Capturing the Dance of Light, Shadows and Colors

“Sam, I want you to take this camera. It is your responsibility to take care of it and make sure you click as many pictures as you can.”

I was scared as my friend, Jamal gave me his camera. It was expensive, it was DIGITAL! I had never held a digital camera in my life before this. Most importantly, I had to click images of the wedding ceremony of someone who happened to be his sister (I consider her as my sister, too. We call her ‘D’). I could easily miss an important moment. The infamy for being absent-minded and the habit of getting lost in my own world was not at all helpful. What if I screwed something up? What if somebody got offended when I clicked him/her? I had no time to think. I got even more nervous when I could hardly figure how to turn the camera on. Jamal gave me a brief tutorial about the various functions in the camera, continuously reminding after every sentence that I must keep it on ‘Auto’ mode at all times.

Me: I need practice, not your 5 minute tutorial!

Jamal: You can do it. Just remember the basics, and…

Me: … And always keep the dial on Auto, I know it. Be with me for some time please, at least let me know how I click.

Jamal: Would you like to do some videography? I have a video camera, too.

Jamal won. I was intimidated. And like I was told, I went around clicking faces and moments, taking great care about the mode I had kept the camera on. By the time all the ceremonies were over:

1. I had clicked a total of 578 photos:

Yes, I remember how many pictures I had captured. Of course, some images were overexposed, some underexposed, some were blurred, some were plain unflattering. But that is the point of clicking so many photos – with each click, I learned something new. There are few things as fascinating as a bride’s smile, and I was not only in the best position to watch her smile, I was gleefully capturing it, as well.

2. Everyone knew me:

The good thing about Indian weddings is that people love getting their photos clicked. The camera was a fantastic medium for introducing me to new people. And the best part about meeting them was that I had seen everyone smile (people seldom make bad faces at something as fine as a camera).

3. I turned into a better photographer:

Contrary to what I had thought before the “assignment”, photography was not just about “taking photos.” I was capturing memories – memories people, myself included, would cherish for a long time. I was capturing expressions – the happiness, the celebratory mood that I got a chance to be a part of. But most importantly, I began to view the world differently. Getting behind the camera changed me forever, and I enjoyed it!

I am thankful to Jamal for introducing me to his friend, the camera. It is my friend too, now. It gets along well with me, and continues to teach me something new each time I interact with it. I literally view God’s wonderful creations with its eyes and marvel at them. I have more knowledge about the visual aspects of nature, the intricacies of  small things, and the beauty of the grand design. As I walk in the bylanes of South Bombay, I feel empty streets speaking to me. I love photography because it gives me courage to say the things in my heart that I probably wouldn’t otherwise say out loud.

I capture. I express. I learn.

“Imprisoned Love”

“A Long Wait”

“Bruised Memories”

“Tree Silhouette”

“Repentance for Majesty”

“Her Love For The Wind…”

“A Little Quarrel” 

“Walking with The Mist”

Check out how I see the world:
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Alina

How does a teenager feel going to his/her native place after 13 years? Most would not remember anything from their past (of course, they would have been too young then). But being gifted with a good memory, I remembered little details about my childhood in Kanpur – like being hit in the face by a plastic cricket ball while sitting on sky blue pillows near the store room window, the pane of which was wooden and spiky at places, enough to drive a three-year-old to use a blade to slice the protrusions. At four, I was too young to interpret the problems a family faces when it shifts from a place like Kanpur to a place like Mumbai, that too without money. Deep in hardships, my parents made sure my sister and I got the best possible education, food and shelter. As time passed, the situation turned better and better and 13 years later, I was able enough to take my entire family back for a visit (I worked while I was still studying).

My entire khandan waited there for us when we reached, and in the moments that followed, there were hugs and tears of joy. I looked in awe, the number of people I was related to, some that I never even heard about. In one corner of the house, a little girl stood and kept looking at me. Not glancing in her direction purposefully, I could feel her gaze not moving elsewhere. I made eye contact and went to her and asked her name. She smiled, revealing her rodent-esque front teeth. The size of her eyes decreased and her petite nose wrinkled at the sides. The next second, she hid her face behind the curtain along her side and whispered “Alina.”

“How old are you, Alina?”
(No answer)

“Will you not answer?”
(No answer)

“Well, do you know who I am?”
(A slight nod behind the curtain)

“Looks like you don’t want to talk to me?”

I left the conversation, hoping I didn’t scare her or that she was just shy. For 2 more days, she would just stare at me, smile and do nothing else. On the third day, she sang “Agar tum mil jao, zamana chhod denge hum…” (If I have you, I will leave the world) for me in front of everyone. Her voice was sweet and the diction was remarkable for a 4 year old child. While all laughed at her hand movements that accompanied her singing, I was astounded. No one realized what she was singing, except me. I was red-faced. A girl, 12 years younger to me, was singing a love song for ME! After the song was completed, she came to me and kissed my hand. “She has shock value”, I said to myself.

At the end of the week, we had to leave, and when the day came, her smile diminished. While I was about to leave for Mumbai, I went to her room and found her hiding her face from me again. Perhaps, she had heard me entering the room. I lifted the blanket from her face, with her little hand resisting my force in vain. She had been crying for hours over this little separation that was about to occur. I wiped her tears and her swollen eyes looked at me, crying even more, but making no sound. I kissed her forehead and wrapped my arms around her to embrace her. No longer able to contain the sobs trying to escape her little mouth, she cried her heart out.

“Please don’t go!”

“I have to, my dear. You know that your brother studies, right?”

“When will you be back?”

“Very soon, I promise! But you don’t cry, or my promise will be broken.”

She stopped crying immediately. I left with my family for Mumbai and talked to my mother about how popular I was amongst cousins, to which she simply replied by saying that it was so because I was the eldest of the brothers.

I love my big brother

She is eleven now, and her parents have brought her to Mumbai for the treatment of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer. I met her thrice in a span of one week, and the third time, she could barely move due to weakness from her chemotherapy session. She waited for me the entire day, despite knowing that I leave from my office in the evening. No sooner she saw me, than she stood and gave me a tight hug. She is much taller now, and her head reaches my chest, on which she rested it as if it was the world’s most comfortable pillow. I asked her to sit or lie down, but she wouldn’t let go for another 5 minutes. I helped her stand, her legs too weak to do the job. On the side of her neck was a recent biopsy wound, about the length of my index finger. The area around it was still red, which prompted me to ask whether it was hurting. She shook her head and complained only of the smell of the medicines she was prescribed. I sat her on the bed and caressed her cheeks. She asked if she could borrow my phone to play Angry Birds. I readily gave it to her, but she returned it seconds later. Upon being asked the reason, she said that she wanted to talk to me. We had a long chat about everything from her education to my love life. Her keenness was astounding! As I was leaving, she kissed my cheek and said that I was the world’s best brother. Not many times do I find tears so difficult to hold back in my eyes. I took out my handkerchief and pretended to wipe sweat from my face.
It was me who was hiding face now…

I remember…

I remember when I first met you – I didn’t know you will be so close to me one day.

I remember when I came to your college to meet you – Never were you so surprised. You literally didn’t believe it was me.

I remember the way your friends looked at me – perhaps they wanted to gauge whether I was capable of having the privilege of being friends with one of the nicest persons I knew.

I remember when your college watchman asked us to leave – we had been sitting for hours and talking. We laughed so hard as we were walking out.

I remember when we first went on a date – you felt so free to roam around on your own for the first time.

I remember when I first asked you to hug – I was nervous, but you welcomed me in your arms.

I remember when you first looked into my eyes – you looked in them and touched my heart.

I remember when I broke up with my girlfriend and I felt like crying – you hugged me tightly and said everything would be alright. It was so assuring.

I remember when you first clasped my hand and walked with me – I knew I would never be alone.

I remember when we enjoyed rain together for the first time and walked barefoot at the Marine Drive, holding hands – people around us smiled and must have felt that we were in love.

I remember when we first celebrated our birthday – we wondered how many friends would have birthdays on the same day and you hugged me, saying “None as close as we are!” It was our lives’ most special birthday.

I remember when I first asked to you whether you were in love with me – you said you loved me ever since you knew me.

I remember when I once sang for you by the seaside – and you gave me a peck without realizing where we were.

I remember how tears trickled down your dainty cheeks – you were afraid to lose me. I hugged you and we cried together.

I remember how much people were against our relationship – but we convinced everyone with our love.

Everyone… Except those who meant to you more than even myself – your parents. We gave in because we couldn’t hurt them. We lost.

I hope I don’t remember all this throughout my life, because while these memories are a constant source of my happiness, they do give pain too. I know that none of what I remember will be repeated.

I experienced no other loss as big as this one – I felt I would die. But you kept me alive, asking me to promise that I will try to live my life as well and happily as I can. I strive hard to do that, because I would never want to let you down. I never can. Life will never be the same, but I can at least hope to not lose you. And why would I? We are still friends…

No, we are Best Friends!

Of Blinking Green Lights and Man-eating Hyenas…

Ask any Mumbaikar about his/her most preferred place to sleep, ‘Home’ will be the natural reply from almost everyone. Ask about the second most preferred place, and a large chunk would say ‘In the train’, if they get a place to rest their bums, that is. For those who don’t get a seat, a multimedia cellphone and a pair of headphones are their ultimate company. I travel a lot by Mumbai’s locals, and often go through the entire journey standing. That night, since it was a Sunday, I was seated between two women (Gents compartments are usually Ladies compartments on weekends). The lady on the right had leaned all the way to the middle of the window and looked outside at every single object capable of emitting or reflecting light. The one to my left was playing with a toddler in her arms. I could see that the child was capable of walking – dirty soles of his tiny little shoes, that had possibly stepped on everything from “normal” soil to dog poo, were periodically imprinting the material on my T-shirt. There was no way I could prevent this except by standing up, which was a tough bargain. I decide to recollect the happenings of the day to distract my mind.

Earlier in the day, 9:08 pm to be precise, I was along with my pals after a long time, gleefully enjoying the time conversing with them, hanging out at a place where we used to hang out frequently as teenagers. One of them, Jamal, is married for around 2 years now and will be a father in a month’s time. He discussed about his future plans after his wife’s delivery and all the stuff. It was slightly strange to hear all this from him, but we still enjoyed. Time flew and it was only by 10:30 pm that I realised that I lived in Ambernath and had to rush to the station. Just as I was about to leave, Jamal popped up a question about Android’s latest update, the Ice Cream Sandwich. Knowing that I was slightly techie, he knew he could stretch the conversation at will. He did. It was only when he wanted to pee that he let me leave.

I was slightly tired and like many times, wanted to be teleported home. At the station, I crossed lazily to platform 1 using the foot-over bridge. A large crowd that was coming from the opposite direction, welcomed me. I walked along the side, watching the train, from which this flock of wild animals had alighted, leave. Battling my way through the commotion, I reached the lower limit of the staircase and looked at the digital clock at platform 1 (11:07:10), then at the one on platform 2 (11:06:36). I knew it was foolish to check timings on clocks provided by the Indian Railways, but my laziness just doesn’t let me remember it. I took out my phone, it showed 11:07 pm. “Yay! My platform won!”, I thought. This was foolish, too. It also meant that it was MY TRAIN that had left and I was a minute late in catching it. The empty platform corroborated my contemplation. I prayed it was some other train, but it wasn’t. After an excruciating 20-minute wait, a Karjat train arrived and I easily got a seat before it reached next station, though I sat between two women, one of whom had a child with soiled shoes.

I woke up with a start to find that there were a very few passengers and the ladies had gone. And my t-shirt was dirtier. The train was moving very fast, actually faster than any other time I travelled on this route. I looked outside and it was completely dark. “Oh my God!”, I thought, “Is it true? Did I…” Quickly taking out my phone out of the pocket, I checked for any CST-bound trains from Badlapur, using a local train time-table application. Yes, I slept through Ambernath and worse was the fact that there were no trains till 3:05 am from Badlapur. Trying my best to not look dumb to my co-passengers, I approached the gate and stood till I reached Badlapur.

“Dad, I slept through Ambernath and reached Badlapur. There are no trains before 3 o’ clock.”

“Then catch an auto rickshaw.”

“I can’t, as I don’t have enough money. Can you bring your bike and take me home?”

“No bike today, given it for servicing.”

“Okay. See you in the morning, then.”

“Oh no! Take care, son.”

I scanned through the railway charts for any long-distance passenger train halting at Badlapur. Finding none, I sat on a bench. A train going to Shirdi halted and the very few people who were at the platform started to board it. An old lady was getting in when the train started leaving. In panic, she lost footing and holding on to the poles at the door, she was being dragged along the edge of the platform. She didn’t let go, or would have slipped under the train through the gap between the train and the platform. Me and two other men pulled her away and yelled at her for her stupidity. She got up and again started running behind the train. Suddenly, everyone screamed again and it was learnt that a guy in the train had fallen after he attempted to pull the same lady inside. The train halted again and everyone started to converge at a point on the platform. I was sure that someone was killed and knowing that I had to spend a lonely night at the platform, I didn’t follow the people and sat on the same bench, instead.

It was past 1 o’ clock now and I had to cross over to the other platform where the first local train of the day was to arrive. Now, there was a dead body, blood and gore scattered on the tracks, so I wasn’t crossing the tracks at any cost. I took the foot-over bridge and reached the other platform, trying not to look at the spot where the good fellow died, but I was still curious. So I moved my head sideways to catch a glimpse of perhaps a severed leg or arm. Fortunately, there was none, neither was any blood or gore. No one had died. The night suddenly turned more comfortable.

I was hungry, but had enough money to only travel from Ambernath station to home. Also, all the eateries at the station had closed by then. I scanned the other platforms and then the one I was sitting on. My eyes fell on two green neon signboards. I advanced towards them. “Deputy Station Manager”, “Station Manager”. A man came out of the first cabin holding a torch with a green blinking light and pointed it towards an approaching train. The same blinking happened from one of the compartments at the beginning of the train, and again at the end. Mr. Deputy Station Master did this whenever a long distance train passed. “Wow! He earns by pointing a torch the whole night!” He was entertaining me big time, or at least I thought so – I had to pass my time somehow. Afterall, Tata Docomo doesn’t offer free internet if the total core balance is 15 paise! By 2 o’ clock, three more people were sitting with me and waiting for the train, except they had already slept.

“Hi, at what time is the first train?”

“3:05 am.”

“Any passenger train before that?”

“There’s one at 2:38 am, but it usually arrives by 4.”

“See, I just need to go to the next station. Is there any overhead equipment repairing engine which could drop me?”

The guy shook his head and looked at the footprints on my t-shirt. I went back to sit at my place where mosquitoes had just began to miss my alcohol-free blood (All three people were badly drunk). It was quite cold by now and I took out my handkerchief and made into a bandana that covered my ears.

It was getting extremely boring now. Mr. Deputy Station Master was now busy chatting with a GRP constable and had stopped his torch-pointing. There weren’t any trains passing, as well. The only audible sounds were dogs barking in the deserted street outside the station. I wondered how it would have been had that lady slipped through the gap, or that guy got killed. Would have I spent such a boring night with such ease? “No! I would have walked home, in that case!”, I thought and smirked. But I was glad I didn’t have to go on foot, perhaps the dogs would have turned into hyenas and hunted me, had I done that. A sudden jolt surprised me, rather pissed me off, as I don’t like interruptions while I am imagining. I wanted those hyenas to consume the body to which the hand, that rest on my shoulder, was attached. I turned to see what would the creatures feed on. It was the green-blinking-light man. Looking at his slightly squinting eyes behind an old pair of spectacles and a muffler wrapped around his head, I felt like a sinner. I couldn’t do this! Hyenas don’t consume good men, especially those who blink green lights at trains. “This train will halt at Ambernath. You are lucky it arrived early today”, he said. Looking in the direction where he pointed, I saw a train and it wasn’t passing, it was waiting for me! The feeling was soothing, like a survivor straight out of a Discovery Channel show. I boarded the train and looked at my phone. It was exactly 3:00 am, only 5 minutes before the first local train, but that meant I could sleep for 5 more minutes in the morning (which is a lot, if you are an office-goer).

Inside, people returning from Shirdi stared at me blankly, but I didn’t care at all. I recalled my entire experience – witnessing two near-deaths, sitting at spooky platforms, imagining barking dogs converting into hyenas and killing a man with the world’s best job, leaving drunk men who were still sleeping at Badlapur and of course, the happiness of seeing a train that saved 5 minutes of my sleep. “Ah! Home, here I come!”

We are what we remember

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