All’s Well: Places and Spaces

In this instant; right now; as you are reading this – could you tell me who you are?

Don’t fret, I cannot either. I’d imagine no one can. For if we were put in a spot with question like this – we’d only select a convenient label that is handy, shove it in your face, and say: this! Go away, don’t ask me any more questions. And then, many months later comes that Tuesday. It’s late in the morning, you are home. No one around you; you are cooking eggs in a way that you would never Instagram. It’s almost like it is in the movies, but it is definitely not. The eggs? Oh, they are as un-Instagramable as ever; that is perfect. But you aren’t in a wood cabin overlooking a lake or a river and by yourself, while birds are chirping and the movie-like artificial ambience is of peace.

Mostly, you are on the 12th floor of a road-facing noisy flat or in room No. 7 of chawl that intentionally denies private space.

In a city.

That happy, lonesome Tuesday late morning.

There is incessant honking by those who want to use a feature of their vehicle or the never-ending cackle of gossip and argument. The city offers no respite. Therefore we seek, the mountains of Ladakh or the beaches of Goa. Or an equivalent place.

I wonder, then, if it is places that offer the answers that we seek, or spaces?

Arches

The effort that we make to know ourselves on a beach in Goa is fungible. It is equivalent of an evening in local train in Mumbai going back home. The evening is the same. Are we mistaking places for spaces?

A wood cabin overlooking a lake in the middle of the forest is the same as a dilapidated concrete building overlooking a traffic jam.

If you take a moment to think about it, it is just material.

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Of Fifteen Years

Fifteen years.

That’s how long I have been blogging. Last year this day, I said, given that I have blogged for so many years, I don’t have much to show for it. I was referring to the number of posts. A year has passed since, and if are to go by numbers, the numbers are worse.

While I have not been writing much, I have read a lot; my blog, i.e. And I am very happy about what I have written. It’s not extraordinary, but it is good. It makes me feel good to read what I have written. That, I suppose is the value of a personal blog.

My relationship with words amuses me the most. I am most curious of how the most abstract emotion, event, or a thought actually transforms to something so discrete as a post. When I read a post, I enjoy how the original abstraction presents itself. In my head, at least. I hope, most of the readers get it too. This blog has helped me elevate how I think, and I am grateful for that.

I can’t promise regular updates, I do not want to promise regular updates.

All I want to say is thank you – to everyone who has helped this blog become what it is. Thank you for the love, appreciation, and acknowledgement.

In Between Imagination and Reality

The last post was almost two months ago.

Interestingly, in these last two months, I have had the most to say. To write, I mean. But, as you have observed, [or have not] – I haven’t written here at all. We often imagine certain dreadful moments; I do, at least – and then, some times, those events actually occur. They are nothing like you imagine. And in between dealing with how those events occur and how you feel cheated, the event passes by. There’s a life lesson in there, somewhere.

But good things happen too. And we would have imagined them too. And just like the dreadful things, they are nothing that you imagined. Reality is the better cousin of imagination. There’s some healthy rivalry and teasing going on. Reality and imagination. Reality, mostly, winning. We are mere spectators to their act.

You find solace, where you wouldn’t expect to. Not what you imagined, BTW. Reality wins again. Not by a huge margin, though. What you had imagined about friends is true, too. We’ll call this a tie. Life’s surprises never cease. If only we would keep the door open. I am glad, I kept the door open.

These are things that no one can teach you. And while I have been hungry for a teacher, I have had to make do with makeshift teachers. Students are also teachers. Someone who is wading through the muck of life can hardly help you get across. But, they can do one thing: they can hold your hand, and help you move forward together – sharing the uncertainty; living the same fear.

SS, JR, PM, MD, GKMR, NP, and MB.

LearningMate Founders

Thank you for being with me in between the ever narrowing and broadening spaces of the gap of imagination and reality. While we lamented the lack of mentors, I think we did good for each other. We are better because of the shared scrapes on our knees and elbows; and sprained ankles. But our shoulders are strong – and that is what matters; that is what mattered. We sought mentors, but little did we know, we had each other – always – unqualified mentors. And we are better because of that. My reality is trumping my imagination, now. Only because of you all.

May we all shorten the space between imagination and reality!

It’s Not About Photographs – VII

One of my friend, never lets go of an opportunity to remind me that I have never taken a photo of her. She does it in good jest, and she is intelligent, funny, always. (She has stopped reminding me; she shouldn’t) Not sure, if she would like to be mentioned in a public post, so let’s call her SM. Fact that she wants me to photograph her, it would be safe to assume, that she likes the portraits of my friends that I often post on social media.

Needless to say, I’d like to take photos of her and her wonderful family, which includes AP (SM&AP are married, BTW). I am scared, however. Not about my ability to take good photos, but how those photos would be received. Not because how SM and AP would see them, but of my own limitations. SM and AP are pretty cool people – and I believe, they’d like the photos that I’d click for them.

My fear, is placed, elsewhere.

An old man working at a molasses (jaggery) unit, Kolhapur, Mh, India

An old man working at a molasses (jaggery) unit, Kolhapur, Mh, India

Photography is a difficult art. Not because of the technicality of using a (proper) camera, but because of what you see in your view-finder. Broadly, there are three. [I am using “she”, but it equally applies to “he”]

For one, there is the person who wants to be photographed. This person has a relationship with the camera. This is not their first photograph; they are sure of the angles that work best for them. The photographer has little to say, the subject direct the camera. There is an awareness, of what the lens will capture and they have a say in what can be published and what cannot. These are people you want to take photos of, for the glam factor. You shine as a photographer, but there’s not much you can do. Easy for the photographer. TYPE 1

Then the second. The “unawares” – they are the photographer’s delight. Pliable. The photographer can take control. Move your head a bit right; turn right slightly; smile, but not so much. As a photographer, I can play a dance with light, but they cannot. I can edit the final result in oh-so-many-ways, but their consciousness shines through. All of them are beautiful, but I wish they would know it too. TYPE 2

For the third there is the person, who *just* does not want to be photographed.I have many photographs of folks like these. Hand on their face, eyes closed, looking away, blurred by their moving.I am a fan of blur (It’s good that they do not know it). These portraits, you click when they are oblivious. Most photogenic folks, for some reason are these. I have no idea why, but photographers seek these people. TYPE 3

Not sure if you are waiting for me to say, which TYPE is better. Sorry, no one type is better than the other. Oh, I forgot to say, there’s TYPES in-between. Like 1.2 and 2.4. All of you are wonderful in your own way.

***

There’s no such thing as a bad photograph. Portrait or not. A photo is a moment captured in time. Every photograph has a past and future, though, by itself it is captured present.

A photograph is imagination. More than that, a photograph is how I see you.

#October #Breast #Cancer

I have often wondered why I have never published a post about my mother.

I have published a post about my mother’s daughter, for sure. Here it is.

This post is about my mother’s mother. But, I haven’t published a post about my mother, to date. No, I do not know why. We’ll deal with that later.

*

There was something very different about my grandmother. At home, which is how we often saw her, she was the one who alway offered us soul food. To relegate her to a great cook, does a huge amount of dis-service to her, by the way. An injustice. My grandmother, who didn’t complete her education after 15 years, who could just about sign her name, was so much more than a good cook, She was an amazing storyteller. Mostly, she was a brave woman, who stood against villains who were encircling to destroy the farm that the family owned. She stood tall and physically fought with those who would burn a fecund farm of sugarcane, to score socio-political points.

She was a warrior. She carried deep scars of sickle wounds, from where, emanated slightly exaggerated stories. Sickle-scars on the thighs of this woman had their own stories to tell. A beautiful woman, less-educated, yet highly intelligent, clever, holding the fort while her man was away. She raised five kids, who were better educated than her and her man. Politically astute, a strategist, and a compassionate land-owner. She was all this before these terms were invented.

While she never uttered a single complaint, we learnt that life’s not fair. Not for us [the grandchildren; life was pretty good for us] – she showed us always, how we should deal with the shit that life serves us. With vigour, discipline, in our action and hope in our intent. Her husband [my maternal grandfather] died after a long bedridden illness. But, this woman always looked ahead – she looked to us – the future – her grandchildren. Yes, after her husband died, we [the grandchildren] became the focus of her life. And no, she wasn’t bitter about the years of taking care of bedridden husband, or his death. She was interested in us.

Nothing hampers her energy or enthusiasm.

*

Time goes by, and we discover, she’s diagnosed for breast cancer. Late stage. Her eldest lives in Mumbai. The best shot she has at treatment is in a hospital in Mumbai. She comes over. She is now living with us, because there’s the city advantage. Surgery and chemotherapy.

She is weak. She is lying on the sofa. Parents were out somewhere, I don’t recall. I had left home for a few minutes. I come back. She is still fine. Lying on the sofa. Tells me of a friend who came to meet me, but left, because I wasn’t at home. I am surprised! I was around! I could not have missed the friend.

I ask her again and again? Did my friend give a name?

She says she doesn’t remember. I am wondering, which friend came to meet me.

It’s 1st April. She shouts out to me – hey! Just April fool!

She has such a hearty laugh that she fooled me; I almost have a heart attack, because I am worried about her. Then, I take time, I remind myself – she is a hero.

She can’t get up, she can’t walk, she can hardly speak. And she is April – Fooling me.

*

I have said it before; I’ll say it again – I am lucky that I have grown amongst strong women. But this woman, my Nani, she is my inspiration, forever.

She died a difficult [and, perhaps a painful] death. But she ensured that none of us remember that. For all of my family – we only remember the humour during her last days. I always will remember for her jokes. She hid her pain. Very well.

* * *

My grandmother didn’t have access to the best medical tech. You all do, dear women in my life. Test regularly. Please. All of you are wonderful just like my Nani.

* * *

Special shout out to Kanchan. She was recently diagnosed, and she has done her treatment and on her way to being healthy for life. But that, I guess most folks do. Kanchan is special. She is single-handedly turning dark to bright. This girl is like my Nani! She’s #TooCool

It’s Not About Photographs – VI

Don’t take a photo of what you see – take a photo of what you want to show!

I said that in a recent conversation to a friend. There were some composition rules she was missing, which she could have easily rectified; was just helping her take a better photo the next time around. What I said to her, however, has been haunting me for a few hours, now. I don’t altogether believe what I said to my friend. I think, I was asking her to be more careful with the camera. Or, in my head, I was asking her to be more careful with the frame. Our eyes see a lot, we send it all to the brain. Somewhere, somehow, all the chemical and electrical events that occur during this transmission from eye to brain, are not the sum total of the image that we present.

What our eye does see is vast, the frame is a crop. Having a camera in your hand, in front of your eyes is a responsibility. How will you crop?

153400: Light & Arches

I cannot relate to the urgency of taking a photo. I just do not understand the urgency. Photography is patience. Personified. Why do we seek to take a photo in this moment when, it is possible that the next moment is better? And if the next moment is not better, what have we lost? If we lived in that moment, which we did not capture, is the moment lost to us? What wasn’t captured is a memory that is our own. Do you remember stills that aren’t available on paper or as digital files? When we crossed rows in the classroom; when we stood in front of each other, that split moment, when nothing was said and yet, an entire life was lived?

I don’t remember it, but you do. There’s no documentation of the moment, but both of us live it. Photos aren’t false memories – they are only artificial. Artificial in the sense of the frame in which they are presented to you.

Not that they do not represent the truth. Photos are as real. Just that they are a slice of the reality. And we have to learn to see photos for what they are. My eyes, your eyes.

All the eyes that see the photo, that is what the photo is about.

Crowd of Strangers

Fill it up. Fill it up. Fill it up. Damn the blank page. Put words. Words. Words. Words. And drop it in Times Square, NY. None of the words will know each other, strangers from far off lands revolving on the axis of their feet, drowned in wonder. The crowd of strangers is what gives meaning to Times Square. Not meaning itself. The meaning is in the presence; not in anything else. NY winks and we miss it in the blink of an eye. It’s at its naughtiest best.

Bow to the city, it has seen the birth of your grandparents; it is witnessing your death. Never, ever, however, has a city wished for a birth or death. It is a witness. It allows all. It winks, often, (and you may miss it) but it never asks for either this or that.

Fill it up. Fill it up. Fill it up. Damn the blank page.

I’ll just put five words. I’ll call it abstract. Not for what it is, but for what I can hide behind.

Nay, nay, nay! This wasn’t to be. At the peak of the strange words, there was to be meaning. For me, for you. Running around the base of the pyramid I am lost; for no stone at the base is discrete. I have to climb! Something forms at the peak. And it is built by these abstract slabs at the bottom. I am a slave to how these huge slabs were dragged in place. Without ropes, without connections, I am dragged down. I stay here as if a mutual belonging exists; yet the apex.

May I flex my wrists and twist my ankles. Flex my muscles and twist my body. Shackles will be broken. I will be free. In a foreign land. In New York. In London. In Mumbai. My I see the cities winking at me. And jump on those abstract slabs. Thoughtful; unlike the agitated Prince of Persia.

Once again, watching the crowd of strangers.