Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mahabhoj (The death cum marriage feast)

During my recent visit to villages in Rajasthan, I got to know from the locals about an interesting custom, listening to which I was filled with astonishing amusement.

Yoen and I were almost through with interviewing Meena for a documentary on child marriage. It was then that it suddenly occured to Yoen to ask her if she could show us some photographs of her marriage. She said that they had not called a photographer since the marriage happened in mohsar. Mohsar, the field volunteer Neetu explained, was the period following an old person's demise. She told us that Meena's grandmother had expired a few days ago. This drew a further questioning look from us.

I surmised the obvious reason and put it forward for her confirmation, "So, was it because the marriage had been decided upon earlier; the grandmother suddenly expired and for some reasons, it was not feasible to postpone the marriage?"

Meena seemed to be ill at ease, and murmured something incomprehensible in an undertone. Neetu merely said, "No, it was not so." Sensing Meena's discomfort, I thought better to reserve my aroused curiosity until later. At Neetu's place, Prakash undertook the onus of clearing the mist.

Whenever an old person dies a natural death, his family is supposed to throw a feast to mark his/her entry into heaven. Since they have to anyways incur a huge expense, they plan to marry off their daughter so as to club the death feast with marriage feast and save on expenses. The setting is actually much more elaborate in the sense that about 40-50 families get together to marry their children in the same pandal (tent), and have all their guests from all the 10-15 surrounding villages dine together in the single big feast. Thus all the expenses incurred are equally divided among them. Prakash told us further that there is mourning for the deceased for the first nine days. On the 10th and 11th day, the engagement ceremony takes place alongwith a few other preparations for the D-day.

And Finally arrives the much-awaited 12th day, the day of Mahabhoj when the marriages occur in conjunction with the old person's soul release into heaven. A death feast with marriage feast - sounds to be a morbid custom? Economics rules. Well, this is freaconomics.

Tareekh pe tareekh

I reached the court at around 10:30 am with my summons. The name plate on the very first courtroom announced 'Magistrate Chetna Singh'. I checked the list of cases to be heard today and found the particular case 'State vs Sunil' somewhere midway in the list. I entered and talked to the constable standing near the witness box. He asked me my name and browsed through the list of witnesses. He told me that my name had already been called out. But he asked me to wait saying that my testimony could still take place since the file was still there on the desk. I took my place in the third row of chairs opposite the magistrate.

After around an hour, the policeman standing with the judge called out my name. As I appeared in front of the judge, the other policeman asked me to sit on a chair and first read my statement. My statement? But I haven't given any statement as of now. They handed me the two-page statement, and asked me to go through it.

FIR 8/10, State vs Sunil, PS Rajokri, 16 Jan 2010
I, Vijeta Dahiya, whose address is 158/1/23 Rohini, New Delhi, was coming from my office on 13th Jan 2010 on my bike (registration number. DL8S NB 1040) at 5:38 PM, when I saw Sunil Kumar Mishra driving carelessly at high speed on his bike (Regn No......). He hit an old man named Jogender Singh crossing the road at Rajokri flyover near Bansal farmhouse and thus causing him to be severly injured. I called the police on my cellphone 9999676337 and reported the matter.
I went to the police station and filed my statement. I went to the location with the police and helped them draw a map of the accident site.
I went to Patiala House court to give my testimony for the same......the accused Sunil had a handkerchief tied on his face....When the police encountered him, he ran away.......

I read the statement written in illegible handwriting and was stunned. A policeman standing behind me suddenly cornered me introducing himself as A.S.I. Dharmpal and tries to pacify me saying, "Don't worry. We had taken your statement on phone. Remember? I had talked to you." I protested saying that I remembered receiving a call from the police station but I can't remember saying any of this. He requested me to come outside the courtroom.

"See. You had helped the police. So we didn't want to trouble such a nice guy. I could have very well called you to the police station but I thought better to talk to you on the phone and write it myself for your convenience. Don't worry, it's nothing. You just have to face the judge for a moment and tell her that all this had happened." He tries to make me cram the bike number of the accused, the dates, the name of the court where I gave my virtual testimony. I spotted the word 'naksha' and asked him what was this map thing. He turned a few pages in the file and showed me a map in which the accident site is marked wrongly. I had half a mind to shout on him, but I realized that it was no use arguing with him about it. I told him not to worry and that I would say it the way he says, and made up my mind to show my agitation and speak the truth in front of the judge.

"Your honour, I am flabbergasted seeing this paper which they call my statement. How could they even dare to commit this illegal and unethical act? I am filled with indignation. Am I some bloody illiterate that they would write a fabricated statement in my name without my knowledge, submit a photocopy to the court, ask me to read and sign it and testify to the court about its truth? Well, let me tell you the truth, your honour.

I was coming from my Ranbaxy office on my bike when I suddenly saw people gathering about 100 m ahead of me, at the starting of Rajokri flyover. I stopped m bike to see an old man lying on the road injured. I helped the old man to get up and got some water from a nearby shop for him to drink and to wash his face. The guy whose motorcycle hit him also was present. The people who had witnessed the accident unanimously declared the old man's fault in it. Even without asking anyone, it was evident though common sense. The old man was crossing the road from where the flyover begins (and not the zebracrossing at the middle of flyover, as these policemen have marked in the statement map). One of the hot-blooded guys went to the extent of scolding the old man for not staying inside his house, and walking carelessly on the roads creating problem for others by getting hit.

On being asked by me, the old man was unable to bring to his mind any of his relatives' cellphone number. If we would have seated him on our any of our bikes to take him to the hospital, we feared that he might fall down due to weakness and mild trauma. So I had no option but to call the police and ask them to take him to the hospital. The PCR arrived after about 10 min and took the old man and the motorcyclist with them. I went to a nearby paanwala, smoked a cigarette and left for home. 

I received a call from the police a few weeks later, and explained my inability to come to the police station. Moreover, I told them that I was not fit to be a witness since I had not actually witnessed the accident and was there only in its aftermath. Still the policeman had persisted that I should testify claiming the motorcyclist's fault in it so that the old man gets some money. I had opposed saying that I had my sympathy with the injured old man but that doesn't mean that I would help in proving an innocent guy to be guilty. The policeman had muttered something that it's ok, and I must not worry, and had hung up.

I received the summons a month ago. Some people suggested to me to not to worry myself. But on the basis of that phone call, I had surmised that the police were planning to entrap the guy, and if my tesimony could serve to help him, then I felt that I should come to the court, otherwise how could I expect any help from someone else when I would need it. So I came. But here I found the matter to be quite different.

I have never been to the Patiala house court, leave alone my testifying there. I never went to the accident site with them to draw a map. I have never filed a statement in the police station. Stopping to reflect at it, had the old man been 2 min late, then considering how he jumped over the flyover railing to cross the road, then he would have been hit by my bike. If anyone else would have testified unnecessarily against me, how bad would I have felt? Why should I testify against this man? I have nothing against any of the two parties, not knowing any of them personally.

Stopping my bike to help them, showing concern to call the police to take him to the hospital, today coming to Saket from Rohini, wasting my money, energy and time - all this for what? To entrap an innocent guy? How is that going to benefit me? However, it would cause the accused to pay punitive damages and might have some miscellaneous harmful implications on being proved guilty."

My mind involuntarily conjures this speech while I am waiting for my turn. I also have visions of me thumping the table with my hand and yelling, "tareekh pe tareekh, tareekh pe tareekh. Ye kanoon andha ho gaya hai my lord. Aap jaise jawan log hi ab iski aakhiri ummeed hai. Is begunah ko insaf do.", the judge scolding that policeman and punishing him for it, asking the people to stand up and clap for me for my courteous help to the law in agreeing to be the witness and the courage in slamming the truth in the face of these corrupt cops thus helping an innocent guy.

Before my visions could stretch further to my photo being published in the paper, the policeman came and sat near me. He smiled slyly, repeating at brief intervals at least 10 times the same thing, "We did it for your convenience, because you helped us......this is his bike number, please remember it...Bansal farmhouse, Rajokri flyover.....13th, 5:38 pm...rash and careless driving.......16th, police station, statment, accident site........27th, patiala house court, your testimony....." I didn't understand why he was repeating it over and over to me and driving me mad, when I had told him that it's fine. Probably he was nervous. He kept on flattering me calling me a cooperative and considerate guy in helping the police, and then showing his concern in my convenience. Then he said that whatever money I had spent in coming down to the court, he would get that fare reimbursed.

Then he went on to tell me that the accused had not come to the court in the morning, and that he is fugitive. The matters became more complex with the fact that they had not been able to locate the old man. He showed me his address - Jogender Singh S/O ..........., 4/213, Purana Kanpur, near police station, Nawabganj, Pin code...., and remarked that the address was insufficient to locate him. I asked him if they had at least tried to find the address to which he casually replied that who would bother to go to Kanpur. It was incomprehensible to me that if the old man had not filed a complaint, then why were they causing such trouble for the accused. Considering that many a times, when people want to submit an FIR (from my personal experience as well), they dissuade them from doing so, and in this case, there was no complaint against him, and still they were arranging a false testimony against him - for what? Since they had not located the old man, this was obviously not to help him. The case has been continuing for the past one and half years even when there was neither a complaint against the accused nor any real testimony against him.

I had to sit there for hours on end. I felt immensely hungry and told the assisting constable that I would be back in 5 min after having some snacks, but he stopped me from going saying that I must keep waiting here itself since my name could be called out any time. It was getting too harrasing and boring for me. In a casual conversation with a guy sitting in adjacent chair, who had come to collect his cellphone seized because of driving in a drunk state, he told me that these are not good times, and I did a mistake in being involved. "These are not the times to help anyone." I had nothing to say to prove him wrong, and consoled myself thinking that when my statement today would serve in uncovering a lie and helping Sunil, it would be worth it. So I waited and waited until at 1:30 pm, the judge left for lunch. They asked me to go and have some lunch if I wanted and to come back by 2:00 pm. Well, I came back at 2:00 pm hoping that the very first turn now would be mine. But another after another case kept coming up. I had no clue what was happening. Finally at 3:30 pm, they called out 'Sunil Kumar Mishra". They knew well that he was not there, but still for the sake of formality, another cop shouted it outside the courtroom for 'Sunil Kumar Mishra". Obviously, no answer came and the conclusion was that he was absent. The magistrate would not even look at me, maintaining her high position, and told the assisting constable to announce the next date to be 16th august.

I was taken aback. I told him that at least I could give my statement. "I have been waiting for the whole day. It would take hardly 5 min."
He explained that since the accused was not there, it was not possible.
I felt stupified. "But you knew that the accused is not here. Why could you not tell me this thing in the morning itself?"
"No, because the court functions until 5 pm. So we were supposed to wait for him until then."
This was so irritating. "Come on, if he didn't appear in the morning, how would he appear now suddenly, by some magic or something? And I was asked to sit and wait there just in the blind hope that he would come?" I lashed out my anger on him.

He motioned with his hand. "Please go. This is not the time to argue. Come on 16th august when both the parties are here."
"But I might not be in Delhi on the 16th of august. Please see if they could take my testimony now."
"When you get the warning for not being able to appear in court, please mention the reason that time."

I stepped outside the courtroom dejectedly. The most harrasing day of my life. Do they expect the people not to go out of the way as concerned citizens and good humans to help the law, or do they expect them to accept this harrasment, be so vella as to appear in the courtroom on any date mentioned in the summon and waste your whole day there? Sadly and unfortunately, I am forced to accept that guy's words, "Kisi ke pachde mein mat pado. Aaj kal kisi ki help karne ka time nahi hai, ab kahan achhai ka zamana raha". I decide that from now on, I am never going to get into anyone's affairs, especially the legal ones, because it would not help in changing the system or helping anyone, rather it would just serve to be an instrument of harrasment for me. I speak to Suneel in my mind, "Sorry friend, please pay them whatever money they ask you to pay. I tried enough but I can't help you, because I can't take this intolerable nonsense. anymore." Disappointed with the police, the law, the system, I walked back towards home.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Liberation of an anomalous woman (From Diane's diary)

(Disclaimer. The story claims no similarity to Diane Arbus’s real life, and presents an imaginary account of how the author perceives her mental state using fictional characters. The four superscripted sentences have been directly quoted from Diane.)
Child with toy hand grenade
Eddie Carmel, Jewish giant 
Dwarfs sitting in a room
   Transvestite with a torn stocking
Girl sitting in bed with her boyfriend
       Portrait of Diane Arbus, by Allan Arbus
Photographs by Diane Arbus. Courtesy. Google Images
Aunt Beth’s sunscreen and moisturizer bottles stood neatly stacked in the glass showcase of her parlor gleaming in the twilight. As I entered through the door, she stood up to greet me with a warm hug.
“It’s been so long, Diane! Where have you been?”
 “Hibernating in some dark neighborhoods.”
She remained secluded these days, probably too tired from her life-long vain efforts of being streamlined with the mainstream. She had not kept too well for the past some time and so, Allan had engaged a new make-up artist. As for me, the subtle disquietude of my life had found an explicit expression and fermented my mind to reveal my scary subconscious in the physical world. Our usual friendly meetings had come to a halt and it was only that morning - incidentally her birthday - that this wandering had taken an unknown but natural course to her place owing to my sudden remembrance of her. So, I had come up to see her.
I wondered if she had heard of the controversy amid our people surrounding my recurring visits to Camp Venus and the nudist colonies in Jersey. She asked me no further question. She went to the cabinet behind her and pulled out a bottle from the top drawer.
“Kevin got me a bottle of red wine yesterday. Would you like to have a taste of it?”
“Yeah, ok.”
As she sat pouring the wine, its red color complimented the green of her bracelet, while her silver-colored stripped silken robe pitched well against the velvet lining of the couch. It would have been very well in the conformity that she craved for, had she been able to camouflage the cleft in her lower lip with the dark-colored lipstick. It was a vivid picture that she had staged; only not so much as she had intended. There was a gap between intention and effect. [3] Instead of resembling Cinderella, she looked more like her evil cousin. All that she did to create a distraction happened to draw further attention to the cleft lip, like a black dot made prominent by a white background.   
I raised a toast, “To your health and long life. Happy birthday aunty.”
As my eyes met Marilyn Monroe’s smiling at me from the poster on the front wall, she smiled affably and leaned on the table in an almost similar pose. Her glass followed a curve before being raised to her lips and then tilted gently in a trance-like movement which had lost whatever little oomph it formerly possessed. We drank in silence for some time to evince our relishing of the exotic wine, when she assumed an air of profound incredulity before starting to speak,
“Yes Diane? I heard that you have been lately visiting some strange places.”
She had stood up for me in several instances while I had resented my parents’ idiotic fancies. Never before had she spoken in a manner so sinister and mocking, just like the others. We had always been on frank terms comfortably divulging secrets and talking plainly without any pretensions or indirect implications. So, I was not justified in being offended owing to assumption of some specific reason for this exception. But I was so agonized by this recurring demand for an explanation for something which seemed quite natural and right to me, that I refused to recognize the question in her words and merely said,
“But why?” she asked matter-of-factly, as if it were something too obscure to not assign a default explanation.
“My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.”[1]
She stopped short and looked at me closely for a moment. “There are so many wonderful places out there. Why those colonies filled with freaks?”
Everyone was so eager to designate them with this honorary title of freaks. Initially I was filled with abhorrence at this reference as to why should they be consigned to abnormality and compelled to suffer continuously from a complex on account of a physical deformity.
It was probably due to insulation from my surroundings as a child that I had developed this fancy for covertly reading others’ personal diaries. Aunt Beth had once written in her grey-covered hardbound diary,
“They make me sick. I am more intelligent than most of them. My poems have touched hearts of those who could understand them; I’ve got a few articles published in the local newspaper; I excel in song and dance and so much more. Yet the first thing they notice and comment about is my cleft lip. Bastards like Mark go to the extent of cracking jokes, whereas those with some courtesy can’t hide this uneasiness in their eyes. They won’t look at me straight in the eye while talking to me, their eyes flitting from here to there, as if having to watch a dead pig. Why can’t they go without noticing it? Why can’t they let me forget it?”
She had always wanted to believe that it was nothing serious, yet she couldn’t stop being conscious about it. Except for the old family photographs, all her photos showed only her left profile. Even now she suddenly shifted in her chair and sat herself at an angle so as to have the right side hidden from me. Everything she did was somehow related to this desire of conformity with the normal. Her sinister manner of referring to them as freaks seemed to me to be a sign of defiance on her part so as to absolve herself from this slang.
The label had come to me later on but not as a surprise. Anything breaching the confines of routine is liable to be termed as eccentric. People get scared and you earn the reputation of a freak. I had several points to qualify for it, be it thinking, talking, crying and laughing to myself in solitude for long periods in my room, going to the ruins near the lake, smiling and making faces at strangers especially the children, writing poems which appealed to them as filthy, spooky, surreal or weird, observing any insignificant phenomenon like the activities and movements of a group of dogs for long standing on the road, taking pictures with my camera at angles they found obscure, and now my recent interactions with freaks was more than enough for the phrase ‘freakish behavior’ to reiterate in their statements. I loathed it then because being called a freak obviously freaks out anyone considering our mental need to be socially acceptable. In fact, the need, I realized, is also induced into us to serve as a barrier against venturing outside, and this realization made it relatively easy for me to break away.
I stopped caring because I felt I was wasting too much of my energy. Who would want to waste her whole life like Aunt Beth? I shouted it out.
“Yes, I am a freak. And I love to freak out with them.”     
Aunt Beth’s reaction was no different than Allan’s.
“I have always appreciated your curious nature Diane, but this is morbid curiosity.”
“It’s not as morbid as you think aunty. Come along with me some day. I am sure you would have a good time.” I took the last sip of wine in my glass.
“Good time? Watching dwarfs, giants, nudists, transvestites, circus troopers and all those deviant and distorted loons?” she retorted.
“Mind, heart and soul are valuable additions to the body.”
“But they are sure to corrode lying neglected in the shadow of a despicable body.”
“Many a times they don’t.”, I opposed.
As she shrugged her shoulders, I added quickly, almost instinctively, “You are beautiful aunty.”
The unintentional dubiety of the compliment had her at a loss of words. She sat quiet gazing at her reflection in the wine. I wished to let her know that she was an interesting person to talk to, talented and with a pleasing personality. Hence she should give a damn to anyone who would gibe at her. But on the contrary, she might have felt that all her efforts to seem normal were useless and she would remain an inacceptable freak for the whole of her life.
She lifted the bottle and poured wine into our glasses. Changing the topic would imply that I had uttered something infelicitous. Pressing the topic further or retreating with an apology seemed to be equally mortifying. It was an awkward silence. Having filled the glasses, she placed the bottle of wine on the table and lifted her glass. However, she put it to her lips in a single straight movement this time instead of the previous gracious and elegant manner of hers. As the wine gloated in her throat, she pointed at the Rolleiflex camera hanging around my neck with a shivering hand.
“Want me to click?”, I asked hastily out of nervousness.
She put down the glass on the table and stood up. I looked up at her sitting with my hands clutching the strap. She placed her palms on the table, and leaning towards me, she whispered,
“Why Diane, won’t you like to take my picture, to include in your album of freaks?”
My ears burnt with shame. I  had had to face several questions regarding the ethical conviction of my work. Several people had accused me of exploiting my subjects. But they didn’t matter enough to upset me. With my rich parents’ money getting supplemented by ‘Diane and Allan Arbus’ commercial photography business which made contributions to fashion magazines like Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, Seventeen and Vogue, I had earned a colossal amount of money and a decent amount of fame. So there was no apparent need for me to trouble myself with such controversies. But these conventional moralists and desperate artists, I knew, would find it perplexing to understand that although photography could serve to several ends yet it is not essentially means to an end. A quality photograph was so much valuable in itself that it needed not rave reviews, exhibitions or being highly priced for its value to be realized. Many a times the main reason to click is that the temptation to photograph that photographic view is too much to resist. I really believe that there are things which nobody could see unless I photographed them.[2]  
Well, I didn’t need their approval for my work or for my life; and so, I had ignored these allegations as ignorant balderdash. But Aunt Beth accusing me of exploiting her was another thing. I couldn’t help being pained beyond words. Having to explicate my words seemed to be a trivial business, but I prioritized her agitation over my pain, and sought to explain, “I didn’t mean to offend you, if I did. I was just explaining my bit and it went --”
“It’s alright,” she interrupted me with a wild gesticulation of her hands. She laughed a vicious laughter, and went to the closet behind me. I spoke while sipping my wine and looking in the front, trying to sound as casual as possible.
“Being different does not mean that you are a freak. How would they acknowledge it if you yourself won’t? You deserve something more than this complex.”
I waited for her to say something. When there was no response for a minute, I turned to look at her. She stood leaning against the door of the closet with her head bent down.
“Aunty”, I called out to her.
She stood there unmoved. I got up and went a step towards her.
“Are you okay?...........Aunty”
I walked up to her, and touched her arm.
With her hands clutching the handle of the closet and her toes pressed against it, she pulled back the upper half of her body and looked at the ceiling smiling. “Yes, I am fine.”
Her body remained unwaveringly still for a few moments. Then she started tiptoeing on her toes and heels. The quandary situation left me immensely worried.
I asked her if I would send for a doctor.
“No, I am fine.” she mumbled.
She stopped tiptoeing and looked at me. “So, do you want or not to take my picture?”
“Not essentially. I mean I would if you want me to.”
Her hands left the handle. She turned and walked to the couch with a steady pace, as if sleepwalking. She removed her robe and hurled it onto the couch I was sitting on. She flopped onto the couch in her lingerie, and lied down with her head resting on the left elbow, and the right leg crossing the left at the ankle.
“Diane, click.”
I pushed the smaller couch to a corner. She asked me to let the table stay with her half-filled glass on it. I was opening the window slightly for some natural light, when I heard her laughing for a second time. My lips pressed to a wry.
“You know what?”
“What?” I asked, removing the things on the cabinet, leaving behind only the flower vase.
“Ugly complex kills many a dreams and ambitions but instincts are difficult to rule out. They resurface out of the blue without your having known them.”, she said sipping her wine.
“Immune to conditionings and complexes”, I quipped.
I heard her humming ‘I don’t know why (I just do)’ in a soft susurration. It was a joy to listen to her singing after all these years. I wished she could sing a little louder, but I wished not to shake off her reverie.
“I don't know why I love you like I do”
Frank Sinatra had been her favorite since long. I have flashes of memory of us sitting in her old apartment’s living room and listening to Sinatra’s records while she sang along. She murmured staring into space with an absent-minded gaze, shaking the glass in her hand.
“You never seem to want my romancing
The only time you hold me is when we're dancing”
I removed my glass and the wine bottle from the table and kept them on the window sill behind.
“I don't know why, but I do”
The song, instead of fading away, came to a sudden stop. She sat up and put down the glass on the table in a flurry. As she reached for her silk robe, I grabbed it instinctively and moved a step behind.
“What happened?”
“But life is not all about living out such embarrassing instincts, is it?”, She said trying to reach for the robe. But I kept it away from her.
“Least of all, about a constant struggle to suppress them.”, I replied.  I flung back the robe onto the small couch and motioned to her to lie down.
She lied down rather nervously this time unlike the previous mermaid pose. Frankly, this was even better. It fitted quite well with the view I conceived of the situation. To ask if she were ready would have been a true loss, because although she posed, yet it couldn’t be described as a staged photograph. Her in-depth emotions peered through her skin. The passion resulting from this rebellion glimmered in her eyes. I captured this cauldron of seething sensuality with a click.
She sat for a minute with her head pressed between her knees. I lit a cigarette for myself and then, offered her one. She looked up with a start and slumped herself against the back of the couch. She drew a long puff and watched the train of smoke she inhaled.
“How do you feel?”,I asked, trying to sound casual.
“I said how do you feel now?”,I repeated the question.
“Yeah, I feel good. Diane, there is a blue frock and dancing shoes in that closet. Would you click a picture with me wearing that?”
She looked almost nauseated. She took quick, short puffs. Her fingers were constantly quivering, and the cigarette kept shifting down the length between her fingers. The wine, I guessed, would do her some good.
“Let’s have some more wine first.”
I brought my glass and the bottle, and poured wine in both the glasses. By now, that former grace had been completely relinquished. As she took each sip, she breathed heavily with sighs, as if the wine was dislodging something from her throat bit by bit. Slowly the invigorating effect caused the fretfulness to disappear.
The blue frock fitted her rather tight. The shoes looked worn out. She sat in a chair in her new attire, and held her feet up in air. She stared at the shoes in bewilderment. Then she let her feet fall and looked at her reflection in the oval-shaped mirror on the wall. 
She started walking round the room with a firm footing in carefully measured steps. Then she took a step forward and came swirling to the centre of the room, and stood statuesque on her toes at the centre of the room. The left leg slanted, the left arm spread out in a curve while the right leg and right arm stood vertical.  The spiraling fingers added candidness to the regality of the pose.  Before the gelatinous statue would come crumbling, I endeavored to infuse vibration into it by clapping the contra-tiempo.
“cu,…. cu, cum…pa”
Her body picked the rhythm instantly without any jerk as if it were waiting for it. Her limbs flew in Cuban solo salsa moves, which, although were not refined, yet appealed owing to their unfettered nature. She astonished me with her agility at this age. The 8 and 2, & 4 and 6 counts emanated from her lips in a soft murmur. Her eyes shut and opened intermittently in continuous flashes. She seemed to be on a high, which reached deeper than the high of junkies and hermits.
This was neither a dance of performance nor of celebration. It was a resonating embodiment of those chronic instincts and desires which had been quelled since perpetuity. I sat there entranced not only by the sight rather the entire milieu, when it suddenly occurred to me that I was supposed to click pictures. I saw her through the twin-reflex lens and clicked to further actualize this rapturous flux on photographic paper. The cleft in the lip had not disappeared, but faded to oblivion since the undue attention conferred on it in the form of concealments had been removed. She was no more merely the woman with the cleft lip; rather it was just a part of a wholesome personality. Her true nature was gaining shape. I shot her from various angles with the profile view, the moves and the background getting changed, so as to represent the multifarious facets of her form.
When she stopped after a short while, palpitation seized her within seconds. She walked unsteadily to the wall, and put her hands on it to find a support. I had half a mind to walk and seat her on the couch but probably, it would have been inappropriate to intervene in her recuperation. With her hands shifting on it, she trudged along the wall. I stood on the couch and clicked. She reached the window and gripped either sash with her hands. She stood there with her head bowed down, with seeming efforts to attain composure. However, her hands still shivered, and then the knees started shaking. She caught hold of the window sill, and gave in bending on her knees. Guilt manifested in me at the thoughts of clicking another photograph, but the ingenuity of this painful yet vital moment called for it.
I had believed that she would be alright in a short while, but when her tremors increased, it began to worry me enough to not let her be by herself. I  by her side holding her by her shoulders. I helped her get to her feet to guide her to the couch with my hand around her waist.
“You were terrific.”
Her lips convulsed to a tranquil smile. As she started to stagger, I came to face her to hold her firmly. Her face twitched as if in an effort to force out something stuck in her throat. She breathed heavily as if nauseated.
“Would I get you some water?”, I asked.
She let herself go and hugged me tight. I patted and rubbed her back. I took her to her couch, and brought her some water. She slurped the water in quick swigs, causing some of it to drain over her frock. I heard her sobbing with tears running down her face. By the time she finished drinking water, her sobbing grew louder. She let the glass drop on the floor, and let out a yell on top of her voice, which gave way to whimpers. I brought her another glass of water. She held it with both her hands and sipped slowly like a child. Her nauseous tremors had ceased. She drew some air into her lungs through a few long breaths. After wiping her tears, she proceeded to the washroom to wash her face. When she returned, she looked quite revitalized with a placid countenance. I reciprocated her smile.
She offered me a cigarette from the cigarette packet lying on the table. As she looked around for the lighter, I saw it lying on the single couch. I picked it up and lighted our cigarettes. We smoked sitting on the couch basking in the calmness that alights after a roller-coaster ride.
“Aunty, how about something to eat? I feel hungry.”
“You won’t find anything lying around here. In fact, since I haven’t been home for the past few days, there won’t be much to look for at home as well. Let’s go and eat somewhere outside.”
“Sounds good to me.”, I remarked in approval.
“Let me change into some new clothes, then.”, she said heading for the closet. She stopped midway and turned to look at me.
“But Diane, I guess you would have liked to click some pictures for yourself.”
“No, it’s fine.”, I said.
“Oh no! come on, why not?”, she insisted.
“I have not the slightest intention to exploit you.”, I replied simpering to avoid the awkwardness.
She gazed at me intently for a few seconds as if trying to develop a silent communion, and then spoke in a low voice in a manner of confiding something, “If you truly understand me, then you would ignore that satire-laced remark of mine as a consequence of my cynicism and fears, and not let it sulk you on the pretext of being a natural reaction.”
“Of course.”
“So tell me what would I wear and how do I pose?” she said vivaciously.
I had never seen her like this ever before. Sprightliness was inching into every corner of her face. Cautious enough to not break her spell by starting any argument, I pulled out a black dress with a crew neck and handed it to her. The sofa chair was placed on the right side of the main door, a few meters in front of it. She sat in it with crossed legs and her hands kept firmly on the arms of the sofa. I took a long shot at low angle allowing for immense head space, so that it produced a paradox effect. The low angle emphasized her, whereas the large, plain background dissolved her in itself. That is how she now stood out.
As we set out, she hung the ‘Closed’ signboard on the door. As she was locking the door, something occurred to her. She unlocked the door and went inside. She reappeared in a minute with a black permanent marker, and scribbled on the signboard. Now it read ‘Closed for ever.”
“Why?” I uttered in surprise.
“Yes. That’s what I feel. Why? Now what’s the need?”, she casually replied, while pocketing the key.
“But I thought you enjoyed it.”
“The funny part is that I used to think the same.”, she said letting out a guffaw.
Sitting in The Breslin at the table by the window, we waited for our order to be served. She looked out the window and said dreamily, “I wish it would rain.”
The server brought us our herbed caesar salad, braised bacon, crispy sweetbreads with peas and ricotta pancakes. The anchovy croutons tasted awful. The bacon, though, was as good as ever. I could see a blond girl sitting on the table next to us, over Aunt Beth’s shoulder. The Negro boy sitting in front of her presently bowed down and gripped his head in his arms. The girl’s animated facial expressions changed continuously, as she fussed about something in a low sound. The adjacent table was occupied by a jovial old man and presumably his much younger wife. They occasionally smiled at each other coquettish smiles and the woman would lunge forward to touch his cheek. In the other corner, a group of boys sipped beer sitting on a circular table, singing along and thumping their fists on the table. The pancakes were a favorite with Aunt Beth. She relished them almost in a meditative spirit.
Through with our supper, she suggested a sashay to Sylvan beach, which had my immediate unequivocal approval. It appeared to be a natural choice for some reason. Except for a few young people, most of them couples, the beach was mostly quiet. Wisps of black clouds started looming in the sky, and a gentle wind blew in our face. We ambled along the beach as little streams of water tickled our naked feet just so much as to elicit a lingering smile. After walking a few hundred meters, we lolled on the sand sprawling our legs, and watched the foaming sea.
It was one of those rare absolute moments of comfortable silence, which don’t require any dialogue to impregnate them. Hence, the colloquy is disinfected from small talk resulting in every syllable to be imbued with significance. This hour remained infringed from all considerations. We had settled our chores until the present day and had all the time with us. We were free to wander anywhere. We had transcended space and time.  
“Diane, could I ask you something, of course merely out of curiosity?”
“Let curiosity not be restrained.”, I quipped.
She paused for a second, as if to paraphrase her question adequately. “What is it that you like about those colonies?”
“Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They have already passed their test in life. They are aristocrats.”[4]
“Well…”, she said contemplating, “I agree. And I understand that being different is not being abnormal, and they are normal in their own way, but still, how did the idea of visiting those freaks - I am sorry, I mean -”
“It’s ok. You could call us freaks. I don’t mind.” I said.
“Yeah, how did the idea of visiting them occur to you in the first place?” She completed her question.
“When normality becomes nauseating, freakishness is bliss.”
“Ha! It’s strange.” She stood up and walked a few steps. She gazed long at the horizon; then turned towards me. “All my life I troubled myself seeking the thing which troubled you. Strange.”
“Strange indeed”, I agreed. “By the way, happy birthday.”
Our eyes met for an instant. The next moment, a mild laughter exploded in coincident unison. The clouds thundered, and it started to rain. As we lay drenched on the wet sand, tiny drops pattered on our faces. All the pain dissolved in the rain water and flowed away.  

Monday, June 20, 2011

The doors to the world

                                   (c) Vijeta Dahiya, 06 June 2011, Jodhpur
The gate was symmetrical and looked much the same on both sides.
One of the men bolted it on his side and said to the other man, “The doors to the world are locked on you. You are in exile.”
The second man bolted the doors on his side and said, “I live in the outside world, whereas you are in prison.”
Thus they kept on arguing for a long time, and then each went his way.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

In the passing

"I know many people from your village."

               "Oh, is it? Like who?"

"There was this guy Ranbeer who was a good companion in college."

                "He passed away last year."

"Oh, he did? We used to travel by the same train. And then, there is this guy Ramesh who works with me at the office."

                 "Actually there are two Ramesh. Which one do you know - one is short, fragile, and fair; the other one is moderately tall, wheatish complexion, has spectacles."

"Yeah, the latter one."


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Colors of life

Vijeta Dahiya, 08 Oct 2010, 3040 x 2160 pixels, Digital
1. Colors of happiness
    The photograph shows a contrast between the two opposite ways of     life – the pleasure derived from materialistic comforts pitched against the simple little joys of life.

Vijeta Dahiya, 06 Sept 2010, 3840 x 2160 pixels, Digital  

2.      Resurfacing
     Showing the stem of a tree eaten by termite, the photograph goes on to symbolize the painful stimulation caused by an external stimulus which makes us exert ourselves and bring out the beauty at our core to the surface.

Vijeta Dahiya, 28 Oct 2010, 3040 x 2160 pixels, Digital
             3. Laheron Ke Rajhans
       Title taken from a play by the legendary author Mohan Rakesh. The photograph portrays the Phantasm of a dystopian man in which fair swans dance on water in trancelike movements in the depths of a passionate night.

Vijeta Dahiya, 30 Oct 2010, 2913 x 1942 pixels, Digital

4.      A human being creature
    In an excessively consumerist and luxurious world where some have automatic tooth brushes, there are some others who crawl on the roads having no dignity spared to their miserable life.

Vijeta Dahiya, 30 Oct 2010, 3591 x 2160 pixels, Digital 
    5.  The ancient empty street is too dead  for   dreaming
    Title taken from a song lyrics by Bob Dylan, the photograph shows an urchin whose sunken eyes have not the capacity to hold big dreams. He roams on a road with big cars, with neither any hope for attaining such luxuries nor dismay at being unable to attain the unattainable.

Vijeta Dahiya, 29 Oct 2010, 4000 x 3000 pixels, Digital 

 6. O religion! Leave the kids alone         
             Photograph from Ijtema at CST, Mumbai intending to teach Islamic women the right conduct and lifestyle as per the moral code mentioned in Quran. Little girls, who should be freely frescoing around, also got entrapped in the burqa.         

Vijeta Dahiya, 29 Oct 2010, 3840 x 2160 pixels, Digital
  7. Poisonous vapors 
          Having inhaled a few pouches of whitener to fight hunger, sleep, or depression, the overdosed woman was sitting on the road clutching her head and scratching her feet, oblivious to the eye of the passersby. The empty pouches were lying nearby. 

Vijeta Dahiya, 02 Nov 2010, 2349 x 1679 pixels, Digital     

8. The three musketeers     
     Three young friends teamed up as a gang confidently flash their guns displaying a resolute surge for some puckish merriment undeterred by the mundanity and harshness of a practical world.        


Vijeta Dahiya, 02 Dec 2010, 3840 x 2160 pixels, Digital

9. Reflections of a spider
        A venomous spider with its long legs stops by to reflect while looking at its reflection – what it was and what it has turned into. The short pause of a long journey to measure or remove the venom inside.     
 Vijeta Dahiya, 21 Sept 2010, 2148 x 1848 pixels, Digital

 10.  Brothers
     The photograph illustrates affection and care in its most innocent form and the maturity resulting from being an elder sibling. Although he is a little kid himself, yet with what tenderness he makes his younger brother wear his shoes.