Burn Marks


It was more experimenting from what I saw in the un-prescribed textbooks, however, this image has become very close to heart. Irrespective of the decay and the burn, beauty is so permanent. When the shutter went down to lodge this thought on to the microchip, I was gloating at technique; when the transfer happened, I was transported back in time.

I was at a ‘personality development’ kind of event (I think ‘sensitivity lab’ is an apt description) so many years ago – it seems like yesterday – where all groups came together one evening for a meta-event.

It was a market place; the ‘shops’ there were selling happiness, freedom, peace, and amongst other things – life. It was a cashless market – and needless to say – didn’t accept plastic. It was a classic barter model. You had to trade in sadness for happiness, conflict for peace, and again needless to say – death for life. The event facilitators, conveniently may I add, were the shopkeepers.

So, anyways, here we were, with my first exposure to these kind of “mind games” (we liked to call it that), and moving around the market place. It seemed like default or maybe a sense of pity – I don’t recall what – we ended up at the ‘life shop’. It did help that one of the ‘good looking’ facilitators was the shopkeeper. Now, it so happened that there was already some one doing a trade there. I’ll stop with the quotes now that you are “into” the scene.

We sat around (there weren’t huge props etc – the marketplace was pretty conceptual in nature). She heard this trader out. He was there – he wanted life. The shopkeeper refused the deal. Said, she wasn’t convinced that the trader could barter death in return. The negotiations went on for a while. The allusion was to a log, no more a part of a tree, where the leaves, branches and the fruit didn’t care about the log. The trader didn’t say it, it seemed to me however, that the roots didn’t care either. Seems it was driftwood. Seemed even more that the parts of the tree had let go of the stem that had held the tree together – the moment they felt they could let go. Discarded, post-purpose. Shopkeeper argued even more – she was a tough one, I tell you. Trader insisted, death speaks many voices other than silence. Death speaks a language of loss, and in the eyes of that fifty-plus senior gentleman who was trading hard – it spoke the language of the tears. For my uninitiated mind – it was a first. In that tough negotiation, I forgot what I was doing there. There were other happy and eventful shops, pet peeves or something, even the sadness-happiness shop was doing well. If Mangal Pandey’s Rising was released then, Takey Takey, would have been a close description. Very interesting deals going around the furniture stripped conference room in a hotel in Goa.

This tough shopkeeper, however, wasn’t looking. She concentrated on this one trade – even if it was to be her only trade of the day. The protracted negotiation was finally bagged by the trader – the shopkeeper got what she wanted in return. I have seen transactions in life – this was the best one ever. The shopkeeper was richer by giving away life. I was sure I was more exhausted than the trader and the shopkeeper. When our turn came, of course, we were shooed off by the shopkeeper, she was certain that we didn’t have death to trade for the life that she had in abundance.

Its about fourteen years since that event, frivolous as it might have felt then, it is a photographic (videographic?) memory, and I don’t often spend sleepless nights thinking about it. It comes to me however, at the oddest of times.

This photograph reminds me of that event in a peculiar way. I looked at this leaf and burnt, eroded, raped, used, and plundered as it might seem, it maintains its dignity and position in the scheme of things – the way we see it. It still does it’s function with its limited chlorophyll.

What is the trade of life and death; how many ‘brands’ are there in the market for life and death? What is the value of the various ‘forms’ of life and death?

If I ever get a chance to go back to that ‘good looking’ shopkeeper, I suspect I will still be unable to negotiate, for the forms of death are so diverse – I don’t know what life wants to barter.


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