For I have loved

It’s been a while since I wrote last and writing a post seems almost alien to me. I’ve just returned from Benares, or Varanasi, or even Kashi, as you’d prefer to call it. It was such a fascinating trip – what a city with such a unique character! But I’ll write about Benares (the place) in another post (or maybe even posts).  I’d gone there for a specific purpose actually – before I’d left I had been feeling for a while that my portraits were not “quite there” according to me. (Of course, after I wrote that many of you who read it felt otherwise and for that I’m grateful – so thank you.) Anyway, I went to Benares to photograph people, to allow them to touch me in the deepest recesses of my heart again, to let me know what it means to feel. It was spiritual – maybe not in the classical sense of the word, but perhaps ambrosia to quench the thirst of my soul.

Someone had asked me many weeks back: “Do you have any fears?” to which I had then said “No, I don’t.” But now after meeting so many people in Benares and feeling the love of strangers, I can safely say: “Yes, I do. I fear losing this capacity to feel – which is why I love each day.”

In 1897, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, the renowned Indophile, said of Varanasi: “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” Nothing could be truer than that. Unto and of itself, Benares is its people – residents and birds of passage, all the same. Full of characters, both devout and dubious, Benares is a photographer’s dream – and I was a child in a candy store there.

Everything there happens in the name of, and for, God.  Despite the deluge of outsiders, the people of Benares cling to their roots almost as if diaspora in a foreign land. Each of them has a story to tell…this man brought his wife of many years for a dip in the Holy Ganga (or Ganges) to wash away their sins and remit their karma.

And he is a fruit-seller who was born here; he has sat in the same place for as long as he can remember selling fruits to pilgrims. He said to me that he wants to die here as dying in Kashi is salvation, and ensures release of a person’s soul from the cycle of its transmigrations.  (In the Rigveda, the city was referred to as Kashi, “the luminous one” alluding to its historical status as a centre of learning, literature, art and culture. In one verse, the Hindu god Shiva, the Destroyer in the Holy Trinity says, “The three worlds form one city of mine, and Kashi is my royal palace therein.”)

Then I met this Brahmin who only sits and prays at this small temple day and night, every single day of the year. All for the Lord. This is what teaches me the meaning of love, of devotion, of sacrifice.

How can Benares be complete without a paan-wallah, the ubiquitous betel-leaf seller ? He offered to   have a word with someone so that I could have a vantage view of the evening Ganga aarati (prayers) – for a princely sum of course.  I politely declined but not before I got his permission for a photograph!

As I was navigating the labyrinthine streets known as gallis near the ghats (bathing steps), I saw this child behind a closed door, surreptitiously peeping through this lattice screen and observing me most closely. I smiled to him, pointed at my camera and he nodded in silent acquiescence…

All of these are people I love and respect. This is the reason I photograph. I remain in touch with reality as it exists, not as I would have it. I am on a journey of (re)discovering love each moment, every single day. It is beautiful. I wouldn’t have it any other day.

And as the day came to an end, I met this beautiful old lady who sells flowers for a living. I still wonder what lies hidden within her heart? Resignation? Indignation? Unbearable pain? Memories of another life? Or even wishes for another life? But all I know for now is that she touched my soul.

And yes, I’m not embarrassed of confessing here that I had tears in my eyes after I made this photograph of her. It reminds me of a line I wrote many years ago: “When your reason to cry and your reason to smile are both the same – then you truly have loved.”

I know.

For I have loved.

This entry was posted in General, Philosophy, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .


  1. Emily Mabee November 6, 2012 at 1:18 am #

    Beautiful words and portraits. Thank you.

  2. Anu November 6, 2012 at 2:31 am #

    There is nothing that I can put in words….just absorbing every word that you have written…and whispering a silent WOW to myself. Very happy for you that you have reached a phase in your life wherein you feel that you have truly ‘loved’. Not many have experienced nor do many understand this kind of love, I think…so go on, keep loving, and enjoy life :-)

  3. Sandra Gibeault November 6, 2012 at 2:35 am #

    Once again, you have taken your readers along with you on your journey. A truly eye-opening experience that speaks to all of us…

  4. sonika November 6, 2012 at 4:24 am #

    Been staring at the portraits as i always do as it lets me get washed with whatever it is the photograph evokes in me …..and the foremost feeling that stands out looking at these pictures is, that each person in each photograph has the exact expression on their faces and persona which matches the description [ brief albeit ] that you have penned. beautiful…

    beautifully expressed , two lines resonated with me the most — child in a candy store ….smiling , i can so picture you there …..and i so know the feeling . And of course the last line — when the reason to cry and smile are the same… thoughts that make me muse…

  5. Sandy November 6, 2012 at 9:09 am #

    This post is different. This one doesn’t wonder (in awe) half as much as it takes in, absorbs. It dwells in your system, looks within you, looks at probably the micro than the macro of it. There may be awe (yes) but more than that, there is soul.

  6. Ranvir November 6, 2012 at 9:50 am #

    I did visit Benaras earlier when we had gone to protect Gyanvapi Masjid, post Ayodhya aftermath. It was curfew bound, and we had a free run to all places in and around the city. Hence, got a chance to visit and see it at peace with myself. Visiting the city of temples through this post, I must say is an extremely different experience. Thanks for the lovely effort to bring it forth to us.

  7. Debesh November 6, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Thank you as always Emily – I am touched that you make time to not only read, but leave a comment as well.

    Anu, I’ve always maintained that this discovery, this journey is absolutely beautiful and it just keeps getting better each day. Thank you so much for your wishes which I treasure and appreciate deeply.

    Thanks so much Sandra – Benares was absolutely divine and no words will ever be able to describe what I felt…but that hasn’t stopped me from sharing whatever I thought I could write.

    Sonika, thank you. Perhaps the most difficult subject to capture is emotion on someone’s face you don’t know and if a photographer can do that and be able to convey it, then his or her photograph means something other than a pretty picture. I am happy that you enjoyed reading it and yes, thankfully I wasn’t a bull in a china shop!

    Indeed it is different Sandy…I’ve been feeling different somehow after this journey and I share what I feel, how I feel with honesty. Thank you my friend.

    Ranvir: Thank you for such kind words mate – I am touched. I need to make another trip there again sometime in February during the Kumbh Mela and I am really looking forward to that.

  8. Eric Hatch November 6, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

    Bravo. My favorite is the girl behind the screen, but all of these are expressive, dynamic, and intimate. Fine work.

  9. robert bridges November 6, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    powerful images – beautifully written.

    Posted to FB and Pinned it

    thank you


  10. Fran Gallogly November 6, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    Lovely portraits, very expressive.

  11. Heidger Marx November 6, 2012 at 10:20 pm #

    Dear Debesh,

    I was so looking forward to your next blog, your touching words and powerful images. Thank you for sharing those with all of us! I haven’t visited Varanasi or Benares on my last trip but your account so wants me to add it to my next trip.

    It resonates very deeply when you talk about the reason for tears and the reason for smile being the same, how wonderfully said! I for sure had countless occasions in India where I was touched to tears and, in my view, it is a sign of strength and maturity to allow this love manifest in both ways, the tears and the smile.

    Thank you for being who you are.
    – heidger

  12. Ellen Fisch November 6, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    Stunning photographs! Gorgeous color and superb composition! Most of all, and indeed this is my measure of a photograph, each of your photographs tells a story. Each is packed with meaning and emotion. May you take many more photos and share them with your admirers, like me. Best, Ellen Fisch

  13. Susan Aurinko November 7, 2012 at 12:35 am #

    Debesh, now I KNOW you were in Varanasi, because you felt the place, like blood in your veins. I feel it that way also, and think that I must have one life in my many past lives that was spent there, in that holy place where even breathing is a prayer…

  14. Nisha November 7, 2012 at 2:45 am #


  15. payal November 7, 2012 at 7:51 am #

    Another lovely piece…so simply written and yet you bring alive each scene and person….love the line..”fear losing…the capacity to feel”….so close to heart…..the photographs are brilliant, as usual…

  16. Debesh November 15, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    I must apologize to all of you for the delay in replying to your comments – I have just been completely engrossed in sorting out my images from Benares, and most of you being photographers, am sure would understand where I am coming from.

    Thank you so much Eric. I appreciate it. Strange coincidence – when I was looking at the image and thinking how I did manage to get it into focus, I read your “tip for the day” on using manual focus which is just what happened when I made this photograph.

    Many thanks Robert! I so appreciate you sharing my work, and I’m happy to be connected with you here.

    Fran, thank you so much for your kind words.

    Heidger my friend, thank you so, so much. You have to visit Benares and I can already see us photographing there – so as and when you work out your itinerary for your next visit here, please make sure you add the destination. I am happy you appreciated those words – it is only those who have experienced what I do know the real meaning and import of those. I must introduce you to Susan, who has also commented here – she is another Indophile like you and is in the US. Please do see her website. And thank you for being you my friend.

    Ellen, I am most grateful to you for such lovely words. They mean much for me coming from someone who has photographed as long as you do. I am touched and humbled by what you say. So thank you.

    Dear Susan,

    Thank you for writing. You’re truly a special person and you should know that. What you say means a lot to me and I look at you with inspiration and awe. I am really waiting for February when I shall have the privilege of photographing the holy place (as you rightly said) with you.

    Thanks a lot Nisha.

    Payal, my friend thank you for reading so carefully…yes, that is now my biggest fear; if I lose that, I have naught for then I lose the ability to photograph and tell a story.

  17. neelam November 7, 2013 at 11:40 pm #

    lovely..the woman’s eyes are so sad…saying a lot…wonder if I would like to pass my final days in Kashi,

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