Tag Archives: Benares

2013

Thousands of photographs. Hundreds of miles. Tens of days. All on the road.

For photography. For passion. For a dream. And what a beautiful journey it has been. A journey within. Each photograph of mine, good and bad, allowed me to reflect. On why I created that particular photograph. On what I felt when I was there. On life.

Many lessons. Most happy, others not so. But all important. Indelible. Each a milestone along a beautiful path. Never easy. Always beautiful. The road less traveled. That path.

I wanted my last post this year to be short. And have just one photograph. To epitomize all that I learnt. To tell me what I need to do. Here it is. The saint and the sinner.

It tells me life isn’t easy. It tells me the power of prayer. It expresses hope. Courage. And faith. In something. Someone. Larger than us. Much more powerful. It says much to me. Perhaps it might to you. Only if you feel. Who is the saint? Who is the sinner? Who created these distinctions? Is there any difference between them and me?

None. There are no boundaries. No lines. I am the saint. I am the sinner. I am all that there is. I am you. And you are me.

I believe this. Because I feel what you feel. What they feel. Just the same way. That is all that I need to remember. To never lose the ability to feel. Only then can I love.

God bless all of you. This is to 2013.

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I love you

I use the words I use, I write the way I write, and I photograph the way I photograph, because I am sensitive. You can call me an emotional fool. But what you call me and how you see me doesn’t really matter; all that matters is how I see myself. Someone questioned me once: “What is the most difficult thing in the world?” and to this I said: “To be honest with myself.”

Believe me when I say this. There was a time in my life when I was not true to my own self. I was more focused on what people thought of me than what I thought of myself. I ended up becoming the least common denominator, playing to the gallery. I forgot who I really was. I forgot my values and my principles. I was ashamed to be me, to be doing the things I had done, to be responsible for much hurt and pain and anguish around me. I literally couldn’t see myself in my own eyes – imagine that. I forgot the meaning of love. I was bitter. I was shattered. I was broken.

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But there is a kind and loving God. And all I needed to do was to place my hand in His. When I think of those days and the long, arduous and oftentimes painful journey from then till now, I am reminded of the hymn, “Broken Vessels”:

I was just a broken vessel laying shattered on the floor
Every piece that really mattered had been shattered o’er and o’er
Then I found a man named Jesus and He looked upon my face
He said if I would let Him, He would mold me back in place

So He gently placed my life upon the great potter’s wheel
He washed away my angry pain with love that I could feel
With His nail scared hands He touched my heart
He cleansed me through and through
Then He smiled at what He’d fashioned, ‘twas an image all brand new

Lord, I’ve seen the sign you’ve shown me, others shattered on the floor
Lord I know how much their hurting for I’ve been there once before
They’re just longing to be mended by your hands of love so free
Help me Jesus let me show them what forgiveness did for me.

Then He’ll smile at what He’s fashioned, an image all brand new.

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Jesus. Allah. Krishna. Guru Nanak. The name doesn’t matter. What matters is belief, faith, trust, respect, and love.

All of these feelings influence my photography and photography in turn influences my life. As Ansel Adams said: “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” 

I am human. I err. I am not perfect. Not even close. In fact, I am as imperfect as they come, and more. I have many flaws. But I consciously and painstakingly attempt each day to remove every bit of negativity from my being.  I try. And the journey is beautiful.  It becomes easier when you believe, you have faith, you trust, you respect, and you love. It is not the change in itself that is important, but the act of change.

And so you see according to me at the end of it all, it is no so much the photograph, but the act of photography. It is not so much being loved, but the act of loving. Unconditionally. I don’t ask of you to love me in return, but only ask that I may love you.

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To quote the Bhagavad Gita:

Karmani Ev Adhikaar Te
Maa Phaleshu Kadaachan
Maa Karma Phal Hetu Bhu
Maa Te Sanga Astu A-Karmani

To action alone hast thou a right
Never at all to its fruits
Let not the fruits of action be thy motive
Neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction

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Or in the beautiful words of William Nicholson in “Shadowlands”: “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God – it changes me.”

On the same lines, I love because I’m helpless – it changes me.

I love you.

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That Sacred Place

Yes, I know this post is long overdue. I’ve been meaning to put pen to paper for quite a while now, but I have been really swamped under. I was out traveling to Benares for a while, after which I was (and still am) sorting out and editing my photographs. Then I was in Bombay for a bit on work and busy with a few projects going on. And work reminds me of a status I posted on Facebook a few weeks ago: “No, I am not a professional photographer. I am a management consultant. I photograph only because I love it – that’s all”. Of course, I got some interesting comments on my status; an accomplished and talented photographer and curator, Susan Aurinko (and you can see her work here and here) said this: “But, if someone should happen to ask who you are, tell them that you are a photographer, please.  Though what you do might be a management consultant, who you are is definitely a photographer.”

And that got me thinking – how true those words are. Photography has permeated each part of my life, the depths of my soul, every bit of my being.  I have changed. No, read that as: photography has changed me. Those who know me personally can safely testify to this. I have this website, I write these posts only because I love photography, I love writing. There is no other reason. Do I really need a reason when I am in love? One of my all-time favorite songs is “Annie’s song” by John Denver – its lyrics best express how I feel for photography:

You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses
Come fill me again.

Or maybe on a relatively more contemporary note, I could just about use the words of Bryan Adams:

To really love a woman,
Let her hold you
Till you know how she needs to be touched
You’ve gotta breathe her, really taste her
Till you can feel her in your blood
And when you can see your unborn children in her eyes
You know you really love a woman

And this magical feeling that I live with, this can happen to anyone. To you, and you, and also to you. The only thing you need to do is to have a dream. As I mentioned a while back to a close friend of mine: “Sometimes we are so busy doing things we have to do, that we forget what we want to do.”

Find what you want to do. Dream. Chase your dreams. Discover. Strive. Persevere. Make it happen.  It might not happen. But dream.

Build castles in the sand. Build castles in the air. It doesn’t matter. Just build.

Stumble. Fall. Get hurt. But walk.

Love. Feel the joy. Feel the pain. Let your heart shatter. Yet love. Do it again.

Enjoy the ride. Feel the wind. Love the freedom. Be ready for it to stop. Find another.

Fear no loss. Be ready to win. Be ready for loss. But play the game.

Be sentimental. Be emotional. Be sensitive. Feel.

Hop. Skip. Jump. Don’t live. Be alive.

And that is when you will truly, completely, absolutely fall in love. That is when you will feel what I feel at this moment as I type. You will be in a place where there is no one but you and the Creator. Because that is when you will know that Heaven is just another place on Earth. Because that is when you’d have stepped into:

That Sacred Place.

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And you shall receive

I went to Benares for a purpose. And no, it had nothing to do with bathing in the Holy Ganges and cleansing myself of my sins, however much I am more a sinner than a saint. I had gone there to change (or at least attempt to) the style of my photography somewhat. It was something that I needed to do for a while.  I had to step outside my comfort zone to someplace else, someplace where I couldn’t rely on my past experience, someplace challenging, someplace different.  I needed to feel different to be different.

For those who haven’t been to Benares (or Varanasi) yet, it is sensory overload. Benares is the perfect example of organized chaos. And you will see that from my photographs which I’ll post by and by.  But as I always do, even within this melee I gravitated to people.  I observed them, found some whom I thought were interesting and chatted with them. I made friends. And then I photographed them. This time, I wanted to capture them, their expressions just where they were in their surroundings, so that I could tell their full story, not just a part of it with close-up portraits. I loved each moment of it. And believe me, it isn’t easy at all to photograph in the at-times-six-feet-wide (narrow?) gallis (lanes) of Benares where you could be crushed and trampled on, either by people or by cows or worse, both.

It isn’t easy to photograph the people I do.  It isn’t easy to photograph. Period.  It’s simple though – but not easy.  From those I have photographed for a year now, I have learnt this difference, this distinction between simple and easy. They have a simple life, not an easy life. Think about this. When you learn of their life, you’ll know what you want to be is a storyteller, not a spinmeister.  When you learn of their life, you’ll know that all you want to do is to love them.  When you learn of their life, you’ll know all you want to do is to give. Which is what I am attempting to be, and to do. But what then is the meaning of “give”?

As Kahlil Gibran wrote beautifully in “The Prophet”:

“Then said a rich man, “Speak to us of Giving.”

And he answered: 

You give but little when you give of your possessions. 
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. 
For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow? 
And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the over-prudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city? 
And what is fear of need but need itself? 
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, thirst that is unquenchable? 
There are those who give little of the much which they have – and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome. 

And there are those who have little and give it all. 
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty. 
There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward. 
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism. 

And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; 
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space. 
Though the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth. 
It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding; 
And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving 
And is there aught you would withhold? 
All you have shall someday be given; 
Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors.”

And you shall receive.

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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.

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