This post here is the culmination of what started off as a self-imposed photography exercise last week.
I used to be the proud owner of a Canon 550D. Used to. Now I still own the camera but not very proud of it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still great, works perfectly and still surprises the amateur in me with the wonders of light.
No, it’s not the camera, it’s me.
When I got it six years ago, I had seen myself spending the rest of my life with it, travelling to places together and getting old together. Seasons changed and I became more realistic. I told myself that even if I did not carve a profession out of it, I would atleast be faithful to it and include it in my life as much as possible. Years went by and I got even more realistic. I promised it would not be forgotten during all the important moments and trips in my life. Finally at the end of practicality, I carefully placed it well away from my daily life where it remained ignored until very recently.
Having re-discovered a zest for life again, I forgave myself for my mistakes and set out to explore with my travel mate, for old times’ sake. Initially, I wanted to capture sunrises and sunsets, hills and valleys, beaches and temples. And I did too. Made a couple of short holidays, where I felt re-united both with nature and my buddy. But it was nothing extra-ordinary. With the little luxury of time, that I had rationed for myself, running out, I decided to make one short visit to the weekly vegetable market near my home. The reason; I felt the need to observe people and capture emotions. And what better place than a crowded evening market.
I was full of doubts as I walked into a very local market, swarming with people from nearby villages, who had turned up with their produce, in the hopes of earning enough for the week. That was the static crowd. Among them walked about thousands of careful prospective buyers, polishing their bargaining skills with every purchase.
Into them, I walked in, jeans and tees, holding a DSLR, totally ruining the chemistry in the air nearby.
I half expected someone from the crowd to usher me out. I was full of doubts; it had been five years since the little reporter in me walked into a huge crowd with a camera, to cover a very important cultural festival. Back then, people loved to see and talk to anyone from the media. But here, I was walking into a space filled with closed thoughts and mediocrity. Or so I thought.
I was happily surprised at the way everyone smiled and how most of them even posed for a picture here and then. They obviously thought I was with some paper, and I did not have the heart nor the courage to correct them. And in anycase, it felt good to be a reporter once again.
Some even paused to talk to me about their lives and their produces, in the hope of seeing it published somewhere.
To them, that I dedicate this post.
That evening, I met some very interesting people.
The first to catch my eye was the Incessant Lad. A young boy in his late teens, who was standing atop his vegetable cart. He took his lean frame, sprightliness and clear voice to his advantage and kept jumping about from cart to cart, scouting for prospective buyers and marketing his vegetables. The fact that he was visible above all the men and women seated on ground, and that his sharp voice cut across the heavy buzz of the crowd, seemed to draw people towards him. Near his cart, sat a middle-aged man, with a bored look on his eyes. His father? Business partner? Relative or mentor? The Incessant Lad was an aggressive businessman in the making and he was probably proving his point to the Boss.
Then came Something Khan. I had seen him on my way in at the entrance of the market, but I did not bother much. His colleagues called me out from behind and requested me to take a picture of their Godfather. Something Khan was a prominent spices trader in the markets of Bengaluru and he apparently had quite a small empire running under him. He sat their smiling at me as his friends tried convincing me that he was an important man to be talking to. I smiled and politely asked him to pose for a picture.
He did not change his posture, just widened his smile on my request and looked into the camera, as if he did not really understand what the whole fuss was about. For a man owning 20 spice stores in the state, he sure looked humble.
I walked ahead slowly. I did not have a grocery list nor a map, so I walked aimlessly, as opposed to the crowd around me. They had speed and direction and most of them hardly noticed me.
Among them sat Miss Unperturbed. She was selling lemons that life had given her, with so much passion, she might as well have been selling strawberries. She saw me enter the alley and quickly looked away. Even as her friends nearby giggled and smiled at me, she remained largely aloof. She chose to see only her lemons and probably the darkening sky in the horizon. I instantly felt disliked. I was invisible to her. I was the alien who knew nothing about her, invading her space. I wondered if she hated my guts, for walking in with a label of luxury that had always been away from her reach.
But the Bangle Lady, she was something else. She saw me walking down the aisle and quickly straightened up, adjusted her glasses and welcomed me warmly to her stall. I noticed how her companions from the nearby stalls kept telling her about ‘photo‘ and I quickly realized she wanted to get her picture clicked. I agreed happily. The sky was getting darker now so I took a little time to fiddle with the camera settings for the perfect picture. Meanwhile she picked a few bangles from the trays in front of her and wore them on her right hand, and sat prepared with a smile. Something about the way she looked into the camera made me glimpse her youth when she would have enjoyed bewildered stares from the neighborhood boys, admiring her beauty.
Her beauty now was different. It radiated more from the youth she cherished and the confidence she inspired, than her imperfect teeth she tried to hide. Although I did get a couple of posed photos of her, I think this candid shot captures the beauty of her youthfulness more.
Exhausted after walking around in dust and crowd for hours, I decided to head back home. On my way out of the marketplace, my eyes fell on the Old Lady. She too was selling bangles, although she wasn’t doing much selling. She sat in the least visible spot and did not utter a word. Occasionally she would glance at the main road from between the carts and also at the horizon. The sun had by then disappeared and what remained of its last light for the day was quickly turning bright orange. She looked eager, not to sell, but to leave. I wondered why. Her face remained stoic. She did not reveal anxiety nor excitement. She chose to remain a secret. Once a while, she would open her sachet and count her collection, the only sign that she was there on a mission. I did not approach the Old Lady. I saw her from a distance and chose to respect her space.
As I traveled back home, I thought about my ignorance in assuming that people belonging to a traditional community did not give importance to retaining their individuality. I found myself guilty of the same prejudice that I had unknowingly accused them of.
I realized that at the end of the day, we all just strive to make the best of the lemons that life hands out.
“Tough times never last. But tough people do.”