I am happy to share my short film on my recent travel to Jejuri. In a moment of absolute vanity, I’d like to mention that this is shot entirely on the iPhone7Plus. I hope you like it; please do leave comments and thoughts that could help me make this (& the ones to come) better.
50 Kms away from Pune, tucked neatly on a hillock called Jejuri is the ancient temple of Khandoba. Khandoba per legend is a manifestation of Lord Shiva and this is his main shrine in India. Khandoba is worshipped by a majority of Maharashtrians and in the modern age spiritualism finds significance in Shirdi. Apparently the priest of his temple in Shirdi bestowed the name Sai to the Sai Baba of Shirdi when he arrived in Shirdi at an age of 23.
The legend of Khandoba tells the story of 2 asuras – Mani & Malla being defeated in war by Lord Shiva in his Khandoba avatar. Also known as the Martandya Bhairav, Khanodba is seen in pictures mount on a white horse, accompanied by his wife Mhalsa and a dog.
On auspicious days in Jejuri, devotees from all around gather to pay their respects to Lord Khandoba. A 500 step climb on hard rock needs to be taken from the main entrance at the foothills to the temple. Passing by are small shops selling flowers, coconuts, incense sticks and the usual religious stuff that you need along with one things that marks the whole of Jejuri as special – Turmeric or Bhandara as it is known in the local langauge.
A drive of about 90 minutes takes one from Pune to Jejuri. And this was in peak traffic times so if one leaves early morning, it could be quicker. The foothills of the hillock is inhabited with parkings, small hotels and a series of shops on either sides of the road that leads to the first steps of the climb.
Cries of Jai Malhar rang in the air as devotees began their climb. Through the way I encountered multiple small shrines and shops. All in yellow of the turmeric. Walking up the path, devotees chanted the name of Malhar and smeared the temple precincts with turmeric. Some splashed it in the air and the offering flowed down to rest on the heads of other devotees and the ground. Fervour gave way to celebration as some devotees played a yellow holi smearing the powder on each other, danced to the local dhol walas and pulled others also into the act. An hour’s walk led me to the main temple which is a magnificent structure. All around the temple are statues of Shiva, Vishnu and other deities – all bearing the colour yellow.
The faithful have a way with their faith. I saw devotees praying, some getting the local pujaris to conduct special poojas for them. This is a place where dogs are treated with respect. Some people offered food to the dogs but not before smearing them with turmeric. And the dogs promptly shimmy shake the turmeric off them. Maybe its time for us to think more rationally.
India has been known for its occult. I saw scenes of men whipping themselves and getting into a trance. Once in the trance they would be whipped by other men and after 5 to 6 painful whiplashes be embraced by the devotees.
The occasion was festive to say the least and local folks must have made a ball as they put up temporary stalls for refreshments, souvenirs and most interestingly photo booths replete with Puneri and Maratha head wear, soft toy tigers, horses and backgrounds depicting wars.
On this trip, while I took some pictures which are here , I also shot a lot of videos on my iPhone7Plus. I will put them into a small vlog in the days to come. Meanwhile, please enjoy the pictures if you like them and leave comments in critique of the writings. Would help me improve.
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!!!
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).
As I looked around and the evening grew into the night, an entirely new world emerged as the evening set in. Countless hawkers selling their foods and wares; beach photographers with indigenous apparatus that prints photos in a minute hog the beach to make a quick buck; the nearby eatery bustling with cries of who’s better than who; families sitting on rented mats eating out of their hampers occasionally mixing it with the foods from the stalls. The next morning I saw a completely new face to the beach with the same places of the night converting into jogging tracks, cricket squares and football grounds.
It was an ecosystem coming ṭo life – full of elements borne and bred by the beach.
During my term at Art school, our class had the chance to go to the awesome tourist city of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Shooting practice is what it was called. The month as I recall was March – just in time for the desert festival. Sunny days and pleasantly cold evenings.
In photographic terms, I was a freshman then. Much like the kid who tries to palm fill as many goodies as he can from the tray, I wanted to shoot pretty much everything that I saw. Fill the card!! was the cry. Loud and clear. The plan was to shoot the best pictures that Jaisalmer would have ever imagined – in 5 days, I would have the most amazing collection of travel pictures ever. Yep – all done and dusted. Hero status checked. Now just that shutter needed to be pressed.
But as I stepped out to make those amazing photographs, all was a maze. Places like Jaisalmer have the problem of plenty and I just could not fathom what and where to begin. A day and half went by as I walked by absolutely confused, shooting whatever I could lay my hands on. Hardly what an aspiring documentary photographer would do. I just didn’t fathom the enormity of the place.
Walking in the streets, making my way to the fort, fellow Fseven photographer Bhagyashree Patki and I crossed a residential space. The common folk place. Mix of houses and affluence; a big white 3 floor house just opposite a small one floor house with an open terrace. BP took some pictures of the locked house door, when we heard the voice “hello!! would you like to see my house?”
A girl, maybe 12 – 13 years, standing across the ledge of the house, adjacent to the door. We hadn’t noticed her; she saw us. “My name is Deepa”, she answered when BP asked her. Deepa invited us inside the house, encouraged us to shoot pictures. She sat on the steps in front of the door and smiled wide. “I can take you around”, she said.
Then Deepa walked us around. She took us to all the places that are worth an eye in Jaisalmer and took us to people who we would have missed. Like this person who has a long moustache. I mean you have to see it to believe it. She made me meet the wife of a local musician who plays the Ravanhattha; this lady does not know how to speak hindi properly; cannot read or write but can converse fluently in French and German as she needs to engage with the tourists. I could not converse with her as I do not speak either of the two.
Deepa walked us to certain rampants of the fort which we would have skipped in the usual course of events. And we saw Jaisalmer from the top. The day came to an end; she went home; we came to the hotel.
The next day we met again. While my memory fails me in the exact sequence of events but this was when we went to the Havelis – Patwon and Nathmal. Both havelis are significant and are a must do as they unfold the architecture and history of Jaisalmer. The evening brought a visit to the Gadisar Lake, calm and serene.
My fondness for Deepa grew. As did my curiosity about her. She was wonderful company, much like a pot of gold that you find in a desert. We visited places; she would talk endlessly;I answered selectively. Her comfort and confidence was amazing; I was more concerned about her staying out alone than she was.
One evening as we returned from another sojourn, we happened to fleetingly meet Deepa’s father and grandmother. A longer meeting with her father took place the next day when Sachindra, BP and I visited her house. Her father shared stories about the place, himself and his wife who was out visiting some relatives. He told us about his passion for being photographed and that he had acted as an extra in a couple of Bollywood movies and managed get himself clicked with Salman and Aamir Khan. Fancy that!! He opened up to us warmly. Not able to stop myself, I asked him if Deepa’s free spirit troubled him? “Not at all”, he said, “she is smart enough to sell a man on the street!!!”
Deepa’s company had given me the direction of what to see in Jaisalmer. I went to the fort area and walked the small streets inside. As I walked by a thin street, someone welcomed me. An elderly gentleman seated on a chair on the front porch of his house. His house was blue in color. All the walls. He stayed there with his family. I shot some pictures and left. Later I got them printed at a local printing shop and gifted the same to the gentleman the next day.
We were in time for the desert festival. A short drive out into the wilderness brought us to the desert, full of sand that changes colours with the sun. The camel races were the first events of the evening and a sight to see. Do you know the feeling of exciting anticipation? I felt it the crowd that day. The group’s racing their camels lined them up on the far end of the horizon and as soon as the shot went out, the camels galloped to the finishing line towards our side. Travellers delight!!!
I spent the next day in the fort. The Golden Fort as it is known, is a huge property now divided between the Govt and the Maharaja of Jaisalmer. Some of it is available for tourists to see. They have a handy feature to explore these places – a guide microphone – an instrument with preset recordings and headphones. Put them on, walk around the place and press the number that is displayed nearby. The entire story around that part of the monument plays out in the phone. And with music!! Within the fort, amongst many things to see and stories to hear, the one I remember most vividly was the act of Jauhar. Jauhar is a mass suicide committed by the women of the royal clan and families affiliated with the clan just before enemy forces enter their areas. Jaisalmer has been unfortunate to witness two such Jauhars. In the last Jauhar, as the men did not have the time to build the pyre in which the women would jump; so they decided to slit the throats. In the audio this was described as a sad but brave act. I still think about the same.
Another highlight in the fort was this a three dimensional map of the Jaisalmer fort which explained the architecture, design and logic of the construction. The fort was built at a height for protection. Within the high walls is a well designed waterways to ensure smooth flow and conservation. But as I saw it, the locals are now conserving water like this. Many places within the fort city have now been converted into homestays and restaurants. We had lunch in one such restaurant where the owner was one – in – all. He took the order, served us the drinks and food and then settled the bills. This was a lovely roof top restaurant; unfortunately I don’t have the name and pictures.
I was reunited with Deepa in the evening and we went to a local fair. Lots of rides and candy later, I convinced her to let me gift her a dress from the fair.
Parting day arrived. All of us went to met Deepa one last time to say our goodbyes. Deepa gifted us handmade cards with poetry in it. I requested her for a passport size photograph. I keep it in my wallet.
How much of conditioning can withstand the warmth of a heart. Not much, at least in my case. Three years and many incidents since I last met Deepa, but the time spent with her is well etched in my memory. And so shall it remain.
Things that I missed doing –
- Seeing the windmills. Thought these are restricted areas but they areon the side of the roads and one can always have a closer look.
- Visiting the haunted village – Kuldhara
My tips for a tour.
- We travelled by train from New Delhi to Jaisalmer and back. And in sleeper class. Now unless you are adventurous and gregarious; if the idea of people grabbing your berth for a few hours while you are pushed to a tiny corner of it is ok with you, go sleeper. Else book a berth in an AC coach. Once the train enters Rajasthan, it gets fairly dusty as well.
- Try and stay in a Haveli. There are plenty of them, now converted into hotels and homestays. The ones within the fort are smaller, but economical. If you have money to splurge go for the ones outside.
- Do eat the Mirchi Pakoda. This is a fritter with a huge green chilly as filling. Its spicy, oily and yummy. And the locals say it kills the heat.
- Aficionados can visit the bhaang shop, if it still exists. It’s near the fort and obviously popular. This guys makes bhaang of different types.
- Listen to all the local folk music played live that you can. Carry some cash to give to these guys and they belt out amazing songs. Especially the one on Gadisar Lake. If you can manage to find him.
- Last but not the least – meet Deepa. Circumstances permitting.
P.S. – Its been up my mind to go back and give Deepa her pictures. May we travel to Jaisalmer soon.