My Eternal Childhood

It’s been about 10 days since I wrote my last post. I’ve been distracted and busy with work, and was out traveling. But I put all of that aside to write just now. And for some strange reason, Rabindranath Tagore has been on my mind through the day, perhaps because when I think of my photography and writing, I feel just how Tagore wrote: “I have spent many days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung.”

The week before last, I had gone to Mahabalipuram.  This village is listed as a World Heritage Site and is an eclectic mix of sun, seafood and sand. Famous for its ancient rock carvings, especially the Shore Temple, it was once the second capital and seaport of the Pallava kings of Kanchipuram. Even to this day, it remains renowned for stone carving, and you’ll undoubtedly see and hear the constant tapping of hammer and chisel as artisans chip away at exquisite sculptures.

So I was up at 03:30 getting all set for a 100 mile drive to be there before sunrise and capture the pristine beauty of the Shore Temple at dawn, but God had other plans. The sky was overcast, the light bad, and daybreak brought along a dull, dreary, depressing gray sky – you know the kind I’m talking about. Anyway I did what I had to do…despite the poor light I got some nice photographs of the temple (at least I think so, and you can see those here).

Sometime later as I was strolling around town, I came across this old lady sitting against the fluorescent wall of a guest house. This was such a contrast, a paradox, an unforgettable moment!  The Shore Temple quite literally paled in comparison to this sight…I chatted a while with her and then requested her permission to photograph her. As a friend commented when she saw this image, “…she sits right at the meridian where the two colors meet…like a threshold to be crossed…from one realm to another… “

And then later I met this flower-seller in the marketplace who reminded me of the words of A.A. Milne: “Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.” 

After a while it started raining and that was the end of my photography. But strangely I wasn’t disappointed. And I say “strangely” because I’d just driven 200 miles up and down to photograph a World Heritage Site at dawn, but didn’t quite manage to bring the shoot to its so-called logical conclusion. All I was thinking of on the way back to the hotel was actually the first photograph I’ve posted of the old lady against the wall. I just hoped it came out well. I was actually quite surprised by my own reaction. You see I’d just been to a World Heritage Site but wasn’t concerned about those photographs and I’m not embarrassed to say it aloud here.

Which brings me to my point. And yes, I know I can go around in circles at times. Photography happened to me by chance about two years ago. It wasn’t planned in the real sense of the word. And it has taken me about a year of “serious” photography with the usual repertoire of sunsets and sunrises, flowers, architecture and picture postcard shots (not to mention the thousands of bad photographs) thrown in for good measure to finally realize what really affects me – people. I want to create lasting photographs of those I meet and those who influence my craft, and more significantly me, indelibly. I also realize I have many miles to go on a journey that’ll never end. I have a dream. I critique my own photographs unabashedly and right now I feel that they are becoming predictable, boring and monotonous. And I’m not ashamed of confessing it here. This is my journey and I need to be honest rather than wonder what people might think if I say this. I need to do something different.

And what better way to tell you how I feel at this moment than to quote Rabindranath Tagore again:

“I travelled the old road every day, I took my fruits to the market, my cattle to the meadows, I ferried my boat across the stream and all the ways were well known to me.

One morning my basket was heavy with wares. Men were busy in the fields, the pastures crowded with cattle; the breast of earth heaved with the mirth of ripening rice. Suddenly there was a tremor in the air, and the sky seemed to kiss me on my forehead. My mind started up like the morning out of mist.

I forgot to follow the track. I stepped a few paces from the path, and my familiar world appeared strange to me, like a flower I had only known in bud. My everyday wisdom was ashamed. I went astray in the fairyland of things. It was the best luck of my life that I lost my path that morning, and found my eternal childhood.”

The journey has just begun. My eternal childhood.

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  1. Letizia Cortini October 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    Beautiful spiritual, poetic and human path :)!

  2. paulomi October 9, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    Once again, a beautiful piece of writing, which speaks as much as the photographs do.. and yes.., here’s hoping the journey ahead does bring forth more such wondrous experiences to you, and you share them here, all the same…

  3. Anu October 9, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    Good luck in catching your dream in your journey to eternal childhood, Do continue to remember to include us, and share this wonderful fairyland of pictures and experiences that you come across in your journey….

  4. mauverneen October 9, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    Love it, Debesh! You have found your niche! Your portraits are wonderful!

  5. Heidger Marx October 9, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    Beautiful words and beautiful images to go hand-in-hand with the words. Well done, Debesh!
    By no means, I would consider your photographs boring, monotonous or predictable.
    Thank you for sharing those private thoughts with all of us!
    – heidger

  6. sonny October 10, 2012 at 8:57 am #

    if you remember i once told you , how much i love your landscapes more than your portraits…but just by virtue of having witnessed you making those portraits…and you know i miss little…i have to tell you how every bit of you lights up when you are with the people you shoot…as much as those people transfer their simple joy to you…you bathe them in your glow , that comes from doing what you are meant to do….these were the thoughts in my head when i took your picture..the light on were so happy ! and the tired looking man in front of the blue door, whom you were shooting at this moment….[ who btw i wouldn’t even have noticed ]….his face was glowing…thats where his blessing…his dua to you, for you… came from….so how can you even doubt and think that your portraits lately have become boring and predictable…when the people you shoot are never so…when the man who captures them isn’t ever so…..

    its good to challenge ones mind , to not let the rut seep in…but don’t doubt your calling or how brilliant you are at it…..

  7. Eric Hatch October 10, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    I think your portraits are exceptionally full of character … which is the goal of environmental portraiture. There’s a certain rigidity in these shots, as if the subjects were frozen in time — but that’s not a bad thing. The eyes in particular all have a distant, fixed gaze — none is making eye contact directly with the camera. So they’re in their private world, hinted at by lighting, environment, and color. Very strong.

    Have you picked up “Explorations in Photography” yet?

  8. matthew pace October 10, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

    So you have now arrived at what I sign with..

    ” Photography for me is my journey in life:
    the camera,my passport…the images,the trips taken..”

  9. Sandy October 11, 2012 at 11:02 am #

    Gosh! When I read your posts it stalls my breath for some reason, as if I would lose out being there, where you take me, if I moved or breathed again until I read it all.
    Now, read them witth the pictures! wanted to share what it made me feel :)
    The sheer honesty of your posts overwhelm me.

  10. Cyretha October 11, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

    I can’t stop thinking about the first image. She is sitting where the blue and green colors meet. It is to say where young and old converge. She sits with the innocence of a child, but we know, she has traveled around the sun many times because of the walking stick to her right. It is true “once a man, twice a child”. This picture is testimony to that.

  11. Shaikat October 11, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    Mahabalipuram was a trip done twice over for me. The stone idols of Muruga and others on sale at the corner shop were fascinating extensions of a legacy of craftsmanship. An evocative piece Debesh.

  12. Nancy Boyer-Rechlin October 13, 2012 at 12:06 am #

    I, too, love the portraits best, especially in black and white, so rich and so focused. And thank you for quoting your poet. I am not familiar with him, but the poem is beautiful, wonderful. i also thank those who know you and shared a glimpse of the love and joy you share with your subjects.

  13. Sandra Gibeault October 15, 2012 at 8:47 am #

    As always, a thought provoking message from you! Perhaps those who step off the path and find their eternal childhood never really left their paths at all? Could it be that their journeys had begun long ago?

  14. Debesh October 16, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    Many thanks Letizia for such lovely words. I’m touched.

    Paulomi my friend, thank you so much for your compliments. I’ll indeed share this fascinating journey of mine with all my friends. I don’t know where it leads to but I am loving each moment of it, each step that I take.

    Anu, you’ll be included nary a doubt my friend – this is such an amazing experience. Thank you for your wishes – they mean a lot to me.

    Thank you so much Mauverneen. I am so grateful to you for reading and commenting as always.

    Heidger, you always encourage me my friend. When I read your words, it made me feel like holding my camera and stepping out – even if I feel thus. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart Heidger for giving me some inspiration to go on.

    Sonika, your words are really special. I am trying to remember how many people have I photographed with, or who have seen me photograph and know exactly where I go to. I think maybe two or three. So you know exactly which place I go to when I am composing that shot…

    Addendum for Heidger and Sonika: This was one of those moment when I felt I could have done (and I can do) more, much more, to capture those emotions that I feel when I photograph.

    Many thanks Eric. My limitation is an inability or unwillingness to capture more of the environment. I try often, succeed seldom, because in my heart all I want to capture is the emotion writ large on their faces and so I frame in real tight. Which is why I feel a sense of predictability. But I am working on it. Slowly but surely. And yes, I am reading your book and will be in touch regarding it.

    Thanks so much Matthew – I remember your words, you’d shared these with me many months ago and when I read these then, I little realized that I would feel like this someday…

    Thank you so much Sandy. My claim to fame as I wrote much time back perhaps won’t be my photographs or even my words, but just the fact that I concurrently “use” both with complete honesty, even if that means saying I don’t like my own photography.

    Cyretha, thank you. Isn’t it fascinating how each of us observes different things or qualities of the same image and then interprets it differently? Not only do we frame images based on our own frames of reference, we also interpret them thus.

    Thanks so much Shaikat. I appreciate you writing in. Unfortunately I was there at sunrise and the shops hadn’t open for the day yet. Another time maybe.

    Welcome to my blog Nancy and thank you for such generous words. The best part about creating portraits isn’t so much the technicalities of the image per se but how these people leave an indelible mark on my life – they give me so much love that I can’t even explain. I also thank you on behalf of my friends whom you complimented – for their love I express my gratitude to the Lord each day.

    What an interesting though Sandy…and you might be absolutely right. Perhaps we never wandered at all. I guess this’ll make for an interesting blog on its own. Thank you Sandy for commenting, and thank you for being such a lovely friend. Again even though we haven’t met, I feel I know you.

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