January 18, 2009

Akhara - a forgotten heritage!

.....from my visit to an Akhara in Varanasi, India......
This age old form of wrestling, wearing only a langot (a 'T' shaped piece of cloth), is still practiced by few in India, mostly in the cities with old traditions. The soft mud is tilled before the action. Wrestlers get together early in the morning and pray to the monkey god - Hanuman, known for his immense power that he possessed.

January 05, 2009

Exhibit your talent!

“Exhibit the work or throw away your camera……..”! These words came in from my wife on a cozy Sunday early morning when she was falling short of space to keep things in one of the almirah occupied by me to store thousands of photographs, negatives and my photography equipment. This was in the year 2004 when we were staying in Chandigarh, India.

I was madly in love with this form of art called Photography for the last 10 years and was bent upon exposing films after films those days.

My father who was a fine photographer was my inspiration and since my childhood days I wanted to become like him. Whenever I could, I used to lay hands on his Russian made Zorky 4 which even today works very well and is one of my priceless possessions.

Years went by, I grew up, started earning and purchased my first SLR camera (Nikon FM10) and went deeply into clicking. Nothing would come to my mind except taking pictures. Many of our friends and acquaintances used to appreciate my work but, that was it! Work did not get noticed anywhere else except to my big almirah which was getting smaller and smaller day by day for my wife. In short this was the reason, why I was even denied my favourite morning cup of Darjeeling tea that day!

Anyway, I was too terrified that day and then came in a support from one of my friends who took charge of the situation and saved my equipment (and perhaps me too!) from getting thrown out of my home. He persuaded me and somehow convinced me in organizing an exhibition of my works in our own city, Chandigarh. Now was the time to choose a subject for the exhibition and pat came in the response from my beloved wife………. ‘Golden Temple’! Ah….and within seconds it was decided to hold this first display of my work on this beautiful place. Perhaps we chose this holy subject since we in India always start new ventures with something auspicious and what could have been more auspicious than The Golden Temple to start with my first ever rendezvous with the public.

It was around 3 years back that I had first visited the Golden Temple at Amritsar in the state of Punjab, India and had fallen in love with this divine place. The Golden Temple or Sri Harmandir Sahib as it is called in Hindi and Punjabi language is the highest seat of Sikh religion. I do not know what, but, something kept attracting me to this place again and again and I have myself forgotten the count on my visits and the sleepless nights I have spent in the Golden Temple complex. Was it the beauty, the splendor, the aura or the people…? I really do not know…… but, the fire within to capture the unseen in the ordinary kept me visiting this place again and again. Shooting this vast complex was not an easy job. Sometimes, I had to take position 2 hours in advance so that I do not lose out on the right capture and the right angle. Shooting within the Sanctum Sanctorum was another big task and I had to coordinate with many officials to seek permission to be there at the right moments. How could I leave ceremonies performed at the middle of night or early in the morning at 4 o’clock? I was there right before time! The officials of this complex also in a short time had started recognizing me as one craazz….zzy fellow who is awake all night just to capture volunteers mopping the floor or cleaning the verandahs. Then there were young girls and boys who had come to pay obeisance, requested me for a picture of them with the temple at the back. Also, there were people who were amused and passed on funny remarks on seeing me clicking people washing utensils, or shooting the birds sleeping on the branches. But, it was that zeal in me that kept me going and finally the numerous films loaded with the mood of this sacred place had enough of material to be displayed.

The first day of my exhibition and I was nervous….. Yes, actually I was too frightened. Will any one come and see my pictures? How will the public take it? Was I ready to face any sort of negative criticism? Many of such thoughts kept cropping up my mind! Perhaps because of this fear I did not even give any invitation except to my near and dear ones. I did not even inform the media….what if the media did not give any positive report…..How will I face the entire city talking about it? I did not even inform my colleagues at my office!

Anyway, the first (of six) day passed and there were only few visitors to this exhibition gallery. My wife and I kept sitting there the entire day thinking about how people are taking it. Although, we had not informed the media but the very next day the reporters came in and started covering the exhibits. One of our well wishers had passed on the information to various newspapers!

The second day went on well and the third day it was in the news and public started pouring in. The ‘Remarks Book’ kept for the purpose was filled with hundreds of heartfelt good wishes and praises for my good work. I was up on the moon… Newspapers had reported with headings such as ‘Golden Temple in Chandigarh’, ‘Framed Golden (Temple) moments’.

Anyway, I was motivated and happy……. This exhibition gave me the opportunity to come face to face with public and also another big opportunity which I had never thought of………… a coffee table book on the same subject. “My God…. How is that possible”, I thought? But, this gentleman who owns a publishing company actually meant this and persuaded me to utilize my work in the form of a book. He was also instrumental in helping me finding out the activities of significance which were missing in my work. He made me go through many books which made me aware of many more aspects and behind the curtain activities that took place at the temple and had lot of significance. I again visited this place many times to shoot and capture some very important ceremonies associated with this place and now I realize how useful it is to go through the facts, culture, tradition etc. of a place which one intends to shoot. This way you will never miss out on any of the important aspects of that very place.

Finally, 3 years later we are out with this first venture of OURS (I give 100% credit to my wife and my kids, for, without their support it would not have been possible, they have spent many days and nights without me and also perhaps did cut down on their various expenses so as to let me go ahead with our project).

The book titled ‘Sri Harmandir Sahib – Golden Temple of The Sikhs’ is out in the market and we all feel proud when we see it in the show windows of book shops in various cities of India and on the internet too.

I would like to once again reiterate that I was actually nervous on the first day of my exhibition but that one step of mine (yup I agree, it was because of a push and support from my family) has opened up such a big window in front of me that I have started thinking on my next project. It was not the commercial gain that is keeping me ignited but the passion to do something different.

Another thing which I also now firmly believe is that every person is a creative person and each brain looks at things with a different perspective and hence any one subject photographed by two different photographers will always present a different story (Just to mention here for the benefit of readers that I was also dissuaded by many for not to work on a subject [for the book] which has been photographed so many times and by so many big names in the world of photography). Although I did listen to various opinions, but, did what I felt was right!

So, one should never keep his creativity to himself. Bringing it in open will surely give you a sense of achievement and would be a great learning experience.