...and then

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Photography is my passion

I like how everyone has a complicated, technology-involving passion these days. All around me, all I see is "i can't breathe without my iPod" "i refuse to bake the cake without my pedometer" "photography is my passion." 
The world and its sister is now on FB, which in itself is a huge leap for hitherto technologically-challenged ladies and gents. I am all for aunties and uncles getting on FB and using it just the way it suits them. I don't expect them to use involved applications or constantly update their statuses (which, unfortunately, they do. In all-caps, no less.) If all they want it for is to stalk their first love, who am I to judge them? 

A godawful fallout of this malaise, however, is that these recent converts tend to want to make their lives look as interesting and full as their 20-something acquaintances. Bad enough, according to me, the latter lead lives with the express intention of "posting on FB" but when the Menacing Middletons compete, I cringe and sway, hoping I won't collapse in embarrassment. Hitherto camera-shy aunties now catalogue every little excursion - whether it's to the ridiculously big grocery store they visit every day for fun or meet their bitch-buddies for coffee, you can be sure a picture will be up on their Walls titled "A coffee with the guurrrllzzz". And these are women with seriously busy lives but one look at their Wall and you come away thinking your teenage sister is a hermit. What about uncles with minimum musical talent suddenly playing in bands whose USP is that they're all big shots in their own firms (with an actual genuine musician or two to give them some form of credibility) and posting videos of their latest "gig" at the golf club or weekend "jam-up" session?

See, I don't mean to be judgemental (at least not more than the ordinary dose of it) and it's perfectly okay I think what these people with talent, time and a laptop are doing. My grouse actually, really, seriously begins after all this exhibitionism. With the gorgeous device that is the digital camera, just about everyone has developed a passion for photography. I sound like a sour old aunt but the truth is just because you take pictures of pigeons crapping on your balcony at the crack of dawn does not make you a photographer. It makes you a highly irritating human element in the natural order of things. I am sick to the gills of seeing flowers, sunsets and random defecating birds as products of this new "passion" so many middle-aged women with time on their hands have picked up. Nor can photography be your passion if all you ever do is stick the camera in someone else's hands and pose the living day lights out of yourself. Oh wait, maybe that can be a passion for photography -- by being the subject of it. Hmmm.

But no, just because you take pictures of everything you do  when you are dressed up nicely doesn't make your passion photography. It does if you say so, but don't expect me to believe it and appreciate your under-exposed exhibitionism. Which I have nothing against, by the way (the exhibitionism, not the under-exposure). Those of you on my friends list on FB know how much of my life I share there. But see, photography is actually a passion with me. I've been doing it since I was 14, if not earlier. When you had to pay for film, when you had to know how to load the thing, when you actually had to pay for the prints and couldn't afford to click 65 shots of your rotten yellow rose blooming in the morning, unless you were very rich. I'd like to ask how many of these "Photography-is-my-passion" aunties and uncles knew how to load films in the pre-digital days. Or how many of them would indeed continue annoyingly clicking the way they do now if they had to pay Rs 8 per matte-finish print. 

It's the same with the iPhone. First of all, it's a limiting, problem-riddled phone to use. (The minute Apple does something that is actually cutting edge, I'll be the first to fall at their feet and build them a shrine. But till then they'll just have to keep making money off unsuspecting people who overpay for all the products and then spend some more to keep the damn things going.) To top that off, all these overzealous uncles --with 42 thumbs -- have gone out in droves to pick it up and now can't stop comparing what the others do on theirs. Have you tried deciphering their text messages? Hello, even the iPad is retro now, so get over your little toys, already.  

Because seriously, if you tell me that you've always been into technology and don't know any other smart phone apart from your precious iPhone or you can't expand SLR, then I just won't believe you when you say photography is your passion. Seeing pictures of yourself? Yes, that might be a passion. Randomly disturbing dawn birds? Yes, that too could be your passion. Annoying the crap out of people around you by blinding them with your flash? Yes, that too. But courtesy and integrity demand that if you have developed a passion for taking pictures, the least you do is know a little more about stuff. Otherwise it's just you trying to look better than MonikaSuryaKrishnaAnitaMahesh on FB.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

One for the time capsule.

"I admire the way you inhabit your life. You don't seem to care whether other people approve." - Mamah Borthwick 
"We all have our little battles going on inside,"                                                                                   - Else Lasker-Schuler 
                                                                                              Loving Frank by Nancy Horan.
When I turn about 75, if I live that long, I’ll be happy to say I’ve lived most my life on my terms. I’ve compromised some but I don’t see that as a bad word. In fact, I see that as a good thing because it lets you have certain things while letting someone else have their preference too. Win-win – always a situation you want to be in.

As I was saying, I’ve always gone after what I wanted and more often than not, got it. It sounds like a brag but it’s not, because everything has worked out beautifully for me to obtain what my heart has desired. There have been times I’ve failed and I am grateful for those times, too, because in hindsight I wonder what I’d have done with those things if I’d gotten them. All I am saying, though, is that I’ve lived life pretty much on my own terms.

And I’ve paid the price.

I’ve been immersed in gut-wrenching, soul-squeezing pain as a result of the choices I’ve pursued. I’ve been happier than the happiest heart, lighter than the softest feather, brighter than the most blazing sun because of other choices. And more often than not, the choices that give me both these extremes are almost always the same.

At my lowest, I’ve felt the futility of life, the complete pointlessness of the choice I made and have been filled with regret for those very choices. I’ve doubted myself to the point of distraction, second-guessed every step I took in that way and have hurt for the people I’ve caused pain to because of my decision. But in the end, I’ve been given the ability to bounce back, almost whole, and I have. Because there’s no other way to be than happy. I refuse to let go of that core of joy, of effervescence that keeps me going at my darkest times. Because letting go of that would mean letting go of the richly-woven carpet that life throws out in welcome. A carpet of stories, inviting me, inviting each one of us to come, sit and listen; and should we want to make the choice and be part of the tale that’s been told on that beautiful carpet, to be part of the process that selects the silken skeins, to choose the colours, to weave with intense intricacy the design that is forming, that too is fine. What a shame to give it up. To just stop, never finding your head rising and smiling towards the sun, making your skin, the back of eyelids, your very heart tingle with the promise of a new day. What a shame, indeed, to give up on this kaleidoscope we call the universe.

The reason I am going on seemingly randomly like this is because more and more I’ve heard people say to me what Mamah (pronounced may-muh) above told Else, that I “inhabit my life” well without really caring what other people think. Oh but I do, I do.  And every time someone says that, it hurts with the sharpness of a papercut. To be thought as someone who doesn’t care for her own kind, to be thought of as someone with no empathy is demeaning.

I care about every little thing, perhaps too much; which is why, perhaps, if at all, I come across like I don’t care. I may not conform to notions of life, society and love but I will always respect your freedom to express it and live in that conformity. If there’s a choice I have made that the world will condemn me for, you can be sure it is a choice that has given me immense pain, sleepless nights and days when my head has threatened to go to pieces arguing with itself. But also know that it is also a choice that has given me moments of tender happiness, uncluttered joy and flooded an area of my life with sunshine.

It may be a joy whose reason or source is short-lived but I prefer to take this life-affirming joy and keep it carefully in a box, which I take out on my low days, to examine in the sunlight, to see the colours shoot off it, creating a light-band of memories. This source of joy, this soft molten-diamond, held beautifully together in my memory might also have given me immense pain but it would be rather selfish of me if all I looked for and was ready to accept were the good things only. A little pain never killed anyone.

Looking at my life, which is an open book, to the chagrin of many people who love me, or my choices, I find people are quick to judge. And I don’t want them to stop. Judge by all means if it makes you feel better about yourself. But if you can, remember, that I have my own battles inside me. Painful, bloody sometimes-never ending ones. No decision has come at the cost of someone else’s pain. No action has come without thinking about another. I battle on and continue making the choices because I believe this is my life; it’s the only one I am going to remember. And barring a mind-debilitating disease that might lay possessive claim on me, I’d love to be 75 and have wicked stories, stories of love, longing, loss, life, to tell my over-protected grandchildren.

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Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Suburban, you've just gained a fixture for life...

... whether you like it or not.

Many people take parting well. I don't.

This fantastic woman is going away and I am sad. I haven't known her even a year. And I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have actually met with her. But her friendship to me is proof of the fact that you don't need to spend a lot of time or know a person too long before you fall in love with them. And she is tremendously easy to fall in love with. Her intelligence, warmth, strength, precision, creativity, generosity and her immensely lovely smile are just some of the things that I look up to. But I won't talk about her too much and embarrass her (Hi, Suburban!). This post, in part, is to say bye to one of the most wonderful women I have had the fortune to meet but also to talk about parting and what it means to me.

When I was in my teens, I left airports without feeling a tinge of sadness at who I was leaving back. The only time I remember crying (until a few years ago) is when my uncle had come to visit us when I was nine or 10, and he had the cutest baby ever. We just spent a few days together and I remember being very upset that such a gorgeous baby was leaving. I remember being puzzled by it as well because, you see, I was never overly fond of babies. Since then I don't remember crying ever when I left someone back.

But in the past two years, every time I have left someone I love very much back, I've found myself sniffling and going all teary; feeling truly and deeply sad for leaving to wherever I was going, even though that might be a more exciting place, with more for me to do. And it's not just a little cry of parting, it's a huge well of (misplaced?) sorrow that comes at me in waves and that which I have to bite back so as to not let it wash me in my tears and scare the crap out of the other person. Because, seriously, imagine going away somewhere wondering how I'll cope because I am bawling for no apparent reason. It looks fake as hell when you see it, because who cries so much at a parting, right? So I don't cry even though I mean every atom of the tears that I spout.

Parting many times means the promise of meeting again. But I don't want promises. I want to be around that person till they get sick of me, or the other way round. And in the lucky even that getting-sick-of doesn't happen, then I want to be around that person till I know I'll be okay without them. Selfish? Some.

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Tuesday, 10 August 2010

A bit of a mix-up.

Don't sigh in relief yet, my BB friends in Oman. Telecom Regulatory Authority just might ban services, yet, even though newspapers this morning might tell you otherwise.
No doubt, all of you have heard about this fuss with BlackBerry in the Gulf Arab region (specifically Dubai and Saudi Arabia) and to some extent India. As of this morning Times Of Oman put this story out (syndicated from Reuters) about services for Oman not being disrupted.
The newspaper has been trying to get TRA to respond or make a statement on the issue for a while but the regulatory body has remained quiet till now. And will continue remaining quiet, according to my impeccable source.
The word is that the TRA here has not issued any statement at all. "We are puzzled at the reports and there is an investigation on as to how this "statement" went out. We have not issued a single statement confirming or denying the possibility of a ban," say my source at the TRA. So for those of you who breathed a sigh of relief reading the papers this morning, sorry to be the bearer of uncertain news.

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Sunday, 8 August 2010

On love

I have never explored love other than by flippantly looking at the confusing, often foolish concept of a happily ever-after in my poetry. If there’s one thing I know, love shouldn’t hurt. But it does because it is inextricably linked with a thing or a person. And it shouldn’t be. But then, if it isn’t, how is it possible that the object of your love, your intense passion, will know that he is one of a kind, that you love him because of him, and not because you have love in your heart, in your soul. If your love is One, if the way you love the important people in your life with the same passion that you love the tree, how will they know how much you love them? How will the tree know what your love means? Is this all-encompassing love a cowards theory for not taking risks, for not opening oneself to the exquisite pain of being hurt by the one you love? If love should not hurt, then you need to love everything and everyone the same way, equally. Because then you aren’t loving someone’s strength and their core, you’re loving the life force that runs through each of us ever created.

These days, having loved painfully, never having lost (except to death), it is this that I am after. Loving without liking. Loving without loving one thing or another. Loving in its anaesthetic entirety. But I fear, if I loved like that, then I’ll forgive anything – of myself first, and then of others. That I will always overlook broken promises and I will break them too. That despite knowing that I can’t be the most important thing in someone’s life, I’ll still want to be. I fear that the way I trust, like a waterfall which does not stop for a second, does not hesitate for a breath before crashing on the rocks below, will not change even though I know, little by little, the rocks are giving way and smoothening, eroding till there will be nothing left to crash on. And that one, day I too might be the rock that helplessly ceases to exist, leaving a void for the waterfall to move on to something else.  

For me, there’s only one way to love. With utter and complete abandon. Without brakes. Without ever thinking about the scars that I already wear. Proudly, gently, I might add. Without a thought to the break that will eventually come. I cannot think of another way. If you’ve been in a storm that has drenched you right down to your most intimate thought, if you’ve watched a feather falling without any control over its drift, if you’ve heard music that snatches your soul from you, that is so compelling it practically composed itself, then you’ll know what I love like. I don’t hold back, I am incapable of it. While I try and not project all that I feel on the object of my affection, I feel the pulse of that love day in and day out. I shine with it. I live with it. If anyone’s every thought me even minutely special, it is because of this love that I carry. It is that which shines through. It is that which makes me as vulnerable as the soft caterpillar that I can crush before I finish saying caterpillar. I cannot be untrue to myself and love less. Or love differently. Anything else but the way I do it would be a travesty of the one emotion that I, in my infinite smallness, am utterly incapable of understanding but more than capable of living, breathing and feeling.

Can you take that love, my reader? Or would it suffocate you because you can’t reciprocate? Because, you see, that is my tragedy. Even as I love, even as I swear that I won’t ask for it, what I want – and as I say this, I give you the tenderest part of who I am – I want some of it back. I know, really know, that you can’t give me what I give you, because you are not me. But I want what is a bit of that core of you. I want that love that you treasure in your heart, the love that has no source but your own very soul; I want just a whiff of it, and if you are more than special, I want more than a whiff of it. But get it I must. Or else my love turns over, and hurts. And love, I realise, should not hurt. 

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Salalah Saga II: (warning) An uninspired account

Call me a big city girl who can't do without glittering lights and a little late night madness, but Salalah was dull for me. It's gorgeous, make no mistake, and if I wasn't going on work, I probably would have enjoyed it some more. Although, here I must say work didn't take too much of my time there but the fact that I had to keep my senses peeled to pick up stories there kind of ruined it for me.

I was going back there after 15 years, if not more, and all I could think of was how I didn't recognise a single thing there. Not one single thing. Not a street, not a shop, not the place we stayed in -- absolutely nothing. So very quickly, I understood that my memory was pathetic or it was playing tricks on me and that I never actually went to Salalah on a DEAS camp during my school days. It was that different.

The first thing I observed as soon as I got out of the airport was that aestheticians had been busy in the city. Ornate lamp posts with pretty curlicues, wide sashes of green with flowers by the sidewalks and in roundabouts, little touches here and there to render the landscape pleasant to the eye -- very touristy.

Maybe it was because it was overcast – I like the sun – but the city just looked dull, you know what I mean? Sometimes, there’s a buzz about a city as soon as you set foot in it. And I don’t mean a Bombay kind of busy buzz. It could very well be a lazy island destination’s slow wave that seduces you as soon as you look on. Salalah has neither. And that was discouraging for me. Enjoying a place is as much about my first reaction to it as it is about the things I actually get to do there.

Its people. In Muscat there are smiles and they are warm, friendly; even as people keep their distance, believe in a little reserve. In Salalah, I found they only believed in the latter. I didn’t see a stranger smile; even the cab guy was surly, which is a rare, rare thing in my life. All my cab guys are super chatty, obliging and almost always offer me their phone numbers in case I am stranded somewhere. This guy didn’t even acknowledge my thank you when he ripped me off five bucks for what I thought was less than a kilometer.

Moving on, till I found a guide/cab guy I was pretty clueless about the city so I went walking out the first day just to figure out what was happening. Absolutely nothing. I landed the day the Salalah Tourism Festival  (you might need Google Translate on this) opened. The STF, in case you’re wondering, happens at Khareef time when Salalah is like an intense wash of kathakali green. There’s that brilliant verdancy of life everywhere – one has to see it to know what being hit by one single colour means.

There’s not a camera in the world, not a Photoshop expert in the world who can capture the mood that prevails when an unbeatable army of militantly green saplings is bursting forth, thirsting and hungering for life, taking over everything that isn’t concrete or tar. And the mountain tops – how does one best describe them? It's like the mountains are breathing in the cool air, creating a mist of vapour around them, hiding treasures from the small thing that is a human being, unless of course the proverbial Mohammed climbs the said mountain to discover, to his surprise or relief, that there are no secrets. Only a steady heavenly spray of rain. No voluptuous drops that burst into uncountable tiny droplets on your head, no showers, just a hint of a spray making everything delectably wet.

But that’s nice for about 12 hours if you are alone and aren’t old. If it’s interesting longer than that, then my guess is you really like overcast skies or are on a honeymoon. Otherwise, it’s just depressing to not see the sun. Also, an overcast sky like the one I got makes for really dull pictures. You absolutely need a little sunshine to catch the colours of the raging sea. Or the myriad shadows in the mountains.

Speaking of raging sea, I’ve always loved the sea and been in overwhelming awe of its enormous power. But to see it roiling and raging like that – like a hungry, blind animal insolently and selfishly taking away with it everything the world happened to give it by mistake – that was a humbling experience. A bored, restless sea wearing a stole of foamy white crashed against the black rocks like a paper Sisyphus, only to go back again in a mind-numbing ritual that it felt compelled to maintain.

Capturing the foam on camera was not easy and as it was not easy, I didn’t quite manage it nicely. But what I did was take back the sight and music in my heart to relive it when I developed my occasional attack of bi-polar and felt invincible. When I felt like the most powerful woman for miles around, for absolutely no reason. I hear the sound gather in my heart and I feel humble, like the small human being I am.

As always, the sea brings out the pop-philosopher in me. Apologies.

So, okay. First impressions: Check. Landscape: Check. Warmth: Check. What is left is a mention of tourist destinations. Which I won’t talk about because you’ll find it all here. My impression, on the whole, even of the hot spots, was of certain fecundity, a sort of inertia. There was nothing more than miles and miles of gorgeousness. That’s enough for some people. I am not one of them.

I found that I enjoyed myself at the historical sites of Ubar and the general area of the historical Queen of Sheba. I also loved looking at the mountains that had frankincense trees. I felt like a kid when I first spotted one and then as we moved along the road, the side of the hill was full of it. It was so exciting to see so many of them, and I was told that in that area, it wasn’t even harvested and that it just grew wild. I love the beauty of that.

Strangely enough, the thing I enjoyed the most about my sight-seeing was the drive to Wadi Dirbat, on the way to the Yemen border. It’s a twisty-twirly route that cuts through two mountains. The most spectacular place on that drive was the valley itself, the wadi that floods if the rain is big. On either sides, the mountains rise in an awe-inspiring wave of brown and ocher. And from the middle the view all around is beyond description. I was so spellbound that I didn’t take pictures. Explain that.

And finally, I was mildly surprised at one thing and rather shocked at another. The thing that surprised me was how much people – men as well as women – stared at you. Not just the staring, but the quality of it. There’s no hesitation, no sense of impropriety. They go ahead and stare, and you better get used to it. It could be that so many women are in their hijab and purdah. That all local women cover their face was news to me. And while I was informed of it before I left Muscat for Salalah, it came as a shock to see flash of an ankle, a hint of the wrist but to never ever look into a face of these women. The men too, I suppose, because they don’t see too many women without the protective abaya and purdah, stare at you. Not in a hostile or offensive way, but in way they would look at a grasshopper shedding its summer skin – with mild interest at best.

The thing that shocked me, however, was the number of obese children I saw in Salalah, and sadly most of them girls. I looked at it logically – albeit by my logic – and it seemed there were more obese kids in Salalah than there were here in Muscat. See, it’s like this. I see more people here in Muscat because, simply, there are more people here. By that coin, I should see more kids here who are obese. But I don’t. In the few hundreds that I saw on the festival grounds in Salalah, almost every fifth child was obese. Not just chubby or fat, but seriously obese. It worried me, the fact that it was more girls than boys.

That was Salalah for me.  

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