A non-zero sum game

I travel. I travel extensively. I photograph. I photograph extensively. I read. I read extensively.  I write. I write extensively.  Nothing about me happens in moderation. And yes, that also means I love deep, and it also means I hurt bad. I am emotional, sentimental and sensitive. That’s just the way I am, the way I am built.

I meet many people on my travels; I talk to many of them, and with almost all I create photographs of. But sometimes even without a conversation in words, we can speak the language of the heart. Each conversation, in words or silence, is a revelation, a story for me of their lives. I come back with many lessons, most of which I call my lessons for life. With this man I needed no words… all I needed to do was smile, and this is what I got in return. Much more than what I gave.

So you see I always come back richer than what I was before.

He reminded me of Cassandra Clare’s words in the “City of Glass”:  And he said, “You could have had anything else in the world, and yet you asked for me.” She smiled up at him. Filthy as he was, covered in blood and dirt, he was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. “But I don’t want anything else in the world”, she replied.

A few days later on the same trip in Himachal, I was heading up to the summit of a mountain when I met another shepherd (one of the many with whom fortuitously my paths crossed) who was lying in his tent, or should I say, just an open tarp. For those who have been following my blogs, this was not Dighli Ram as you’d see, but another shepherd. I was fascinated by how he was – an open tent in that cold weather, tired eyes, chapped lips, wearing his patched coat, covered with a blanket, his life’s belongings strewn around, embers of the night’s fire still glowing and smoking. I stopped to chat with him and make a few photographs. I was mesmerized.

As I lay down that night in my tent, I tossed and turned, not because I wasn’t comfortable in my 900+ down sleeping bag, but I was uncomfortable with how I’d been that morning with my shepherd friend. Sure I’d chatted with him for about 15 minutes and spoken to him about what he does, where he is from, his family, his children, but all the while when I was talking to him, my thoughts kept wandering to the summit of the mountain and I didn’t spend as much time with him as I should have – which means to my heart’s content. I followed my head, not my heart. I’d been selfish. I “did” barely enough so that I could photograph him, and nothing more. Our meeting had become transactional, a bargain for me. This happened to me after many years. Even now this bothers me.

And that is when my thoughts wandered – to the innumerable, regrettable times I have done such things in my life in the past, perhaps even worse; to the times I never held an old lady’s hand to help her cross the road because I thought her hand was dirty, to how I’ve only offered a seat in the bus or the tube to those I consider “worthy” of my place, to how I’ve never even given a second glance to that bare-bodied, skeleton of a man pulling a hand-cart in the oppressive heat of an Indian summer, to how I’ve never had any remorse about not finishing the food on my plate without thinking of those scavenging in garbage bins for a few morsels. Yes, I’ve done all that and more, but I’m honest enough to admit it openly. Somewhere along the way, I realized all this, my unfounded arrogance, my selfishness and I resolved to change, and change I did, which is why I still feel guilty about spending maybe five or ten minutes less with my shepherd friend. When there are aberrations of self-centeredness like this, I feel miserable and castigate myself – you could call this blog my confession.

But what is the connection between meeting the shepherd and my past? Lots actually. In all of these instances, I allowed myself to be the center of my thoughts. It would have been no biggie had I spent some more time with him – maybe shared a cup of tea. We could have laughed some more together, I could have allowed him to use my camera – he would have been thrilled. Sure I can still turn around and say “Oh well, next time maybe”, but there is no next time. These moments past will never come back. I need to remember carpe diem. I need to remember that there is a purpose even in why I write this today. I need to remember to thank the Lord for all my blessings. I need to thank Him for something as “taken-for-granted” that I can read, write and express myself here, and there are many who understand where I am coming from. I need to thank Him for all of you, my friends. So thank you God. I need to remember to make you and others all my reasons.

These words “all my reasons” reminds me of the final scene in the film “A Beautiful Mind” when John Nash, (played by Russell Crowe) during the Nobel Prize ceremony, says this to his wife: “I’ve always believed in numbers and that equations and logics lead to reason and after a lifetime of such pursuits, I ask what truly is logic, who decides reason. My question has taken me through the physical, the metaphysical, the delusional and back and I have made the most important discovery of my career, the most important discovery of my life. It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logical reasons can be found. I am only here because of you. You are the reason I am. You are all my reasons.”

This wasn’t planned – strange how this blog has ended with John Nash. It reminds me of the Nash Equilibrium and Game Theory. So I also need to remember that my life needs to be:

A non-zero sum game.

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6 Comments

  1. Sonny June 12, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    Jeez…you were a terrible person !…never gave your seat to anybody…..helped an old lady cross the road, held dirty hands…?…moi ? I was born an angel…

    As sentimental as I am…I am also a hugely practical person…I don’t really see it as a flaw…keeping your summit in mind, meant you understood time and utilised it in a sensible fashion, nothing wrong with that…but yes…when we use somebody, we always know that deep inside and photography is nothing, if not an honest reflection of our heart and soul.

    You need to read a book called “The history of love” by Nicole Krauss…my favorite lines from it…

    “Herman slipped his hand into mine, and I thought, An average of seventy-four species become extinct every day, which was one good reason but not the only one to hold someone’s hand,

    and

    “So many words get lost. They leave the mouth and lose their courage, wandering aimlessly until they are swept into the gutter like dead leaves. On rainy days, you can hear their chorus rushing past: IwasabeautifulgirlPleasedon’tgoItoobelievemybodyismadeofglass-I’veneverlovedanyoneIthinkofmyselfasfunnyForgiveme….

    There was a time when it wasn’t uncommon to use a piece of string to guide words that otherwise might falter on the way to their destinations. Shy people carried a little bunch of string in their pockets, but people considered loudmouths had no less need for it, since those used to being overheard by everyone were often at a loss for how to make themselves heard by someone. The physical distance between two people using a string was often small; sometimes the smaller the distance, the greater the need for the string.

    The practice of attaching cups to the ends of string came much later. Some say it is related to the irrepressible urge to press shells to our ears, to hear the still-surviving echo of the world’s first expression. Others say it was started by a man who held the end of a string that was unraveled across the ocean by a girl who left for America.

    When the world grew bigger, and there wasn’t enough string to keep the things people wanted to say from disappearing into the vastness, the telephone was invented.

    Sometimes no length of string is long enough to say the thing that needs to be said. In such cases all the string can do, in whatever its form, is conduct a person’s silence.

  2. Sanjay June 12, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    What pictures Debesh. You have some eye for details. Congratulations and keep going.
    Sanjay

  3. Anna June 12, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    Perfectly well written – even the paragraphs are fluent and representative of your brilliant mind. Seems as you are honest with yourself – as people need to do to be able to write from their inner cores. I hope you will listen to your inner man in the future – as only from there we know the right answer! Best of luck in your writing.

  4. Anu June 13, 2012 at 5:34 am #

    In this crazy world of today, where many of us, me included, are engrossed in ourselves and running the rat race…reading this blog makes me stop and think, the many things I have taken for granted in my life. Thank you for reminding me all that and more!
    I am envious of both the men…they seem so happy and content with themselves and life in general…and you have done a fantastic job of capturing those expressions in your pics.

  5. Debesh June 16, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    Thank you so much Sonika; the words that you have used are beautiful and mean a lot to me. I have read “The History of Love” and it happens to be among the books I call “favorites”; of course, as the days go by, that list gets longer…

    @Sanjay and Anna: Thank you so much for being so gracious. I appreciate your comments.

    @Anu: I’m happy that my writing made you pause and reflect – we all need to do that audit of our personal balance sheet every once in a while. Thank you for reading, and also for commenting. I appreciate your time.

  6. Neelam November 2, 2013 at 12:49 am #

    Such depth in your feelings and such zest for making your life richer and such courage to feel, know, and critique thyself……is beautiful…I do hope to meet you some day

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