Dec 132015

i went to Damu Nagar yesterday. One of my team mates wanted me to document this. I haven’t done this (documentation) since i took on my corporate role, and at a very basic level, i needed that reality check of being back to see ground level realities.

There are things that we know as broad level approximations – the price of privilege, i am guessing – and there is ground level reality. usually there is a wide chasm between the two.  Controlled interactions reveal less than organic ones.

As someone whose grounding is in the documentary form, factual narratives which are not in my voice, but the voice of the people i am shooting, i have learnt to go silent, use the camera as a barrier between the world and me, and i have learnt to observe. Talking is less important, questioning for expected answers is an exercise in futility , and therefore what is left is to observe. i have spent a day or two just rolling the camera in different places, absolutely sure that i will get unusable footage, because people tell you what you want to hear. The trick is to observe unseen. To shoot unseen. For, the camera rarely lies.You need to go beyond the obvious to pick that up.

Damu-Nagar---despairWhat you will see, whenever you to the site of a disaster is the seeming cheer. People trying to use an emotional defense mechanism to cope. It is when you see their eyes, you know the truth – and that truth is despair mixed with despondency. All those lofty things we discuss in the comfort of our air conditioned, and air purified drawing rooms, and offices have little or no bearing on the reality in these situations. Theoretical constructs are easy. Practical intervention is more long term.

And, the starting point is leaving behind all your preconceived notions, or even what your eyes see and your ears hear. Often, both are a product of your optimism. I have been doing this for a fairly long time, and one of the things i have learned not to do is self project my ‘ideal’ solutions – often brought about by complete lack of knowledge on the subject, on the situation. I used to do enough of this, and more — an eager beaver ready to solve all the problems of the world. And, then i realized how little i know. Sometimes the older me has a flashback of a younger me, and cringes in embarrassment. I have changed. I have no solutions. All i do, now, is document. The problem is vast. The solution is manifold and multilayered. And I accept, i don’t know the answers. Forget the answers, i don’t even know the questions.

As in most cases, the response of political parties and cultural organisations is more organised and more immediate than that of the administration. Some tarpaulins have arrived. Meals are regular. medicines have reached. Whatever is within the power of these players, is being done. But, long term rehabilitation is not under their control – it is between the municipality, the forest department and the state government. The Rs.3800 cheque offered as compensation is met with laughter. “hamare paas bank account bhi nahin hai, is cheque ka kya karoon‘ is a constant refrain.

Damu Nagar -the remains of the fire

the remains of the settlement, fire swept through the slums in Bhim Nagar, Damu Nagar. A gas cylinder exploded. then many more did. People ran through narrow, rocky, uneven pathways to higher ground. The fire consumed everything in it’s path.

We have lost everything, says one woman. it is echoed many times over. Women huddle together with each other, trying to form a self support mechanism. I see drunk men. And, i use the term with no value judgement. This is their way of coping. one clasps my hand with both his – ‘do something he says’ … i can see the barely controlled tears in his eyes. he then proceeds to tell Deepak Lokhande his story. Sometimes, you just need someone to listen to you. i feel helpless, as i usually do in cases like this.

Lost everything, even the basic confidence to pull through to the next day.

Damu Nagar – women waiting it out. Hoping tomorrow will be a better day. 

Different communities live in different part of the slum. I come across a woman. Are you Tamil, i ask. Telugu, she says. We talk for a bit – the story is the same. came from the villages with nothing. made something in mumbai. And lost everything in the fire. There is no way of estimating the loss. If someone told you 50k of savings, in cash, was burnt, would you believe it?














Is it pathos i hear? is it desperation ? is it disbelief? the starting point is that no one knows how they are going to build back their lives. Do i have the answer to it – i wish i did. I don’t even know where to begin. Is this the government’s fault for allowing a settlement to come up in no man’s land? is it the resident’s fault for daring to dream, escape to mumbai and build 100 square foot homes in no man’s land? is it a tragedy waiting to happen and is it the price of development. All i know is one thing, and the only thing i have ever known – poverty and it’s impact are truly secular.

There is more i will write. we are trying to do something. i am not sure if that something is right or correct. But, i  am not sure any of us can sit back and afford to wring our hands in helplessness. As, one of the residents put up this paper on a burnt out tree ‘what do you want’ .. i want a permanent home.

Damu Nagar - Aamhala Ghar Pahije

Dec 072015

At times when i see Christmas Ads, i feel like Scrooge.

Most of them, especially the firang ones, tend to be full of cheer, laughter, great looking people, great looking food and extended families who love being together, in joyous harmony – and after a point a surfeit of them can drive me towards acute nausea, caused by excessive sweetness. (it has begun happening with diwali ads too).

But, this rather morbid humour ad, from Germany, has turned the formula on its’ head. And the impact is emotional. I found myself tearing up.

The story is simple, and possibly closer to reality than most ‘festivities’ ads are. Old man, widower. Empty nest. Children have moved away, leading their own lives, and he is going to celebrate X’mas alone. yet again.From the treatment it is evident that this is normal behavior by his children, and he is terribly lonely and yearns for their presence.

The children get a message that he has died, and they return home for the funeral …

This is just the kind of stunt my dad would have pulled, if we were like the children in the ad.

The brand in question, is the largets German supermarket chain, Edeka. And, i am not quite certain what the ad has to do with supermarkets . There are ads that win prizes, and there are ads that sell products. This is possibly the former.

Nov 302015

Yesterday, i was sifting through the photos that i had shot during the travels.

This one stood out for me, for one simple reason. In the ruined remains of a former, glorious, capital city, of the Khmer Empire, a thin gossamer of what may be a completely alive life form.  Everything else is gone, but the stone structures. The living tradition of culture is not just gone, but also forgotten. I wonder how many such empires there were through history. Stories forgotten. Histories forgotten. Lineages Forgotten. Culture Forgotten. Not even a footnote. Just not there. Like they never existed.

web of life

(Spider’s web. Angkor Thom. And, the light was just right) 

Nov 302015

The last time i took a break, was about a dozen or so years ago. I had just finished launching Zee’s education channel (in my first stint with the group), I was exhausted – physically, mentally and emotionally – and i took off to Munnar, in Kerala. Within 3 days of going there, Offitis struck me – i began missing work and the people there :)

In the intervening years, many things happened. I quit corporate life, set up on my own – and traveled a bit, on work. The travelling was less metro, and more hinterland. Less tourist life, and more a seeker. I shot extensively in the rural parts of India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia. And, the decade i worked for myself, it never felt like work. And, taking a break was out of the question. There were lulls in work life, those became breaks in themselves.

This has been a sort of traumatic year. More than anything else, I needed to heal. Angkor Wat was the break. It was both a visual treat and a spiritual journey. The world’s largest temple complex dedicated to Vishnu. Awesome and Awe inspiring.

Angkor Wat


While Agkor Wat was a visual delight – and a physical strain — gosh it is a lot of walking and much of it is steep, it was also immensely informative. The way the structure was created, the thinking behind the various layers of temples, the library within, the prayer areas, the grounds – all of it was thought through to the greatest possible detail.

Angkor Thom – the Buddhist temple complex (Angkor Wat, too in that sense is Buddhist. When the country turned Buddhist many centuries ago, Buddha’s statue replaced Vishnu’s in the main prayer area) – was the capital of the Khmer Empire.

Angkor Thom - the doorway to the royal garden


But, the single most spiritual part of this journey was the trek up to see the sahasralinga – or the 1000 Lingas. This was at a place called Kbal Spean, and it is a 1.5 km vertical trek. While trekking up, the thing that strikes you most (apart from the fact that you are terribly out of shape) is the aroma of the ‘sacred’ forest. And, when you get to the top, it is simply like going home. The calmness and pristine nature of the place, the aroma of the woods, and the purity of the water fall – all help heal.

More pictures to follow. But, this is what i was doing the last week.


Nov 172015

My Reiki teacher, Prasad, narrated this to us. I paraphrase,

The setting is the sabha of the Kauravas, and the scene is the Vastraharan. As long as Draupadi holds on to the cloth that covers her, Dushsasana is successful. It is when she leaves that cloth, and takes that leap of faith, puts her hands  up and tells God ‘this is your problem now, do sometihng’ – that the cloth keeps growing, and growing, and growing, till Dushsasna loses. As long as she thought she was the one who was fighting, she was losing the battle. It is when she parks her ego and calls out for help, unreservedly, that help arrives.

i wonder about this at times. Sometimes i just say a silent prayer and leave it to to divine intervention. When i say silent prayer – it is usually colloquiol – ‘i can’t handle this anymore, you sort it out’ type.And, it usually works.

Yeah. it has been one of those years – where i have thought about this story, a bit too frequently. Asking for help is not something i do easily. I don’t even think about it, most of the time. But, this year, i have.

glass and wire

(a bit like this year – shot yesterday – shards of glass meeting barbed wire )…