By Renuka Motihar
Photography is all about capturing the moment. Being alert, quick and patient otherwise the moment is gone……
Varanasi is a sacred city known for the ghats where devotees come to take a dip in the holy Ganges river. Wandering through the narrow lanes of Varanasi behind the busy ghats one hot summer evening, I came across these children playing in the streets. Their laughter and glee while playing was infectious. They had no hesitation in facing the camera when I asked them if I could take a photograph. I managed to capture the moment with the children in colorful clothes, pink bicycle and the blue wall.
The Angkor Wat group temples, known for their architecture and beauty are situated near Siem Reap, Cambodia. As I exited a temple, these children were standing in front, trying to sell bananas to anyone passing by. They looked like they were school-going as they were dressed in school uniforms. Poor, but smiling, resilient and dignified. A band of young banana sellers trying to supplement their family income.
These boys were playing on a tractor in the arid area of Barmer, Rajasthan. After school, they had found time to have fun with the tractor, climbing up with shouts of laughter and joy. This photo showcases local learning and play processes connected with their daily lives.
Walking through trails in the Kumaon mountains in Ramgarh, Uttarakhand, I came across these two girls who were returning from their village temple in the morning hours. Dressed in their colorful best, with tikkas on their foreheads, they were happy to be photographed. Two girls smiling on a bright sunny day. The importance of faith and prayers instilled young which keeps one rooted through the ups and downs of life.
In central Bhutan, Gangtey also called Probijkha is a beautiful and peaceful valley home to the black necked cranes. There are many nature trails through wooded forests, gurgling streams and a monastery. Bhutan emphasizes the environment and has community forests. These two red-cheeked boys were walking to school in their traditional dress (school uniform) and gum boots in the drizzle and mist amidst green environs.
A traditional fair is held every year at the time of Kartik Purnima in the town of Pushkar known for its Brahma temple and lake. There is trading of camels, horses and cattle. The camel herdsmen generally come from different parts of Rajasthan with their camel herds for selling. Sometimes alone or with their families. It is a photographer’s delight. Over the years, the number of photographers and instagrammers has increased, at times more than the camel herdsmen.
Walking through the fair grounds, I came across these girls in their traditional finery. With limited resources, they have learned to adapt to their changing situations.
I enjoy traveling to learn about places, people, food and cultures. It takes me out of the familiar into unfamiliar zone, bringing excitement and adventure. In the process, it also makes me learn about myself, about qualities I didn’t realize I had. Photography has helped me capture moments that would otherwise be lost. To be able to tell stories through photographs. I find visual storytelling appealing. People I have met through my travels have been generous with their time and mostly happy to have their photograph taken. – Renuka Motihar
Commentary by Masala Chai
The orchestra of identities
In Black Milk, the author Elif Shafak creates a fascinating narrative built around women authors and (imaginary) little finger woman, her constant companions as she experiences the first phase of motherhood, and, the deadly bleakness of postpartum depression. Intimate tensions emerge from querulous conversations in her ‘inner harem’ of “Thumbelinas”, tiny, argumentative representatives of her Self like Miss Highbrowed Cynic, who wants to read, Dame Dervish, who represents the author’s Sufism, and the troublemaker, Mama Rice Pudding, who wants to have babies. “To be human…” Shafak writes “…..means to live with an orchestra of conflicting voices and mixed emotions” (p. xii). Far from a coherent, unitary identity, she believes her psyche is imbued with a cacophony of voices that “squabble for ascendance”. They were her “harem within” (p. 46), each with its own predilection: benevolent, practical, crafty, flirtatious, ambitious or cynical. Her ruminative musings are compelling, and one is soon lost in the thickness of motherhood along with the author. But why does Shafak come up in a commentary about Photo Essays?
Living with Ms. Mead: The ethnographer djinn on my shoulder
As we move through life, my experience has been that our inner voices develop into robust companions, stretching the metaphor of the self to the edge of normalcy. It’s as if these voices become personified and gather personalities of their own, assisting with meaning-making, and in the case of Ms. Mead, with an ethnographic perspective. After having received a training in Child Development and Family Studies, Mead was born, and soon took her rightful place on my shoulders. Over the years, she has grown into a significant, usually delightful, sometimes annoying companion. No encounter is beneath or above her gaze. During a recent outing where I initially felt slightly distant, she warned me about the possibility of being snobbish. The correction was instant and I had a fine time in my ‘participant observations’, even enjoying accidental encounters with a bunch of school students and a mother and adult son on a day out together. Of course, sometimes her company can be a pain. Ms. Mead has always kept a close watch on my conduct, quick with her reproach if she disagreed. If I sound crazy, you’re probably right!
Ms. Mead, is named after the renowned ethnographer and social scientist, Margaret Mead. She warns against quick judgement and favours empathy and subjectivity. As long as Ms. Mead is perched on the shoulder, one can no longer experience any event without attention to ethics, science, position, place and social history.
This is how I felt with Renuka’s photo essay. She too seems to have a Mead-like companion by her side. That isn’t surprising because we’ve been through a similar training. But her pictures are far more evolved, given their depth and meaning, one is left with the desire to know more about the subjects, to imagine their lives. I have always viewed her albums with great joy and admiration and we are really grateful that she chose Masala Chai for this essay. As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions. Thank you for visiting Masala Chai!