Saturday, August 18, 2018

Home, Once Upon a Time


In the centre of the house was a six-sided atrium, lighted by a hexagonal pyramid-shaped dome made of triangular panels of wire brick glass in a concrete frame. The dome was so out-sized that all builders, contractors whom I contacted, took a look up and declined to undertake the installation. I had to finish the job myself, so that it would not rain inside the large area, which contained boulders, three small pools, an artificial waterfall, and plants, including palm trees which reached two stories high. It was some insane idea of mine, who designed that house, which actually worked. When the moon rose it lit up the whole space, and when it rained, the sound was like thunder.

As I aged, maintaining the house, its terraces, utility areas, a badminton court and 'whatnot' began to be difficult.  At the same time, it became popular, and evenings were full of people who gathered together to play badminton, listen to music, laugh, drink, and 'whatnot.'

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Night Window


night window
moonlight window
light on the outside
inner darkness
hidden
hiding

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Darjeeling Toy Train, 1948


At the age of about 12, I captained the first tour from my school in Calcutta, with 16 other boys. We took a train from Sealdah station to Siliguri, and then boarded the so-called toy train, which chugged very slowly up to the hill-station of Darjeeling. The toy train still exists, but India's steam engines have all been retired.

We were full of mischief, curiosity, enormous appetites for food, sight-seeing, and staring at the local children, with their cheeks as red as ripe tomatoes, especially the girls. We found the cheapest place to stay, in the basement of a Marwari dharamshala. Since it had a dirt floor, we had to unroll our own bedrolls and spread them out in order to walk on them instead of the mud beneath. It was so cold that for seven days, I was the only one who bathed, and that too with great difficulty, in the icy-cold water coming out of the tap.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Rickshaw Puller, Calcutta, 1972


The rickshaw-puller is ubiquitous in Calcutta. I used to wonder why the hand-pulled rickshaws were not replaced with cycle-rickshaws; eventually, they were introduced, but the hand-pulled rickshaws still remain.

As a child and a teenager, I tried hard to examine my mixed feelings about them: I refused to ride in rickshaws; but when they followed me, clapping their bells against one of the long poles, hoping that I would jump in and let them carry me, I really did not know whether by walking I did them a favor, or made it more difficult for them to earn a living.

Sometimes I would stop by a footpath vendor of sattu, the powdered, roasted grains which seemed to be the pullers' main diet, and watch a group of them eating. Three or four of them would squat by the road near the vendor. He or she would give each one a shiny brass plate,  one onion, one green chillie, a small pile of powdered grains and dals, and a brass vessel of murky water. The pullers would use their hands to mix the powder with water until it cohered into lumps, then eat it with carefully-paced bites of onion and chillie, so that they would last for the whole meal. At the end of the meal they would use the remaining water in the vessel to wash their hands and the plate. The sattu was the cheapest food available, yet I never saw them ask for seconds. After eating they would rest for awhile before taking up their rickshaws, and pulling them slowly once again down the streets looking for business.

Today, when my income is so much higher than theirs, I know that their sleep is more peaceful than mine. I have rarely seen the tranquility which I saw in the rickshaw-wallah whom I photographed, while I felt guilty, apologetic, and helpless.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Wind-blown




the leaf landed

where I sat contemplating
the meaning of life


as I took the picture

suddenly I felt
that its fall


detached from its tether

deadened
aimlessly blown by the breeze


told me a lot



-----------------------

Bhashwati wrote:

Thoughts on
A leaf no more ...

From a shimmering spot of colour 
where light and breeze marry
to a rusted relic of itself,.. 
the leaf's life is all too brief 
as it lies defeated by death.

Just as, shadows of former selves, 
frayed at the edges and weary at the core
discarding all quests for the meaning of life,  
withering away we await,  

the triumph of death

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Innocence

(1954)

 Does one really know, at that age, the meaning and purport of the word?  The irony is that by the time one has learned its meaning, one has generally already lost it.

(This is my first picture ever with a Rolleicord twin lens reflex camera, which was lent to me by a friend, the brother of this girl. In appreciation of this picture, he left it with me for the year that I stayed in a college hostel in Matunga, Bombay.)

Sunday, July 22, 2018

From the Window, the Convalescent World

 (Coonoor)


This small hotel in Coonoor was originally a British-owned hotel called Hampton Court, built in 1857. When I first visited it in 1968, it was owned by a Parsi couple. At that time it was still a bastion of British/English colonial culture, adjoining All Saints Church with its old cemetery, filled with mostly young English men and women who had failed to acclimate to what they called pestilential India. The hotel subsequently changed hands several times, and was later owned by a British executive of what was then known as Imperial Tobacco Company (now ITC), and his wife, Mrs. Das. Mrs. Das, who doled out breakfast marmalade and pats of butter very frugally, and locked up the bar at 6:30 p.m., expanded the hotel a little, and eventually sold it to the Taj group. It was renamed the Taj Garden Retreat, but now it is simply the (Taj) Gateway Hotel, Coonoor. Film crews and actors, who lip-synch songs, and dance in and around the trees and gardens of the area, regularly stay there. Its small restaurant is now much more liberal with its butter and marmalade, which, along with the lovely views of tea gardens and hills, make it my favourite place to visit in all the Nilgiris.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

In Search of Kanchenjunga


This building is part of a charming hotel where I stayed in Darjeeling in the early 1980's, Hotel Windamere.  Satyajit Ray and his team had also stayed at Hotel Windamere during the making of Ray's film Kanchenjunga, in 1962.

From what I read in newspapers at the time, Ray had been vacationing in Darjeeling, a popular hill station, and watched tourists strolling around the Mall. One of the goals for visitors was to catch a rare view of the Himalayan mountain, Kanchenjunga, which was usually hidden behind clouds. Ray conceived the idea of making a film told in real time, about a visiting family who walk around the Mall in varying groupings, conversing and hoping to see Kanchenjunga. (Chhabi Biswas, who was among Calcutta's ultimate actors, played the father of the family. He also acted in Ray's films Devi, with Sharmila Tagore, and Jalsaghar.)

The film's story is a slight one; the most dramatic thing in it occurs in the last scene when, after almost everybody has given up looking for it, the mountain suddenly appears, and the film ends.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Friends, Calcutta, 1950: An Experiment in Reflection


It was a lazy Sunday afternoon when I was fifteen.  Using a borrowed sixteen-rupee Kodak box camera, I tried a composition with layers of images, which would retain clarity, but also contain mystery.