Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Quest for beauty-through the lens

A distant neighbor (not an oxymoron!) came over to meet me, and the first thing she blurted was: “Black, black thai gayu”. Nodding affirmatively, I wondered for a second if she was referring to the pollution, the grey monsoon clouds or the general gloom due to stock markets crash, until it hit me that my very visible tan was being referred to! While I appreciate the direct communication that comes knocking on your door in India, the level of sensitivity amused me having become used to more ‘coated’ communication.

It also made me wonder that what is it about fairness of the skin that is given so much weight to. Not only is it a source of ego but an unjustified basis for admiration. 10-15 years back, I had come across a lady in rags begging for alms. I thought she had the most beautiful features and could have easily bagged a Miss India title. Yes, maybe beauty does lie in the eyes of the beholder.

Traveling through India it has been refreshing to see the variety of colors, sights, people and landscapes. Has me mesmerized. I have been unable to resist the urge to just click away. I found so much beauty in the defiant eyes of a bandhini-clad woman, the seeking eyes of an old mother, the wrinkles of an old chacha, the pink nose of an otherwise scruffy pup, the aggressive drive of women waiting to get off a Virar local or siblings fighting over the last bite of an ice-cream. Eyes speak volumes-looking at or looking away.

I have been searching for the beauty of a smile that comes from the heart. Having seen it even in the poorest of the poor people, it makes me wonder if mental stresses aren’t more overpowering than any kind of physical stress. Also, are the poor more carefree as they live just in the moment- which the rich often fail to do, dwelling in what has been and what can be.

I had never imagined that my journey would be made so much more rewarding just being equipped with a camera. Despite being drenched in sweat, surrounded by heaps of garbage and flies, stranded on a platform without electricity for hours, crowds and cars literally attacking me- I was able to stay unfazed and even entertained just by observing and capturing this diversity
Not that I haven’t seen India before…just now observing it with fresh eyes and a more open and accepting soul.

Be the Change

I came to India armed with the knowledge of management principles, an optimistic outlook, and maybe a dash of ego [that rarely lets go of me]. As the plane began its descent, the lush green forests underneath almost made me croon: “Mere desh ki dharti…”! However, the view transformed into a sea (no exaggeration!) of shanties as we approached the airport. It made me wonder: ‘Seriously, what was I thinking?!!!’

I have been observing every detail closely to analyze how this can be made better. While waiting for my sandwich as the sandwich-wala struggled with demand overkill, I resisted the urge to offer lessons in volume management and LEAN standardization of the ‘vegetable slicing’ process. Quality control is a different issue altogether- as a mosquito got sliced and included along with the cucumber in a ‘Jain’ sandwich!

Likewise, navigating through the traffic, I realized the helplessness of a situation if a person had an emergency health condition. Almost took me back to Abhishek Bachchan’s reaction in Delhi-6 where the only way his grandma could be rescued in the middle of traffic was through the auspicious birth of a goat! It is insane the way the faith and belief structure operates in India. For a moment,I believed too that divine intervention was the only way out. Maybe it is the impossibility of challenges put forth on a daily basis that reinforces the faith that there better be someone up there who will take care of it all. Does it then also give rise to the apathy and lack of desire for change that I have observed in the common man? Have we so given in to the circumstances that we don’t even realize the crappiness of it? Or is just the lack of awareness of what life can be- having seen life outside India and how productive and constructive it can be maybe makes me feel differently.

The magnanimity of the lack of structure in every aspect of the environment brings in not just fear of what am I out to attain, but also the humility to focus on just one aspect and work diligently at it. I am not responsible for, nor capable of the change required. During my school and college years, I was an environment protection fanatic- neither would I throw trash carelessly, nor let anyone do so. But this time around I have seen myself change. I don’t command people to behave as I desire. But have just been reiterating Gandhiji’s mantra over and over: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I take care of my actions without demanding or expecting. In some way feel I that it is a very powerful way to lead, and maybe just less distressing to your soul!

Home is where the heart is

I have decided to take my return to India a second time as a first-hand evaluation of where I see myself: physically, personally and professionally. Until now, I have just been led where my parents decided or where my educational pursuits landed me. I have seen my perspectives change remarkably as now the responsibility for my life and my decisions lie with me.

It sure has been intimidating to see how the city I called mine, Mumbai, doesn’t really accept me…and can even crush me to despair. Human life is not valued and I have failed to see any personal bonding between people, beyond a measure. Maybe this is more a ‘city’ phenomena that even relationships ultimately come down to business. A rat race it is, for sure.

Daily life is a struggle in Mumbai. A 15 km stretch of drive took me 3 hours. I felt sorry for the people crammed in BEST buses still struggling to make it home at 10 pm on Friday. TGIF?!!! Does that concept exist for the common man? Not that this is new to me…I have been there, done it before. However, increasingly I feel the futility and lack of productivity of such activity. How do you retain the ‘LIFE’ in your life?

And this mad rush is to make a decent living as inflation sky-rockets. Never thought I would be affected by what ‘aadha kilo tamatar’ or ‘ek plate idli costs’. Increasingly, I have been able to digest 'these' only when I convert the prices to US dollars! Don’t even mention housing costs. Even as I ponder over my sustainability in such conditions, the rich-poor divide has increased to proportions that may rip the society apart.

Not all’s done for though!!! The simplicity of daily life, relationships and communication quite literally color any hovering grey clouds. In the midst of the traffic mayhem, I did spot a couple relishing Matka Kulfi off the road, as it rained incessantly. Seeing friends laughing and chitchatting on their way to Ganpati Mandir late on Tuesday might brought back fond memories. Guess a lot can be said for the simple pleasures and the sweet nothingness of life. The power of local networks you develop is reassuring too-it was heartwarming to see everyone from the jhaaduwali, electrician, cable wala, and bhajiwala delighted to see us back after a year; and for the sandwich wala to remember my preferences: ‘butter nahi, chatni kam’!!!

The ‘sugar and spice’ of this all makes me wonder- where exactly is my home; where should I choose to belong? The saying ‘home is where the heart is’ acquired a new meaning for me. I have come to believe that home is where you find constructive, engaging and satisfying work; and unwavering companionship-no matter the circumstances. City, living conditions, money and so forth are secondary. They help, but rewarding work and a support system can help adjust expectations towards being incredibly happy. I guess those are what I am out to seek…don’t know yet if I am still ‘in transit’ or if I have reached.