2021 has been more or less the continuation of the last year 2020. For me these two years have been the time of contemplation and introspection. I have been thinking more about the physical perishable body and the eternal soul; the experience has taught me to be aware of the darkness within me. In these difficult times in life, it’s important to step back and see that there is always some light or hope. We all have stories; either vibrating with overwhelming emotions or nullified with void. The internal monologue with the mind allows me the space to rebuild narratives or weave songs from the stories unfolding in the alleys of Kolkata; adding colours to the shadows or fictionalising the reality. There is magic in the prosaic, there is awe in the monotony and there is divinity in the earthly. These ‘songs’ enrich my mundane life with evocative music. These photographs are the representation of the journey of life: beginning with the newborn to be taken care of; the supervision( metaphorical eyes) or the eyes of the society; carrying the load of expectations; the prayer to be with the divine or to be free from the shackles of the societal norms!
Phugtal Monastery, 2500+ years old
Lungnak Valley, Zanskar; reached only by foot
Altitude: 3800 metres above sea level (Approx.)
The trek to the majestic Phugtal Monastery has been one of my toughest journeys. I feel privileged and fortunate to have embarked on this surreal experience! The trek meanders through the most beautiful deserted landscape which itself has myriad facets. The colours are thrown here and there; one has to gather them through mind’s eyes. Today as I write down my experience, I am re-living my journey. We were only a few travellers throughout the trek. The surreal calmness of the land infuses deep philosophical questions about life and death. The journey becomes a meditation.
The Tsarap Chu river is the constant companion. The turquoise water soothes my ever anxious mind. Slowly the tranquility touches my soul.
The trek has not been an easy one. It throws up challenges. One feels breathlessness while moving just a few steps upwards. On the one hand there is dynamism of life, and on the other there is stillness of death. Birth and Death are passages of Time. Birth is a constant uncertainty; the only certainty is Death. Therefore, I must respect every breath in order to embrace death gracefully.
Am I not wearing the mask of the persona constantly trying to create a socially acceptable identity! I look around to see the magic of light. Let me tread gently on this land.
The path is not smooth. The struggle is real. The kind lamas help me get up on my feet.
The stones and rocks have colours too. The magnanimity of the scale has the terrible beauty.
Ahh! Finally the bridge is in sight.
The mules and donkeys are the only carriers available here.
The honeycomb monastery hangs on the cliff. The sight is jaw-dropping! I have made it finally. A long gratifying smile fills up my face.
This is the Cave of Liberation!
It is Sunday, the monastic school is closed. There is some time for digital entertainment. Yes, the digits 0,1,0,1 continue!
Sitting in front of the beautiful, vibrant waters of Tso Moriri for hours witnessing the different colours of the lake with the slightest change of sunlight braving the biting cold wind has been a spiritual experience. The water birds danced and played in the lake fearlessly. All the anxiety, uncertainties, fear, breathlessness that the last few months engulfed my life seem to melt down into this mountain lake.
I realize in the words of Eliot “What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.”
The canine friend seems to guide me into the lives of the the village dwellers around the lake. I explore the village, the nomads and make images that my soul tells me to. The self submerges into the place and the faces. My perception and philosophy of life gain clarity.
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.” T.S.Eliot
The Dream Catchers:
And she knows the power of knowledge.
Chapter 1: The Ambrosial Hour
“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!” — William Butler Yeats
The specific complex emotion that I encounter on seeing the Mighty Himalayas from the flight to Leh and back to Delhi is ‘ the sublime’. As the Plains and Lesser Himalayas of Dhauladhar and the Pir Panjals give way to the Great Himalayas, the glaciers, the endless spires of the peaks, the Trans Himalayan Plateau, the Tso Moriri Lake, the Zanskar Range …. the physical landscape immerses within me. Unknowingly this hour long flight of fantasy transcends into the ambrosial hour of meditation. The ocean of thousands of Spires rushes in the dynamic range of emotions ; fear as well as strange calmness, joy and excitement, mystery and reverence. I think of the ancient times when the Rishis crossed these formidable ranges on foot! The small window of the aircraft provided me the opportunity to embrace the grandeur of the Himalayas with folded hands. I close my eyes to chant:
Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya
Mrytyor-Maa Amritam Gamaya
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantihi
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantihi
Lead me from the untruth to the Truth. Lead me from darkness to light. Lead me from death to immortality Om Peace Peace Peace.
This meditative journey continues.
At some point of time, dark thoughts engulfed me… almost pushed me to the edge. I felt claustrophobic, dejected, anguished, betrayed, entrapped and lost amidst the cacophony of life. I floated in darkness trying desperately to find the ray of hope.
There are darkness in life and there are light too. In the depths of misery there is still calmness, harmony, light, love and hope.
“There was a happy time
I’m a woman
Maya Angelou, Phenomenal woman
“This storm is you. Something inside you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time.”
Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
“I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air”
Lord Byron, Darkness
“The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.”
Maya Angelou, Caged Bird
“I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone . . .”
Adrienne Rich, Twenty one Love Poems(Poem II)
“The spent sun passes out beneath an arch,
and, shroudlike, stretched from the antipodes,
—hear it, O hear, love!—soft night marches in.”
Charles Baudelaire, Meditation
“We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.”
Paul Laurence Dunbar, We Wear the Mask
“BATTER my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.”
John Donne, Holy Sonnets
“You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
Maya Angelou, Still I Rise
“This is my delight,
Thus to wait and watch at the wayside
Where shadow chases light
And the rain comes in the wake of the summer. “
⦁ Rabindranath Tagore “ Where shadow chases light”
“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
“My library is an archive of longings.” Susan Sontag
The self infiltrates into the cultural landscape. And this self has the fragile body, indicating a space: of futility, transience and transcendence. The inner perceptions and emotional entanglements get inscribed into the metaphysics of this landscape.
The process becomes an intensely personal yet acutely revealing body of work. The experience deals with the body and stillness, the relationship with space and movement, expressing an intimate moment, where physical and emotional limitations are stretched, tested and broken. The space and non-space oscillate between memory and imagination.
As I look back to these images, I can hear the slender explosion of echoes and unheard voices. The co-existence of the pathos of loneliness as well as the overflow of sensory sequences create a back and forth motion of emotional pulling.
The perception begins to shift so that what was familiar becomes unfamiliar. The reverberation of the past brews the limitless distance and nothingness into the present space of uncertainty and free fall.
The world came to a standstill in March 2020 because of the pandemic. The soul has been battered through different periods of this time. These unusual times have exposed the sore wounds of my inner self to the surface. The wavelength of the exposure has been different and interesting to me! I had started to record these strange thoughts and feelings in order to create some tactile imagery. This lockdown period has given me the opportunity to explore the home’s intimate space, which I recognize as symbolic of the HINTERLAND (the land behind, especially of a city or a port). The socio-spatial relevance of home has created an uneasiness within myself.
The sunlight masquerades the rooms for an hour or so early in the morning, creating this HINTERLAND of happenings beyond the scope of my immediate vision. It creates and re-creates magic. And I have explored my intimate self to play with the light. The challenge thrown by the limited space and opportunity has acted as an abetment. The social distancing, coupled with lockdown, has restricted the “self” and movement. There is this feeling of an isolated island as I go to the terrace to get some fresh air!
The anxiety continues to stay; I constantly look for the equilibrium between the intimate and the distant, masked, and the unmasked. The illusion, dreams, thoughts, anxiety, unconscious self, and the fantasy world — get illuminated through the visual drama. It seems to me we are living a cocooned life, waiting patiently for the completion of metamorphosis when the beautiful butterfly shall gain freedom!
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I came across this beautiful thought by the renowned poet and author Amrita Pritam: “There are many stories which are not on paper, they are written in the minds and bodies of women”.
I have been thinking about this. It is necessary to push through the fog and pain of trauma; to create a narrative through the making of images on these ‘unwanted memories’, and, then, perhaps it would help me achieve emotional catharsis.
Growing up in a patriarchal society throws up many challenges. The barriers and discrimination against women have been woven deep into the fabric of society for ages. Irrespective of gender, class or ethnicity people face hostility from sinister forces. For a woman this becomes more challenging. The fear of daily sexual harassment, lewd comments, inappropriate touching in public places lingers. The daily commute to my workplace becomes an ordeal.
Every time anything of this happens, it takes away a part of my self confidence and self esteem. It is like there is a pot inside me which gets filled up with venom with every verbal or physical assault. The restlessness is intolerable.
The traumatic experiences take the form of mental scars. They become unwanted memories. These memories are emotional numbing. They are suppressed into the traumatized subconscious which are difficult to put into chronology. And the body becomes the landscape for the “colonial control”.
The newspaper brings in the unfortunate stories of assault on girls and women of all ages.
The married life is also full of traumatic experiences of domestic violence. Some of these need not be physical, even the verbal abuses can be enough to pull any person’s psychological breakdown.
The very common objects attain a different perspective. The knife that I use for cutting vegetables becomes the tool or metaphor for unending violence.
Man (human being) is violent and impatient towards nature. The masculinity imposes its colonial power to subjugate. One feels lonely and abandoned.
The female body is mostly seen as an object, a commodity. This body, too, has a soul. Who cares?
The darkness is heavy.
Nature is raw, uninhibited and open. I feel a great psychological affliction. I feel like these floating rocks.
There is a longing — a longing to be heard.
Is it not that we worship the idols of goddesses!
Then why does the voice get smothered? The question is pertinent.
The parched soil reflects my psychological condition. My parched soul looks for the light of divinity.
Plunging further into darkness, I search for my roots, my identity.
The pain and suffering are etched as monsters.
Death seems to beckon me.
No, I have to survive. I have to find ways to overcome these violent forces.
Remembering the words of the poet Octavio Paz:
“But I look up
the stars write.
Unknowing I understand:
I too am written.”
I want to snatch the light from the thousands of suns far away in the galaxy, and celebrate my imperfection.
To become a bird — and regain my flight and song.
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