with us. They spoke about the importance of the akhada in their community. About how it added discipline in their lives, and how it kept the youngsters away from any sort of anti-social activities. They were proud of the fact that none of the members of the akhada suffered from any form of addictions, as fitness was most important to them.
Meet Babu, the boatman, who would punctually be there to pick me up at the ghat at 4 am, so that I would never miss a shot of the sunrise. He’d chaufferred thousands of tourists on his beautiful blue boat, around the Ganges, and had heard of lands far and near. Yet, he only dreamt of giving his child a good education, and didn’t aspire for anything different from his own life. A picture of contentment, Babu.
REALITIES OF TAJ MAHAL
In my quest to view the Taj from a different perspective, I visited the 100-plus year old home of my guide’s grandfather. The contrast of the crowded, old city waking up, with possibly the most photographed building in the background, was a sight to behold. The truth that the Taj cannot bring comfort or refuge to the families that were sleeping on rooftops, is one that cannot be argued. Life goes on, and it’s quite often not that easy, is something that one of the world’s most photographed symbols of love cannot do much about.
Karishma and her friends, children who are growing up in a village in Delhi, regaled me with stories about their school. Watching them play hopscotch, I was reminded of my childhood, when I would hide my favourite flat stone in my school bag.
India, the most densely populated country of the world, the biggest and possbily the most diverse democracy is nothing short of a wonder on its own. My camera has given me an opportunity to explore it and view it like an outsider. It’s given me an excuse to know my country better and respect it much more than I ever did before. I noticed the contentment. The smiles. Love for the ordinary. Faith.. not in the supernatural.. but that which gives us strength to tolerate and overcome pain.
Photography has given me opportunity of sharing stories with others. While I usually click a picture only for myself, it becomes more meaningful if I can share stories with others.
Recently, when I was asked that what inspires me as a photographer.. I didn’t take more than a couple of seconds to respond. India. The country. Her people.