Synchronised Cranes

Kew Bridge

When we talk about landscape photography, we usually would visualise trees, mountains, rivers, gardens, beautiful buildings and so on. Never would an evening’s dull sky with man-made machines spring to mind. Does it not mean that in photographs we seek escapism too?

With this photo, I am using landscape photography as documentary photography. So, I am not trying to escape into a world that is not always so beautiful around us. This is the reality. The ever-changing urban landscape and the ubiquitous machines.

Kew is a beautiful town, and this is the last thing one would expect of Kew from a photographer. That’s right. There will be expectations of colours, sunshine, flowers, trees and such. My photograph, in that sense, is anti-Kew.

This was not a planned photograph. As I often drive on that bridge, I notice cranes on the building sites. This particular evening, as I approached the site, I noticed three silhouettes in a synchronised resting position, with hundreds of lights in the foreground – lights in the buildings, of moving cars, on the tower and billboards, etc. The clouds and the rest were dark. I had to capture the shot, but had to do it from my moving car as one is not allowed to stop the car on the bridge.

Phone camera was the only option. Blurry is what I wanted. Blurry is what I got. Blurry is what looks best.

I think.

I converted it to black and white.

……. Sapna Dhandh-Sharma

My mummy, I want to be your daughter in every life.

I appreciate you, mummy. I appreciate your honesty, your selflessness, your courage. I appreciate your smile, your generosity, your gentle nature and your kind heart.

I appreciate how you value relationship over money, and people over material things. It’s nice to see how your happiness is not dictated by external things. It makes complete sense how you parted with all things material without a second thought or frown when it came to choosing between the two. And you asked for nothing in return. Not even a day’s work. You equipped me with all the skills – the cooking, the sewing, the washing, the cleaning, the reading, the writing, the driving, the DIY, all taught by you, but you never used any of this for your benefit. Never imposed. You don’t even know I make lovely food, because you never let me work when I visit. You spoil me. I snap out of the chapatti-making mode and become a lazy daughter around you. But one day I’d like to treat you to my cooking. I have decades of practice. Even a fussy person like you are bound to like my food. 

I often tell my girls about you being a hands-on mum who came to our school to find out about our progress. How you woke us up at 4 am on exam days, to ask us science and mathematics questions! You made us several cups of ginger tea to keep us awake and alert. I so wanted to go back to bed every morning. How you loved mathematics while I hated it. How you skillfully balanced the extended in-laws family life and our education is nothing short of being remarkable. 

You are a unique person in every sense of the word. I’ve seen enough world to say this with confidence. 
God bless you, my sweet sweet mummy. I want to be your daughter in every life.

P. S. I love mathematics now and my girls think I’m a hands-on mum too. 😊 

On Cloud Nine

This image was taken one evening on the way to the Royal Festival Hall where my younger daughter, Steffi, was performing.

I don’t want to write too much about it, except that I loved the scene as I looked up. I had my camera, and knew exactly what I wanted. It makes me very happy to have achieved that.

A sweet poem by Ruby Archer fits the scene..

A little cloud stood lonely
Amid the evening sky;
Doubting and fearful waiting there,—
No other cloudlet nigh.

Sapna Dhandh-Sharma

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.

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.

An Afternoon in Amer

The Gullies
Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Apart from the great many tourists flocking to the grand fortress of Amer, where the maximum activity is noticed, the town of Amer remains unchanged since at least my childhood days. I cannot imagine it being any different a century ago, or even two or three centuries ago for that matter. The 17th century muralled walls of the many temples, the Panna Meena Kund, the bazaars, and the shops tucked into the small pockets of the fort’s base, remain untouched and neglected. As a result, many sandstone structures have fallen into a state of grave disrepair. But, the raw beauty prevails.

Murals and Swastikas on the outside of a temple wall.
Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

I hail from Rajasthan, and the areas around Aravalli Mountains (the oldest range of fold mountains in India) have been frequented by me since I was a child. I grew up knowing the region, its people, language and the customs. The women’s attires were always ‘very’ colourful, with one neon-orange found aplenty, the men wore the same multi-coloured turbans as they did now, and the kids played with marble balls on sandy tracks even then.

The sultry afternoons were, and still are, lazy, and many folks kept cows, buffaloes and goats for milk. Langurs guard the gullies, and keep a count of the kids returning from school with their huge backpacks.

Langurs watch the kids returning from school.
Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

A few women carried hay on their heads for the cattle, while some hung-out to sing desert lyrics, or gossip. The men played card games and smoked bidis and chewed tobacco or paan.

Men play card games, women hang-out to gossip, and kids return from school.
Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Once in a while an object comes into sight that makes the time we are in apparent. My camera being the biggest reminder, of course.

It takes them a while to acclimatise to my presence . These people do not like their privacy being invaded. It is very difficult to photograph women facing the camera with their veil completely lifted. I speak their language, and yet…

Woman in a red sari.
Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.
Woman in a neon-orange sari.
Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
An old mansion falling apart.
Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Many grand old mansions that belonged to the aristocrats are now in a crumbling and uninhabitable state. The families and their grandeur have long gone and, despite a shortage of good living space for people, these mansions are allowed to wither away.

But the Khejri tree indiscriminately thrives in every quarter.

Khejri Tree – State tree of Rajasthan.
Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.

I take my time. I am in no rush. I carry my heavy camera in the sweltering afternoon, walking miles, striking conversations with those I walk past, ensuring they realise I am one of them, that I just wear different clothes.

I long to return.

Cocktail in New York. Pheras in Paris.

My family and myself were in a car driving through the lesser known streets of Jaipur. There were shops alongside residential areas — greengrocers, motorcycle repairers, barbers, stationers, street vendors, metalsmiths and stonemasons. Building smaller replicas of famous statues and other landmarks seemed to be the side business of the metalsmiths and stonemasons combined, as I saw quite a few statues scattered, part finished, part unsculpted.

Libertas, that attracted millions of visitors daily in the West, had almost zero admirers on that street. She stood on a shoddy unpaved muddy sidewalk in 48°C (118.4°F).

We were instantly amused, but also bemused. What was that statue doing there? There was clearly a demand for these. In the habit of always carrying my camera, I got off the car to take a couple of photographs. The men on the site found my actions as hilarious as I found theirs.

I asked where the statue was going. “It’s for a wedding.” It saddened me to learn that these men on meagre wages were building these enormous figures for an evening party. “What pleasure exactly could be derived from these cheap replicas that cost many times more than those workers’ combined monthly wages?” I wondered. “Were they trying to fake the location through these?” “Were the business families uploading the party videos on YouTube, captioned, ‘Cocktail in New York’?”

What next? A demolition party? Where do these statues go? Submerged into the waters like Kali and Ganesha? But this is the desert state – so, no sea. Recycled? Maybe! There might just be a second-hand market for these for smaller budget weddings. Who knows!

I never found out.

Later that evening, just when my camera packed up (probably due to the heat), I saw an Eiffel Tower in the middle of a garden in an affluent residential area. The bungalow was getting ready for a wedding (one can tell of the nature of the event from the extent of the embellishments). That was definitely a wedding.

I bet there is a YouTube video of the pheras in Paris.

In my next trip, I would like to know of the fate of these non-permanent structures.

Cowistan and the Holy Matter

If you own a cow in India, you own the world, full stop. You can plonk yourself in any(one’s) territory without the fear of being objected to. Not only will the animal receive treats and tilaks but you, as the owner, will receive chay in exchange for bringing it in daily in order to put the green waste to good use. You wait, gloating at the fools. You wait until your brothers* start joining with their cattle. Residents are happy that they have cows, not dogs. It saves them the temple journeys. They can carry out the prayers right there, feed their ‘dead’ in their courtyard without wasting money on the brahmins with big appetite for their food and rupya.

*Brothers are the other men of your community.

Selling milk is the occupation of your entire community. The sight of you and your flock gathered outside other people’s properties will slowly seem normal. It will be gradual to be noticed, until it is too late. Then, it really is too late. Now you want your cowistan right there. And you get it.

Even before your homes are built, the cowpats are drying everywhere. They bring extra income after milk. Neighbourhood is now dependent on you. They will be lost without the convenience of fresh milk, manure, fuel, building material, green disposal facility, and the ‘temple’. A symbiotic relationship is now formed.

An aunt of mine lived next to a gaushala in Khar West, Bombay. Gaushala is a concept very different to cowistan‘s. It is a charitable institution for cows. There will be volunteers, and the charity will depend on donations. Aplenty donations in the country where cow is revered. In some cases, people will actually ‘donate’ a cow, which will mean donating the amount that can buy a healthy adult cow, always a female. No one wants to donate a bull. It has no milk, so not so holy.

I got accustomed to the rural smell in her urban apartment. Loved it, in fact. After being there for decades, it closed down to make way for a huge hospital building with state-of-the-art facilities. Many lives will be saved, but many hearts are broken, including mine. I miss the cows and their smell. Gaushala cows are not as bright as cowistan cows. They don’t know how to claim the real estate.

I have lovingly handled cow dung – during my aunt’s chulha building and then when making cow dung rings for the Holika Dahan. It did enter my nails, even dried up in them, and I most definitely consumed the holy matter with my regular dal roti. It’s edible, so no worries. No one warned me against it. Not that anyone encouraged either, but there was never any cautionary lesson prior to the job.

Coming back to your cowistan… Wow, you now have several pucca homes with Enfield motorcycles – the Indian Harley Davidson. You still wear a dhoti, still sell milk, but you do it in style, on your heavy-duty bike. You even herd your cows sitting on your bike. You are the Indian cowboy – horsepower without a horse.

Your women are strong and sexy. Right in the middle of a busy road, they walk swaying excessively like they own it. Claiming gene.

Residents start to gradually sell their properties. You are the buyer majority of the time. You’ve acquired wealth by selling milk, plus minimal overheads. Your homes are in affluent neighbourhood. You are already a millionaire. The earlier residents’ properties are going cheap. No one except you will touch a property in a “milking” neighbourhood. You and your people are set. The cows are here to stay for good. Your sons can relocate to a new cowistan.

I love milk and the smell of the manure. I am not selling my property. Tough.

The Moon….

…… is the best way to connect with my loved ones.

It transcends all other forms of communication.

It’s serene and restful.

My happy channel.

It is in no hurry to meet the Sun.

It’s with me during the most romantic time of day – the night.

It gives me a pacific smile as I look into its face, the mirror.

I ask if it can see my loved ones too.

“Yes, at the same time,” comes the reply.

I fix my gaze for the glimpse of them reflected in its face.

It’s the same moon that is with me as with them.

The sweet Moon of the night.

With me for 14 nights a month.

Sirius, its proxy, for the rest 14. But it’s rather slow in understanding my needs. Neither it knows how to smile, nor has a reflective face.

Overcast nights bring a lockdown.

I eagerly await the natural satellite, dubbed by me ‘the star of the night’, – the Moon.

It takes me to my loved one.

14 nights are better than none.

…. Sapna Dhandh Sharma

Image credit: History Channel.