A Brief History of Time

I read this book many years ago, but for some strange reason, suddenly this book came to my mind this afternoon as I was working on my photographs. How and why I don’t know really. What Amazon has to say about this #1 New York Times Bestseller is this: “A landmark volume in science writing by one of the great minds of our time, Stephen Hawking’s book plunges into the exotic realms of black holes and quarks, of antimatter and “arrows of time,” of the big bang and a bigger God – where the possibilities are wondrous and unexpected. Stephen Hawking brings us closer to the ultimate secrets at the very heart of creation.”

But what are the secrets at the very heart of this creation, where the possibilities are wondrous and unexpected?

Without meaning to compete with either Stephen Hawking (or God), I believe that there are only two secrets to every creation. If you’ve just thought of “imagination” as being one of them, no it isn’t – imagination is obvious, a given, not a secret. Without imagination, there is no art. I could have quoted Picasso here, but I’d much rather use Einstein’s words who said, “Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” And I know, I’m rambling.

Getting back to the secrets – the reason why it is so easy for me to say that there are two with utmost conviction is because I have just been arranging and rearranging my images in folders to better manage them, and so I’ve had a quick look at the tens of thousands I’ve made. As I viewed those photographs, especially the contrast between the ones I had made at the beginning of my image-making journey to how I make them now, I had this epiphany.

To illustrate those secrets, I went through my photographs and finally settled on two; I wanted two images: monochrome, simple, and stark, which could convey these secrets. So stop, observe, reflect – and think of just one single word which could convey the meaning of these photographs.

Here is the first photograph:

This photograph of butter-lamps was made by me at Spituk Gompa in Ladakh. When I made the image of the lamps, I was standing alone in a darkened sanctum sanctorum, the windows of which were covered in soot, the air heavy with the fragrance of incense and oil, the sound of monks chanting their prayers in my ears. It wasn’t cold but I shivered, and I had goose bumps, as God came to my mind and I felt His presence. I thought of “faith”. I cannot help but quote Rumi who said: “In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.”

And here is the second:

The second image is of the mountainside en route to Phyang Gompa on the outskirts of Leh. Phyang was one of the villages affected by the flash floods of 2010, detritus of which still remains testimony to the havoc and destruction wrought, and on which I stood attempting to balance my tripod in futility. The monastery itself is just about a few hundred meters from where I made this photograph, and was untouched. A matter of faith perhaps? As I stood there in that valley of barren fields staring mesmerized at just granite, dwarfed by rock and mountain, the icy wind whistling past, I could only think of “endurance”.

Maybe you got the same (or similar) words, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you think differently. But these are my secrets, for photography, and for life. Faith and endurance. But does this mean, I won’t (or don’t) fail? I never said so. Of course I’ve failed often…at almost everything I’ve tried, work, relationships, photography, writing, but I never give up. I learn from what I did wrong, and I try, and try yet again. It’s frustrating, yes I know, but if I am to be true to my craft, my art, and beyond everything else, to myself, then these are my mantras to creation. Keep the faith. Keep walking.

And because I don’t give up, because I believe, because I have faith, as I go along that journey of creation, sometimes weary, sometimes not, I find myself truly blessed to witness and capture “a brief history of time”.

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4 Comments

  1. Padma May 12, 2012 at 11:34 pm #

    It feels like you wrote this just in time for me..great wisdom comes only with experience..

  2. Laxmi Kaul May 12, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

    “Few people know how to take a walk. The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence and nothing too much.”
    Ralph Waldo Emerson
    Need i say more…

  3. sunbyanyname May 13, 2012 at 7:22 pm #

    It should have been the other way round: rather than you telling me to visit your website I should have done it a while back knowing that there are not many who’d do it so professionally, so passionately and so genuinely. Any visitor to your website would be left gaping by the magnificent way in which you have captured beauty everywhere.

    As far as this post is concerned, since I have been seeing your photography for sometime now, I do believe that the camera has become the extension of your inner thoughts. I do believe that when you write about matters of faith, you experience it, feel it, touch it.

    Great Debesh. I shall be a regular visitor to your fine website

  4. Debesh June 1, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    Padma and Laxmi, thank you so much for being so kind and appreciative. Whilst I have always said (and still maintain) that I write for me alone, I would be untrue if I said I don’t feel happy when people appreciate what I photograph or write. It encourages me undoubtedly. Thank you for that.

    Ravi sir: Many, many thanks for your words. I have learnt the art of being a “wordsmith” from you, as opposed to being just a “spinmeister”. For that, and for many other things that you taught me, I am deeply indebted forever.

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