#292 Treasure

Beautiful

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Reaching Out, One Last Time

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Less than a month ago, I had in one of my posts briefly sifted through the uncertainty that is life in the clutches of death, the pain and confusion that the sudden demise of someone we love/loved leaves us with, and the ever elusive concept of time. Hence, it was not at all in my plan to touch upon this topic again this soon, lest it should add a very morbid feel to this blog of mine that is struggling to keep a happy face as it is.

But that’s the thing about death. It hardly ever confirms to our schedules and has always taken the liberty to visit unannounced. Try as hard as we may, but there really is no preparing for its ruthlessness and vulgarity. And when the Reaper leaves carrying the soul of that fine man or woman, who was until that very moment a part of our lives, we are left feeling vulnerable. The realization that ‘there is no telling when your appointment is’, makes us introspect. It is that moment when you want to revalue all that you possess and all that you have experienced, and draw up a quick balance sheet. Your assets and your liabilities, they are seen in a different light in that hour of unholiness.

It all started when two weeks ago, I sat rampaging through a very old collection of books I own, long forgotten. These were the ones I had decided to leave behind after my marriage. It was a practical decision as it occurred to us that hauling them all across the ocean to India would incur me more than what I had spent on them in the first place. Hence an arrangement was made that each time I came visiting I would select a few to fly back home with me. This now has become a ritual of sorts that I quite enjoy.

Hence back to the foot of the cupboard, where I sat scavenging through the old pile in search of the ones that I could choose to stay with me for the next leg of this journey.

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From the lot emerged a very old, shabby, almost torn, set of pages that used to be a book once upon a time. The tattered yellow pages hurled abuses at me for abandoning it all these years. It looked vaguely familiar and I was sure that it belonged to someone else. It took me a while to recollect that it once belonged to a colleague and friend who had lent it when I expressed interest in learning the tricks to sketching portraits.

It has been so many years since I took time to sketch and shade anything beautiful or worthwhile and I was no longer interested in nurturing the amateur artist in me. Moreover, I hated it when people borrowed books and never returned. Finding myself guilty of holding on to a borrowed book for six years, without even using it well, I wanted to set it right and return the book to its rightful owner. I did not know where he was now, but I decided that I would find out. It would be valued more in an artist’s collection, I was sure.

I soon fished him out of my Facebook friends list and messaged him. Just a Hello and brief one sided pleasantries. I noticed that almost two years ago he had typed out a few ‘Hellos’ and ‘How are yous’ himself, but I had not replied. I probably had many reasons why I did not, but it nevertheless made me feel guilty of not keeping in touch.

A week passed and no replies. I assumed he must be too busy to check his social profiles. Or was he now taking turn to ignore my messages? I couldn’t be sure.

It wasn’t until a couple of days ago, during a meet-up with another old colleague of mine who still works with the same paper, I remembered about this incident and casually inquired if the artist friend was still with the firm.

“Din’t you know? He passed away less than a year ago.”

I stood there in her kitchen, where she was preparing a sumptous meal for me, feeling sick to the stomach.

It had come as a surprise to everyone apparently. He had been in the pink of his health and was troubled with nothing else apart from occasional high blood pressure, a very common health condition in this day and age. But nothing life-threatening, they said. And so when he fell prey to a rare type of brain hemorrhage that left him with just a few hours to struggle and give up, putting an end to all that he was, people could hardly believe. They were saddened and equally riddled by his sudden demise.

Back home that night I opened my Facebook chat window again and saw the messages I had typed out a week ago, still unseen. Something akin to guilt pricked me right then. I wasn’t sure if it ebbed from the fact that I had failed to keep in touch with him over the years. Or due to the fact that I had withheld one of his books all these years, with little care or acknowledgement. Or was it just the feeling of uncertainty that Death never fails to leave behind? Was I now experiencing the fragility of life as his family and friends would have felt a year ago? I was uncomfortable.

He was hardly my close friend. Just someone I would put under the acquaintance tab. And yet his sudden demise left me feeling I ought to have talked more when there was time. Maybe I would have too had I continued working there. But when life takes us on different roads, you embrace the good changes and travel happily, sometimes forgetting the people who had shared that stretch of the road with you.

If his passing could guilt me into these feelings, I shudder to think what would be, had it been someone who had been really close to me. The words unsaid, the gratitude unexpressed and the apologies not made would haunt me forever.

I picked up his book again and leafed through the pages, as curiously as I did the first time I saw it. He had been a really talented artist, one of the best I had seen. Although he took his work seriously and probably gave his best, he was known to be a bit of a rebel at work, opposing the sometimes ridiculously strict codes of publishing established there. I guess I never told him that it was a quality I quietly admired. I also remember, we shared a love for cats.

His book goes back to the cupboard. But it now holds more value than it ever did.

Such is the death of an artist. It is one which adds beauty to his creations and poignance to his messages.

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An illustration by JS titled Romantic Oman.

And as Goodbye, I quote Shelly:

How wonderful is Death,
Death, and his brother Sleep!
One, pale as yonder waning moon
With lips of lurid blue;
The other, rosy as the morn
When throned on ocean’s wave
It blushes o’er the world;
Yet both so passing wonderful!

Ode to the Queen

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IMG_8266I can’t say I have ‘travelled far and wide’. But I have ticked off a modest number of destinations on my highly ambitious explorer’s list. And with that to counterbalance my judgments, I remark; No sight has ever aroused the passive romantic in me quite as much as you have.
Ooty, my love, you are still the most precious jewel in my crown.

The magic you yield on me might have something to do with the long wait I endured before I first met you. And how! An early morning bike ride up the hill, thanks to a kind friend of mine. I was hardly dressed for the cold, it had afterall been an impromptu trip, one that I did not believe in delaying anymore. My summer tunic and Denim three-fourths were no match for your frosty welcome. But despite feeling chilled to the bone, I could not help but fall in love with you right then and there.

And since then, everytime I come visiting, your beauty brings me to my knees, often leaving me literally breathless. And each time I leave, I do with a promise to see you soon again.

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If someone were to ask me today what I find the most attractive about you, I would be lost having to choose between the way the wind washes over my soul with soothing eucalyptus oils as soon as I cross over the fence, or the way you blow silver mist down the hills to touch my face in playful welcome. Or maybe it is the charm of an old English town that you nestle, which refuses to die down in all the emerging modernity. Or it could simply be the beautiful spread of constellations you lay out on stark cold nights, a surreal sight to the beholder on your side of the Blue Mountains.

I sometimes dream about your untimely rains, that leave you drenched in sublime shades of green, and the shroud of mist that follows, tucking you in for a shivery night. That is probably when you look the most beautiful, or so the pluviophile in me argues.

You have shown me the most beautiful Golden Hour and the most romantic Full Moon Night. I delight everytime I stumble upon little coves or creeks when out venturing in your woods. They always feel so personal and precious.
The taste of coffee with your morning rays and that of wine with a view of your horizon, are therapeutic combinations I would recommend to anyone with an ailing heart and who is in search of better days and reasons to live.

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From your valleys I have unearthed some of my best memories. In your bosom I have found inspiration and strength to face life’s hardest struggles. The times you taught me how to connect with myself and find unity in your grandiose, can never be forgotten. These are only a few of the prized memories you have gifted that I keep locked in my treasure chest.

Yes, admittedly, there have been nights you kept me awake with your foggy nightmares and rude surprises. But my love has learned to see past that, into the blue horizons and the wonders you hold there.

Some would suggest a backpack through the Himalayas or the Swiss Alps or Andes to cure my blind adoration for your beauty. And I concur, visiting such magna opera can surely leave me charmed and smitten with infatuation.
But they would still only be beautiful places to tick-off my ever expanding list.

Yours is the only one I can come home to. And nothing can take that away from me. No.
Queen you shall remain, in my Wanderer’s Castle.

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Kaleidoscope

Let’s pause here and take a look;
I have a kaleidoscope to share

Place it over my shoulder and see
Hazy days disappear into a maze
A cherry blossom and a willow kiss
Scarlet orbs born from its core
Little fishes in blue-green jars
Devour each other in timeless desire
Pages and pages of blank sheets
Or a story written in invisible ink?
Spiral motifs of intricate emotions
Make way for the scion of light

Now point it to the stars and behold
A purple lotus unfolds; what a sight!
Windows unlock heavenly doors
And fiery dreamwalkers gather in
Knights on stallions take stations
Their eyes on a chromatic bugle
An ivory quill and beads of fire
Adorn every marching soldier
A heart of gold in a yellow sea
Swimming in psychedelic circles

Time to lock the third eye away
And keep walking the walk.

(Inspired by a mid-summer night’s dream)

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The Cave

For almost two months now, I have been prepping a little corner of my room, transforming it into a cross between a Workspace and an Escape from Mundanity.  Having gathered a small assortment of quirky knick-knacks to go with the Nucleus – and by far the most serious piece of furniture in the room – the Study Table, I have now carved out a Cave for myself.
This is where I spend most of my Me Times. It is both a resting place for my gears and an oasis of inspiration for the days that I run dry. I do not consider it a finished work, for I know that with each passing day my mind sprouts new ideas that could grow into a very personal thought or ideology to believe in. Hence, I would keep bringing in more tenants to share this limited space. Also, I expect to replace some of these chattels somewhere down the lane, when they have worn out their charm and significance.

But for now, this tiny space in this world, makes an earnest attempt to reflect me truly. And I wish to share a glimpse of the beautiful things that surround me on most nights when I am writing one of these pages.

 

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Stubbornly Calm: On days that I find it hard to concentrate on my work, this humble figurine reflects the peace within me, that I must strive to channelize.

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Strains on Strings: From the chance ringing of the Noah Bells that hang on my doorway to sets of practiced chords yet to be born out of a forgotten instrument, Music keeps me alive. The guitar and the bells remind me of the stories waiting to be told, unsung melodies waiting to be written.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Bookshelf: Not much needs to be said about the books I dwell with. This little shelf at the corner of the Cave holds not only the pages that I look forward to spend time with, but also the ones that have had a great significance in the Story of My Life. Presently understanding the Buddha through the words of a ‘former Roman Catholic religious sister’, as Wikipedia informed.

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Elephant in the Room: Call it Art, call it Tradition, call it adding Colour, call it a silent Prayer, call it even an act of Faith. My spiritual journey has its humble beginnings. And so it shall inevitably be a part of who I am.

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Words: My cave is littered with words. Words from my course books that promise me a secure tomorrow. Words from my diary that make my thoughts coherent. Words from my favourite authors that tempt me into a Time Slip. And words, scribbled on my post-its, reminding me how good I am at remembering!

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Illumination: An obsession with Lights. I have always been fascinated by lights, natural and man-made, its hues and tones, and how it can paint my emotions right. I also belong to the breed of humans who enjoy sitting in a dark room with a single source of sombre light. I think this obsession might be the ancestorial equivalent for my highly unpredictable photography sprees.

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The Willow Hoops: Something that I learned to love, not because of the beauty or charm of the ornament itself, but for what it now represents. A second chance.

 

In the Silence of a Summer noon

The sun is shining at it’s best right now. Two days ago, the world marked the first day of the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere, the first longest day in 2017, yet.
Well it ain’t quite Spring over here, in my part of the globe, it’s sweltering summer! Although officially, we started atleast two weeks early.

The afternoons are the worst. Everything alive runs for cover or burns alive. The oppressive midday sun casts a spell upon all in my household. The elderly succumb rather quickly to their afternoon naps which have grown deeper and rather meditative in nature.

I am not untouched by the sun’s sultriness either. Although I did not give in to sleep, I did let my mind drift away in a train of thought, that a tropical Loo blew in this afternoon. I am not in charge of the direction, I cannot hence decide what I am to feel, but maybe a little lethargy and a pinch of curiosity.

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In the dull whir of my ceiling fan, I was carried away to a Summer afternoon exactly fourteen years ago. The day I experienced for the first time, the loss of someone I loved dearly. It was also the day I learned that Death is most usually accompanied by Confusion. Sorrow arrives only later.

It was the first day of my year-end examinations. Mathematics. Urgh! But I had done fairly well. And so with spirited steps I walked back home from school, eagerly looking forward to the start of summer holidays in a week’s time. The happiness that ebbed from the fact that I could ignore Algebra and Geometry for atleast two months, created a sense of freedom to go with the holiday spirit. I remember I had great plans for that summer.

But as soon as I walked through the door, I sensed something was not right. The old and cheerfully-fragile figure, that was my Grandfather, was missing from his usual chair, with his usual, ‘So how did you do today?

I learned later that he had a small accident whence he lost his balance and fell and lost copious amounts of blood. But they said he would be all right and that he would probably be back home by dinner. So I calmed myself down. I still remember watching him shift uneasily in the hospital bed. He was impatient to get back home. He kept telling me and anyone who would listen, that he was fine and that we should do something about getting the discharge papers in order. I smiled and told him that he would soon be home, and left the hospital to prepare for my Science exam the next day.
That was the last time I saw him smile.
Turns out, just minutes after his discharge papers came through, he happily got up from his bed, ready to come home for tea, when his heart decided to stop. It was instantaneous and painless. His last thought was probably, ‘I am going home.

I was surprised when they told me that he wasn’t going to be back home for dinner after all. I was all of 13. Old enough to understand what death meant, but too naive to deal with the process of bidding goodbye. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do next. My mother was still away in Muscat. Her brother, my local guardian, was busy with hospital formalities. His wife, my aunt, was trying to comfort the weeping and wailing mess, that was my Grandmother. I sat there looking at them all, wondering, ‘What should I be doing?’

I was Confused. I had a lot of questions. All the Whys and Hows, and no one to ask. Thankfully, our neighbours came over and asked me to help them find people off the phone book, those who needed to be informed immediately. I finally had something to do. That I did for quite some time I think, maybe an hour or two.
The next thing I remember, it was almost dusk. It was still pretty hot, not only because Summer had started early again that year, but because of the number of people crammed into that small living room of ours. I had dutifully shared all the important contacts, informed the grown-ups about how and when to reach certain members of the family and the like, when I saw my aunt walk towards me.

She took the phone book away from my hands, looked at me and asked, ‘Are you okay?

I was glad she did. I fell onto her, wrapped my arms around her as tightly as I could and cried. Sorrow had arrived and I was happy to embrace it. I forgot about the questions that had bothered me till then.

Since that afternoon, every Summer, I think about how illusive our concept of Time and Death really is. We are convinced that by achieving our life goals or amassing wealth or love, we can justify our date with Death. We wish to do those things that will keep us alive in the fond memories of people, even after we are gone. We try to steal in some Sense of Self, even in Death. Hah! The Self stops existing when life exits. What remains, no matter who you were, are only ashes.

But we must live, love and feel alive in every way possible. Not to give meaning or continuity to our lives, but to enrich this soul with the wisdom of the world, unique to our own view of it. So that this energy that preserved us can guide another human life through it’s own journey.

My old man died that day, but his loss has made its presence felt in my life many times since. He was a simple man with his own set of vices and virtues. I do not think that today I miss the person he was. No, the world would be fine without him, just as it would be fine without me after 50 years.
I only miss the love that he was for me. He loved me in a very unique way and hence left a void where that was, something no one can fill. And that is all right. It’s good to have some empty spaces in life.

Afterall, it would be impossible to read a story, without the empty spaces between words.

I return to the March in 2017. This summer afternoon has almost exhausted itself. And I should probably go wake everyone up and remind them to drink plenty of water.

An Old Flame

There is a very special place within all of us where we house the memories from our childhood. We hold those happy days close, treasure the innocence that once was and long to feel that uncontainable drive to live and explore. At one point in our lives or the other, most of us have wished to be a child again, for reasons that we know best.

The thing I truly miss the most about the bygone days? The endless hours I got to spend with my first true love, my Books.

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Sonny Boy explores the makeshift bookshelf

Back then, there was not a worry in the world that my favourite authors could not distract me from. Those were the days when I first learned how to travel across the world and even across time, without leaving the warmth of my bed. I could disappear into characters and live their lives, like in a parallel universe. I would even go ahead and say that reading was my drug, not that I was even aware of the effects of intoxication back then. But everytime I delved into a book, I felt elevated, rising above the world around me. I would be filled with inspiration and courage. My world had endless possibilities and none the constraints. Stories, ideas, characters, emotions, achievements and failures, morals and inventions, they all filled my life with a never before clamour. It was in the settling of this brannigan of thoughts, that I met myself, for the very first time.

But now I look back, and long so dearly, to feel that passion for words again, even if it were to last not any longer than a page out of those first books. That feeling, is now lost under layers and layers of responsibilities, not just towards the family and the society, but towards the development of self. Time has temporarily halted at that place in my life now, where I need to ‘Do What I Have To Do.’ Reading is now clearly a luxury, one that I need to plan and place onto my schedule, based on how productive I have been over the week.

However, even during those few hours of lavishness, the feeling of being with my book, sometimes misses me completely. I have become much more selective over the years, and I choose my books very carefully (for the lack of time, or so I am convinced). And inspite of that, I am often left wondering at the end of chapters,
I like the book. Why then can I not be a part of it?”

I feel I am much too distracted now to actually believe that Coelho, Roy or Montgomery, could take my problems away, even if it is for a little while. I have not lost faith in them, but I am yet to let them in completely. The years that I spent shutting myself off from the world of words, is now making me pay its price.

So yes, I accept, I do not expect all my ‘selected books’ to carry me in their pages, away to their far off surreality. But I also strongly believe that the ones that are capable of doing so, are waiting for me to find them, take them home and uncover their secrets.

And here is where I should probably make a mention of my affairs.

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I talk about those books that initiated my return to the world of reading. They were just a couple of books I picked up randomly over time. Or, as I would like to believe, that were placed on my path, by chance, on purpose. They were the ones that kindled an old flame.
Quite unassuming books with rather boring covers, that I began reading for the lack of choice mostly, but suddenly became my lifeline.
Yes, I am talking about the ones that you realize overnight that you simply cannot put down until you finish. Something you had not felt the urge to do in such a long time.

If you’ve fallen in love with books the way I did, and if you have felt the pain of breaking up that relationship for more practical ones with the world, you would then know the importance of having the affairs. The ones that exist only to remind you that the bliss of losing yourself in the silent voice of another word-lover, is not a thing of the past or an unobtainable childhood treasure. It can get as real as you want it to be.
And like all one-night-stands, we will wake up once the high evaporates and stare at the two choices we get; to take it to the next level and follow a locked down passion or to abandon it and continue with life the way it was till yesterday.

I thank my flings with the ‘stranger books’ for waking me up. They casually wandered into my life, not to secure a place in my shelf, but to simply make me look at the ones that lay forgotten there.

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Of Bells and Clappers

So the other day I found myself in an antique gift shop tucked away in the corner of probably the least crowded shopping mall in my city. I was done with my shopping and had some time to kill. What better place than one filled with beautiful counterfeits of relics from the past, right?

Decked up on the shelves on one side of the room were, wooden tribal masks, idols capturing the essence of spirituality among various religions (of which Buddhism featured prominently) and rustic Indian paintings. This, however, was in sharp contrast to the plastic toys, key-chains based on cartoon characters and other modern day gift items settled neatly on the other side of the room. Considering that the name and the theme of the shop promised it’s visitors ‘something old’, it was clearly out of place.
I felt cheated initially, but then I reminded myself that it was India, and here, people were more likely to be surprised if a gift shop, whatever the name, did not sell a key chain. Everything sells, everywhere.

I kept my thoughts to myself and decided to linger around for a while more, marvelling the effort taken to reproduce the mysterious and ancient artefacts.

Apart from the items on the shelves, hung from the ceiling were wind chimes. I held up my hand and reached for the weight dangling from each of them, just to hear them chime. There is something utterly romantic about the way the metal rods strike each other to create chance-based music. I moved from one to another, creating enough noise to draw the shopkeeper’s attention. He directed what was an ‘Are-you-going-to-get-anything?’ look at me, which I pretended not to understand and moved along.

Just as I was reaching the door, my eyes fell upon a very oddly structured wind chime. The bells were placed distinctively far apart so that they wouldn’t strike each other, no matter how hard the wind blew. Tied to a single rope, the bells looked crude, like something someone would make without putting a lot of thought into it. The clappers were made of wood and I couldn’t imagine what horrible noise it would make upon being struck. I reached for the end of the thread, that had no decorative weights attached whatsoever, and gave it a tug.

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What I heard next, got instantly downloaded into my memory jukebox, labelled the ‘Best-Wind-Chime-Ever.’ Only, it wasn’t just random chimes, it sounded almost like an orchestrated ringing of bells.You know that feeling when you hear a really good song for the first time, and you instantly know it’s going to be one of your all time favorites? That was me, at a gift shop, staring at a wind chime!

And then it dawned on me. It wasn’t a wind chime made of bells, it WAS a bell.

What followed for the next half hour involved me irritating the owner of the shop with all sorts of questions about the bell (the only thing he knew for sure was that they were hand-made bells originating from a North-Western Indian village), me gawking at him absurdly when I heard how expensive it was, and me feeling guilty and worried at the thought of justifying my purchase to my husband dearest.

Later that night I discovered, thanks to my friend Google, that those were the very famous Noah Bells, a collection of authentic Indian Khadki bells, made in monasteries across the country.They are hand-crafted, usually a combination of iron, copper and bronze, and finish with a carved wooded clapper. However, what was truly unique was that no two bells could create the same music when rung, be it the deep, resonant notes of the larger bells at the top, or the high, brittle pitch created by the tiny ones dangling towards the end of the rope. And maybe, it was that particular feature that compelled me to splurge this once for a an odd-looking bell. The sound, it was nothing like I had ever heard before.

It was loud, yet not disturbing. It contained within itself a prayer from yesterday and a call-out for tomorrow. The more I listened to it, the more it felt like it did not belong to this time or age, like someone bottled up a little past into these casts of metal and wood. And yes, it was peaceful. As if placed there in that moment to counter the ripples of chaos surrounding it.

The bell now hangs beautifully in my room. My son adores it.Every morning, he wakes up and jumps out of the bed to go give it a ring. I honestly don’t know what I enjoy more, the excitement on the face of my three-year-old while ringing an ancient bell, or the first waves of energy the bell transcends down to me. I lie with my eyes closed for a few more seconds, basking in the feeling of happiness and positivity that it fills my room with. An energy, that I hope to carry with me till the end of the day.

And I can’t help but feel that the bell had been waiting for me all along, in that shop, tucked away in the corner. Now, it’s home.

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“Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.”
– Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Best Lemonades

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

 

Impressions

The universe speaks to us silently everyday.

It’s messages are powerful enough to set us sail on uncharted waters, or pull us out of blind disbelief. It can keep us trapped inside a memory or release us into a timeless existence.

Sometimes it comes to teach and sometimes to rescue. And then there are other times, when it comes to remind you of something that you had forgotten, something that you always knew but never accepted.

The language couldn’t have been simpler. Yet it remains mostly unheard, largely ignored and often misunderstood. It reveals itself in front of us in every moment. But only those who believe in them or seek them out, truly understand it. Blessed are the ones who have found their voice amongst the stars.

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For there are others, like myself, who chose to see and believe only what we hoped.
We are blinded by our desires, and choose to ignore them or dismiss the messenger all-together. We fear opening ourselves up to these signs. We are either afraid of reading too much into it or afraid of letting it change us in ways we are not yet ready to accept. Sometimes it might take our darkest hours to awaken our senses and converse with the energy around us, that has been trying to reach out.

This voiceless messenger has been with me since I can remember. Guiding me while I took my first steps and broke my first rules. Through all the rights and wrongs, it stayed with me, non-judging, patient and hopeful. It remained my companion for long on this journey that I set out, with a promise to listen. But over time, my instincts got the better of me and I paid less and less attention to its messages. They blew over me like a lifeless wind as I stepped over the broken mirrors and the broken fences.

But it was still out there, leaving bread crumbs behind so that I could realize and follow one day. How I’ve trampled upon many of those trails in my mad search for meaning and direction.

In time, I realized there was only so much you can go without neither a map nor a compass. And having learnt that the hard way, I sought out my old companion. I searched for it in every forgotten song, in every kind stranger on the road, in all the unopened books on my shelves and in every prayer I heard.

It revealed itself again with so much generosity, that I wished to drown myself in self loath. It had always been there. It was I who had been too blind to see.

And now I remember, what I had always known, that which I had temporarily forgotten. I also realize that it is time to continue our journey from where I had gone astray.

I am reminded how life has always been about moving on from one beautiful thing to another, and never about staying. It was about continuing the journey and not setting camp along the way because the view was breathtaking.

Of course, you must pause, catch a breath, enjoy the sights and engrave it in your soul, so that it forms a part of your beautiful memories. But sooner or later, you have to leave. That moment might have been yours, but if you have learned all that you can from it, you must set it free and let it touch other lives like yourself.

You must leave, so that life can surprise you with new adventures.

You must leave, so you would face new battles that strengthen you.

You must leave, so you would know just how beautiful and precious some of life’s moments are.

You must leave, so you leave your mark somewhere.

But you must leave, knowing that happiness is in leaving.

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“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly.”

I remember these words as I look at a beautiful green butterfly fly right into my hands.