To Be Alive

Often, I have wished to be young and alive in the 70’s. Those of you have read my posts for a while will know. Recently, I have been thinking, maybe, it was the 60s when I should have been young and alive. I would have lived a life which otherwise, no one had noticed. But what if I would have the chance to work with Anant Mane or Guru Dutt?

Imagine seeing everything in colour but making everything in black and white. The contrast of mossy green or blood red. The brightness of a lemon yellow vs. yellow ochre. The limitation of not seeing the effect of colours in black and white. The absence of digital; and therefore that ability to correct in real-time.

The limitation required imagination. Inherent in that imagination – it required belief – of what is beautiful. I have a few friends who are well-versed in the art of cinema. My on going question is this: How much of a scene is a director’s choice, and how much of it is fluke. How much of the scene is happenstance, and how much ‘extra’ are we reading in? Was the ‘extra’ the intention, or are we, as fans, fanning it?

There is only one way to know. I should have been young in the 60s.

Plus the assumption, that I would be involved with the film industry. Too much to ask? Ah, well, we are imagining here; why limit it?

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But here we are in 2020s. Technology is much superior than that was available in the 60s. Or, the 70s. I can create a criss-cross of a bamboo wall or a library of books, adjust contrast, and manage exposure, and make a few other 100 adjustments. That’s easy. With the right software.

Software will never, however, substitute imagination. To think contrast. To think colour in black and white. To know how light plays.

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To be alive, is not to wish you were alive in a decade. To be alive, is to create the decade, when you are alive.

Fourteen-Two

Building a habit is tough, I tell you. Especially a good habit, that is not inherently addictive. Requires intense and creative re-wiring.

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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.

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.

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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.

Of Delays And Such

I wonder, if we didn’t have the concept of structured time – would words like delay exist? If a good answer is found for this question, it would work in my favour. I have missed my daily posts of July, for a few days. And I have to catch-up.

Tree Rings

I wonder, at the same time, if age would exist. Would we know how old we are? I am not talking of the absence of time itself, but an absence of measuring and counting it. Whether as notches or as the rising and setting of the sun and keeping a count. Mostly, I am saying what if there wasn’t a clock or a calendar, ever. There would be no deadlines, no schedules. You couldn’t say to me – I wanted that yesterday! Yesterday is dependent on today, and if we didn’t mark today, what would yesterday even mean? An entire set of words from our vocabulary would vanish. We would not celebrate birthdays and anniversaries; we would not be able to plan anything.

We’d never be able to tell our friends when are meeting them next. Scary thought.

It’s a good thing we measure and calculate time. I am grateful for the clock and the calendars. I want to keep meeting my friends and plan for days together!

I’ll catch-up on my posts.

I Care That Much

“I don’t care.”

Saw this on the back of a car, a few days ago. I wasn’t driving. I thought of taking a photo of that careless decal, but, I couldn’t.

I have to tell you, I was amused by that statement. To begin with, the amusement was about the statement itself. The person driving the car, didn’t care. Obvious. In my head, I would have imagined, you’d have a bumper-sticker equivalent of what you care. Like who you would vote for, or an issue that you support. But, here was a bumper sticker: I don’t care.

Tate Modern - Wall Art - 9

I don’t have photo of the sticker. So, let me describe it to you. It was finely crafted. Custom font. Black on white. It stood out. You could not miss it. There was an artistic sense of the sticker.

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I wonder, why someone would make a statement like that. Decals on vehicles are mostly statements of identity and belonging. Almost always they are a statement of power. And here I have a statement that does not belong: I don’t care.

Given the effort of the decal, I propose that the person cares. Cares enough to make a statement that he/she doesn’t care. If, you really don’t care – is a statement necessary? Do those who would like you to care, care about you?

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To invest in a sticker with a custom font, is to care. Even if it is a statement saying that you do not care. You care to say that you do not care. And that says much.

You care enough, to say that you don’t care.

A Permanent Image

I was on vacation, last week.

It has been a while that I have been on a vacation. Those of you know me, will probably be rolling your eyes. Yes, I have been on a holiday recently, but it has been a while that I have been on a vacation. Somewhere, in my mind a break, a holiday, and a vacation are different. I mean obviously they are different, they are three different words. But how they differ, actually, is a mystery to me. It’s probably got to do with the length, of how long you are away. This one was a full week, so, vacation.

A vacation after five years, almost. And much has changed, since my last vacation.

I saw all that I thought I would see. The faraway trailing mountain lines, the thready waterfalls of summer, the centenarian eucalypti seeking the sky, wild flowers sidelining the roads, brightly coloured happy homes that are the stuff of dreams, and sunsets that Turner would want to capture on a canvas. I saw all of that. Yes, I did.

I also saw, however, that no one else was seeing all this. Almost everyone had their backs to these wondrous sights. Seeing the sight doesn’t matter much. Being seen with the sight is now important. At all places, yes, all places, all the tourists had their back to what they came to see. This is not to say that they weren’t seeing the mountains, the trees, the waterfalls, or the flowers. They were seeing it. They were seeing it on their phones, bounded in an unnatural 16:9 ratio on a five-inch screen, while they took a photo of themselves being there.

I do not deride these selfie-seekers. For, when you are on a vacation, you must seek that, that makes you happy. I am, however, unable to relate to it.

How I look to the mountains; how the mountains look at me, is an image. It will never be shared. But it is forever.

It’s etched on my soul.

A Matter of Faith

In almost every Indian temple, you aren’t allowed to take a photo of the main deity of the temple. Some temples allow it, but without a flash. If you have been to an Indian temple, you will have noticed that the space where the main deity resides, is dimly lit, usually by oil lamps. Taking a photograph of a the deity, in such light conditions, is usually difficult, without a flash. In my experience, this rule applies only to Indian temples. I have not sensed this, severely enforced in mosques or churches.

Why this is so, is not something I can explain. There are a couple of scientific theories about why the deities should not be photographed, but they are based on faith and belief, not hard science, as we know it. Three of my best friends are atheists. My best friend believes in Jesus, though she is not a Christian. Given my engagement with these four people, my personal (inherited; would be more proper) sense of faith is often questioned. I welcome the questions, even, if at times I have no answers. But the questions do not shake my faith. They make me seek a deeper understanding of my faith. And the faith, and its understanding, is personal.

In a recent visit to a temple I saw a couple of my friends, who were faithful take pictures of a the main deity in a temple. One of my atheist friend was accompanying us. I did not see him take photos of the main deity, but if he had, I would not be surprised. Needless to say, I offered my worship in the way I do, and moved on, to take photos of some of the wonderful sculpture that adorned that temple.

I was, I confess, slightly disturbed by the act of my believer friends taking photos of the deity. After a while we left the temple and made our way home.

Stones, layer,

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It was one of the most beautiful drives I have had in my life. We were circumferencing a large lake, in a valley surrounded by my favourite mountain range — the Sahyadri. Small village roads, meandering along the folds of one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, a mountain road, cut across the Deccan Traps. My three companions in the car, juggling the role of the DJ; good music played. We sang along, we laughed: at each other and with each other. I was a bit preoccupied; my passengers thought it was because I had a flight later that evening; and was looking to back as soon as possible.

I was thinking of the meaning of faith. I was thinking of how I was disturbed because someone else did not follow the general belief and custom. Somewhere, in that question, I was asking myself why I was disturbed. It was not a good feeling, and I wanted to understand why I felt that.

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All of this happened a week ago. And I cannot say that I now have a proper answer; the answer will evolve. I know this much, though: my faith, my sense of my faith is mine. It is personal. I need not seek justification for what I believe. I do not need others to practice what I believe. (For even if I could make them follow, it would be coerced; devoid of belonging) There is no science to it. In the same way that I seek answers, I have to understand that other people do too. They make their own meaning. And how we sense our answers varies from friend to friend. And it changes with time.

Faith matters. But there is no matter in faith.

Writing Rigour

I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing. – Agatha Christie

That’s the headline of a blog that I have followed for a while. For a few years now, the blog has been defunct; not the blogger. I met the blogger today; very much alive. Said blogger stopped blogging a few years ago. What’s the point, she said. When she stopped blogging, she did not explicitly ask this question. I know another blogger who did the same. She perhaps was asking different questions. I actually know of a third blogger. He stopped blogging too. His question — I have no idea. He went to the extent of deleting his blog. It must have been serious.

I have, I will confess, considered not blogging. But for the life of me, I could never consider deleting my blog. Good or bad, I cannot deny that this has been an integral part of my life. That, some of the followers of my blog bring up posts from several years ago in a conversation, is reason enough. (I tried doing an April Fool gag; fell flat on my face). There was a time when I wrote words that everyone most people liked. That’s not the case, now.

Not that words are foreign. They are still mine. I recognise them just like before. Just that the way they want to be together is unlike how they’d gather like obedient children; earlier. Perhaps, I am not a shepherd of words. Perhaps words shepherd me. Perhaps, that is why some of my recent posts are shite. Or, I have lost the ability to shepherd. The shepherding, notwithstanding — the words are mine and I am of words.

We have just lost the rhythm.

All I need, is to go to the dance floor that isn’t patronized by any one any more and do my silly dance. Where no one will see me. Where neither my words, nor I will care.  Salsa with adjectives and Samba with verbs. The apocalyptic dance. One writer in the world; no reader left. Is a writer made of readers or is a writer made of writing? Will a writer write if there is no one left to read? What defines a writer? The writing, or the readers?

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I told her today, my writing, in recent times, has achieved heights of mediocrity, not knowing, if that is a sense of achievement. But I have to write. Not because you will read. Not because you will like it. I have to write, because I have to write. Scribble.

125659: Wall Grunge

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No writer, if she can, should give up writing. Because every writer knows one thing (even if she cannot sense it) – she and the words are one. She may walk away from words. (Words are kinda stupid; they have no emotion – they will sit where they were last sat; where words should be – is a writer’s prerogative.) But there is no leaving. Even if she never writes them – she cannot escape them.

If you can help it – do not become a writer. There is no escape. If you become a writer; welcome to the club!

Being Friends

All that is in quotes happened offline, or in my head. The rest of it is real; i.e. it actually happened. Like, as real as it can be. I mean, as real as a real conversation is dramatised, embellished by (my) poetic license. And know this: I have permission from the person with whom I had this conversation. And no, I don’t have permission to reveal who it is. Do you care?

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The Friend: How many friends do you have?

I quickly go to my Facebook profile. 269. That’s it? Damn. I should start accepting all those friend requests I get. But then, I can hardly keep up with 269.

Me: A few short of 300, I think. Why?

TF: Not on Facebook, dummy! Real friends.

ME: Maybe ten or fifteen?

I have no idea what the right answer is. How many friends does an average person have? That’s the number I am seeking. I am an average person.

TF: No. Really. How many friends do we really have?

ME: I’ll let loose my hound-algorithms to deduce that. What’s on your mind?

Luckily for me, I remember all the tech jargon from college. But I was already wary of what was coming.

TF: How many real friends do you have? Seriously.

ME: As many fingers on one hand; I have no mutation.

Five.

TF: I just told off a “friend” – I said – I have enough fair weather friends. Where do you fit?

ME: Ouch.

TF: Yeah! That person didn’t understand what I am going through. I think, however, that the person understood exactly what I am going through. And being with me would be so much of a burden; a taxing companionship, so to speak. I have lost friends like autumn leaves. Once, my life made sense to them. Now that I am coloured by circumstances, friends are de-saturating.

ME: Hmm.

The “Hmm” is a catch-phrase of any IM conversation. It means absolutely nothing but it can mean anything. You use it when you have nothing to say, but need to respond. Because, the lack of response is worse than the infinite abstraction of the universality of the “Hmm.” I was however, also thinking of those that moved away. Those “friends.” Did I drive them away? Was I not good enough for them anymore? Did they choose to move away? Did my life suddenly become dull and uninteresting?

TF: You there?

ME: Yes, yes. Am here. [12 second pause] You did what you had to do. I have only just walked away. Perhaps I find it uncomfortable to confront. So I walk away. Telling someone who they are is a pointless exercise because, either they know who they are or they think they are someone else. Telling them, therefore, serves no purpose.

It’s 1994 or 95-ish. I am waiting at Stadium Restaurant. I have called my friend from a PCO, as I left office that evening. I’d be there in 45 minutes, he confirms he will be there too, in about an hour or so. These are the days when we didn’t have mobile phones (Just helping your imagination). I am there at 7:45pm as promised. I wait there. For three hours. I have no way of contacting him. He shows up. After three hours. He was unapologetic. Mostly. I am surprised about myself. Yes, I am tired; I am not angry. He is my best friend. Finger No. 1.

TF: I should do that. Walking away is maturity, I guess.

TF doesn’t mean it that way, but I cringe. There comes my age into play again.

ME: Please avoid the word “mature” – makes me feel old.

TF: Haha!

Time is experience. Yes, many years have passed. And I am what I am only after these many years. c. 1989. College hostel. I meet with a senior. He tells me what I am getting into. After all the talk, he says, “Forget all I said, no one learns by listening – you have to make your own mistakes. Just enjoy the ride”

ME: There is no one truth. It’s unique to us. Live your own, in the way you can. Your circumstance isn’t your life. Your life has a circumstance. Life’s forever. Circumstances come and go. Don’t let a circumstance dictate what you have to say and what you do not. Let life dictate that.

TF: I like that thought.. good idea. Let me try that.

I Am Poetry

Structure, perhaps; the magic of how the words at the end, end up rhyming. Or perhaps the metre. The litany that caries us through the verses. In a sense, the only sense that poetry appeals to us is through reading. The text, i.e.

Yet, without warning it evokes a sense of being — devoid of any other sensory perception. In a preface to a Mahakavya (great poem), the stellar poet, Dinkar, talked of realm of an extra-sensory perception. He spoke about it in a different context — love — but the logic — if you would call it that, remains the same.

A poem can never be taught. In teaching, a poem, its meaning is narrowed, to the teacher’s interpretation. A poem has to be owned. Like the life that we live, it has to be lived every day. It has to permeate your every day activity; find a permanent place in your self; become a part of you.

Inner Space

There is no understanding poetry. There is no learning poetry. You can learn the mechanics, tools, methods, and metre. But to to get poetry it has to become an indivisible and integral part of life. I have noticed my attitudes change, in a few aspects of my life, as I carried poetry with me.

In its punctum, poetry makes sense that is obvious (often, not always). It is immediately apparent, but soon lost. Because it is not our own. When a poem is our own, it changes us over time; itself undergoes change.

I am learning that, now.

Of Disrespect

When we were young, we didn’t like some people. Because we didn’t know words like ‘obnoxious’ or ‘haughty’ or ‘disdainful’ — we could never explain why we didn’t like those people. Yet, our parents ensured that we ‘respect’ them. Mostly, it was about age. “That person is elder; show respect.”. Respect your elders. (So said, Baz Luhrman, in Sunscreen)

The respect was cautious. While we didn’t feel respect, we feigned it. In the least, we didn’t exhibit disrespect.

Most Indic languages have addressable word-forms that inherently define who you address. So, we have a different word-form for a sibling, a friend, and a senior. In Hindi, e.g. we have tu, tum, aap — you (casual/street), you (formal/common), you (official/respectable), respectively.

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By virtue of my upbringing, my education, and having lived in North India for a while, I default to aap — the respectable form, when I speak in Hindi, irrespective of the age of the person. And over time, I discovered, respect and age have nothing in common. Respect is how you see people.

I recently was addressed in the “street form” on Twitter. I did not take exception to it, and continued the Twitter banter. Yet, I was amused. The person was tweeting from an organisational account. I know that the person knows I am “elder” — but I am a fan (of that organisation) as much as a 12yo is a fan. I was not upset; as I said before, I was amused. I live in different times. There’s a flatness, that I live in, which I understand, but confuses me.

Respect, makes the world go round.

Somewhere in the deep recesses of my head, it takes much, to know that person is not worthy of respect. When I see casual mentions of disrespect, I generally ignore them. Not that those who are disrespectful are making it difficult for us, though.

Instinctively, I believe, we are tuned to be respectful. But in recent times, it seems to me that we have been conditioned otherwise. Our default is now to ignore respect; which, mind you, is different from disrespect. Our tired fingers are losing the grip on humanity; our adventures of science (science not in absolute terms, but how we abuse it), are perhaps, the reason we will drop, deep down.

Deep, deep down. In a dark abyss.

To Build or To Disrupt

There’s nothing good about disruption, essentially.

Unfortunately, most kids today are out to disrupt something. The problem I have is not with the word itself, for it has three meanings. All three meanings are inherently negative and violent. I take exception with the start; “we will disrupt education”, for example. The Internet, when it came along did not have a grand design to disrupt anything. It was just another way to display information and manage communication. Over time, entrepreneurs found a new way to do business using this medium. In my opinion, they worked at improving the status quo. They did not intend to break the backbone of how things were. They were just trying out something new.

To start from disruption is a narrow approach, seeking to break something. If an existing system bothers you, or if you have a better idea for the system, change; and the value of change is important. We tend to look at success stories, but the better lessons for us come from those who wrangled with existing systems, and failed.

Most lessons of success come from those who have been successful; not from those who have failed. But if we are to learn, we should be looking at how and why things failed. There is, almost, an infinite scope to change things — if we understand how those things behave. Stout hearts will, perhaps, understand what I say. Building anew is better than breaking (and rebuilding).

But words, and their changing meanings.

We are slaves to a market that’s selling us camouflaged goods.

The Challenge

I don’t remember the last time a book challenged me.

Reading non-fiction, for a long time has, perhaps slowed me down. In a way, non-fiction is the book of answers, fiction is the book of questions.

This one book has me in a frenzy. For many reasons. One, it was written in a language that’s not native to me. It’s not alien though. Both my parents learnt this language, and were good at it. Two, it is written by a person who is known as the father of the revival of this language; I know little about his work, but I am learning. And I am fascinated. Three, it is historical. That should explain a lot, of my interest in the book. Yes, it’s fiction. Four, it was written about 125 years ago, and it is timeless, for it holds within it answers that society is asking today. If we can see it through our own eyes and not through a lense that belongs to another. Five, finally, the questions that this book asks of me, that are appearing in my notebook, are those that I do not recognise. I am excited of what answers will come.

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The Questions I Was Asked

But they’ll have to wait, those answers, I need to read two more translations before I know. And I think my life will thank me for it.

Moblogged. E&OE

My Bombay and Your Mumbai

London, for me, will always be close to heart. Not the name; the place. I lived for a short while there, and that city swept me off my feet, because of what it is. Not because what it is called.

I have the same emotion for New York, though I have never stayed there long enough, unfortunately.

Needless to say, my home and my heart is in Mumbai. Though, I could easily have my home and my heart in London or in New York.

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I must have been in school, I think, when Peking became Beijing. I still have to make a conscious effort to refer to my neighbouring country as Myanmar, rather than Burma. But I do. In the same way that I have eradicated the word “hate” from my vocabulary. I do use dislike. Once in a while, the habit wins.

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I am not originally from Mumbai. My formative years however, were spent in Bombay. This became home a little before, and soon after I finished college (in Pune). For me, Bombay is natural. Mumbai is equally natural. I come from a family that is native to this state. Given that the significant years of my education were in a school where Hindi was given its due importance, Bambai, is equally natural. You see, I use all these three names for the city, given the context. So while, we can chest-beat till we are out of breath about the bastardisation of Bombay to Mumbai, it means zilch.

8061: Visarjan Dance - 2

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My design guru (you know who are, Sam) once told me of design, as before-the-fact and after-the-fact. I see opportunistic mediocre photographers create expensive coffee table books for placard-bearers, of titles like “Bombay vs. Mumbai” and variants. Most folks I know cannot or will not (there is a difference) afford these books. Yet, they’ll spit-finger-turn-pages of these books in dying bookshops, walk-out without a purchase, and then have concerned conversations over expensive export-quality flavoured Vodkas in exclusive boutique bars wearing international fashion labels (or rip-offs) about how the changing of the name has depreciated the sense and the glory of the city. If and when I ever take a photos of such people, I’ll have a coffee table book of mine, titled, “The Irony of the Bastardisation of Bombay to Mumbai That Actually Never Happened.”

The city, by itself, never changes. The people in the city do. And the rest of the people look at these people and think that the city has changed. That’s where, I think, you need to get a feel, a sense, a belonging to a city. Just liking it, on someone’s say so, is not passion. That’s borrowed euphoria; it’s transient. It is not a sense of belonging. And you either belong or you don’t belong. And that’s fine.

I’ve lived in this city when it was officially Bombay and I’ve lived in this city when it is (now) officially Mumbai. Nothing has gone wrong in this city. In fact, there’s more of Bombay in Mumbai than there was Bombay in Bombay, if we have to assign the assumed culturally distinct identities to names. (Notice, no one is talking about the city itself.) Assign the Bombayfication to general progress. Fair. But, there has been no regression.

Haji Ali - 2

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I owe it to you my dear reader, to give you a context of this post. The Independent, a newspaper in the UK, made an editorial decision. Henceforth, in all their publications, they will use Bombay instead of Mumbai. I must say this, I did check the date after I heard the podcast to see if it was the 1st of April. They do have good reasons though.500″ years of history, the editor said! Because, of course, that’s the extent of the history of this land. The city should choose one name, perhaps it would be easier on the readers of The Independent. They’d know where they are going. I mean, if they were boarding a flight to Bombay, and the air-hostess welcomed all of them to a flight to Mumbai, we would have a stampede, right? And of course if we choose Mumbai, we will just end up being a closed, ignorant, retarded, nationalist, rightist, fundamentalist, this-winger, that-winger, useless lot. That the Gateway of India is the Gateway of India, not of Bombay or Mumbai, is lost upon the editor. [Link] (Interestingly, the BBC interviewed the editor of The Independent. +1 @ BBC. Smart move!)

Suburban Sunrise - 1

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Why and how do cities change names? Why do we, in the Indian sub-continent, have places like Dalhousie, McLeod Ganj, Abbotabad, Jacobabad? Or, have, for example, New Amsterdam? One of my favourite three cities that I mentioned above, where my home and heart could be?

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Needless to say, there is vested political interest that The Independent has. And while I address you directly, my dear reader, when you see a mention of Hippokoura, in The Independent, let me assure you, (take my word, I’ve done research) they are talking of Kolhapur. That’s the name, 1890 years ago, for Kolhapur, given by the Ptolemy, in 126CE. History, right?

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But I care less about that. I feel sad about the lack of the sense of belonging that they are missing, as they set up this extravagant PR-oriented drama. They care less about the vibrancy, the energy, the enterprise, the chaos, the madness, and the order that this city is all about. In the same way that your city, my dear reader, has its own characteristics and a personality. And you sense it, feel it, live it. Would it be any different if it was called by any other name? Call my city whatever, it will never change its character. Unless the people in the city change theirs.

And those, who don’t go to boutique bars, don’t care about what you call our city. We are happy living our life, in our city, and we have three names for it.

All of them mean the same.

In Defence of Abstraction

Once upon a time, I used to write well.

During that time, I wrote about A Discrete Process of Abstraction. A couple of months later, I wrote About Coach 78519. But the Coach post isn’t relevant to this post. Or maybe, it is. We’ll know at the end of this post.

Yesterday, someone I know on Twitter, wrote about writing honestly. That someone was writing about the struggles that are the afflictions of a writer. One, there is comfort in style, but then, it leads to sameness. To make it interesting, a writer, perhaps, may take refuge in abstraction. And then, that someone on Twitter, wondered if it’s an exercise in creating an image. While not directly saying so, that someone, wondered, if abstraction was honest?

(I keep saying “that someone” because I do not have permission to name “that someone.”)

Abstract artists, perhaps have the answer. They have been at it for so many years. Someone, has an answer. To be deceitful, we hardly need abstraction. I think you would agree. If we have lived a long enough life, we have experienced deceit. Without any abstraction. People make mistakes, for sure. That’s different. People are confused. That’s different too. People are lost. That’s very different. Being willingly deceitful is a separate art. We may mistake someone’s mistake, confusion, or loss as deceit. That’s different too. That’s misunderstanding. And can be easily resolved.

Is abstract writing honest? It depends on the intention of the writer. In the same way that discrete writing is. But it doesn’t matter, I think. For we as recipients, of abstraction can make our own meaning. Now that’s a risk that the creator takes. And even if the creator is honest, the abstraction may be misinterpreted.

What attracts us to explicitness? Is it infinitely more relatable? Or is it because there is less effort, or laziness, on our part to think, to imagine, to experience?

When a writer takes refuge in characters and personas to tell a story, is the writer being dishonest? There is really no difference between a reader and a writer. Both humans. Both strong. Both weak. In different areas. But both humans, nonetheless. We are bound by emotions. And that is what we should be feeling. Not second-guessing intentions. If you feel a writer is using abstraction (or any other device) as a cover, so be it.

If you still are in doubt, think poetry.

3635: Stone Backed

A friend once told me (not in these exact words) that, ‘being vulnerable is not about standing naked in the middle of the road during peak hours and shouting out loud the deepest of your emotions, regrets, and fears.’

Honesty, is in the expression. Not in the form of expression.

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PS: Now, I think the Coach post is relevant. If, you have read the first post I have linked. I did not, in the Coach post, give you any details. But it happened. That’s how I felt. It was honest, as honest can be. Is that enough, or do you want the details?

All’s Well; Perhaps

If all my posts were put in a word-cloud, (yes, that’s easily possible, but I am not doing it), perhaps, the word I use the most is, perhaps. The word is a tentative word. People think of it as a weakening or a disclaiming word, often, both. When I speak, I use maybe quite often. Same difference. Words like ‘perhaps’ are the refuge of people without conviction. They lack assertiveness, perhaps. So be it.

“You are being modest,” he said, with some irritation.

“I am being truthful,” I said, “I know what I know, and I know that there’s much that I don’t know. And I know this because I know people who know much more than what I know.”

We will never know everything, for sure. We will also never know everything in a specific discipline of our choice. There will always be something more. Of course, to prove me wrong, you can narrow down the discipline so much that, you’ll know everything in the discipline. And then, you’d be right.

Perhaps (the word) will never figure when we own the conviction of what we know. It’s when we cross the borders of our knowing that we need words like perhaps to help us navigate the unknown landscape of new knowledge. Slowly, we conquer these rich lands, by becoming familiar and then knowledgeable. Steadier now, we step deeper into the Fog of War. When we are faced with low visibility, we have to be tentative, and the vehicles we use to traverse this untravelled terrain, are made up of perhaps and maybe.

And it works well for all that is without. Within is a different mystery altogether.

The Real Spaces between Black and White

The Real Spaces between Black and White

We’d imagine, with all that we know, with all the certainty, the sedimentary maturity of the years, we’d be more expressive and less prone to misunderstandings, for example. Perhaps, words like perhaps and maybe are reminders of how much we know. And how much we don’t.

“In the colour band between black and white, the pure black and the pure white are just tiny specks. Our eyes deceive us,” he said, last Saturday, “and we see the range of grey towards white, and call it white, or we see the range of grey towards black, and call it black. It’s our sense of making sense of things; only because we understand white and black better than grey.” I thought, I’d counter him on that. He interrupted me, before I could start, “I want to explore that infinite band of grey, rather than seeking minuscule specks of white or black.”

In that grey colour band of life, I do not recall a moment of pure white, or pure black. Though, there have been moments that were almost white, almost black. I can, therefore say this:

All’s well; perhaps.

As Expected: An Experience

Happy New Year!

If you’ve read my previous post, I am happy to let you know that I stuck to going with the flow. In more than one way.

As expected, no earth-shattering revelations occurred. We already know what we need to do. Whether we want to do it, is another question. There is no self-discovery, really, there is only self-acceptance. We don’t need a place to go to, to discover ourselves. Discovery is incremental. Accepting what we discover, is the real requirement.

As expected, I haven’t committed (much) to what I already know. I dislike the pressure. The guy who left early on 31st, is pretty much the same guy who returned after the long weekend. In the sense of discovering and knowing; there’s disappointment, i.e. if some change was expected.

As expected, I went with the flow. I did not interfere with any bookings, travel plans, timings. I went along where everyone went. When they went. Once, I skipped seeing a monument that was scheduled early morning. I even spontaneously (ah, with some coaxing from my friend) changed my return plans.

As expected, I enjoyed the four days to the fullest. Some things, I wasn’t extremely pleased about, but I did not let that bother me. I had great conversation with all, made new friends, learnt a lot. About things. I laughed. Loud. A lot. Once in a while things went south. We took care of it, and then; laughed.

As promised (in the previous post), this is a photo that I took. It's not that same building, but it's the same place

As promised (in the previous post), this is a photo that I took. It’s not that same building, but it’s the same place

Some not-so-nice things also added to this experience. I am glad that we all took it in our stride; even if it scared the shit out out of us. I don’t think anyone of us said: sh*t! We just took care of things.

We just took care.

I saw my friends in new light. I am proud, that they call me a friend.

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An experience is just an experience. The qualifier — good or bad — is our making. We screw our happiness by isolating and focusing on the bad ones. Not that they aren’t real. They are as real as the laugh that you had, that put that knot in your stomach.

We have to learn to embrace them all.

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That’s my attitude towards 2016. No segregation. No good or bad. Because, I’ve learnt one thing, if nothing: even when sh*t happens, we can laugh. Continue laughing. Make stories. Increase our CQ (Cool Quotient). We can be happy, afraid, angry, [add your own mix here] at the same time.

[Inset] I know now, what I have been missing. [Inset]

No more, pulling back. Happy 2016, and many such years.

Hearts & Homes

I’ll be frank.

I’ve never really understood the where of the where the heart is. I am, if it isn’t obvious, referring to the adage — home is where the heart is.

12138546_10156091039110573_6819931460489077849_o

There’s a certain trivialisation of the home, in that thought. Like, the home is a slave to the heart. Our heart is, where we are. So, when we move, that’s where the heart is: pretty obvious. Per se the heart never leaves us, it is with us where ever we are. The home? It’s at a place. It’s fixed. If you are out shopping in a place full of ethnic wares, that’s where your heart is, but it isn’t your home. Home, is where you home is. It matters less, what you call home.

Home, for me, is place you go back to. After all your adventures. After your heart has wandered all over. Tell me, that in spite of the comforts of the world, you don’t feel happy coming back home to your lumpy mattress, your own pillow, and your tattered and overused blanket: I’d say you are lying.

Perhaps, they really meant: Heart peace, comfort, and joy is where the home is.

If you are lucky like me, you will have more than one place that you call home. But that’s where we want to come, after hours, days, weeks, months, or even years. We all have more than a home, really. If you have found yourself addressing a place as mine without much thought, that’s one of the place that you belong to and it belongs to you.

That’s home.

The Elusive Truth of Photographs

Earlier, a short conversation ensued.

Something that I have struggled with for a while (and I continue to struggle). This post, is by no means an expression of any finality. Struggles are continuous. We take them with us to our pyre.

Ethics in Photography: Primarily related to manipulation through digital tools.

I first heard of Photoshop in the very-late 90s. I used to take photographs much before that. I never manipulated photos (I had no means to; didn’t have access to a darkroom). Then, with my introduction to Photoshop, I realised what was possible. It was still not easy. You had to get your photograph printed, scanned, and then manipulated.

Cut, to the last few years.

The ease with which we can now manipulate photos is a critical factor of how many photos we manipulate, and to what extent. When it was the darkroom, and the effort was huge, you’d be satisfied with the photograph you took. Most photo upload sites Instagram, for example, depend on manipulation. Notice how the app is created; the process calls for manipulation. As this became the norm, otherwise puritan sites like Flickr (yes kids, there’s something called Flickr, and yes, there’s an app for that) joined the bandwagon, and created a manipulate-first strategy. Like we have mobile-first strategy. The humble smartphone camera, humble, no more, now included built-in editing tools. It’s worth noticing, also, that the editing tools are primarily auto-fix or filters. Not Levels, or Curves, and such (I know some apps have them, so don’t kill me for saying it). Why bother users with complex scientific concepts like a Histogram? Why teach core concepts of amount of light and duration of light? Focus on publishing!

All of the above, only to establish our current environment. No judgement, at least not yet.

Let’s come back to the short conversation that ensued.

A participant in a photography competition withdrew his entry, after it was found that he had retouched a photo to remove undesirable artefacts from the photo — in this case, a straw-like-thingy.

The question that was posed: Ethical Violation or Technical Breach.

My instant response was: Technical Breach. And it was so, because the competition disallowed major manipulation:

The rules of the contest state that “No cloning, montaging or digital manipulation other than cropping, ‘digital spotting’, burning and dodging is permitted,” so the photographer alerted Walkey about the suspicious submission. [Link]

For those of us who think that digitally manipulated photos are an ethical violation, I ask: is cropping fine? Or Burning? Or Dodging? In my opinion, cropping is completely removing a context in a frame! By showing me a photograph that is devoid of some context (by cropping) the photographer is changing meaning. Pretty much like sensational headlines or context-bereft sound bites. Then, are you making the sky look more blue? The leaves more green? Are you, Mr. Photographer, deceiving me? Was the sky really a dull boring blue that was almost white, when you saw it? Were the leaves not as you had imagined?

I am not advocating an ultimate realism in photography. As a person who takes photographs, I know that reality changes every millisecond, and so does context.

Broadly, photography serves two realms: that of documentation and that of art.

If an artist painter, who uses a canvas and oil paints were to paint a sky that was true blue (as most of us imagine it to be) we would never question it. Yet, fact of the matter is, we rarely see a blue sky as blue as we imagine it to be. We applauded the orange-grey-green-blue abstract skies of JMW Turner. When a photographer HDR’ed a sky, we felt cheated. This is the first realm of photography, and that is art.

The ethical questions, essentially come in the second realm — documentary photography. This realm deals with reality, harsh reality. And I am not talking of gory photos of dead bodies and such that we see on social media these days. If a photo’s purpose is to show you reality, and if it is manipulated — to edit meaning or create a new meaning — it is, clearly an ethical violation.

Common to both these realms is how we take photos. Given the means and the ease that has been afforded to us, the line between art and documentary photography has blurred beyond recognition. Whereas, we should be seeing photos as either art or as documentary, we are looking at them as manipulated or not.

“Both those taking snaps and documentary photographers, however, have not understood ‘information.’ What they produce are camera memories, not information, and the better they do it, the more they prove the victory of the camera over the human being.” ~ Vilém Flusser, Towards a Philosophy of Photography

This post wasn’t going to be complete without a quote from my guru.

Where do I stand?

In the simplest of terms, capturing a moment, for me, has always been about amount of light and duration of light. Primarily. That is what makes a good photograph. Now that the basics are covered, a photographer creates meaning. That is what makes an interesting photograph.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the manipulation of photographs; if presented as art. For, if you are photographer, you know that the real manipulation begins, before you click. When you set your aperture, when you compose, when you set your shutter speed. When you choose to include something or exclude something in the frame, that’s when manipulation has started. In a digital editing tool, you are only continuing the process. Even if you add a simple border, that’s manipulation.

Except, if you are documenting. Documentation is essentially boring. There is no need to manipulate that. Just file it, and be done. And when (and if) you manipulate a documentary photo, you are crossing really thick lines.

Here is a case study:

2015-11-03 12.03.06

This is a photograph I took of an AC fan, outside my office, with my mobile phone camera. After a few minutes, this is what I posted, on Instagram.

Do you feel cheated? Or did you just not care, and enjoyed the Instagram? Now that you know the raw truth, what do you feel?