Can’t remember what triggered this memory, but today I was remembering my childhood days and my taste for jiri (sugar-coated fennel seeds) introduced to me by my chacha (father’s younger brother). Every single evening, I waited for my daily jiramin-dose, and no matter where we lived, Bombay or Pilani, my chacha on his way back from work unfailingly brought me a pudiya of jiri. I was a jiri addict with no hope of kicking the habit. The moment he walked in, my small hands stretching out in demand – jiri chahiye.
My chacha himself had, and also instilled in us, some particular habits – never to eat anything out in the open, never to shake-off water off wet hands, never to wipe wet hands on the clothes worn…. to name but a few. There was an episode from my childhood my bhuas (father’s sisters) reminisce…
A little background first… All my three bhuas were very possessive about me.. They would fight with each other for me, take turns to pick me up, sleep next to me in turns, take me to the market, and so on.
Now the episode:
One day, they took me to the market and bought me my favourite drug, jiri. Like a greedy pig, I poured the whole packet in my hand and was about to stuff my mouth with it when all of a sudden I saw my chacha coming from the opposite direction. I knew he didn’t like anyone eating on the streets/or out in the open/or under the sky. Seeing him, I got so frightened that my hand, that was close to my mouth, turned upside down (a knee-jerk reaction) with all my favourite stuff on the ground, mixed with the balu ret of Rajasthan. My bhuas still laugh when enacting the whole scene, but I don’t think it was funny losing my day’s quota of the delicious mithi-saunf. What a loss!!
Seeing women walk the streets with their heads covered with a brightly – coloured sari pallo is a sight I’m ever so used to. And yet, I was sold into the fuss of the hijab in the West until a friend noticed my photos from Rajasthan and enquired whether Rajasthani women wore veils too, like the Muslims. Veils? Of course, that’s what it looks like! That’s when it struck me how Westerners, who are not familiar with the Eastern customs, perceive a ghoongat.
Ghoongat ‘is’ a veil, but not a hijab. Ghoongat is worn only to cover the face in front of family male elders, or elderly visitors, but not strangers. Head is incidentally covered as there is no other way to bring the sari on the face. (Head-covering is a custom many religions around the world observe during religious practices, and hence not unique to Hindus)
Coming back to the ghoongat, it is not as long or as dark-coloured as a hijab or burkha; it is mostly made from a colourful semi-transparent material; and only reaches either below the nose, exposing the lower face (lips, chin and neck), or barely below the face, leaving the neck exposed, while the face is faintly visible too through the chiffony material. Funnily, some women who wear the ghoongat have their cleavages or bosoms revealed with no sari draped over the blouse, making the subject far more conspicuous instead of doing the opposite. I personally think it’s a statement of sexiness.
When I photographed these women, my foreign-born sister-in-law was with me, and curious to know why one lady was more covered than the other. I knew the answer instantly – the older woman, with less covering, exposed bust, was the mother-in-law of the newly-wed younger one who was fully convered out of respect for the elders in the community who were around when we met them. My sister-in-law responded, “It’s totally the wrong way around. Younger woman should reveal more, while the older should remain covered.” 😂 Made complete sense. But the young one was preserved, so to speak, for her new husband.
Well, on old or on young, the ghoongat covers much less than it reveals. A ghoongat might be a veil as a hijab is, but the distinction between the two remains stark.
In a separate discussion on cultural nuances….
There was an incident in the US where a female employee of Indian origin walked into her corporate office wearing a sari, but was asked by the employer to not repeat that attire in the office as it reveals too much flesh (waist, back, neck and arms) and deemed “overly sexy” (the word ‘sexy’ was actually used). Strange, because in India we consider sari a conservative piece of clothing, while a skirt not so much, as it reveals legs. In some cultures, it’s okay to wear work suits that keep your legs uncovered, but wearing clothes that reveal the upper body flesh would be considered inappropriate. On the other hand in India, a country that’s labelled conservative (by western standards), though the legs remain mostly covered (not prohibited, thankfully), flaunting of cleavage and waist is permitted, because that’s exactly what a sari does, and yet it’s considered a conservative attire and broadly worn by professional women. Ah, so fascinating to observe these cultural differences; and difference in understanding and perspectives.
I loved poetry from an early age – learning, reciting verses in English, Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu and Persian. Partly because it was a compulsory requirement in my school, but also because I enjoyed the analysing and the memory testing process.
I would often buy books by Persian writers. My favourites were Omar Khayyam, Ferdowsi, Hafez, Shirazi and Rumi. I also read Kahlil Gibran for his peculiar style of writing.
Last trip, I packed some of these books to bring along with me. Loved their aged look (they loved my aged look too). I read them again after a long time. All these men were far ahead of their time. So much depth in those words!
Today is Sufi poet Rumi’s day…..
Fountain of Fire, by Rumi, as translated by Nadar Khalili.
look at love how it tangles with the one fallen in love
look at spirit how it fuses with earth giving it new life
why are you so busy with this or that or good or bad pay attention to how things blend
why talk about all the known and the unknown see how the unknown merges into the known
why think seperately of this life and the next when one is born from the last
look at your heart and tongue one feels but deaf and dumb the other speaks in words and signs
look at water and fire earth and wind enemies and friends all at once
the wolf and the lamb the lion and the deer far away yet together
look at the unity of this spring and winter manifested in the equinox
you too must mingle my friends since the earth and the sky are mingled just for you and me
be like sugarcane sweet yet silent don’t get mixed up with bitter words
my beloved grows right out of my own heart how much more union can there be
come on sweetheart let’s adore one another before there is no more of you and me
a mirror tells the truth look at your grim face brighten up and cast away your bitter smile
a generous friend gives life for a friend let’s rise above this animalistic behaviour and be kind to one another
spite darkens friendships why not cast away malice from our heart
once you think of me dead and gone you will make up with me you will miss me you may even adore me
why be a worshiper of the dead think of me as a goner come and make up now
since you will come and throw kisses at my tombstone later why not give them to me now this is me that same person
i may talk too much but my heart is silence what else can i do i am condemned to live this life
i’ve come again like a new year to crash the gate of this old prison
i’ve come again to break the teeth and claws of this man-eating monster we call life
i’ve come again to puncture the glory of the cosmos who mercilessly destroys humans
i am the falcon hunting down the birds of black omen before their flights
i gave my word at the outset to give my life with no qualms i pray to the Lord to break my back before i break my word
how do you dare to let someone like me intoxicated with love enter your house
you must know better if i enter i’ll break all this and destroy all that
if the sheriff arrives i’ll throw the wine in his face if your gatekeeper pulls my hand i’ll break his arm
if the heavens don’t go round to my heart’s desire i’ll crush its wheels and pull out its roots
you have set up a colourful table calling it life and asked me to your feast but punish me if i enjoy myself
what tyranny is this
you mustn’t be afraid of death you’re a deathless soul you can’t be kept in a dark grave you’re filled with God’s glow
be happy with your beloved you can’t find any better the world will shimmer because of the diamond you hold
when your heart is immersed in this blissful love you can easily endure any bitter face around
in the absence of malice there is nothing but happiness and good times don’t dwell in sorrow my friend.
There has been a sad shift from art being created to it being questioned. The photographs were meant to be created as visual delights. A new process, technique, or aesthetic appeal. Words were for writers as they didn’t paint. They explained in thousand words what a photographer could in one frame.
Then came the period of mass-manufacturing of cameras and photographers – the wave of ‘every person is a photographer’.
So if everyone is photographing the Stonehenge, then someone who is making a big deal out of photography will now need to concoct some cock-and-bull to somehow convince the world that only their photograph of the monument is worth hanging on the museum and living room walls over the millions of other photographers’ images of the same scene.
That’s all it takes.
People are attracted to the poorly lit/composed image because they are made to believe it’s created that way on purpose, for a reason. It’s deliberately pixelated, and not because the amateur forgot to adjust the camera settings…. The Mosaicy Feel – first ever. Even a bad day of photography got sold.
This not only compromises the effort of a real genius, but also encourages mediocrity as those who shout the loudest get heard, get sold. Mediocrity rules.
Though, a few geniuses have learnt to shout too. The professionals are having to adapt.
If my photographs are good enough, then why am I not considered close enough? How did Capa get away with it then?
I’m far from being a genius, but also far from being a mediocre. So, if an image I create evokes awe, then why do I need to explain it?
Should my answer to why something was photographed be not as straightforward as Mallory’s reason for wanting to summit Mount Everest?