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.

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.

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.

We Forget How Good The Beatles Were

Waterloo Station, London

Waterloo Station, London. Time: 22 hrs GMT.

Thousands of people pouring in and out of London. Escalators, like conveyor belts, transporting people in all directions. Men, women, transgenders, children, all looking only ahead. Some carry coffee/tea mugs in one hand and Metro in the other. There is absolutely no eye contact but every person is aware of their surrounding and the presence of others as they glide, wriggle, dodge, walk past without knocking into anyone. The whole scene looks like an alien experiment designed to study human behaviour after being injected with a soul-sucking drug. We seem to be all alone together. I am dispassionately humming Abba and switching to The Kinks’ eponymous number.

A piano busker comes into my view. He is playing and singing The Long and Winding Road that echoes in the tunnel. And as if the alien drug injected in me wore off just then….I feel a stabbing pain in my heart. My soul wakes up and moistens my eyes. Tears roll down my cheeks like broken string of pearls.

McCartney wrote every single word for me it seemed as I walk past the pianist, mouthing the song as it peters out…

Many times I’ve been alone, and many times I’ve cried.

Anyway, you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried.

You left me standing here…..

La la la, lalla laaaa…ta ta taaaah…hmmmmm..hmmm

– Sapna Dhandh-Sharma

Long Odds

Old Compton St. Soho, London.

When the end result of any endevour is gratifying, our attempt remains to replicate the result, only slightly better. Is it achievable though? Yes, and no. I have known photographers, including myself, trying to recreate an image by using an earlier image they have produced as a reference, because they believed the image was good, but could have been better. This kind of attachment with personal work and the want of reproducing the same can at times lead to disheartenment, but can also, miraculously, be rewarding. Despair comes from not being able to produce a ditto copy, and the pleasure, albeit deferred, is derived from producing something totally fresh, and equally as satisfying. The idea is to keep trying, with or without a motive, as long as it keeps you happily involved and does not feel like an ‘effort’.

This image here was my attempt to recreate my favourite image (Late Noughties). Impossible, it proved to be. The immovable building or the same posters of the long-running musical lent nothing to deter the long odds. So, was the result unsatisfactory? Far from it. The result was not a duplicate, but it was an excitingly fresh image. Did it make me happy? Absolutely, even if not immediately. It takes time for us to detach from a sweet ‘past’ to accept the ‘present’. It took a long time. What I now see is a fairly good image. The ‘protagonist’ (to the extreme left) of the image’s unfolding drama does brilliant justice to the static scene. The supporting ‘cast’ behind him adds that little extra to the scene. A few backs-turned-to-the-camera were the must haves for the mystery part. Is a photograph, after all, not all about story telling, visually?

Late Noughties

Old Compton St. Soho, London (Colour)

Photography, or the love of it, came early in my life. Very early, in fact. Street photography, as a genre, was unheard of in those days (at least in my part of the world), even though I shot streets, and people on it, majority of the time. My interest in photographing streets, specifically, developed in the late noughties, after having been treated for a life-threatening heart condition following my husband, Vic’s brain haemorrhage and later a brain surgery. The two frightening back-to-back experiences at first shook me, but later strengthened my will. With the new lease of life, I felt the need to connect more with people. This was done my way, the photographer’s way, the-determinedly-stepping-on-the-streets-with-the-camera way. The shot (above) was one of my earliest photographs as a street documentary photographer. I started with Soho in London. Since, officially, this was my ‘first’ street shoot, I didn’t take the images too seriously. My thought was to hone my skills further. After nearly a decade (thousands of images later), and this might purely be subjective, this image from my earliest street shoot is the best of all my street images. Forever torn between ‘colour’ and ‘black-and-white’, I paste both here and let the viewers have their pick. Comments are welcome.

Old Compton St., Soho, London (Black-and-white)