Remembering past Decembers at Taj West End, Bangalore, with its lovely gardens; and sitting on our veranda after breakfast, resting our eyes on the greenery, our ears filled with birdsong. Also, newspapers, and a glass of wine. Nothing missing but a loaf of bread, and thou.
I love this rickety building, painted a jaunty pink— or faded to it.
Nobody who has not gone through old film negatives knows the despair of color film which has faded and shifted to a sad maroon-gray. With noise. Generally, black and white film has fared better. Some brands of color film have lasted, others not. In India we had to take what we could get, and not many people care about what will happen to their pictures in the future, anyway.
So I struggled with this, and it’s not too bad. Rant over. Thank you for your patience.
Sheru, a German shepherd, was officially named Rolf Regent, but I quickly re-named him Sher Khan, which was just as quickly shortened to Sheru.
He was the best dog ever. He was alert, ready for fun, friendly with everyone -- even with those he was not supposed to befriend. We used to joke that if a burglar came to the gate, Sheru would run up and bark, "Welcome! Come on in!" As it happened, he grew up to be so large that he sometimes frightened people, much to his confusion.
Sheru died in 1992. We still miss him, and tell each other stories about his goofy ways. This picture of him when he was just getting to know us, and the world, seems to exemplify him somehow.
(This was a colour film negative, but the colours had shifted and faded, so I converted it to black and white. Sheru was just a puppy, with big paws and ears, and an enormous nose, which I emphasized by bringing the camera right up to it.)
Trying to rescue a very old and damaged negative, I was reminded of the poster for the classic film, Mother India, with Nargis shot from below, a vast sky looming behind her. These girls present a much more hopeful picture, pleased to be photographed.
I'm really not sure what I am looking at here; to the left is a piece of the Taj West End in Bangalore, while the right half looks like a cracked outdoor wall. Yet there is only one negative. So, is it one of those things where the tail end of a film roll accidentally joins half of one picture to part of another, because you wound the film over the camera's spool incorrectly?
At any rate, I like the way the curve of the sheer curtain on the left almost mirrors the curved crack on the right. Symmetry-assymetry of form, of refinement and harshness, of delicate carvings and mud.
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?
Actually not one but several conversations are happening here.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.