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

Shroud


behind the veil
a glimpse of red
a cover-up
blood
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

Outtake


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

Vanitas



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


(1981)

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


Monday, April 08, 2019

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Chair



restful
not restive

vacant
but not for long

available 
for new occupant

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Homecoming



I took this picture, which is one of my favorites, at the Taj West End hotel in Bangalore many years ago. The scanned negative has suffered, like many of my old negatives, so that the viewer of today may not see what I do, when I look through the eyes of memory.

The staircase led to the suite where I always stayed when I visited Bangalore. (The small building, deep within the hotel grounds, has been remodeled into the Tata Suite, and the staircase is no longer visible from the entrance.)

When I took the picture, I first removed a distracting vase of flowers from the niche on the left. The simplicity and warmth, the sense of expectation caused by the dark staircase ascending into light, perfectly expressed my feelings about coming home.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Portrait: Who Are You?



Bhashwati wrote:
Aap ne tasveer kamaal ki lagaayi hai aur log garden garden ho rahe hain dekh kar.

i hope the subject of the composition is also feeling garden-y.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Double-Exposure


I studied for my first-year science degree in Bombay in 1954, while staying in a boys' hostel, VMKBS (VM Kapol Boarding School), a Gujarati charity.

I still didn't own a camera, but I believe that I took this double-exposure with a borrowed Rolleicord twin lens reflex. The negative from which this scan was taken was badly damaged, but it gives an idea of how we entertained ourselves in those days.

I took a number of such pictures, with enthusiastic cooperation from my hostel-mates. I mainly used the parapet on the building's roof-terrace as a set, because it offered a big blank sky to serve as a backdrop.

---------------------
Bhashwati wrote:
And mr god looks doubly exposed in your composition.
Exhausted and disinterested in his devotees lekin auto pilot mein raising hand to bless.

Bach ke rehna re baba aise blessings se bhi


Sunday, March 03, 2019

Motherhood


freedom
or
fulfillment
or 
abject enslavement

half-part of man
or
his victim

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Cinematic



The only thing I can say for sure about this picture is that the place is Darjeeling. I went there for the first time, captaining a group of fellow students, when I was twelve, in 1948. I would have been using a borrowed box camera.

I must have wanted the fountain to be the picture's focus, but now when I look at it, I see a lot of life, at the edges of the frame, and a woman in Tibetan dress walking briskly past. I wonder why I was apparently standing just behind a rickshaw, so that it frames the rest of the picture. I surely would not have chosen that composition intentionally. The Art Deco store behind the fountain has a sign reading "PRA..A..CO.", with panels beside the open doorway which presumably contain details of the goods to be found within.  The protruding shop front on the right has signs reading "VISIONS" and "CIGARETTES". Everything else is a mystery.


In the light of the fact that this picture is old, and was taken when I was very young, the absence of great composition and photographic skill may please be overlooked.
--------

Bhashwati wrote:

Guzre waqt ki saral si tasveer.
That tibetan lady looks most elegant.
I am surprised film songs were never shot around that fountain!


Monday, February 18, 2019

Buried


buried
in the innards of earth
more than a million years ago
to turn into
coal, gas, diamond
volcanic exudate

or

something else

or

who knows
even perish

Monday, February 11, 2019

Inbetween

(1968)

once, youth
here and gone


--------------
Anonymous wrote:

my thoughts on Inbetween:

The pile of bricks that your subjects are placed against is what lies "inbetween" the 2 stages of life that they represent.
Rickety, uneven, collapsible life coordinates, a perennial threat and yet the only support available.... all along their journey from youth to old age. 
Brick by brick they have put together the feeble infrastructure of their existence with no other purpose than to exist.
An ancient cliche, c'est la vie

It also strikes me that despite their emaciated forms, particularly of the younger man, they must be in possession of strong spines. Had that not been so they would have been under that very unstable structure and not beside it! 

And then i see, in between the two sections of that apology of a wall, a strip of green, episodic goodness and wellness that must make an appearance in the bleakest of life journeys and sustain them.