The Messiah Must Reside In Such Quietude

Sarkhej Roza, Makarba, Gujarat.

It was an early start. Ahmedabad has changed to an unrecognisable extent. I drove from there through S.G. Highway to Makarba one July morning in 2018 as per the directions given by Bubbles in a cutely sincere manner – two lefts,  then right,  then straight for 2 kms,  then three rights, and so on. It must have been the combination of her accuracy and my ability to grasp that I reached the masjid with sheer ease. The light from the golden torch was making its way to the earth before bribing its way into the roza’s courtyard.

Bhavna Ramrakhiani – Convenor of Ahmedabad Community Foundation

Bhavna stood there to greet me. Oh, what a beautiful face she had. Those eyes!! She instantly came across as a warm person willing to share her knowledge of the place. She spoke a welcome mix of educated English and raw Hindi. We entered the monument, removed our shoes, covered our heads.

Morning scene
Man reading the morning papers

A typical morning scene. Touchingly serene. A few men, unperturbed by my presence, read the morning papers. I felt at home. I kept taking photographs as Bhavna’s soft voice kept singing in my ears. We Indians are spoilt. Our history dates so far back that we casually declare a six centuries old structure as recent. We even neglect it. 

Morning arrivals
Sarkhej Roza

This was Sarkhej Roza, once the home of sufi saint, Ganj Baksh. To one side stood a stone pavilion in a sad state of disrepair and to the other, a courtyard with a masjid and quietly guarded tombs. Several mausoleums, an old well, hundreds of wide steps leading down to a dried tank and the infinite expanse. One part of the mosque, with its tall pillars reminded me of the Acropolis of Athens. It was too much for me to take in on a short morning tour. 

Stone pavilion in state of disrepair
Pillars of the mosque
Path to the mosque

Once in a while a person will walk the white-painted path, that led to the masjid, to speak in private to the supreme being. This path was also taken by the Sun to kiss the cheek of the messiah who must most definitely reside in such quietude.

Prayers
Connecting with the messiah
Girl playing
Well-wheel spoke shaped like a bird
Spoke on the wheel of the well resembling a bird

A small girl jumped and skipped on the steps oblivious to all. A spoke of the well-wheel pulley made to resemble an exotic visitor to the Sabarmati River. A cormorant or a spoonbill perhaps. The little bookshop opened early. A few men sat selling to no customers at all. Bhavna enjoyed a nice chat with them. A silvery bearded man in immaculate white clothes and matching taqiyah takes over the shop. “Maybe he’ll sell only one book today,” I thought. I buy one. But he will remain all day no matter what. Dedication. Service. We all can learn.

Men in the book shop, Sarkhej Roza, Gujarat.
The Old Man with silvery beard and immaculate clothes. Sarkhej Roza, Gujarat.

The cleaner, with her younger grandson in her arms, complained about her useless son-in-law. From Bhavna’s story to this – it felt like I had changed the radio station. 

The cleaner with her younger grandson and running commentary

Her elder grandson played near the main gate. His angelic face captivated me so much that I took several photos of him. He kept changing poses. A young man sat on the chair. 
Maybe, that was the accused.

The elder grandson
Angelic face
The accused. Maybe. Maybe not.

My gaze locked on a woman sitting outside the room that housed the tombs. She was not present there. She appeared to be talking to someone. But there was no one. She then laughed, and continued to laugh. Her ankles were swollen. She was a regular I was told. She walked out as aimlessly as she had walked in.

She spoke to the spirits
Woman selling balloons

Outside the mosque, another lady sold balloons. “She’s my friend,” announced Bhavna. Where did these people buy such delightful smiles from when they could not even afford a decent meal? How can they afford such precious attributes?

On my drive back to Ahmedabad, and before I hit the highway, I saw the lady who spoke to the spirits. She was on her way to… nowhere.

On My Jack Jones

Ramillies Street, Soho, London

I am pretty much bored of taking photos. There is no challenge around, nil creativity, internet deluged with mediocre work, everybody falsely praising everybody else, sycophantic and sugar-coated comments becoming the norm, and art critics dead.

Just when I thought I was done, I am able to envision images before shooting, and also getting the results. Oh, no, I am still far from being labelled an expert. Karma is playing a role here. Photography is not letting me go. It loves me. It misses me when I ignore it. It pushes itself in my face, in my psyche, my heart, my hands, and my dreams. It is entrapping me with fluke shots.

Last couple of days I have walked aimlessly on London streets. Like any other metropolis, this too is busy. Too busy to pause, look, or care. The anonymity it lends to individuals is sort of nice. I can sit, think for hours. It won’t impose on me its speed. I won’t be pushed or shoved if I didn’t allow. I am part of a slowly exposed still.

I stop noticing people. They are like a motion blur. My camera is restless. I spend money and time to be there. One good shot would be a bonus. I have shot almost everything on those streets. I start to create ‘odd’ images in my head, and then fire the camera. God damn it! I am starting to get exactly what I pre-see in my head. I have the camera on full manual settings, including the lens. I don’t want perfect results. I want blurs, poor compositions, over-or-under exposed shots, and other such results that will convince me enough that I am not cut out to be a photographer. It is not happening. Something out there is not letting me give up just yet. I want to travel. Have adventure. Spend my days walking and observing life, and nights in dimly-lit rooms in near silence. No camera to distract me.

It won’t happen yet. My camera is intelligent. It programmes itself to my visualisation. It is giving me the results with very little effort on my part except the part where I am being a fantasist. Canon baby is making my fantasies come true. This will last until I fall in love again. I have to pretend to ‘neglect’ it.

Seated on a bench, I watched the pigeon. It won’t leave my feet, hopeful for some crumbs. It then flies. I wait again. I will photograph it in flight, between those buildings, almost silhouette-y, but not entirely, as I want the lamp to have some light from underneath the white globe, and also slightly exposed buildings to give some context to the bird’s position.

Wishful thinking with an all-manual camera and an unpredictable bird.

It comes in the view, and I wait again until it is there where I want it. Will it? Maybe not! It just might!

And, it did.

One shot only. I didn’t want to do a second ‘for luck’s sake’. I wanted a ruined image. I wanted to return home frustrated, angry.

Can anyone ever get a image exactly how they imagined against such odds?

Divine intervention, perhaps.

On a separate note — I feel like the bird. Free. On my Jack Jones amidst urban chaos.

Ignorance is indeed bliss

My father hates a couple of habits wholeheartedly. A few of them include swearing/cursing (expletives), raising the voice, frightening the weak, winking, smoking, and chewing paan, to recall but a few.

When someone screamed, or swore, he would ask, “Do you live in the slums?” Because he believed that only those who have hard lives do not have time to correct their behaviour as they are preoccupied with earning their next bread. Incivility, under those circumstances, can still be excused, but never under any circumstances otherwise.

When I was small, I would go into the neighbour’s garden, sometimes to sit on their swing, and at other times to pluck flowers for my prayers. They had a dog named Tiger. He was small but ferocious. I took the risk daily, and Tiger invariably chased me out. One day, as I sat on the swing, waiting for my school bus, Tiger darted towards me, with the most nasty bark. I flung from the height and straight on to the hard floor, landing on my chin. Briefly unconscious, bloodied uniform, first-aided by the landlord, etc. Once conscious, I was sent on the bus when it arrived. Few days I walked around with a plaster-beard. I still bear the (real) scar as a reminder.

My small hands made garlands for daily prayers from the plucked Champa flowers. Was I religious! In return, the neighbour received the daily prashad. The neighbour had a huge house, and also a tenant living on the first storey. The landlord found me pretty amusing when I cleaned out their flowering bush but their awkward tenant had a problem. One day, he came down and screamed at me, and shooed me out. I cried, told my dad, and it was left at that. I didn’t think about it much until one day, many years later, in our new home, I saw on the TV that the same guy was arrested by the police. It didn’t make me happy or sad, as I was indifferent. I had been too young to understand what holding a grudge meant. But, I later found out that even though my dad had not expressed his annoyance at the man’s behaviour towards me when I was younger, deep inside my dad waited for the right moment to unleash his wrath. He had taken upon himself to find out every little thing he more than possibly can about that man, and discovered that, at some stage many years before, the wretched man had been involved in several dubious activities, in another city. The trail had gone cold. But, there was one person (my dad) digging the dirt on him. The man should have known better before trying that behaviour with my dad’s daughter.

“How dare he raises his voice at my daughter? Did he think he will get away with that behaviour? Never. Not with Ram Avtar around,” my dad uttered, watching the TV.

That’s when I knew my dad had avenged my tears.

My dad, our bhaya (we call him). He has always loved all sorts of people asking him for help. “People only ask when they know you could,” he says.

True.

There is no “impossible” word in his dictionary. He is now old in age, but the challenges he takes are equally tough as the ones he took when he was younger, which were way more than many young people I have met take.

He still phones people up to say, “Please use me while I am able.” Ha ha. My mummy, Asha Devi, made that possible for him, for it was her who had to put up with the people that came to our house seeking his help. She was left with the task of cooking and accommodating them in her very very very clean home. It was such a rare household. We children, myself and my two siblings, also started bringing people who needed help over to our house. It was like we were attracted to helpless people. My mum started to call our home a dharamshala. There was always plenty of food, clean bathrooms and tidy beds with freshly washed linens. Every person I have met has stayed over at my house, eaten my mum’s food, used her clean towels, been chauffeured in our cars, and much more. Some have been shamelessly thankless.

My dad’s take on that – “No one takes from us unless we owe it to them from our previous life.”

Ha! My family must have been thugs in the previous life then!

My dad, a rare man. A bit crazy, but a dynamic crazy. My mum, a ruthlessly, undiplomatically honest woman. She hates liars. Unfortunately, she met so many that she lost faith in people. She is proud of her children. That’s what counts.

We siblings do what we were brought up doing, helping people out. We sing the same song that our dad still sings to us, much to my mum’s annoyance, “Apne liye jiye to kya jiye, ae dil tu jee zamane ke liye (what good is living for own self, oh my heart, live for the world)”.

I have, since, known people stoop down to gutter level. I am now a grown-up. Can fight my own battles. I do like to continue helping people, but some days when I feel hurt, I do feel like yelling, “I should peel the sticker ‘Use me’ off my forehead.” Some days, I’m left feeling that I’ve been taken for granted. But then, maybe I owed it to them from my previous life, Or, they will owe me in the next life.

If there is a next life!

I will not yell. I feel good this way. I come out stronger.

Surely, it is their ignorance that makes them behave a certain way. They know no better, and hence feel no remorse. Their foolishness makes them feel proud of their behaviour. They feel big by shouting someone down. Why else would they repeat it? But this does not mean I continue to put up in this life what I haven’t grown up believing. If my dad could hear them, he will surely ask, “Do you live in the slums?”