Tag Archives: happiness

It changes me

Just this morning I was wondering what to write – there was this incessant urge to scribble a few words when the answer came to me in a conversation with a friend. I’ve just returned from Kathmandu after a week of photography, holding, feeling, touching, caressing my camera after many months, and I find a change in myself, and it isn’t subtle. I am more at peace and calmer than when I left. I am happy, I am content. Photography makes me who I am, the person I want to be.

And in reflection of who I want to be someday, if there is something that I want all my photographs to say, I hope and pray that the language is that of compassion and of grace. When I step out with my camera, there is a difference that comes about, in the way I think, in how I feel, in the way I converse, in the person that I am. I cannot express it better – this is just what happens to me.

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I am not an evangelist. Believe me when I say that I am more sinner than saint, more flawed than most, but as I photograph all these things seem to change. There is a metamorphosis. It is almost as if I were blessed, gifted to see what I see and that is when the transformation happens, slowly, surely, each day, each time.

I wander, I observe, and I am lost. Then there is this silence of mind, a calmness that comes around me, about me, which stills my senses and renders all into a sort of slow motion, where time has no meaning at all. I can sit for hours and see even the most mundane of things, wondering about the Divine Hands that made them all. It is beautiful. It is blissful. It is serene.

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It is difficult to explain to most about these feelings, but some I am sure will understand. For those who do, what I experience is mindfulness. I am there in the present. The past no longer exists. The future has no meaning for me. It is only in the present that I am. Alone with Him. It is a communion. It is alchemy. It is metaphysical. It is being one with the Cosmos, in touch with That which is Divine, the Who that is the Creator.

There are moments of tears, of shivers, of goose bumps, not only when I photograph, but even later when I see the same photographs and that time returns to me.

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And this is why I always say that for me photography is meditation, a reflection, an introspection. Or actually, photography for me is a prayer. As William Nicholson said 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.”

Yes. It is a prayer.

It changes me.

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On gratitude

Almost a lifetime. That is how long it feels now that I am here finally writing a post. Words don’t come easy. I am stumbling, staring at the blank sheet of paper as I attempt to find expressions that can convey what and how I feel. Nothing yet.

But I know the photographs I want to share, and those I hope will render this easy. For the last 3 months I have been in the deserts of Iraq on work, but yearning for the mountains that I love.  Those are the photographs I have open at this point of time – waiting, hoping that there will be this sudden surge of inspiration. The mountains do something for me. And not going there makes me feel as if I were incomplete. In the same way, photography and writing make me complete. I am different from what I was when I left for Iraq. I have been told that by those who know me. And what I have been told hasn’t been good. I have changed, and not for the better. This is what happens when I don’t photograph, when I don’t write and I don’t find myself in the mountains. These are what I am, this is who I am.

After months of travel, I finally got around to editing some photographs of Ladakh where I was in April, and found quotes as I often do for them.

For this one, I thought of what Andy Rooney said: “Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it.” ­

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And this is what Pablo Neruda said in 100 Love Sonnets:

“So I wait for you like a lonely house

till you will see me again and live in me.

Till then my windows ache.”

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“I’ve learned that a storm isn’t always just bad weather, and a fire can be the start of something. I’ve found out that there are a lot more shades of gray in this world than I ever knew about. I’ve learned that sometimes, when you´re afraid but you keep on moving forward, that’s the biggest kind of courage there is. And finally, I’ve learned that life isn’t really about failure and success. It’s about being present, in the moment when big things happen, when everything changes, including myself.” – Cynthia Hand, Hallowed

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As as I beheld spring, the words of Ernest Hemingway came to mind:  “You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen.”

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I feel better now as I write. I know this post isn’t great, but this is just how I feel without having photographed or written for months. I just hope the photographs compensate for my words.

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” ­– Hunter S. Thompson

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It is much later such as now when I contemplate deeper on what that moment meant to me, do words come out and find their place, intruding as they were on my feelings. It is only in retrospect that I can actually apply logic and creativity and composition and all such things to the frame. Not then.

The feeling of being there, both in solitude and otherwise, is something I cannot explain in words. Not possible, even for me.  But I’ll do the best I can. The feeling is meditative, of being immersed in the here and now, utterly and completely awestruck by the sheer beauty of it all. As I reflect on how I feel then, I realize that more often than not, I have no thoughts. Everything is still. And somewhere in that meditative frame of mind, I put the camera to my eye and press the shutter. I don’t compose. Or let me put it differently – I cannot compose. At least not according to me. I am in a zone.

Sometimes not always, there are those errant tears that run down as I see whatever is in front of my eyes. It is Creation. No, it is the Creator.

And there is only one thought if at all that overwhelms me then:

Of gratitude.

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To them, to you

Nothing seems the same anymore – the past has ceased to exist, and the future matters no longer. All that is important is the “here and now”.  That is truly how I feel at this moment. And for me to feel this way has been a long and arduous journey – almost ten years that began sometime late 2001. Much of those ten years were spent in darkness, a miasma – not literally, but figuratively. I was rather oblivious to feelings of those around me, people that mattered, and those who loved me, I ended up hurting, caused them deep pain and anguish in return for love.

But there will always be a tipping point, a watershed moment when things will change – I believe it to be karmic, that all of this ends when you change and when your deeds change; maybe it happens at the metaphysical level, maybe at another, but the world becomes a different place when I see it differently, when that darkness gets replaced with light. For me, it was when I stepped out with my camera alone for the very first time and went to the Himalayas in September 2011. I had time to reflect, time to retrospect and time to spring clean my soul. And when I did that, my perception of things changed. When I made this photograph of an old lady, these words of Auguste Rodin are just right for what I felt: “To any artist, worthy of the name, all in nature is beautiful, because his eyes, fearlessly accepting all exterior truth, read there, as in an open book, all the inner truth.” 

Getting to that inner truth, as August Rodin calls it, isn’t easy – it needs me to reach deep within the confines of my soul and confess finally to myself that much of what I see there is darkness; to replace that with light needs me to change. It really isn’t an easy journey – change never is; the harder right than the easier wrong, you see. But the easier wrong calls for punishment, or retribution if that is a better word. So I paid. And when I paid my dues and accumulated no more, everything changed. I believe that there is someone who is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, you might call Him by many names: Jesus, Allah, Krishna, but what’s in a name anyway? What I believe is that the Truth is within me, and not elsewhere. The light lies within. And that light once seen, illuminates all around me with beauty. As Audrey Hepburn said: “The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It’s the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows and the beauty of a woman only grows with passing years.”  And these words came to mind with this photograph of an 102 year old Bishnoi lady admiring the finery of her grand daughter-in-law.

And you see as I introspect, I realize that I started seeing the light within only with my camera – which is why I always say that photography isn’t a passion anymore, it is spiritual for me. The etymology of photography, by the way, is Greek – “phot-” for light and “-graphos” for drawing. The act of creating a photograph is only after seeing the light. But more than that, I do believe a photograph has less to do with seeing the light, but more with feeling the light within. I don’t think I can create a photograph that means something, or even anything, with what I see…I can do it only with how I feel.

Because of photography, I see and feel things differently, I see magic and wonder in much that is often ignored. I find “ordinary” people fascinating, their stories compelling, when most either ignore them or worse, pity them. It is only when I can feel the magic of that which is around me, can I even begin to attempt and capture it. None of my photographs fall in the realm of art, and I would be delusional calling myself an artist. I am not one. My photographs are of what I see, you see, we all see everyday, not exotica, but perhaps the difference is that I see the magic in them, those ordinary people, I believe they have much more than I have. I believe that they are my gurus.

Which brings me to what is the meaning of guru. In the earliest known discourse of the word in the Markandeya Purana, in the form of a dialog between Shiva and Parvati, Shiva alludes to guru being the remover of darkness, bestower of light. Light. The Inner Light. Which is why I say that these “ordinary” people are my gurus – they showed me the light when all that I had was darkness. Which is why I respect them, no, I revere them. They taught me the real meaning of love. I revere you. You taught me the real meaning of love.

To them, I owe a lot.

To you, I owe a lot.

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Karma and Kumbh

The month of March has been frenetic and feverish – and that is an understatement. Other than the consulting assignment, which I have been working on, it has also been a sort of geeky month. My website had some glitches on the server, then my iPhone acted up and finally, my laptop decided it was time to breathe its last. Add to that a switch to Apple after using Windows for about 20 years, and you can imagine how it has been. Fascinating!

And this meant that even writing a post got put on the backburner. Anyway, here I am again…with thoughts of the Maha Kumbh that I went to in February.

Held this year at Allahabad, at the confluence of the three most holy rivers in India: the Ganga, the Yamuna, and the mythological Saraswati, the Kumbh lures the faithful for a dip in the holy waters that relieves them of lifetimes of karma. Hindu religious scriptures say that bathing on the astrologically favorable days snuffs out innumerable sins, relieving the pilgrim of his or her entanglement in the complex cycle of birth, disease, old age, and death – the cycle of samsara. Kumbh is actually a Sanskrit word meaning “pot”, “pitcher” or “jar” and mela means “festival.” According to Indian mythology, the Kumbh Mela derives its name from the pot of the immortalizing nectar from the waters of the holy river Ganga.

It has had an appeal or an allure for saints and scholars for many millennia. In about 302 B.C., the great Greek historian Megasthenes documented his seventy-five-day stay at Prayaga (Allahabad), during a mela which had an attendance of two and a half million. Some hundreds of years later, in the 7th century A.D., the devout emperor Harsha invited the distinguished Chinese mendicant Hsian Tsang to attend the festivities of the mela. Later when writing his journals, Tsang noted Harsha’s consummate spiritual leadership with lavish praise and wrote: “The festival concluded with Harsha distributing all of his accumulated wealth to the needy, down to his robes, and returning to his palace in clothes borrowed from his sister.”

The Kumbh is a melting pot for perhaps more than eight thousand religious groups and sects that debate and discuss philosophy. For the mela, it is said that this is a symbol of Hindu unity, an instrument for passing on spiritual teachings and values of India’s ancient Vedic culture to the masses of devotees.

Here saints and sinners, mystics and beggars, all gather on the banks of the holy Ganga in the smorgasbord of by far the largest human congregation on Earth, albeit temporary. Pilgrims travel from far across many miles to bathe in the Ganga; they are dressed in their finest and most colorful – it is a celebration of hope, and festivity for a better tomorrow.

The numbers tell the story – this year there were a total of 100 million people who attended the Kumbh; on the days these photographs were made, I was just one of 30 million people there.

At the Kumbh, there is a veritable sea of swaying bodies and heads, which moves slowly towards the confluence of the three rivers – a deluge of pilgrims. The intonation of invocations, cacophony of flutes, bells, cymbals, horns, and the constant blaring of devotional songs over innumerable loudspeakers are a constant accompaniment to reverence. There are the aged who cannot walk without support, there are mothers being carried literally by their sons, there are sons being carried by their mothers. All in the name of faith. And hope.

Yes. Faith. And hope. That about sums it all up: for karma, and Kumbh.

And for life.

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On logos, on perfection

This is my first post of 2013. I’ve had writers block – quite literally so. Across the last few weeks I have been meaning to write, but even the opening line has been difficult. So I said to myself: “Why not just say it as it is?” Isn’t it so strange that I don’t know what to write, yet here I am typing away on my keyboard, whispering to myself, hoping that some words will come to me? And as I think of what I am doing right now, I recognize that much of my photography is the same way – there isn’t conscious thought involved. Only the pressing need, just the burning desire, to tell a story.

I’m not stopping to think and ponder now; I’ve done that across weeks. This is the time to write, and because I don’t know what I have to say or want to say, I am going through some recent photographs in Delhi. As I see my photography of late, I realize it has changed a lot. My subjects, the people I photograph, my composition, pretty much everything – nothing seems like what it was when I started. The same is the case with me. I am no longer the same.

I’ve got it. Change. That is what this will be about. This blog I mean. Change always reminds me of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who said that change was central to the Universe, and he came up with the term logos in Western philosophy, which meant both the source and the fundamental order of the Cosmos. Interestingly, in ordinary Greek, the meaning of logos went beyond this to notions such as language, statement, conversation, principle etc.  And you see, there are no coincidences in life; logos to me also means what my photography is about – my language, the words I want to say but which elude me, and so I let my photographs be those words.

This change in me is evident in the images I create. I photograph now from within my soul. Not with my eyes. I photograph because it is spiritual to me. It no longer is just a passion. And what better way to see the change within than use my photographs as milestones along this journey. I have slowly begun to minimize what I have in my photographs.  Be it the subject, or even perhaps what is captured within the frame. This is how my life has been of late. As Leonardo da Vinci said: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” My attempt is now to lead a simple, uncluttered life. I don’t want to be fettered with much. I have started giving away much of what I have, with the notable exceptions of my books and my music, and of course my camera. I have started sharing. And the more I give, the more I receive…

I used to be unapologetically self-centered in many ways. I always wanted to receive – giving (or even sharing) was the toughest call of all. Whatever I earned was mine and mine alone. I had everything and more. But did I do things for people who weren’t as fortunate as me? Unequivocally no.  If I were in a relationship, I wanted everything my way. I’ve changed all that. At least I think so. And guess what – I think the biggest hurdle to change was the thought that always held me back: “What will people say? They’ll say, he can’t ever change. He has always been this way. So why should I change?” 

But I needed to change. I had to see the difference between ebony and ivory.

So then there came a time in my life where everything changed. It has been called by many names – watershed moment, turning point, epiphany etc. To me it was the time when I finally started believing deep within that there was a Power far greater than me. Someday, maybe someday, I will write about this also. Don’t get me wrong – I am not religious – far from it actually. I am just a believer. And that changes how the game is played. The game is played where He wants me to play, not where I want. The game is played when He wants me to play, not when I want to play. And the game is played according to His rules, not mine. And when I understand all of this, I sleep better at night. Because I did it, the best way that I could.

I also had this desire to be perfect, the best at everything that I did. It isn’t possible. I couldn’t see my own flaws even though the reflection in the mirror said it all. Today I realize how profound and deep the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in the Airman’s Odyssey are: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”  And we all know that day when there will be nothing left to take away, will be when I will stand on Judgment before my Master, my Creator. And that day I pray, I am able to say staring into His eyes: Yes, I changed.

These are just some thoughts:

On logos, on perfection.

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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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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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Again. And again. And again.

I write about photography, and I write about how it has influenced my life. But you could just about substitute anyone or anything that you love for “photography” and whatever I write will still be equally true.  And you and I both know that often I don’t write about photography at all. I just use my photographs and juxtapose them with words to say what I have to say. Sometimes I don’t even know what to say. But I know that there remains something to be said – you know that feeling deep within your heart of unsaid words bound and shackled by reason, yet overwhelmed by passion we let them escape. So I let them out, I allow myself to say whatever comes into my heart, I create photographs that hopefully reflect my feelings, and use words that describe how I felt. Maybe there will be a day when I’ll quote Ansel Adams and be quiet: “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” Until then, I shall photograph, I shall write.

When a musician tunes his instrument before a concert or performance he touches it gently, longingly, almost as a mother would hold her child, that same expression, the same caress, wondering what next? That is just how I feel when I touch my camera. Wondering what next. Wondering if I’ll ever be able to say what remains unsaid within my heart. It is a feeling of unspoken words, it is a feeling of falling in love. It is a feeling of being in love. And you know it is true when each day you feel more in love.

It is a feeling that even with all my words I find it difficult to describe. I can’t define love. I can only feel it. But the closest was when someone questioned me as to how would I describe a photograph of mine which I really love. And I said that I love a photograph when after I make it and step away, I feel as if I have left something behind, an indelible part of me, and ironically, paradoxically, contrarily, that is when I feel even more complete and willing and ready to leave a bit of myself yet again with someone, someplace. Isn’t that how love is?

Allow me to explain. About a week back, I’d gone to Old Delhi to photograph and in one of the many lanes that crisscross that part of Delhi I came across this man who was sitting in a shaft of light in the morning sun, in an otherwise dark, dusty, dingy lane. As I always do, I chatted with him for a while about what he does, made a couple of photographs of his friend who was also there while talking to him and then finally asked him if I could photograph him. Getting a yes, I made this photograph.

Now I might be wrong but to me he looked dejected, sad, forlorn, lonely, tired early in the morning and I wondered why. It touched me. So I sat down again with him, shoulder-to-shoulder and spoke with him a bit longer…and then after a few minutes he reached out for my hand, held it gently in his surprisingly soft hands and whispered: “God bless you”.  He meant it. And I felt love. I can tell you honestly that I would tradeoff that moment and those words from a “stranger” for every photograph I ever made. And then he smiled and I stepped up to capture that frozen in time.

I could describe all of this in more words that could possibly fill many pages, but if you close your eyes and reflect, you’ll feel just what I felt. As Einstein said: “It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.” 

So I open myself each day to give love – unconditional love, because it is only then that I am loved. I am not perfect, but I promise I try. Because it is only then that I fall in love.

Again. And again. And again.

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