Us & Them – Kids of Ladakh Reprise – Zanskar

Photo bhejoge ya yuhi mere judwa bachcho ki taswire leke ja rahe ho?‘, the mother retorted. An english translation would put her words as “Will you even send back these pics or are you taking pics of my twin boys just like that”. I didn’t have an answer to that. I was at Rangdum, a tiny village (if it could be called one), in the middle of a road (if ever there was one) to the valley of Zanskar from Kargil. For miles at a stretch one doesn’t come across anything alive here. Padum, the administrative center of Zanskar valley, is a hamlet light years away from what you call ‘civilization’. How in the world could I have sent back processed pictures of these kids in Rangdum where even cell phone networks didn’t work (forget photo printing)?? My guilt knew no bounds here. Shamelessly, I just backtracked my steps to the taxi which was waiting for me to finish the photo session. I had volunteered in Ladakh five years before and had returned with some wonderful pictures of kids then (Read : Us & Them – Kids of Ladakh). I wondered if I’d go back with guilt ridden pics from the current trip. This time, the trip to Zanskar had started with a drive from Leh to Kargil. It’s an arid route. Dry as a desert. Stark as moon. One would wonder how any life sustained here. Yet, one realises, that it is regions like these, far off, on the fringe, that preserve humanity at its best and humans at their warmest. A chai break on the road to Kargil gave a wonderful opportunity to meet a group of kids on their way back from their school.

The smiles of childhood

The smiles of childhood

Somewhere along the Leh Kargil Highway

Somewhere along the Leh Kargil Highway

Strangely, I never understood the reason for this but all the way around Kargil and the Suru valley, there were so many kids out on the roads, streets, highways everywhere. My friend later surmised that it could be due to lack of too many entertainment options, that they were out. No PS3s, laptops, Counter strikes. But only the legendary Views of a valley, grand mountains, gurgling rivers and apricot-loaded trees. Talk of trade-offs.

A chiildhood to wake  up these views?

A childhood to wake up to these views?

Or some place like this?

Or some place like this?

And then there were those children in the Zanskar valley, who probably walked kilometers at a stretch every morning to get to their schools, some of which could be in different villages altogether. These two kids we met during an early morning car drive, stood on the edge of the road, frantically waving their hands joined together in the gesture of a ‘namaste’ or a prayer. It was dramatic enough to remind me of those days as a kid when I’d miss my school bus and sadly wait for a friend to pass by in his car and give me a hike. Here, I had to force the taxi driver to stop and offer those kids a ride. Their thanks in the form of ‘ju ju‘ , ‘ya ju‘ still echo in my ears. And ofcourse, there was a bunch of school boys with whom we hitchhiked in a pick-up truck to go from a far off monastery to the local grounds for Independence day celebrations. Such a vibrant bunch, all of them.

School time in a pick up truck

School time in a pick up truck

Some other children we met in Padum, a small hotel owner’s son, a candy crazy little girl, a kid perched upon his father’s shoulders ..

Just a girl and her love for toffee

Just a girl and her love for toffee

Riding high

Riding high

The hotel owner's son.

The hotel owner’s son.

And finally the twins with whom this story started. To my amazement, I did actually manage to find a photo studio in Padum and print those pictures. I handed over a couple of those to their mother while returning back to Kargil. Expecting a hearty thanks, I asked her what she thought of those pics. Her reply – “Kaha achhe hain, naak toh beh rahi hai dono ki inme” (“Hardly good, both have running noses in these pics”). But this time I’m not upset. I just smile. I know better of the Ladakhis than to feel let down by her reply. They have known enough hardships in life to feel too elated or too sad about most things. I had just forgotten this in these five years. Nice to be back, finally.

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Us & Them – Kids of Ladakh

Us & Them – Rajasthan

Celebrating Ladakh Voluntarily!

This is the fifth in the writer’s series of photo-blogs focussed on the people of the places where he visits – Us & The

The Many faces of Mumbai – One for the Birds!

On a cool winter morning, as one walks down the road to the Sewri jetty in Mumbai, it seems more like taking a guard of honour from the oversized trucks that line both sides of the road. Pass them, and the road opens up. Towards the left, a smattering of old ship wrecks marks the foreground. And beyond them, a rising Sun glints upon the Arabian Sea, trying to figure its way between the clouds and the smoke that mark the usual Mumbai sky. But there’s so much here that’s unlike the usual Mumbai. It’s the east coast (yes, Mumbai has one!), and in a city known for its evening Chaupati sunsets, we are here to witness a sunrise and so, even the Sun is atypically benign.  But more than that, we are here for a glimpse of nature in the otherwise industrial area of Sewri.

A Sunrise through the wrecks

A Sunrise through the wrecks

A keener look at the sight reveals those thousands of birds that we’ve come looking after. They stand, in row after row, at the edge of what’s called the Sewri mudflats – wetlands formed by mud deposited after tides. Eyes marvel at the congregation of the white birds as we walk past rows of worn out and junk ships, or rather, large boats. Once at the jetty, the Flamingos are closer, their white bodies contrasting with the grey landscape and the nuanced pink flavours of their wings gelling with the reddish hues of an early morning. It’s like a sea of several curved dark beaks & long necks craning down to find fodder in another sea. Every now and then, one of them flaps its wings, to reveal a plumage of white, pink and black, all woven together by the careful & yet seemingly effortless precision that only an artist, or the nature itself, can afford. They come in huge numbers, an entire colony of tens of thousands that lines the swamps. The question really though, how did they land up here & why?

A colony of flamingos against the Sun

A colony of flamingos against the Sun

So here’s the thing. Every year, Mumbai witnesses a migration of Flamingos, mostly lesser Flamingos (more populous with darker bills and white-pink plumage) and a few greater flamingos (less populous, plumage is pink-red). Though one can’t be sure, it’s being said that these migrate from the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, already known for its Flamingo sightings. They usually look for swampy habitats & mangroves, which are easily provided for in areas such as Sewri and Thane creek. From the start of the winters till May, these are the abodes of thousands of these birds and several other species. Egrets, Sandpipers, Ibis are some of the other species of birds that can be easily spotted here.

A black headed Ibis and an Egret look for food

A black headed Ibis and an Egret look for food

Living in the constant grind of a city such as Mumbai, it is sometimes difficult to grasp that such natural beauty may be lying in your backyard (Also Read : Biking through the heart of Mumbai – SGNP).  Sometimes, one just needs to look around. Take a moment to catch one of these birds in flight and ponder at the amazing story of migration that Mumbai is, of birds that flocked from all other parts of the country, to find food & shelter here; of the swamps & marshes, of mud & concrete alike, that provided them all of this; the mud-flats that in a way, represent the richness & also the shallowness of our city lives that all drain into the urban sea called Mumbai. Look at them, an Ibis here, an Egret there, at one moment flocking together, at the other competing for a piece of the same food.

Aren’t you and I, birds here too?

A sea of Flamingos

A sea of Flamingos

Have you witnessed a Flamingo sighting? Where and how was it?

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Biking your way through the heart of Mumbai – SGNP

The many faces of Mumbai – The wait for thee!

Us & Them – Sri Lanka

Who am I? I wonder. A pearl perhaps, in a necklace of history, woven by the oldies around me, who cease not, to boast of their past. Who am I, but just a tear drop, in an ocean of identities, of claims, of conflicts. But a dream, in a sea of confused realities. They called me ‘Serendib’, that which was discovered by chance! And I wonder, again. You could have been lost, traveller, but I have always been here. Forever, in temples that store a tooth of the Buddha, in the folklore of the tears of Sita, in the spirit of a legendary Ashoka’s Dhamma. I was always here, as a thought, a belief, a land in the legend of your legends, the pearl of an island, the keeper of a stories thousand.

Did you forget me traveller?

For I was here when you brought the Dharma to my fortress, dressed as Mahindra..

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& I was still here till so late when those waves struck us together..

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But did you forget me traveller? For I waited for you in those green hills..

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..Waited to shower you with smiles, when all you wanted was just a glimpse

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I stood here, while you painted my walls with colours of thee, Dutch somewhere, somewhere else Portuguese.

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And colours I did have of my own, those splendid hues of blue, which men & fish alike, would day after day cling to.Image 

I was there In the taste of the cinnamon, sweet and savoury both, akin to that of a conversation with the family that grew this  ‘kurundu’  

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I was there, in the sheer astonishment of my folks so humble at anything new..  

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..In those headlines of a newspaper that’d soak the occasional morning dew

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And also among those lines that divided my children..

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But even today my friend, I continue to remain in those cricket-loving roars of  “I AM KUMARA SANGAKARRA!” that unite them!

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Yet, I wonder, did you forget me traveller?

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Have you been to Sri Lanka? What were your thoughts about the place?

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This is a part of the writer’s series, Us & Them, documenting the people of the places he visits. Some of the earlier posts under this series are-

Us & Them – Rajasthan

Us & Them – Kashmir

Us & Them- Kids in Ladakh 

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Sun, Sand & Sri Lanka

5 Reasons you must go to Sri Lanka NOW!

 

 

The Many Faces of Mumbai – The wait for Thee!

Over the past few days, I have been obsessed with Mumbai. It’s the city I have been living in for quite a few years now. I have hated it. And at those times, when I’ve been away from it, I’ve missed it. I’ve cursed it. And those times, when I’ve roamed around carefree at odd hours in the night & still managed to find something to eat, I’ve thanked it. Quite frankly, it’s an enigma, the more you try to understand it, the more it puzzles you. It’s an elusion, the moment you think you have made it in Mumbai, it brings back to ground with a crash & a thud. It’s a confusion, of people and their ambitions, of cultures and their religions, of emotions and their manifestations. Perhaps the only place that gives an Irani and a Bihari equal opportunities to aspire for and realise their dreams. It’s a deluge on the senses. More than 18 million voices to be heard, faces to be seen, their minds to be understood and their hearts to be felt, their cuisines to be devoured, smelled, and relished. 18 Million! It is with this objective that I set out starting this section of the blog. To bring to you a picture, every now and then, of the many faces of Mumbai, its people and its places, and everything around, that they find their expression in.

Today, we start with the iconic Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai, a belief for several, and an inspirer for several others, including the Oscar award winning music composer, A.R. Rahman and his songs! The title of the pic, ‘The wait for Thee‘ tries to capture the spirit of the Sufis that this landmark signifies.

The wait for Thee..

What would you want to see more of here? Do leave back your suggestions in the comments.

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Biking your way through the Heart of Mumbai

Us & Them – Kashmir

Us & Them – Rajasthan

Us & Them – Kashmir

It is here that I decide to be a Lens. Just the lens of a camera. Period. But I secretly wish I was a human here, in this princess of lands, that an emperor once called ‘Firdaus’ – Persian for paradise.

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How I envy the splendour of the valleys that these locals dwell in, the silent opulence of their lakes and the exquisiteness of their cuisine, the wazwan. But there’s hardly ever a thing called a free lunch. Being a human has its own costs, especially in a land that evokes the strongest of pathos, from the natural beauty of a landscape & equally from the unnatural ugliness of a conflict and as much as I may yearn for it, I can’t afford to be a human here. I’m glad being just the lens, that doesn’t belong to any human, not even an eye, for even then I may end up taking sides!

I’m glad being just a lens, I’d hardly ever have to face winds as fierce in a terrain as tough..

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I’m glad being a lens for all I captured with this nomadic Bakarwal kid was his horse, and not the herculean effort of his family climbing the Himalayan passes up every summer and then down to Jammu every winter

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I’m pleased that I could pretend to just glare incessantly into the eyes of ‘chacha‘ and not listen to his woes of insufficient payments and insensitive trekkers & inefficient travel unions

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I’m glad that I could stare at the faces of these school boys but not at the uncertainty of their future

School Students

Oh and being a lens has its perks too, for I’m the only one an army would allow in its camps to capture whatever I want!

Soldier

But then that’s all that a lens can gather from a scene. And it saddens me. A land like Kashmir deserves far more than my mechanical visions.

I’m sad because I could only capture the innocent look of little Ashfaq but could hardly zoom into his dreams of growing up and becoming a soldier..

Ashfaq

I could take in the mountains and the pastures but not the delight of having a chai in the lap of the very same mountains

Chai in the Mountains

I’m angry that I could only watch with wariness when these eyes approached me, I wish I had emphasized more on the excitement in them while they recalled their travels to other parts of India

Student

And I’m disappointed that even though I focussed on the eyes of the other ‘Chacha’ , I was barely capable of focussing on his pride of climbing those numerous passes and mountains as a Kashmiri

Chacha

Truth is, it’s tough even being just a lens in Kashmir. I’v already been happy, glad, sad, angry and disappointed narrating this to you. Perhaps even as a lens, I was taking sides. May be, being an eye wouldn’t have been that tough. May be then I would have seen beyond the smoke that lies between me and them.  May be if I had been an eye, I’d have known the better of taking sides!

Chai in the mountains

You may also like –

Us & Them  – Rajasthan

Us & Them – Kids in Ladakh

Us & Them – Sri Lanka

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Have you been to Kashmir? What were your impressions of the place?