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.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

A Proud Father’s Indulgence

One day in 1942 or '43, my father, Bapa, took me and my baby brother, Bhupen, who was about two years old, to Metro Studio to get our pictures taken. The Metro Studio must have been so-named because it was next door to Metro Cinema, a Calcutta landmark. At that time, all the theatres running Hollywood films were owned by the studios that made them. Metro, for example, was named for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, later streamlined into MGM. (I took this picture of Metro Cinema using a borrowed camera. Judging from the movie which was playing: Greer Garson in The Valley of Decision, the year was 1945 or '46.)

At the studio I was seated alone in front of a curtain, and given a prop telephone to hold. Then Bhupen joined me, and dozed off against my shoulder, completely uninterested in the proceedings. (Unfortunately, I am unable to locate that second picture, though I hope it will turn up, at which time I will post it too.) 

I have no idea why my father dressed me, Bhupen, and even my sister, who was 12 years old, in khaki: it was not common among any of the children whom we knew. Was it because World War Two was going on, or in solidarity with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army?

Calcutta, now Kolkata, as far as I can recall, was the last bastion in India for the War on the Eastern Front. There are many references to the city in British and Hollywood films set during the War, along with Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), Thailand, Myanmar (then Burma), Hong Kong, etc. I do recall that Howrah Bridge, Victoria Memorial, and other government assets were painted black, in order to make them invisible to Japanese air raids. Sirens went off at odd times of day or night, warning people to get into the shelters, which were built on all main thoroughfares, many of them underground; including three near our barsaati on Brabourne Road.

So here I am, in Metro Studio in wartime, apparently enjoying myself very much.

Sunday, July 01, 2018


so what if I loved you
like a fool
and lost

is it not enough
that I burnt myself
in agonies
of waiting and yearning
that you must now insist
that I hate you

having lost all
I cannot lose more
but only win
to avenge my fallen pride
by hurting you
by smothering you
by only loving you

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Colours of a Heart

cleansed of blood
laid bare
to entice
to be taken

Bhashwati wrote:
Ye to kisi behroopiye ka dil hai...
jis ke rung aur dhung hazaar, bach ke rehna re baba

The composition is a crowning glory of the serviette series.
Rainbow on a platter. Almost.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Palm Calm

Calcutta, 1963

the question is
how lasting, how pervasive
is this calm
in a time which can only surpass itself
in its turbulence and mayhem
as man overruns everything
faster than all the waters 
of seas and oceans and polar ice
can rise

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Back to the Womb


my journey into time
backward through my mind
took me to forests of clouds
which became dark
and rained on weeds
that swayed indolently
in a green breeze

as it became dusk
I heard my mother calling me
before I could hurl the last pebble
into the pond
to frighten a frog away
and make ripples of music
I could not wait to comprehend

the complicated maze clears
into the transparent innocence
of my childhood
and as I think of all the wisdom
of disillusion
I recognise the unsullied past
of languid time
before I travelled into the future
of a dehumanised present

I close my weary eyes
to run back into the one time
which I can relive without remorse:
through the dense trees and marshy clearings
shrill cries of excitement
playful mischief
an endless capacity to marvel and wonder
at every small search and discovery

then I hear myself calling out for me
in helpless desire
if not to be able to retrieve my loss
to retain at least the ability
to live while I last
with nostalgia

Friday, May 04, 2018

Arctic Sun

Because of man-made climate change and the depletion of the ozone layer, the Arctic sun has reduced the snow by almost 90%. Where has this snow gone? Into oceans, rivers, water bodies, and then onto the land, continents, cities; flooding streets and homes.

But that is not all. The depletion of the ozone layer over the the poles has conversely facilitated the penetration of ultraviolet radiation, which affects earth, its creatures, weather and life itself.  When this phenomenon of reduction of the ozone layer had not taken place, it was protecting all life, and controlling more or less all weather in a particular system and order in the planet earth.

Now, that protective ozone layer has been progressively reduced to smithereens. The behavior of water bodies has gone haywire, and therefrom springs unseasonal heat, rain, storm, flood, and countless other inclemencies, causing enormous harm, disease and death to creatures of every hue and kind; to forests and vegetation; and to almost everything else on earth.

Is this process of disintegration of the planet as Man knew it restorable, renewable? I have no answer. I would be grateful if someone has, and if I come to know about it before my time is up.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Summer Afternoon

In the past, India generally provided losers at international sports competitions, but this year India has won more medals, including gold, than at any time since the Mahabharata. May this trend continue, and increase.

India's performance in badminton at the 2018 Commonwealth Games:

Women's Singles - Saina Nehwal - Gold; P.V. Sindhu - Silver
Men's Singles - Srikanth Kidambi - Silver
Men's Doubles - Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, Chirag Shetty - Silver
Mixed Team - Gold

P. V. Sindhu (l) and Saina Nehwal

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Friday, April 27, 2018

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

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Life on the Water, Cochin, Early 1970s

Cochin is a fascinating city.  It is situated on an island which is connected to its much larger sister-city, Ernakulam, by bridges over two waterways, with the island of Willingdon in the middle.  One is easily confused as to where the labyrinthine waterways end and the Arabian Sea begins. 

Willingdon Island belongs entirely to the Defense establishment.  It also contains some small commercial places at its edge and a hotel, the Taj Malabar. The 'real' Cochin, on the Arabian Sea, is surrounded by bobbing boats, with fishing nets cast into the air, and fish being caught in a way that has to be seen. 

All my visits were to Defense-owned Willingdon Island, on which Taj purchased the best property, at the northern end of the island. I was a guest in one of the largest suites there. The picture above has been taken from there. I often regret that I enjoyed the suite in the hotel and looking out at the sea and waterways, rather than spending more time in Cochin proper. Cochin is an old city with a unique character, with architecture which is very photogenic. The above photograph does not contain that, I am sad to say. 

Vasco da Gama and many other travelers from Arab lands and beyond, were not aware of Gujarat or Maharashtra when they landed between Cochin and Trivandrum.  If I am lucky, by and by I would find other pictures, showing you the distinctive charms of Cochin, which not only a migrant from the north (Calcutta, like me, or others) would be able to admire.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Dreams of Far Places

A small window in the Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay. The main Taj building has many curved, straight, oblique, semicircular architectural styles built into it, culminating in a central dome which has become iconic.

Nine times out of ten, I stayed in the new wing on the 16th or 17th (top) floor. This was a rare occasion, when I was offered this ornate room in one of the minaret structures, while the Reservations department sorted out some confusion about my booking. There was a small window with a bamboo blind. During the hour or so that I had to while away, I was looking through that blind; lifted it, looked at the sea, and, not finding it interesting photographically, dropped it and took this picture. 

If one travelled to the left of the boats, one would reach Elephanta, Aligarh, and several resorts and suburbs, which, in 1982 when I took this picture, joined Borivali/Thane on the left, and on the right, took people to Lonavala via Panvel and Khandala, and onwards to Pune. For those passing through Panvel, it was a must to stop for a snack of the local alu bonda, which was supposed to be the best and most authentic of its kind.

I have gone a long way from that little window, and I am sorry for people for whom the story would not arouse their own memories of a terrain familiar to me.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Beauty in Asymmetry

We were going out one day in 1982. As I was getting into the car, I saw a cluster of bougainvillea hanging from the terrace at the back of my house, which I had cross-bred into multiple colours. In a flash a composition appeared to me, a challenging one: to convert the ordinary into the extraordinary. I took my camera out of the car, and mounted the old-fashioned telephoto lens (the biggest I had was 300 mm). Without a tripod, without a second thought, I reduced the depth of field, eliminated the entire bougainvillea plant, and took only three flowers. They looked as if they were spinning away, like the propellers of a colourful airplane, like a poet's dream. I clicked the shutter, and as far as I am concerned, I took one of the best pictures of my life.

Thursday, April 12, 2018



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..

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Friday, April 06, 2018

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

A Bridge Too Far

I called this picture A Bridge Too Far because I saw in it the abstract form of a bridge. My title is also the name of a movie, set in Norway during the Second World War, directed by Richard Attenborough in 1977.

But in fact, the movie that I was thinking of as I looked at the picture was The Bridge Over the River Kwai (1957), directed by David Lean.

Just for the record, Richard Attenborough was mostly known as an actor. He had a brief foray in India with a small role in Satyajit Ray's Shatranj ki Khiladi, which he performed only out of respect for Ray. Perhaps that spurred him on to come back to India in a very big way as the producer-director of the epic Gandhi. His career after that is more or less obscure. He is the brother of the documentary director David Attenborough, who was inspired by Carl Sagan's Cosmos. He went on to write many books and make documentary serials on nature, animal life, and evolution in general.

David Lean, on the other hand, made movies which had to win Academy Awards, such as Brief Encounter, Lawrence of Arabia, and Doctor Zhivago. Ryan's Daughter, set in Ireland, which I and many others loved very much, did not succeed, but it did not make him change his mind, and he was so hurt that he vowed not to make any movie again. I lectured on it and defended it at a seminar at the time. Just before his demise he came back to India and made his last film, A Passage to India, which neither he nor his audience understood.

When E.M. Forster, the author of Passage to India, was contacted for clarification, he laughed it off and said that even he did not understand.

E. & O. E.

Monday, April 02, 2018


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.