Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Of a certain voyage

You walk away. I stand there, devastated by the sudden realm of desolate silence around me. The book in my hand screams “Drunk on the wine of hazard, you are thirsty like a buzzard”.

As you bid goodbye, I see my mute thirst for love become a miserable wreck. Shame-faced and unabashed, I let tears drench my mighty indifference. Tongue-tied and embarrassed by the thought of an ask for tomorrow, I let you go. Unaware, I have yielded myself to the abysmal measure of this torment of love.

Like an anxious rabbit, my mind meanders between different spaces of time. Searching for grit from the different journeys I took. For anger to fight the easy cowardice of love. I shuffle through the myriad voices and images of my life, hoping to find another anchor. I fail. I now wish I didn’t have to look to see.

I have been peaceful a nomad, relishing the silences of solitude at airports. But today, I want to be elsewhere. Someplace where there is neither journey nor quest. Neither search nor find.

A place where we can shed every mask of reason and reassurance, every pretense of strength and determination, every desire of conquer and victory. A place where we can be united in our brazen fear for life and death, in our anxious dialogue with God and devil, in the proud embracing of our supremacy and insignificance.

A traveler moves on, they say. How does one move on from journeys that kinder such spirit? I will this time again terribly fail my nomadic twins. How will I now face the self that had begun to show signs of poise and peace? How do I now placate this yearning for the comfort of a fellow traveler? The book in my hand screams “Burn the soul, if your soul mate is not found”. I take refuge in it.

Over these years I have grown to glorify the contentment in self-possession. I wonder today why not the vulnerability of seeking an intimate confidante? Why wander? Why not linger? Why this love for being a drift wood? Why not sail ashore?


My mind loiters into those many days spent at airports; keenly peeping into others lives; screaming infants, mushy newlyweds, backpack foreigners, exuberant teens, insomniac corporate slaves, and loud families on package tours. Today I cut off from all that noise and dwell in another world, swaying between beatific anticipation of passion and wrathful plague of memories.

Memories. Your twilight smile, sheepish grin and rustic restlessness. Our juvenile jeer, back handed quips and shared pathos. Your chutzpah and mine. My compassion and yours.

Love arrives most days, and poignantly wrenches my heart in every journey I pursue. A toothless mad man I walked the howrah bridge with, a paan spitting Varanasi hawker that shed a tear when I gifted a photograph, a Srinagar sweetheart that gave me a flying kiss from afar, a Narsapur paati that cried uncontrollably on my shoulder,a naked child that hugged me to sleep on a train to raipur,a kutch villager that dressed me in her wedding gagra, a cheerapunji shopkeeper that cooked me supper in exchange of a hug, a Bhutanese family that was kind enough to let me use their home toilet on a freezing cold night on the highway.

I have been merrily consumed and consciously obsessed with moments of such deep caring and quiet. But such humane care for wayfarers doesn’t engulf one’s soul like romantic love.It does not becomes an everlasting woe that empties one of mature rationale.

I had curtained insanity of such depths eons ego, but my soul crawls out of its hiding place, unlocks all rusted windows and finds unreasonable reasons to seek this unquenchable attachment. Love has now made all familiar unfamiliar, compelling yen of a new kind to stay for infinitude. Oh this wretched cant of love.

The book now screams, ‘Your flight is now ready to take off’.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Finally;

In the last 2years, when I was traveling non stop, I spent a considerable amount of time reading features/blogs written by foreigners about traveling in India. Inspite of being an Indian that has spent close to 29yrs living here, I would say exactly what all the Americans, British or French say. Nothing can prepare you for backpacking in India. And one can never finish traveling the country.
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One has heard enough about travel transforming world view, shaping perspectives, and making one a better person. Agreed, all that hopefully happened to me. But more pertinently what it really does is leave behind a craving for more travel. Over the last few years I saw it metamorphosing from being an interest to now being a nearly psychotic obsession.

Ironically I walked out of my travel job a few months back, audaciously. I was weary of continuous living out of a suitcase/backpack and needed some idle time. Or so I believed. It took me two days of a cube job to realize that I’m done with cubicles for good and travel chaos is where I will find my peace. I had to quit a dream job to find out that travel is what settles and gives food to my restless energy.
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I have also learnt that the essential element is not where you travel to, but simply that you do. Some of the most overwhelming travel experiences I have had in India, have not been in exotic locations where I went to river raft, trek or bodysurf. It happened in bland interior rural parts of the country, where I was either working towards an education initiative or indulging in photography.

Stuck at crossroads, I now have two options.

Stick it out in my claustrophobic cubicle, stare into excel sheets all day long, practice plastic smiles, and start my days with “I wish I could...” Live for the weekends, and cry over ennui of weekday weariness. Ofcourse I would then be rewarded with a fat pay end of the month.

Call it quits and move back to my travel job, get my dose of adrenalin rush every second day at an airport or railway station, fall in love with a new person from a different part of world every third day, and get lost in a different town every fourth. Ofcourse in that case, I would not have all the money in the world.

I have made my decision.
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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Adventure is no fun

I mean it. The adrenalin rush is over rated. I abhor the void that asks me mockingly “So what?", every time I get return from an adventure trip.

Sitting quiet by the window side, watching the monsoon rains romance the world around you. Now, that qualifies for fun. Meeting an old friend for coffee, having random insane conversations about all and sundry. That surely is fun. Walking by the the sea side, watching the waves cling to the mud a minute and let go another, now that is fun. Riding on a horse back for 3hrs on a treacherous snow-filled path in -5, when your nose is bleeding, feet is frozen, and back is broken; that is no fun.

I had this noted down this quote from somewhere in one of my dairies long back, “If a man is not ready to risk his life, where is his dignity?” . Today I find it hard to find dignity in risking one's life.

I was in Kashmir recently. Obviously a trip I had planned and looked forward to for long.The beautiful photographs and memories make up for the pain i went through, or so I want to believe. But when I look back at about 10 near death experiences I have had in the last 1.5yrs and more than 20 all my life, I want to ask if all this is really worth it.

Iam now down with flu, possibly the swine flu and I feel worse than I ever have. This is not the first time though in respect to sickness. The time and effort that it takes to recuperate from each of my maddening trips is immensely huge. I have a good immune system and all times survive eating from any shitty dabba on the road, and drinking water from any tap on the highway. Or so I thought.

I’m digressing. Coming back to adventure. I have flat feet and a medical condition of unstable foot that makes me completely accident prone. I also happened to suffer from aquaphobia, since the time I almost drowned to death in kaveri at a young age. I also have acrophobia, which I seem to have mostly overcome but I still do have mountains sickness. Ofcourse I also have a case of migraine. And add to all of this I’m clumsy, disorganized, have a high restless quotient and horrible memory.

Therefore for someone like me, Adventure becomes the way of life during ‘living out of the suitcase’ days. Most times it is not self chosen. At times its ignorance of what I’m getting into, while at others it is audacity. One of my friends asked me, how I manage to engage and disengage from different places I visit and different people I meet. I think I don’t. That inability to detach emotionally is another some sort of adventure iam beginning to dislike.

I was having a look at these pictures here:
http://adventure.nationalgeographic.com/2008/08/reader-photo-contest-photography
I can now after these experiences kind of fathom the amount of determination, hard work agony one has to go through to get pictures of this kind.

Travel adventure is one. Adventure of other kinds too have become extremely enervating now.
Adventure for me, is throwing oneself out of the comfort zone. For me, the ‘leap’ from the comforts have been quite strange, difficult and challenging. I have my first ever photo shoot in a studio this weekend and my heart has skipped many beats already. I'am consumed by enoromous self-doubt and disillusionment all over again.

As I sit to discuss the shoot with my models, fashion designer and makeup man, I ask myself ‘why am I doing this?’ Unfortunately I don’t have answers. Do I enjoy it? Yes, I do. But hobbies when taken up seriously, become strenuous; physically and otherwise. It is not easy to juggle between two equally demanding career interests or find purpose in everyday mundane tiny progress in each fields of work or for that matter believe that all of this will take you someplace better.

So yes, life isn’t easy right now. Adventure is no fun. Why do I then persist?

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p.s : needless to say, this is flu induced.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I’m a struggling model

She calls me late into the night.

She asks ‘Hey, I’m a struggling model. Are you free for a shoot this Sunday?” I reply, “Yes lady sure, you got the number right. I’m the struggling photographer’.
This is how many of my conversations go these days. I figure out the fashion world parlance with a cynical exuberance.

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As I sit adjusting the aperture, I glance at her feet and mine, and hers again. My skin is parched, cut and cracked; not to mention plagued by the rigid dirt and grime of Bhutan. The half cut toe nail (thanks to the Vizag trip) only adds to the disgust quotient. Hers is what poets would call 'thamarai edhazh'(lotus petal) feet. I cover up my feet immediately. Though the models of course are too self-obsessed (and rightly so) to give a damn about how dirty, clumsy or ill-dressed I’m. And I'm surely not complaining.

I'm sitting with my model; chatting up about cowl neck, corset and studio lights. I tell her that I have no full length mirror, and my model squeaks “sacrilege” when I tell her I have not had one in the last 1year.

My mind drifts off to 2009. Last year I was working with GOI on a rural initiative, and spent many days in the interiors of the country studying the education system, rural life, social injustice etc. The topics of discussion included mid day meal schemes, jawahar rojgar yogna, microfinance, nasscom surveys and so on. Today I sit down to discuss about fashion, which is quite an alien world. I don’t understand or appreciate it, I try hard to fathom how one can actually have a conversation about acne for 30mins at a go.

I never imagined being a part of the fashion world; I’m still grappling with that idea. Every time I see a man indulging in a 60k watch or a woman spending lakhs on a gown, I cringe at the thought of how I don’t belong here. Sure I’m only the photographer and would like to believe that it won’t be impossible to engage and disengage from the world of glamour.

Photographer! I never imagined being one when I was growing up. Photography has come to me, unlike other pursuits in my life, because of travel. When I was travelling all over the country and alone, I needed something to keep me engaged and I started clicking. I just 'clicked' all the time. In that process, in a year, I discovered my love and aptitude for people photography. And then fashion photography happened.

Over the years I pursued many interests. In the written word I found a sense of solace and freedom that I didn’t in anything else. While in theater, I found a means of self expression and creative indulgence that helped break all my inhibitions. Veena helped me focus and meditate on life when I was going crazy over a breakup. Travel transformed me completely (that would be another post). My work with the social sector brought in level headedness, compassion and the much needed patience. (I know, I’m sounding like a 80yr old writing her autobiography, going on a narcissistic trip).

Coming back to photography, the camera is my valentine-my team mates joke. I’m dreaming about photo shoots night after night,scribbing notes from my bible on photography as I wait for my early 6am flights. I wink sometimes, almost imagining looking through the viewfinder. I wake up at all odd times at night to refer to a site to get clarity on some idea that pops up.

Everyday is a new day now. Some days I wakeup early to do a photo shoot with models getting home at 6am , and then get to work to train on critical thinking and emotional intelligence , ending the day with a call on competency mapping. I then get home to processing pictures, knowledge sharing with my flickr community etc and sleep late into the night planning the next shoot.

Every once a week, I wake up at 3.30am to catch an early flight (whoever makes these early flights least expensive?),spend most of the day at airports, chatting up with strangers from different parts of the world. Women bartenders to old social activists. I spend the rest of the day with Atwood, Lessing, Cotzee or our good old Murakami and kundera.

Then ofcourse there are socializing/ travelling for fun and photo days. I take off almost every weekend I get after my workshops in other locations for what some people would like to call ‘sight seeing’. I indulge in landscapes,nature,architecture and people photography .I make so many friends on the way, serendipity and adventure becomes a way of life those days.

There are those break days, when I spend all day at work, not working. I laugh endlessly with Tutu and Ali,my office spouses. They fill my day with so much excitement and humor, I return home on such days with a laughter induced stomach ache.

I love it this way. Each day is unpredictable; each day filled with a learning that is taking me someplace, each day a new dream and goal. When I was kid, I would pack up bags every time dad would mention someplace and pester him to take me a holiday right away. Nothing much has changed now, every month there is an exciting new destination I travel to.

Another thing that hasn’t really changed much from childhood is the friendships. I remember getting a new person home every other day (my school in tanjore was bangopposite to my home), and introducing the person to my mom as my best friend for life. Ofcourse I don’t make best friends by the minute now, but still every other week I make friends with a new artist.

It is fascinating to be befriending photographers, models, painters and filmmakers on an everyday basis. What I love about them is that they all are extremely upbeat about life.Not to forget iconoclastic, ambitious, nonconformists, and stereotype challengers.

There is so much creative energy filling up every moment of my life now, and the spirit of waking up to ideas for a shoot is unimaginably rejuvenating. So yes, its all so exciting. Not to mention mindboggling, considering how this field of work is diametrically opposite to what I have been doing all these years. It is scary because everyday I drown in the sea of self doubt, I have no inkling of an idea if I will go anywhere with this.

But I guess I’m going to jump into it. Well,I already have. Even if I fail, I think it is perfectly okie. I’m totally enjoying the journey and clich├ęd as it might sound, it’s not the destination that matters.

As I write this, I schedule a bikini shoot with my super hot model who is now giving me lessons night after night about life in the fashion world. I eat a humble pie and take notes diligently. She tells me I’m the best aspiring photographer she has met, and I dance on cloud nine.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I shuttle between the world of villages and poverty to that of models and lenses. From crying over death to crying over wardrobe malfunction. From being fascinated with the wrinkled-old narrating stories of abuses to the manicured-siliconed cribbing about commitment phobic boyfriends. From business class flying to travel by general compartment squatting next to toilets.

Life moves in a chaotic pace, nights replacing days, sunsets disappearing into sunrises. I yearn to write about all of it. But time beats me, enslaves me, and i set out everyday to conquer the world. I run. To get all of it. Right now.

But I know I must sit down to write this and give into the restless energy of words in me.

Love did not appear,
In a flash.
It did not possess me,
In the scorching summers.
Or in those rains, that has washed away our buoyant youth.
Not when we filled every second with words.
It is not even the silences.

It must be that road I took last night,
It must the shadow of your silhouette;
the twinge of agony in your voice;
or the poetry in your eye-lash.

It must be the fiery resentment,
of this faceless storm in me.
It must be the angry adoration
For the mirror I see in you.

Love did not appear,
In a flash.
But it catches me unawares today,
Throwing at me, wings;
that had fallen off the cracks.