Saturday, October 05, 2019


Color film negative. 

I find it difficult to sleep. One night I was sitting up late, taking pictures to pass the time, and I picked up some foil gift-wrap which had enclosed a bottle of wine. I took a few pictures of it and then decided to burn a hole in it, to see what that looked like. I put a light behind the hole, and produced what might possibly be a new galaxy coming into being. Or something quite different, what do you think?

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Conversation 2: Past Present

Bhashwati wrote:

Actually not one but several conversations are happening here.

The diminutive adult who may have been a helper or attendant at an earlier point and could be conversing with his memories of those "better" days which actually may have been hard days of toil for him but considering the ravages of time on the building and his own life, the present must seem far more unbearable.

And then theres the gnarled knotted tree bent but not broken and still visited by spring. conversing with itself and with the walls that will never be revisited by old glory.

And the doors windows pillars passages conversing together in a perennial assembly of mourning.

And the light outside and the dark shadows within, they may be conversing too.

To say nothing of the embedded traces of lives that have lived loved lost within these premises. 
Would they not be conversing with each other too?

Bahut khoob hai.

i wonder where it was hidden all these years.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A Little Girl? Or My Brother?

When my younger brother, Bhupen, was a baby, he had several serious health scares, including diphtheria. My parents made a vow for his protection, that they would not cut his hair for several years, and then the hair would be offered at a temple. Even today, one can see little boys with unusually long hair, sometimes braided and be-ribboned, waiting for the moment when it would be cut and offered to a deity.

I looked at this picture and saw my brother's face; but then my wife pointed out that the child was wearing earrings. Did my parents go that far with their vow? I don't know, but I like the child's open, determined expression, fearlessly facing the world.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Old Names, an Old Tank, and a Kingfisher

I think that I took this picture somewhere on the New Mahabalipuram Road (now ECR), between Madras (now Chennai) and Mahabalipuram (now Mamallapuram?).

It is a ruined tank, with steps leading down to the water. I was pleased to see, sitting on a rock near the water in the lower left corner of the picture, a kingfisher.  (A kingfisher darted through our garden several times every day in a flash of blue, before we left it behind. Now we try to make do with pigeons, two ravens and a couple of mynahs, but it is not the same.)

Monday, August 26, 2019

Doorway to Oblivion

open it and become
part and particle
of the elements
of the universe

Monday, August 19, 2019

Chik Blind

A worn chik blind, a chilman. The lining fabric stained and torn, afternoon light, a shadow on a veranda column. Nothing else.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Vacation in Darjeeling, early 1950s

I suspect that at this age, in my early teens, I was more interested in the girls than in the composition of the picture.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

A Ruined Fortress (1979)

This is a picture from the first color roll I ever shot. I was in Bangalore, and some friends took me to Chamundeshwari Hill. When I opened my camera bag I found that I had run out of black and white film; but there were some color rolls which had been presented to me from time to time by various foreign friends.

The rolls were probably eight years expired by then, but I took a chance with one of them.

Looking at this picture now, I think of the many tragedies around the world, especially in the Middle East: images which I see on TV, where violence has left behind destruction and ruin, all of the inclemencies that man invents and inflicts.

I wanted to make this picture look very large, and I think that I succeeded; but in fact, the opening was only the size of a brick which had fallen from the wall.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Eye of Tranquility

your eyes
brimming with life and living
compel me to stare in fascination
even as they force me
to continue to live

even as the brimming and surging ocean
to watch you

Bhashwati wrote:

The tranquil eye

soothes with its gaze
caresses with its touch
moves with its expression
transforms with its beauty

The eye of tranquillity ...

does it greatly differ from the eye of a storm? 

One claims to be calm, the other seems to be calm

perhaps only a storm can know the difference.

Extremely compelling image both for the colours and the composition.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay, 1975

Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay, 1975

crowning the vast expanse
to the name and the house
it heads: Tata
atop the Gateway to India

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Ba in Old Age

Here is Ba in old age. Time had worn her down, but she still read her prayers every morning. My father was still alive when I took the picture; she never wore jewelry, except for a sacred tulsi mala, after he died.

When Ba died, in 1992, my wife, Nancy, wrote several poems about her. Here is one of them:

     Sorting Ba's Things

Sorting through cupboards in Ba's old room, 
I tugged a stuck drawer open, 
pulled the string of a small cloth bag, to find 
pink and white grins of outgrown false teeth; 
in another, spectacles, blinking in the light. 

And there were her gods and puja implements - 
incense sticks, oil lamps with wicks she rolled 
out of cotton and ghee, small statues of Krishna, 
elephant-headed Ganesh, Lakshmi the wealth-giver, 
the book of slokas she chanted every day. 

Sunday mornings she watched Mahabharat on TV - 
a miracle in every episode - gods' stately progress 
through the air, seated on lotus flowers; 
towering demons with big bellies and walrus fangs 
who laughed "Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!" just before 
a hurled fire-discus struck them between the eyes 
and they toppled like trees. 
Sometimes I sat to watch with her, 
and she would say, "Did you see that?!" 

Dear Ba, by the end all the sets of teeth hurt you, 
you wore them only for photographs, 
and the glasses could not make the slokas clear. 

May Lakshmi keep you beside her 
on the silky petals of her pink lotus. 
May Ganesh feed you the sweet ladoo he holds. 
And when you are sated and sleepy, 
may Krishna soothe you with the song of his flute.

-- Nancy Gandhi

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Ba, Reading the Gita

Ba ('mother' in Gujarati) reading the Bhagavad Gita, as she did every morning, with or without comprehenshion. I think of her as I knew her at the end of her life, ailing and grey, living with me, widowed, lost in a city where she did not know the language, had few friends, was cut off from her daily routines and rituals. Seeing this picture, I remember when she was the mother of three children, competent, humorous, respected by women, who sought her advice, the best cook in the world.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Playing Holi

These are my friends, or boys living downstairs from our terrace barsaati, in Calcutta. The little boy on the left, longing to join in the fun, is my brother Bhupen, seven years younger than I am. I am using a borrowed camera, as usual, and trying to keep it, and me, well away from the water and mess.

Friday, June 21, 2019


behind the veil
a glimpse of red
a cover-up
by a white cloth

Anonymous wrote:

My heart sinks at the sight of the shroud and its text. It reminds me of the red frock of the child in Schindler's List. The sharpness of the creases holds such a rigid finality... it is chilling rigor mortis.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Father and Child

Another very old picture, taken in Eden Gardens with a box camera. 

My own father wore a kurta, dhoti and Gujarati topi, and I certainly never had such swanky clothes. Still, the child's trust and pleasure at looking far, far up into his father's face must be familiar to everyone.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Gateway to Oblivion

for a man who did not want to be born
and having been born
wanted life to end early
and who continues to shout
about these or at least one of these

to unceasingly pry
into the origin of all possible life
in all possible parts of the vacuum
in which on a piece of a minor star
mostly called the earth
I am still alive

the path is alluring
the gate is blindingly illuminating
enough is enough
has been already forever
time to go

Monday, June 03, 2019

A Painting in a Palette

Note the subtle use of colour in the upper right hand corner, suggestive of a pale sunset.  Is the figure on the right wearing a jester’s cap and bells? It is reminiscent of Poe’s story, A Cask of Amontillado, with the vengeful killer on the left, and the sad tinkle of bells as his walled in friend calls out faintly, « For the love of God, Montresor! »

Read A Cask of Amontillado

Friday, May 31, 2019


In the mid-1970s I took several long-exposure shots of a Russian dance company which performed in Madras. I had my camera, loaded with the usual black and white film of the time -- I used whatever came to hand; there was little choice in those days, and I was more interested in composition than in technical perfection. I had no tripod with me, so my pictures were not sharp, but I felt that they conveyed movement and expression.

This picture was one of my rejects, but I thought I could use it to experiment with some Photoshop-TopazLabs manipulation. It is not an expert piece of work, but I enjoyed doing it, and hope you will forgive its imperfections.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Looking At You

Another scratched-up negative, with fungus damage to boot.  I like the boy's gaze, waiting to see why you have entered his space, but not too bothered about it.

Saturday, May 25, 2019


In the early 1950s, in my student hostel in Bombay, there were few sources of entertainment: movies, cards and other games for some. Singing, for those who could, jokes and talk. We essentially had to entertain ourselves.

At one time there was a genre of painting called vanitas. To quote Wikipedia, "A vanitas is a symbolic work of art showing the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death, often contrasting symbols of wealth and symbols of ephemerality and death."

In order to compose my own vanitas, presumably with the active cooperation of my hostel-mates, I borrowed a skull and bones from the medical students, and imagined some appropriate sins: the "liquor" bottle was actually hair tonic, turned backward. The skeletal fingers hold something that must have been sinful, but I'm not sure what. There is a paper pack of Maypole Minors cigarettes, and another of Markovitch Red & Whites.  The skull wears a rakish crown of currency notes and a very big grin.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Tulsi's Sisters

Tulsi, my friend from boyhood, had many siblings. When his father died, he became the head of the family. Some of the siblings married and moved away; some remained at home. When I took this picture as a young man, I would have thought of these women as background characters in Tulsi's life.  I can't remember their names. But looking at it now, this picture, taken in the family's home, has a darkness, a sense of stoicism, of concealed thoughts, which makes it poignant and mysterious to me. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Mahabalipuram Shrine: a New Perspective

This small shrine is slightly away from the main structures and carvings in Mahabalipuram, and whenever I have gone there, my companions and I have had the area to ourselves.

I was trying out different camera angles and lenses, and this version struck me as endearingly wonky, as if the large boulders were growing out of the ground, and pushing the puny human architectural effort aside.  If you see it from straight on, the shrine is not, in fact, crooked or unstable.

Just for fun.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Girl at a Well

Taken in Velachery, when it was still a village. The dog has found the only patch of shade around.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Children, Darjeeling, early 1950s

I was thirteen when I took this picture in Darjeeling, where I had captained a group of thirteen boys from my school. The picture, by coincidence, fell under the eyes of a professor of Calcutta University, and he asked if he could have a print, to which I easily agreed. He at once named it 'Is Poverty a Rarity?', and had it published in the University journal. I had felt that the picture acquired fame out of proportion to its merit, but was happy that, with a camera which was not mine, I had produced the first picture that got published.

As a postscript I would like to add that, after posing for the picture, the girls, who were cheerful, regardless of the poverty in which they lived, were very happy when I offered them tea, coffee or milk.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Pipal ki Chhaon me

pipal ki chhaon me
chhota sa hi sahi
ghar ho apna
aur aashaayen naache
baansuri bajaate bajaate

sheltered by a spreading pipal tree
let my home even if small
be filled with little hopes
which dance to my tuneful flute

Friday, April 26, 2019

Summer Languor

An old, faded negative, probably one of the first times I used colour film. Seeing it made me feel the burning sun, the delight of sitting in the shade of a tree, perhaps during vacation time, with nothing much to do.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

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