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.

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#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.

When You Have Nothing To Say

I suggested a change in a WhatsApp school group. For a month, I asked, don’t post anything that is not yours. In other words, I asked my school friends, don’t forward any content that you have not created.

It has been a few days, and my school friends are trying hard. Many have stopped participating. I can sense, how they are holding back, forwarding funny, social, political messages.

Mostly, there isn’t much to say. But, since I asked that no forwards be posted, for a month, my friends have followed the rule. It has been a few days, and there have been no forwards. All our conversations have been about teasing each other. It’s a good thing. And there are gaps. Because we now can no more randomly forward anything, we are forced to talk with each other.

And it seems, that we don’t have that much to talk to each other. We feel that just because we are connected, we have to share something with each other. I have, for a while stayed away from this sharing. Our lives are so ordinary, we cannot extract anything of glamour from our everyday lives. So we share something that does not belong to us. As if, the content belongs to us. Just so that we will be relevant.

We have nothing to say. At best, we have little to say. But we want to say much more. But that voice is not ours. It is someone else’s voice that we are amplifying.

It’s ok to be quiet.

That’s All There Is

Ink and paper.

Blood and tissue.

Teachers’ Day is for Teachers

Happy Teachers’ Day to all Teachers.

In these days, when a meaning of a word can be stretched far from its actual and intended meaning, even the meaning of “teacher” has fallen victim to Unspeak. It has now come to mean any and every person who is responsible for anything that we learn.

That’s not a teacher. A teacher makes a conscious commitment to nurture and develop young people to do better. The act isn’t incidental nor accidental. It’s a deliberate choice that requires a dedication to continue “teaching” for a lifetime. I don’t disagree that we learn from people who aren’t “teachers”, yet, if we were to ask these people to do what they do, day in and day out, we’d probably not get the answer we think we will. The attitude, the patience, the rigour of a teacher is different from a person from whom we learn.

It is not that these non-teachers are seeking to be acknowledged on this day. It’s us. We are expanding the meaning of the word and the purpose of the day to make it inclusive. Very inclusive. Perhaps it is our laziness. To take time to think of our teachers and be grateful to them, specifically. Open the gates wide enough, and we could pretty much include every person we met, for we have learnt something from every person we met.

Irrespective of whether that person intended to teach us.

We could thank the others on all of the 364 days of the year, but that would take effort, to think of who it is we are grateful to, and for what purpose. It’s a lot of work!Teachers’ Day is a good blanket that covers it all. And one message, which includes, “… to all the people who have taught me along the way…” covers it all. While we may learn things from people, I am not sure if everyone intended to teach us.

This day is in celebration of those who have made it their life’s work to teach – who have held their patience for years together, while we fumbled and fell. They picked us up time and again, without judgement and urged us on towards success. They loved us without discrimination, and we went on ahead in life while they stood in the same place, awaiting the next generation, and did the same with them. In return they get a paltry sum, but their biggest payment is in our happiness and success.

For all the others who helped us learn, we’ll celebrate it all through the year.

There is a sanctity to this day. Let it remain Teachers’ Day.