Sunday, January 31, 2016

Childhood's End

Madhavi, 1968

The year was 1968, give or take one, and Sholavaram held its first, perhaps India's first, international car-racing event. Madhavi, you were about six-eight years old? Your parents, Mukund and Geeta, and some friends, I don't know how, succeeded in forcing me to go with them to see the races. Having zero if not minus interest in the zoom-zoooom-zzrrrooom proceedings, where I could not even zzzzzzz, I spend my most of my time looking at people. I was timid about taking photographs without permission, so I mostly took pictures within the group where I was a reluctant participant. I think I remember your name, Madhavi? Having already taken some of your wide-eyed pictures, I got this one, and have prized it.

Like passengers in a railway compartment or at a station, where culturally and linguistically different, divergent people meet and part, our lives also peeled away.

I have several pictures of your mother Geeta, and your grandfather, Pratap Rai Mehta, both in my collection and posted on my blog, as well as a couple of yours. I saw your mother, father and your brand-new (to me) brother last in 1995, at my one-man show sponsored by the US Consulate at Bangalore, but learned very little about you. I wanted to know about you, and more, but in the crowded hall, except for pleasantries, nothing much could be exchanged.

 By chance, if you recognise this picture, me or my name, contact me: I am very eager to know about what happened, and is happening, to you. You must be in your early 50s by now; a mother perhaps, and why not also, maybe, a grandmother. I hope very much that life has not wearied you, and that you have still not lost your wide-eyed curiosity.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Portraiture (1970)

From my boyhood, apart from not owning a camera, I never gravitated toward photography. Nor did I wish to be photographed. But when I was twelve, two pictures that I took using a friend's camera, when I was leading a school tour from my home in Calcutta to Darjeeling, won the princely prize of Rs. 10 in a Parsi magazine. I was already known as an 'artist'; now my popularity in school grew, as a photographer too. 

Within six months, from a simple box camera, I journeyed through the understanding of depth of field, aperture, exposure, distance between the lens and the subject, film speed (in ASA or DIN). I easily began to share my new knowledge with my schoolmates, teachers, whoever was interested or asked. But even after this, I did not get seriously involved with photography.

My classmates, friends, relatives, made it a rule that when they bought a camera, the first roll should be exposed by Ramesh. I never learned how good I was, but I felt that I thought clearly. I learned to do so because I taught others, and discussed what I would or would not have done, and why and how.

To make a long story short, I do have cameras now, and I am still a good teacher of the intricacies of composition, when to click, what to avoid, etc.

I took this picture at the request of a venerable gentleman who was once the Diwan of Jaipur; I was told that his title was Rajratna Pratap Rai. At the time that I photographed him, he was running an industry in Bangalore. Among his guests were Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the President/s, and people from many walks of life who headed their institutions, and to whom I was too ordinary to be known.

To see my first, prize-winning photographs, 'Sole Sentinel' and 'Kiss of Dawn', taken in 1948, please click here.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Guess Who Came to Dinner

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was a 1967 film starring Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and Sydney Poitier. It was produced and directed by Stanley Kramer. It won two Oscars: Best Actress for Katherine Hepburn,  and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay for William Rose. (imdb link)

My picture above, with a spot of blood on the tip of the knife, has not the remotest connection with the film's narrative and, for its time, very important social content. At the time that I took the picture, this morning, I had not the slightest thought of the film. Only at the time of posting it, I was at a loss as to what it should be called. By complete coincidence, I thought to connect it with a favorite and forgotten film; and as I looked it up, believe it or not, what do I discover, but a poster featuring a tablecloth, forks, spoon and knife.  The coincidence is a delight to me, and I hope others will find the same astonishment in it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Rohith Vemula

The very little that I have learned about him essentially comes from TV, some hearsay, and some more from print media. It is not much to go on, and it is not unique in affecting me so strongly and breaking me down; but there is enough here which I cannot fathom for the life or death of me, to fill my eyes, and whatever else in my system can cry, with tears. First there was only rage. Now there are only tears, and impotence. 
The facts of the matter (summarized from news reports):
Rohith Vemula, 26, was a second year PhD student at University of Hyderabad. In August 2015, Rohith and four other students were suspended for allegedly beating an activist from the BJP's student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, during a protest on campus. The students were later cleared by the university, but in December, the university reversed its decision and took action against the students. Protesters allege that the university's decision was linked to a letter that Bandaru Dattatreya, the BJP parliamentarian from Secunderabad, 


wrote to Education Minister Smriti Irani, alleging that the university had become a "den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics".  After Mr Dattatreya's letter, four letters went to the university from Smriti Irani's Human Resource Development ministry, asking what action had been taken. The research scholars were expelled from their hostel in December. They were denied access to hostels and other buildings on the campus except their classrooms, library and conferences and workshops related to their subject of study. Since January, they were forced to sleep in a makeshift tent on the campus. On January 17, 2016, Rohith told his friends that since his stipend was on hold, he was unable to give them “even a small treat”. Hours later, he hanged himself. Bandaru Dattatreya has now been named in a police complaint and has been accused of compelling the university to punish Rohith and his comrades. Smriti Irani has refused to comment on the Rohit Vemula suicide issue "until the investigation committee submits its report." (Link to a news video report on the case:
The text of Rohith's suicide note (in his language):
Good morning,
I would not be around when you read this letter. Don't get angry on me. I know some of you truly cared for me, loved me and treated me very well. I have no complaints on anyone. It was always with myself I had problems. I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body. And I have become a monster. I always wanted to be a writer. A writer of science, like Carl Sagan. At last, this is the only letter I am getting to write.
I loved science, stars, nature, but then I loved people without knowing that people have long since divorced from nature. Our feelings are second handed. Our love is constructed. Our beliefs coloured. Our originality valid through artificial art. It has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt.
The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of stardust. In very field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.
I am writing this kind of letter for the first time. My first time of a final letter. Forgive me if I fail to make sense.
May be I was wrong, all the while, in understanding world. In understanding love, pain, life, death. There was no urgency. But I always was rushing. Desperate to start a life. All the while, some people, for them, life itself is curse. My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past.
I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty. Unconcerned about myself. That's pathetic. And that's why I am doing this.
People may dub me as a coward. And selfish, or stupid once I am gone. I am not bothered about what I am called. I don't believe in after-death stories, ghosts, or spirits. If there is anything at all I believe, I believe that I can travel to the stars. And know about the other worlds.
If you, who is reading this letter can do anything for me, I have to get seven months of my fellowship, one lakh and seventy five thousand rupees. Please see to it that my family is paid that. I have to give some 40 thousand to Ramji. He never asked them back. But please pay that to him from that.
Let my funeral be silent and smooth. Behave like I just appeared and gone. Do not shed tears for me. Know that I am happy dead than being alive.
"From shadows to the stars."
Uma anna, sorry for using your room for this thing.
To ASA [Ambedkar Students' Association] family, sorry for disappointing all of you. You loved me very much. I wish all the very best for the future.
For one last time,
Jai Bheem
I forgot to write the formalities. No one is responsible for my this act of killing myself.
No one has instigated me, whether by their acts or by their words to this act.
This is my decision and I am the only one responsible for this.
Do not trouble my friends and enemies on this after I am gone. [END]
Not all people kill themselves, nor am I attempting to extol or provide absolution in the remotest possible way, to his suicide, which is one immeasurably tiny event, not only in the universal scheme of things, even in the world which mankind makes, fractures, breaks, diminishes, destroys; calling it progressive idealism, or civilizational enhancement.

I am not trying to give an illustration of the evils that prevail in our country, or in the rest of the world: worse things happen than this. I am writing because I cried last night as I do often, for events which take place anywhere in man's world; and I have continued to cry in the night.

So here is the small story, with its shortcomings arising out my ignorance of this subject. Perhaps very quickly it would escape from the world's attention, or get submerged to extinction under the zillions of occurrences that elbow their way to become news.

[NOTE: see my blogpost about Carl Sagan:]

Monday, January 18, 2016


come today
go tomorrow

in between
of milli-moments
or, for the lucky ones

being human
is being alive
as living 
or dead
as in dead
or even while living

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Blues in the Night

My mama done tol' me when I was in pigtails
My mama done tol' me, "Hon
A man's gonna sweet talk and give ya the big eye
But when the sweet talkin's done
A man is a two-face
A worrisome thing who'll leave ya to sing
The blues in the night"
Now the rain's a-fallin'
Hear the train's a callin', whooee
My mama done tol' me
Hear dat lonesome whistle
Blowin' 'cross the trestle, whooee!
My mama done tol' me, a-whooee-ah-whooee
Ol' clickety-clack's a-echoin'
Back th' blues in the night
The evenin' breeze'll start the trees to cryin'
And the moon'll hide it's light
When you get the blues in the night
Take my word, the mockingbird'll sing
The saddest kind o' song
He knows things are wrong
And he's right
From Natchez to Mobile, from Memphis to St. Joe
Wherever the four winds blow
I been in some big towns an' heard me some big talk
But there is one thing I know
A man's a two-face
A worrisome thing who'll leave ya to sing
The blues in the night
The evenin' breeze'll start the trees to cryin'
And the moon'll hide it's light
When you get the blues
Blues in the night
Take my word, the mockingbird'll sing
The saddest kind o' song
He knows things are wrong
And he's right
From Natchez to Mobile, from Memphis to St. Joe
Wherever the four winds blow, winds blow
I been in some big towns an' heard me some big talk
But there is one thing I know
A man's a two-face
A worrisome thing who'll leave ya to sing
The blues in the night
Yes, babe, only, only blues in the night


Monday, January 11, 2016


having knit
no nit-picking

plain and simple

shading light
shaping darkness

Sunday, January 10, 2016


too rich and fattening
if you consume it
too tempting
not to

Thursday, January 07, 2016


plain and simple
by the looks of them
in 1971
maybe everyone knows
what could have happened to them



the fiftieth anniversary 
of unnatural sleep