The Travel of Words

2 days after the 83rd birthday of Ruskin Bond, I happened to pick up a collection of his fiction & non fiction writings this morning. And as I went from one piece to another I smiled and laughed at the tales he had to tell. A feel good book largely that kind of took me back to my childhood – especially the summer – his stories were about mangoes and baths in the canals in the towns where Rusty lived. One tale spoke about his journey to becoming the cook of the scouts team. Another took me to an attic in London; where in the loneliness of the first few days, a mouse was company.

As the day wore off, I took a short ride for business. Once out of the house I couldn’t help but notice the sights that were always on the roads when I rode on them, but never presented themselves in the manner as they did this evening. I noticed the small shop selling pakodas on a tiny turn; a dry wheat field across the stream that usually I fail to notice when I cross it. I also stopped at the highest point of the highest flyover in my city to observe the land scape that it overlooked. To a great distance in the sky I saw the roofs of buildings, open spaces on either sides of the road that the fly over crosses; I saw the sun setting in a golden hue.

As I sit and write this out, I find it imperative to mention how my heart yearns for travel; something that has not happened due to the commerce required to run life. Coming into May of 2017, I decided to bring pending businesses to a close so that the criss cross of the Indian Monsoon and Summer are months when I would be out to look around the country side. Usually May is a long month and its taken a toll on my plans, I am delayed in completion of all work by another 15 days.

But I did travel. Rusty took me to the canals and mangroves in his town. The words of his stories – simple and effective – painted their cities, caricatured their people – be it the bumbling Uncle Ken, the authoritative Bhabhiji – lady of the house or the two white mice who were gifted to Rusty by a station master when he landed up in Lucknow instead of New Delhi after an overnight train journey. What does also stand out in memory is the working miniature train model – I’ve seen those and in the days of the past planned to own one by saving a lot of money and building the collection one by one.

I have come to know someone (though not directly) who reads the book Shantaram but has never bought it. Thats because he finds the book every place he has travelled to. I also know a lot of folks who read up about the places that they intend to visit. Some also read famous stories from the place they are visiting. I think they do this because it gives them a sense of belonging and identification. I also know people who have remembered incidents/ lines from stories and put them into their travel experiences (read photographs). In his autobiography , Khushwant Singh’s descriptions of the places that he has stayed in across his life are beautiful; at a certain place he mentions a walk that he took from Simla to Kausali; one almost walks with him. In her biography of the Late Mohan Singh Oberoi, Bachi Kakaria recreated for me, the erstwhile pathways in Simla as Oberoi walked from his home to the Cecil – the first hotel he managed and ran. She wrote about the boilers and steam coming out of them, and the farm house where Oberoi lived till his last and how the sun shone through the windows in the soft Delhi winter. Such was the impact of that reading that I desired to stay at the Cecil and about 15 years post the first reading, I finally checked in to the Oberoi Clarkes in Shimla only to learn that it wasn’t the Cecil. Gosh I need to read that book again!!!

They travel – these words. They take us places.

And as my plans of travel for 2017 take another bout of delay enforced by my pursuit of commerce, the fact that I can travel with words brings a smile to my lips and peace to my heart.

May I travel soon.

And Rusty is such a darling!!!

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The Photograph In Meaning

Open your phone. Go to the photo gallery. See the last 10 photographs. No – not the last 10 pictures but photographs.

How many of them hold meaning?

Literature and history are full of experts and critiques defining a photograph. The world of today has made its way through the complexities of their words and myriads of their thoughts. Taking a picture is common folk. Everyone does it and why not. Technology allows it, apps glorify it, softwares ease out dodge and burn techniques and huge hoardings advertise the awesome photographs made by phone users across the world.

Personally I am averse to taking pictures randomly. I retort in the most haughtiest of fashions when I am asked to click selfies and photos of any near and dear ones. Of course I do as a part of my profession – I am an events and wedding photographer, but commerce needs to over rule the heart. However, in the weekly meetings of a professional networking group of which I am a part, I am expected to photograph the acclaimed folks every week and I get called out for it. Just that when I get called out, I am mostly in my most despicable avatar.

But what do photographs stand for. I have been asked many a times as to why wouldn’t I participate in a selfie exercise or click random photos of anyone.

The photos that you see as part of this blog post are from two recent vacations. In both I was with my closest. And these are the photographs that I could create. When I look at them, I smile. They give me joy. These are people close to me. Each photograph has a moment attached to it. Its a record; a happening of my life; an event or its precursor. This is not random. Nothing in my photography is random. Not even my weakest photograph(s).

Travel and A Film Camera

From a formally educated photographer this could be unusual. But the events leading to the thoughts mentioned are such that it is compelling for me to put this down in words.

Education doesn’t make a photographer. No amount of it can. There is enough literature within the world that talks about how photos are experiential – they are borne when the six senses of the photog come together. It is then, the photog’s fortitude to push the limits and create pictures that stun sensibilities before normalising to satisfaction.

On travel a couple of months back, I found myself managing a Lubitel. The Lubitel is a fully manual medium format camera; popularly also known as a Twin Lens Reflex. In one roll of film, one can shoot 12 square photos. One can modify a few settings in the camera to bump up the number of shots to 16, but I like it as it is – 12. To operate the Lubitel, one needs to hand-complete all activities of creating a photograph. Loading the film and winding it to a shoot – ready position, looking through the waist level viewfinder to get the composition correct without the help of grid lines, managing the exposure settings in a half imaginative state – a light meter or a digital camera help partially in pre empting what the photo would look like; is what my life became as I went about creating photographs of the trip.

But what really does this have to do with travel?

Processing of these photos is done by experts. So I sent my film rolls (210 photos in 8 different films) for processing to the experts and after three weeks of waiting they handed me 92 photos. Just that. The rest were all washed out. As I peered at the photos that the agency was able to process; the sense of longing for the ones that they could not took a back seat.

As I saw these photos, the memory of the process of creating each one came back. I was in Goa in the last week of March – and that is perhaps the last week before the hot and strong summer sets in. Moving out the hotel between 10 AM and 5 PM is sacrilege. It is also sacrilege to not spending time by the pool in the same time zone. But shooting with film took me out. Armed with a bag full of film, a tungsten powered light meter and a small digital camera I rode out to places that I thought would be fit to be shot. So while beaches remained a easy go, climbing Fort Aguada and Fort Chapora in the severing heat, being chased down a small hillock that overlooks the Vagator Beach by stray dogs and losing my way and landing up in a small village while on my way to Arambol. I never reached Arambol though – turned back because at the point of losing direction I realised that I was 15 KMs away. Making a picture using a TLR attracted attention of all kinds. People stopped by, confirmed if it was the camera of the olden times; some wondered as to why would I spend time doing this if I could easily create digital pictures. Most people ask the cost.

The thing about shooting with film is that it makes a photog look at his or her trade awfully lot more closely than they would. It made me “look” and “wait”. The key to success was not to press the shutter at the wrong time – the moment had either just passed by or had not come. It made me work to getting to the place in light that mattered.

And I realised that while doing all this to create the pictures that I was, I had discovered a new face of Goa. I ventured up a hill, a fort that I had never climbed, into roads that always looked deserted and boring. I stopped near fields and small pools. I saw chapels and houses of locals. I got into a village and spent time talking to a lady about how my way was lost.

It was then a realisation that has eluded me for the most of my travelling life. It is imperative for a traveller to push the boundaries on a trip. An extra kilometre, an hour less of the normal sleep time, a conversation in the middle of no-where – might just lead to that all important moment in the trip – where you find the picture that sums it up.  

Photos on Film by Kartikaya
Goa 2016 ©KartikayaNagar

 

Turbulence

This is an old note – maybe 7 years or so. I wrote this post “full of turbulence” flights while travelling to the North Eastern Part of India. I reprise it here after another couple of turbulent flights last week. I read about air turbulence later and can assure you that am much more at peace now.  

I have been traveling continuously for the last 15 days and most of this travel has been Air Travel. And all the air travel has had one thing in common – Turbulence.

All the sectors that I flew recently had turbulence. Invariably the plane would get into either a cloud or a dust storm and rock and roll the passengers till such time that even non believers like me thought of a higher force. In a couple of journeys, we felt turbulence when we were flying above the clouds and in a true blue sky.

Around 50% off this travel was in ATRs – a small 37 seater plane with 2 huge fan like propellers on either sides. When an ATR starts, the fan on the left side works first. The right one starts working as the plane taxis onto the runway. After a 2 minute halt, which is used to bring the fans to full speed, the ATR makes a dash across the runway and takes of suddenly. As soon as it reaches a certain height, the engines are brought to normal speed – for the faint hearted or new passengers, it seems as if the engines have been shut down.

I have written earlier about plane journeys. The reason why I write again about them now is that my book of experiences just got richer in the last 3 weeks.

I understand that planes fly at a certain altitude which is given to them by the folks in the control towers. What I don’t understand is why cant they go back to the control tower and say that there is a lot of cloud here, give me another altitude. While the pilots & crew and the control tower guys might be ok with the bumbling tumbling, I was not & neither were the passengers.

By no means am I a guy who gets scared easily. But the fact that you are a certain thousand feet above sea level, and you cant see any reasons for the bumbling & tumbling and yet you are bumbling & tumbling makes me think of some questions that need answers. At every instance of turbulence a small “ding!!” sounds and everyone is told to fasten seat belts. Another “Ding!!” accompanied by a small word from the pilot about the impending disturbance and whether its normal or not would be nice.

Communication is the key. A week back on the Indigo flight from Guwahati to New Delhi, prior to de planing, the hostess informed us of the belt at which we would get out luggage. Simple & effective. Yesterday on the IC flight from Ranchi to Delhi, the AC was not working while the plane stood at the Ranchi Airport. As the passengers took their seat, the cry for AC went up. The pilot made an announcement that the Auxiliary unit had gone bad and now the AC would work once the engines came on. As soon as he finished, someone asked the question to the hostess and she curtly replied”Sir an announcement has just been made.”

Back to turbulence. So ATR’s or Airbus, all are hit by turbulence. Yesterday at dinner with family, I shot the topic and realised that everyone has faced turbulence recently. And all agreed that there was too much turbulence. My brother thought that I am scared. But he is neatly mistaken. I am not scared, I just look for answers. If I pay money for a smooth ride, and when the stakes are of life, I expect to be told that we will fly into rough weather & what it could mean.

On a flight to late evening flight to lucknow last week, the plane was in a clear blue sky and flew into rains and black clouds. The pilot did some circling, the hostesses were asked to return to their seats immediately, and the passengers just bumped and jumped. On landing did the pilot say something about landing from another direction because of the dust storm. Whats the point??? Hardly anyone listened to him.

I have another week or so more to travel. Lets see what else gets added to the already existing turbulence.