Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sheltering Sky

...or should it be, Vanishing Sky?

Temperatures all over the world are completely going awry (in so many parts of India, already touching 48-50' C), inevitably to be followed by other inclemencies: showers which would make rivers out of villages and cities; storms and snow, floods and drought, anywhere in the world in unprecedented quantities.  

I would like to draw the attention of anyone who is interested in this picture and what I write, to my comprehensive dissertation on the impossibility of man's ability to control or be in charge of Climate Change. (Please refer to my blog, which has remained unsupported, perhaps even not read, but definitely not taken seriously, apparently, by anyone, anywhere: )  

I urge people not only to peruse, but either to support or put their argument/s against my hypothesis and prognostication about the inevitable perdition of mankind.

I thank those who would respond to this appeal by dropping in a line in support, in opposition, or to question the validity of my arguments. Thank you for your patience, if you have come this far.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Colliery Workers, Bihar, 1940s

I took this picture sometime in the nineteen-forties. A number of my classmates in Calcutta came from families which owned coal mines in Bihar, and they often took me to their villages during vacations. I think that this picture was taken somewhere between Jharia and Ondal. The camera, which might have been a box camera, was lent to me by one of my friends.

The coal was cut by maalkatas, pulled up on a crane lift, washed, sized, then piled on small cars, to be taken to the railroad yard. The colliery would have its own private track, which would join the regular railroad system for shipment out of the mine area.

When I was 14, the Calcutta newspaper Navbharat Times (a Times of India experiment to test whether they could start an edition in Calcutta, where severe competition was offered by Amrit Bazar Patrika and The Statesman), published a on the entire last page a piece written by me with a step-by-step description about how a colliery works, illustrated with about 20 photographs. The photographs and words were written in a boy's simple language. Sadly, I cannot locate that first effort; perhaps this is the only surviving photograph.

The coal mines were nationalised by Indira Gandhi in 1973, and my mine-owning friends are scattered around India in other pursuits, if they have not left this world.

I am posting this picture in the days leading up to May Day, the international Labor Day, in part because of the unprecedented revolution through which the polity of this country is passing. Some people feel good about it, some dangerously, perilously destructively, some cannot afford to care. One can wonder, do the people who work in the coal mines today have aadhaar cards, and bank accounts, and a cashless economy? And more importantly, have their lots improved since this picture was taken? Judging by the recurrent reports of mine accidents, one fears that they have not; or not enough.

Bhashwati wrote:
What an impossibly sharp image you have posted and what acutely significant questions you have planted in the text.

From what we have found in recent years many many more have joined the ranks of those whose lots cannot improve.


There is a limit to the numbers that can get into the Forbes list but there can never be a limit to the numbers that get disenfranchised not only in mine fields and tea gardens but within every nook and cranny of civilised society that lies along the fault lines of progress.

Nancy wrote:
This reminds me of a long tracking shot in Louis Malle's Phantom India, in which a man pushes a foot-pedal sewing maching on a wheeled platform down the railroad tracks from nowhere to nowhere. Heart-breaking.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Nowhere Path

I am a traveler on the nowhere path
there are no signs of the beginning
nor directions for moving forward
towards the destination
if there is one

I have seen countless travelers
worn out by ecstasy and emptiness
rushing toward mirages
in which to drown

thorns prick me
as I try to pluck some joy
in and out of the journey

both illumination and darkness
have traversed the path with me
and taken turns to confound me

they have not kept me company for long
on the nowhere path

Anonymous wrote:
Wanted, one patch of life
Devoid of dilemma

The light beckons
The dark seems safer
Craving oblivion
I stumbled
And fell

Charu wrote:
 I see an Indecision nicely elicited in the placement of chappals; oriented to opposite direction.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Existentialism According to Ramesh Gandhi

For those who either did not know it, or, if they knew it, did not understand it; understanding it now, not guaranteed.

Around the age of 12 (1948), in a Gujarati charitable school, millions of questions, ideas, curiosities, began to make their rounds through my mind.  Today I am unable to fathom how it happened, when the school did not have a library with works of thinkers or scientists, nor a teaching staff which was educated enough to rouse the fire of hunger for knowledge. Among many names, from various mythologies, sciences and civilisations and history, which threw themselves at me for me to grapple with, were philosophers of the past two or three hundred years, mainly from the West, like Socrates, Schopenhauer, Voltaire, Kant, Heidegger, Hegel, Nietzsche, Camus, Bertrand Russell and, most relevant to my writing today's essay, Jean-Paul Sartre. I had no access, either to the English language or to a mentor for consultation or engagement. My familiarity, therefore, with these and countless others, forever would remain a mystery to me.

I am writing today specifically about how existentialism became a brand philosophy, and Sartre its ultimate spokesperson. I confess I was no less fascinated by it than was war-torn Europe, especially Eastern Europe, which, impoverished and forlorn, embraced existentialism in its variegated forms. It probably still continues to do so, even as, as far as I know, Sartre's relevance, if any, is fading elsewhere.

For four to five years (between the ages of 15 to 20), I began to feel that I had found my ultimate calling: existentialism was my philosophy and my religion. But then, I became another man, which is another story (Theory of Contingency and Inevitability of Inevitability). But I did not lose my verve as an explainer or spokesperson for Sartre and company, and began, in lighter moments, to claim that my frivolous interpretation of it was the real one. In other words, I re-shaped it in words and in my narratives, and in parables that I built to illustrate existentialism.

Today my wife, Nancy (@nancygandhi), came across the 3-minute video by Will Braden, Paw de Deux. The moment I saw it, by happenstance, I found in it the definition of my interpretation of  the brand of existentialism which was perpetuated by Sartre and others, which the author of the video almost certainly did not intend.

I am delighted to present, through the courtesy of M. Will Braden, my brand of existentialism. I hope you exist as you enjoy, or vice versa. Bonjour. (Please watch both Henri Part I and Henri Part II - Paw de Deux, below.)

Note: Those who are interested in what I call the existential cat (in philosophical terms, connected with Camus, Sartre et al.) can go to this link, courtesy the creator, Will Braden.


Charu wrote:

If I did not understand your version of existentialism the cat, a twin of my Murphy, did a good job of explaining it.

The cats do lead a life of existentialism. I have seen it led, first hand.

While you do not like them as much I think Murphy will do a great job being an insignia for your version of the theory.

Just joking.


Rameh Sir,

I never had a cat in my house. I used to not like dogs till we acquired a great dane. He was all of eight inches high when we got him as a two month old puppy. In three months thereafter he grew to thirty two inches and he was huge. He reminds me so much of the cat featured in the video. I was seeing my dog and not the cat in the video.

Dogs, too, lead a life of existentialism.

Unfortunately, my dog does not exist in our house as we had to give him away. 

I do not know how I exist without my dog.

Thanks for the tour.

V T Narendra

Monday, April 24, 2017

Agar Firdaus Bar Rōy-e Zamin Ast, Hamin Ast-o Hamin Ast-o Hamin Ast

(My photograph of the Chashme Shahi bridge, Srinagar, 1981)
please click on the picture to enlarge it

Agar firdaus bar rōy-e zamin ast, hamin ast-o hamin ast-o hamin ast. This is a couplet by the Persian-language poet Amir Khusrau, "If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here." Amir Khusrau is said to have paraphrased what Emperor Jahangir ecstatically, unbelievingly exclaimed upon seeing Kashmir for the first time, after his conquest.
This beautiful, delicate, almost fragile song, with lyrics by Gulzar, is from a movie set in Kashmir: Yahaan (2005):

Pooche Jo Koi Meri Nishaani
Rang Hina Likhna
Gore Badan Pe
Ungli Se Mera Naam Ada Likhna

Kabhi Kabhi Aas Paas 
Chand Rehta Hai
Kabhi Kabhi Aas Paas 
Shaam Rehti Hai 

Aao Naaaaa Aaao Naaaaa
Jhenum Mein Beh Lenge 
Vadi Ke Mausam Bhi 
Ek Din To Badlenge

Kabhi Kabhi Aas Paas 
Chand Rehta Hai
Kabhi Kabhi Aas Paas 
Shaam Rehti Hai 

Aau To Subha Jao To 
Mera Naam Saba Likhna
Burf Pade To Burf Pe
Mera Naam Dua Likhna
Zara Zara Aag Vaag 
Pass Rehti Hai
Zara Zara Kangde Ke 
Aanch Rehti Hai 

Kabhi Kabhi Aas Paas 
Chand Rehta Hai
Kabhi Kabhi Aas Paas 
Shaam Rehti Hai 

Raatein Bunjhane 
Tum Aagaye Hoo

Jab Tum Haste Hooooo
Din Ho Jata Hai
Tum Gale Lage Too Ooooo
Din So Jata Hai

Doli Uthaye Aayega Din To 
Pass Bitha Lena
Kal Jo Mile To 
Mathe Mein Mere 
Suraj Uga Dena

Zara Zara Aas Paas 
Dhup Rehegi
Zara Zara Aas Pass 
Rang Renhege

Zara Zara Aas Paas 
Dhup Rehegi
Zara Zara Aas Pass 
Rang Renhege

Puche Jo Koi Meri Nishaani
Rang Hina Likhna
Gore Badan Pe
Ungli Se Mera Naam Ada Likhna

Kabhi Kabhi Aas Paas 
Chand Rehta Hai
Kabhi Kabhi Aas Paas 
Shaam Rehti Hai

If they ask you my identity, say-
I am the colour of Henna
As traced by your fingertips on my fair body
I am spelt Grace

Tell them the moon hovers around me at times
And at times I am wrapped in the dusk of the evening
Write down my name as morning, when i arrive
Put it down as night when I leave
And when the snowflakes begin to fall
Scribble my name on the fallen snow as prayer
Tell them, there’s the blaze of fire about her
and at times, the comforting glow of the kangri

When you laugh, the day fills up with sunshine
And when you embrace me, the day lulls itself to sleep

And when the day comes as a newly-wed in a palanquin
take my hand and make me sit next to you
and if you find tomorrow
make it sprout the sun from my forehead

If they ask you my identity, say –
I am Henna
Tell them the sun shines around me at times
And at times I’m enveloped in colours of myriad hues…

Translation from:

Naam Adaa Likhna, from the film Yahaan (2005)
Lyrics: Gulzar
Music: Shantanu Moitra

(Minissha Lamba's first film appearance, while her family was managing one of the biggest hotels in Srinagar. While in Madras, bright, beautiful Minissha would come to my house directly from the school for 'enlightenment', where her equally beautiful mother Manju Lamba, an artist-architect, would pick her up. I was requested to take her pictures, which I took aplenty, and which can be seen in different parts of my blog.)

the paradise today

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Shadow of Ash

Kis ka rasta dekhe, ai dil ai saudaai
Milon hai khaamoshi, barson hai tanhaai
Bhuli duniya kabhi ki, tujhe bhi, mujhe bhi
Phir kyon aankh bhar aayi

Koi bhi saaya nahin raahon men
Koi bhi aayega na baahon men
Tere liye, mere liye koi nahin ronewaala
Jhuthha bhi naata nahin chaahon men
Tu hi kyon duba rahe aahon men
Koi kisi sang mare aisa nahin honewaala
Koi nahin jo yunhi jahaan men baante pir paraayi

Tujhe kya biti hui raaton se
Mujhe kya khoyi hui baaton se
Sej nahin chitaa sahi jo bhi mile sona hoga
Gayi jo dori chhuti haathon se
Lena kya tute huye saathon se
Khushi jahaan maangi tune wahi mujhe rona hoga
Na koi tera, na koi mera
Phir kis ki yaad aayi

(My loose English translation:)

Which path does life offer
Oh my heart, it is only a transaction
Miles of silence, years of loneliness
We are forgotten by the world, you and me, everyone
Knowing this, then why do our eyes fill with tears

There are no shelters along the road
No one will come into your arms to comfort you
Neither For you, nor for me, is there anyone to cry for us
Even in love, there are only false bonds
Why then are you drowning in sighs
Nobody will belong to me, or to anyone
It is not the way of life, that someone will share one's oppression

Why are you disturbed about the nights which have passed
What is it to me that so much has been lost
Whether you get a bed or a funeral pyre, you will find sleep
The kite-(life)-string which tied you (to life) slipped out of your hands
What is to be gained from the lost bonds
Wherever, whenever you ask for happiness, I will have to cry
No one is yours, no one is mine, so then who are we missing

Film: Joshila (1973)
Director: Yash Chopra
Music: R D Burman
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
Singer: Kishore Kumar

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Silence of Stone


the silence of a building
whose inhabitants,
unfathomable to the present,
and to whom it was a fitting
 and familiar backdrop,
are long dead

it doesn't miss them.
it has withdrawn into
 the dim, slow life 
of stone

the birds that rest 
in its cool crannies
then flutter back to the adjacent trees'
rustling brightness,
and the mice, the insects
the other, smallest creatures
are the only ones 
that can know it now
even unto its darkest, most intimate crevices
after the tourists leave

Sunday, April 16, 2017



I was coming into my factory one day, and found two of my staff members talking to an old man. He had such an interesting face that I asked if I could take his photograph. I went to my office to get my camera, and by the time I returned, the talk had become an argument. My staff members were teasing the old man, who had come into Madras from a village to conduct his business, which was buying and selling scrap. Seeing me, he turned away from the others contemptuously and addressed me, saying that he could buy my entire factory and everything in it, if I were willing to sell it. Out of curiosity I asked how much he would pay for it. He said as if it were the most obvious thing, that he would buy it by weight. Bemused, I politely told him that he must be confused about the price of things, and that he could not buy the factory for the price of scrap, and by weight.  The old man then decided that I was the most reasonable person present, and began to complain to me that my staff were idiots. That was when I took this picture of his irritated and incredulous expression.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Mother Catherine, Sister Bernadette


I knew her first as Mother Catherine, and later as Sister Bernadette. I joked with her, wondering how one could be a Mother first, and then a Sister. She taught French (she was French-Canadian) at Stella Maris, one of the most prestigious colleges in the South.

Sister Bernadette became interested in me because of our shared interest in religion and in Sartre, and Existentialism, a branch of philosophy which was very popular, especially after World War II.  She also asked me to direct a Manipuri dance drama performed by the students, and to lecture at the college, even on atheism, which was my forte.

She came home often to meet me and my wife. We had many great conversations over dinner, and then I would drop her back at the college. Interestingly, by the time the evening was over it was almost always after ten p.m., when the gates of the college were locked. She always asked me to park a little away, and climbed over the compound wall, and jumped down inside, so that the watchman would not be disturbed, and nor would the college rules. I jokingly named her The Jumping Nun, a reference to a popular movie of the time, The Singing Nun.

Sister Bernadette eventually rose to become the Principal of Stella Maris, and then, before ending her career in India, she became the head of the entire complex, including schools and a convent. Many years after she had returned to Canada, she continued to be in touch with me. Then, after a long gap, I was told that she had passed away. But I smile even now, remembering the Jumping Nun, scrambling over the college wall in the dark.

Incidentally, she always refused to have her picture taken, but she made an exception for me; in fact she requested me to photograph her.

Monday, April 10, 2017



growing out of adolescence
you watch the world

a little quizzical, perhaps
maybe just about to smile

I remember you
there, in the past
looking at the future

Bhashwati wrote:

The image and the text are so compatible.
The expression contained in the eyes and the meaning contained in the text are equally evocative,.. in the past looking at the future and in this moment looking at the past where the future was barely beginning to form even as the consciousness of your subject evolved..

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Little Yellow Taxi

taxi or auto
the driver and rattled passengers
missing or awaited

composed, now

but questions:
friendly, benevolent
smooth travel or
beginning, middle of

kidnapped, hurt
means of transit
or end

automatic questions
tremulous answers

Thursday, April 06, 2017


coarse and fine
between us
a pleasant haze
misleading shadows

bars of darkness
hide our faces
keep you out

in time we come to love them
in time they become the world

Bhashwati wrote:

Barriers naamak tasveer behadd umda and so is the text.

I was thinking if barriers in real life had such a soft focus they would be easier to get around.
But they are tough to break, in time they 'become' the world.
We love them too because they simulate safety.
The elegant play of light and shade soften the divide deceptively.

Sunday, April 02, 2017


elixir of countless moons
in a teacup
forming pearls of temptation

Bhashwati wrote:

Just now i realised that you have turned one crescent into countless moons!!! like the mythical grain of rice that Krishna turned into a feast for the untimely guests..

but i repeat that i heart the arrangement of the words a lot. Each word is like a pearl plucked.