A graveyard anywhere is a blunt reality that we may relate to and run away from. In the blazing heat of the day, the white cross may look calm and inviting, but the cross, under the lights of the night, plunges the cemetery into obscurity, where the mystery might be as good as dead.
When we speak of descent, this picture of the Horseshoe Falls (or the Canadian Falls) stares back at us.
There’s mist, mystery, as masses of water plunge over 167 ft drop to flow into Lake Ontario. The constant roar of the Falls excites, scares and transcends us.
I captured this image of the Spirit House, which was a hall of intrigue and in it were myriad story possibilities, at Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.
Daniel Libeskind – the architect of Freedom Tower in New York City – designed Lee-Chin Crystal, also designing some of the chairs in the House.
The stainless steel chairs held a glossy rhythm with the crystalline surrounding. From the center of the house one could see in the arch above an interwoven pattern of concrete, which linked exhibit spaces with elevators, speaking of conflicts and order in stories.
In a Central Park pond, three male mallard ducks circled a female mallard. The reflections of the wispy aquatic plants were hues of green and straw in the quiet pond, which a gentle wind often ruffled to create ripples.
Ripples were decimating the trails the moving ducks left, but when breeze stopped and ducks paused, stillness prevailed. That’s when nature offered me a moment to reflect, and I felt my presence.
I first met him in the fall of 1996 when he, in an ironed kurta-pajama, passed by me, and whooshed the door open to his small office. I was lazing at my desk, waiting for the Director, who I’d been hired to assist. The morning was overcast and light barely filtered through the window at the entrance, but the pure white of his cotton made the day appear brighter. I was young, and it was my first job.
It took a few months before the Director recommended that I work for Kailash Satyarthi – the Chairperson of Bachpan Bachao Andolan/Save The Childhood Movement (BBA) – whom we fondly call “Bhaisahab.”
His costume though it was bright, had an air of intimidation, because we’d witnessed all our lives in India, the white-adorned politicians who would often vanish after they’d won the elections, not delivering on their promises. Though I knew Mr. Satyarthi wasn’t a politician, I’d still braved through, with raised brows and wet palms, the jitteriness of my first formal meeting with him. When a 6-foot man, bespectacled, with black beard and hair neatly parted and slicked to the side, breezed into the room and glanced at me, I stood up, holding out my hand when he did his, to shake, and poor man, he had to wipe his hand with a kerchief, as he advised, “You don’t have to worry at all.”
The softness of his voice belied his domineering posture, and the nicety of his demeanor made it easy for me to want to work with him for next several years. He was a presence of immense hope. If we look at his graph – until the moment he won the Nobel Peace Prize – he had given thousands of voiceless children a smile, touching their hearts and enlightening them with his never-say-die attitude.
In my 9 year stint with him, being responsible for his schedule and travel as well, I’d spent most of my time in the office than at home with my family. And the only reason I could pull that off was that I worked for a man, who I rarely saw in a state of exhaustion. He traveled domestic and international, extensively, with the mission of eliminating child labor; and the success of Global March Against Child Labor, under his leadership, proved that, with partnerships and collaborations, groups and teams, we were cruising along to end the menace.
Way to go. His travel continued for days on end, and yet, one fine morning only a couple of hours after he’d arrived from a trip to the US, he was in the office – fighting jet lag – to meet with a local organization, which had come to him for guidance. He’d welcomed them, and stressed how if everyone involved in the movement displayed the passion the mission demanded, the endeavors would yield results. And he’d also warned that the path to mission’s success faced stiff opposition from more quarters than we could imagine — but so long as we didn’t devalue the power of our collective conscience for the sake of the cause, we were right on course. His philosophy and pragmatism kindled each other in the design of his thoughts, where children became the only focus.
He was running high fever one day, but still wanted to lead a team to raid a factory in North Delhi, where some details earlier had suggested that the brick kiln owner was employing forced child labor. All of us had requested he let somebody else lead the raid so he could recover, but his stubbornness was nonpareil, and he wished to go. I remember I’d handed him some pills of paracetamol for fever. A day later, when he’d returned with his team in a foggy evening, he looked fresh, with dozens of rescued children following him into the conference hall — where he stood in a corner, unattached, smiling at the children, who cheered and celebrated their new-found freedom. His detachment, I thought, was a moment during which he pondered upon the day gone by, when he and his team had conducted another riskier raid, converting its success into the laughter that reverberated in the building. His fever pills were intact, and his fever only worse, and he tossed the first one into his mouth, and informed us that he’d better get rest, and stepped out, into his car and disappeared in the fog.
I remember he had a couple of meetings in Germany and an important one in London, but his UK visa had expired, and he had to leave within two days. We were not scheduling anything in the UK because we knew we had to renew the visa. I remembered a get-together that BBA had, the previous week, and a senior visa official from the British High Commission had been in attendance, and I remember how he’d admired Mr. Satyarthi and the organization, and had left his visiting card. I called him around 3 pm to check if renewal of the visa was possible at such short notice, and he asked me to meet him in the embassy with Mr. Satyarthi’s passport, and by late evening the same day, his visa was renewed. The next day, I’d written to BBC HARDtalk, a popular show where global leaders are grilled, sending them Mr. Satyarthi and organization’s profile, asking if he could be interviewed – since he had a day to spare in London – and by next morning, I received their confirmation that they’d be pleased to have him.
Later, when I updated Mr. Satyarthi about these two developments, he patted on my back and said that he was proud of me – to which I said that I hadn’t done much, and that he was a known figure fighting for a just cause, and somebody only had to contact the right person at the right time.
Years passed, and his hair and beard turned grey and he began to look weary. One weekend, the entire office went to Bal Ashram, a rehabilitation center for rescued child laborers in Jaipur, to spend time with the children. And I remember we were playing volleyball, during a recreational period, and Mr. Satyarthi looked washed-out, but when somebody lifted the ball for him to smash, his strike had so much power that I had to duck my head on the other side. He has always been too mentally strong to allow fatigue to weaken him, and I know that his commitment for child rights will stay alive till his last breath.
Behind the glitter and glamour of the Nobel Prize are his incredible patience in handling complexities, live-in-the-present motto, taking risks to life, seeking truth, and delivering on the promises – the qualities he was born with, and which made his actions for the children languishing in slavery, be counted.
I left the organization in 2004, but I followed its activities online, and I’m so thrilled that 10 years later, Mr. Satyarthi won the prize after being in the running for it for several years, as per the Nobel Committee. But for me he had won it much earlier, when I’d realized that his passion and mission were noble enough.
Isn’t this shadow a sign that all is well? At White River State Park in Indianapolis.
Sad folks may not like their shadows (some may seek perspective in them). Happy folks may brag about their shadows (some may take pictures).
If a shadow (which is immune to being judged) looks imperfect, which is often the case, it’s normal. What is not normal is when imperfection in some makes the rest think they are bigger or stronger than they really are.
This nighttime picture of Balzac’s, which is a sought-after coffeehouse in the Distillery District, Toronto, shows faded brick walls, stylish chandelier, high ceilings, and a lit window; but what transpires below on the first level, among a crowd of people who’re chin-wagging and tittle-tattling while sipping the in-house roasted coffee, may be hard like the brick, classy like the chandelier, empty like the ceiling, and bright like the window.
It may befit the moment that you (a bitter reflection of your past acts) now realize how your egotism scared your friends away; how you were certain that one day you’d sit here and sip alone with no one to talk to. The lone you now glances up hoping that some day things might change, for you wish to maintain the status quo.
He strummed tune after tune on the Venice beach boardwalk in Los Angeles.
His shabby attire belied the soulful melodies of his performance. He endured, plucking the strings, reaching the broken hearts with “Careless Whispers” and the confused minds with “Make me Pure.”
I saw a liplocked couple standing by a restroom, never wanting to unlock; and a marijuana addict who smoked another joint with teary eyes.
The performer was a homeless marijuana addict himself and he, after hours of non-stop plucking, hollered, “I haven’t eaten for days,” and went back to strumming.
Outside the Museum of Royal Houses in Santo Domingo, though this ice cream vendor was eating his lunch, he was ready to sell his cones and bars as he stood up at the sight of the oncoming steps. He was taking another bite when he heard the click of my camera snapping this photo. He scanned my body language hoping that my steps would lead to him, which they did. I bought a vanilla cone.
Since his food depended on those sales, I asked him if he’d ever eaten his meals in peace. He said, “Sales give peace. One cone, more? please.”
This shot was captured from the inside of the National Pantheon of the Dominican Republic. The National Pantheon was originally a church; today it serves as the final resting place for the nation’s honored citizens.
The guards and the flags were in the resting place; colors dim, painfully quiet. The heat of the summer outside painted the walls white; it was loud.
As the sun is about to set, the evening longs for a period of twilight to author a piece of bliss, where: the transition to dusk may see the river reflect a calming hue, the ripples glitter under the moon.
In the fading twilight, as the Caribbean Sea lends quietude to a noisy park in Malecon, these musicians showcase their skills; their objective is to earn some Dominican Peso so they buy dinner for their family in this poverty-stricken Caribbean nation.
Three ladies, a gentleman, and a child appear to be a family. Though the ladies may love some music, spending pesos is hard given their expenses and there’s a child, too. So the gentleman on the left initiates a look-elsewhere strategy triggering a look-elsewhere response from the rest.
The performer wearing the brim hat looks elsewhere too; he’s begun to understand the futility of their collective tune.
Since we can take this challenge to an abstract direction, I thought of these two pictures, taken on the day of my son’s first birthday.
We were out in the evening and I saw people swarm a corner circling a god-like figure. The figure had white hair and beard, wore a red chasuble and a red miter.
He was Sinterklaas. This was in Amsterdam more than a decade ago.
Though Sinterklaas looks like Santa Claus, he’s Saint Nicholas: a Dutch character. Legend has it that Sinterklaas originally hailed from Turkey and was a well respected and loved man. The feast of Sinterklaas is on December 6, but the evening of December 5 is when loved ones get their gifts.
It’s odd if there’s no oddity from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): a producer of great minds.
The Intellectuals’ Circle. 16 people can sit here. Half facing in, half facing out. Whose brains will seal the first deal?
She became a work of art herself standing there hours on end, which required a lot of strength and resoluteness. This was in the summer of 2011 in Boston.
She moved only when she had to give chits.
Place a dollar in the column and receive a fortune. Though we didn’t place the bill, the ones who did were given chits. She kept her expression intact as she picked the chit from her funnel bag, her movement graceful.
She’s Sister Oracle. Oracles are like the portals of heaven through which gods communicate directly with people.
Everything’s moving, and whether we like it or not, we too have to move.
Anyone who reads this may blush or giggle, get excited or even scandalized.
Never been a fan of public nudity but I still visited Gunnison Beach, Sandy Hook, New Jersey. How humans looked strange!
Gunnison Beach is legal and attracts huge crowds in summer. There’s a group called Friends of Gunnison where hundreds of its members are friends in real life. Meaning: they live their city lives and meet socially fully-clothed; and when they hit the beach they’ll sit across from each other – discuss life, family and politics – without a shred of clothing on them.
This week’s Photo Challenge reminds me of a beautiful day we spent in Washington DC. I took pictures of monuments – big and small – and though I’m not attaching all of them here, I must state that DC is incomplete without monuments.
Founded in 1951, Corning Museum of Glass is the world’s largest glass museum in Corning, New York. We visited the museum on our way to Niagara Falls.
If you’re keen to learn the art, science and history of glass, this is the place to be. It has on display 35 centuries of glass artistry, from the Roman and Islamic periods up to modern art glass; has live demonstrations for glassblowing, glass breaking, lamp working; has exhibits showing commercial uses of glass like fiber optics, telescope lens; has thousands of glass artworks by renowned artists.
We know that the immigrants built this country, suffering years and years of toil and struggle. This bronze sculpture in Battery Park celebrates the diversity of New York City.
The figures with their dramatic poses include a freed African slave, a worker, a priest and an Eastern European Jew. Indeed this was a threshold before the freedom beckoned guaranteeing our rights and responsibilities.
We visited The Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, more than a year ago. We were two of the 300,000 visitors that year, which is roughly the number of visitors every year.
The Breakers – a Vanderbilt mansion, a national historic landmark, the most luxuriant house in a summer resort, the top Gilded Age gem, considered the social capital of America – was constructed in 1895.
Since interior photography wasn’t allowed we couldn’t take pictures, but from what we saw and learned: Italian and African marbles, and mosaics and rare woods from several countries were used to design the interior. Interestingly, the gold room in the mansion was constructed in France before disassembling and shipping the parts in airtight cases to Newport, Rhode Island, where it was re-assembled.
View from the mansion – oasis of green and blue.
Steel trusses were used to make the structure fireproof.
Though not a great picture, my rendezvous with the legend of Manneken Pis – a 61 cm tall bronze statue – happened a decade ago in Brussels, Belgium. Since the visit to Brussels was around Christmas, you could see him in a Santa Claus costume, peeing into fountain’s basin.
Among the several stories about Manneken Pis, my favorite is, When a fire awoke a young boy, he put out the fire with his urine and therefore could stop the king’s castle from burning down.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about street is crowd, and how people in the crowd are either active or inactive. Other things that become part of street may lie in the periphery, adding layers and colors.
People in these pictures are impersonators from two different locations: one, from posh-yet-punishing Los Angeles in the US, and the other, buzzing-yet-backward Santo Domingo in Dominican Republic.
Los Angeles punishes strugglers. Legend has it that Brad Pitt was once an impersonator before he became what he became. Here in the picture, an impersonator has become Robert Pattinson, who looked fit and might not be a hungry man. People were paying him for a picture.
Santo Domingo has a lot of hungry people. The impersonator in the picture, who looked stoned, stood in that position for a long time; the street was empty. But he performed ‘Dangerous’ moves later in the evening as people swarmed the El Conde Street. Michael Jackson later told me that he’d moonwalk all day to eat one meal at night. When I offered him Presidente beer he drank it with his meal, following which he asked me if I wanted to smoke weed.
This will take you to the clusters of glass, steel and concrete. The tall buildings of NYC. Capturing them on camera was easy.
Brilliant architecture and lovely designs have infused life into these buildings, giving them character.
This is in continuation to my post about New York City. It’s a brief list: I’m sharing what my camera chose to capture.
When art gets public space and attention
We had a wonderful time at Great Stirrup Cay, which is a private, 250-acre island in Bahamas owned by Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL).
The cay has crystal clear water and soft white sand beaches. Swim, snorkel, sunbathe; there’s a mini Straw Market for shopping; midday beach-side BBQ for lunch; Hippo water slide: world’s largest inflatable water slide – 40 feet high, 175 feet long.
Lucayan Indians first inhabited the island, followed by Spanish explorers, and the British. Slave traders were active in the 19th century. The cay was used during the American Civil War; then as an American base to fight German submarines active in the Caribbean during World War II. And before NCL bought the island from an oil company, the US Air Force used it as a satellite tracking station.
Swim or snorkel beside a school of tropical fish; or get a photo taken with a waiter-in-water.
A lifeguard’s best rock-seat
Approaching the cay
Soft white sand beaches
The mini Straw Market
Calm ocean breeze
Hippo Water Slide
In Central Park last year, I observed the bride’s costume and the groom’s coziness.
So many cameras, including mine, focused on them. The couple had their cameraman click their pictures. None – it was possible – had time for reflection.
Later, the couple – in some uncertain corner of their subconscious – were reflecting, perhaps: where they were, when this began, and how this would end.
But, they possibly refrained from fretting about past or worrying about future. They possibly accepted the reflections of the present.
There are things without which this city cannot survive: NYPD, FDNY, yellow cab, street vendors, to name a few. And there are things with which the city continues to thrive: street performers, among others.
Street Performers: Talented, and though they do this for money, they won’t ask you for a cent.
Was when I met Montesinos.
This 150-foot stone and bronze statue of Fray Antón de Montesinos, donated by the Mexican government, is half the size of Statue of Liberty (305 feet). It faces the Caribbean sea on Santo Domingo Harbor.
Montesinosa was a Dominican priest who protested the way the Spanish treated the New World native Indians, and in a famous sermon in 1511, he courageously spoke against this ill-treatment.
His sermon triggered a fierce debate over the natives’ rights and their identity.
He died around 1545.
A blend of ‘smart’ and ‘hard’ work, we loved these portraits at Ripley’s Believe It or Not, in New York City.
Casa Loma, in Toronto, was Sir Henry Mill Pellatt’s early 20th century residence.
Inside Casa Loma, there’s a tunnel – 800 feet long – which was once a secret passage between the castle and horse stables.