I was going through old papers, and came across these photographs, the first R ever took, as a boy, using a borrowed box camera. As it happens, when I was a child my mother gave me the box camera she had used as a child - seeing these photographs I groaned at the thought of my own efforts:
"Kiss of Dawn" -- Tiger Hill, Darjeeling (1948)
Burmese Pagoda, Eden Gardens, Calcutta (1948)
Gandhi Statue from window of the police chowki, Juhu, Bombay (1953)
Two of his photographs were published in Navroz, a Parsi magazine based in Calcutta, in 1953, with an article about Darjeeling. When he went with a posse of his classmates to collect the promised payment of Rs. 5, they were told that they should go away, and be happy that he had gotten his pictures in print at such a young age.
R entitled his picture of Tiger Hill "Kiss of Dawn"; but because of his strong Gujarati accent, his friends heard it as "Keys of Dawn." It was only when they saw the name in print that they realised what the name really was. Apparently no one wondered what "Keys of Dawn" might signify.
(Photographs by Ramesh Gandhi -- his website: www.rameshgandhi.com; his blog: http://rameshgandhi.blogspot.com)
It was raining when I came downstairs. The air was beautifully cool. I don't go into the garden very often: I look at greenness from inside. Heat and insects usually defeat me. Rain is a sound first, and then a picture, framed by windows. But this morning I was so entranced by the changed air that I unlocked the door and went out to the verandah.
I heard rain, and one cat, plaintive - in heat? hungry? A few subdued crows.
We haven't had a gardener for several months, and weeds have elbowed out the grass between the walkway stones. They have become beautiful in their variety and, in the saturated air, intensely green.
My thoughts have been so inward lately, it was a delight to look and listen without the pane of glass in between; to move outward into a simple space: a ragged green garden. I sat in a cane chair drinking coffee, and wrote a little, by hand, with a pen, on paper.
I brought out my camera and took pictures of the weeds. I wanted to lie on my stomach and shoot them from ground level, so that they would look like thick jungle; but the ground was sodden, and I was afraid for my camera. I decided to wait until the rain stopped and try again. But an hour later I saw that the new gardener, who began work today, had decided for all on his own that the very first thing he should do was to clear away all the weeds: he scraped them down to bare dirt.
This is their memorial, until they spring forth again.
I love windows. I love old, untended buildings. I loved this window and this building, and painted them from a photograph which I took last year in Bangalore. While I painted I listened to songs by Kabir. Everything came together in my mind, though of course, the painting is full of flaws. It was a good learning experience. Ramesh Gandhi gave me valuable colour advice when I needed it. So there it is.
I was roaming around the house aimlessly, wondering what I should be doing, and suddenly I saw it as if I were a visitor. When you pass through the same rooms everyday, their contents are hardly visible, a white-noise hum. The indistinct background of a dream. Turn on a light switch, and things pop into view. That (object)! How long has it been lying there?
My paper stash! I must throw it all away. Seize the moment! I reach to clear the shelf, and almost before I know what my hands are doing, I am folding papers into signatures, punching holes, hunting for the waxed linen thread. I sew graph paper, wrapping paper, opened-out envelopes together, and make a book.
R's photographs are lying all over the house. Boxes of enlargements, envelopes of negatives. In a plastic shopping bag I find faded 2x3" prints, outtakes. Their blandness is mysterious: I feel obliged to look long enough to find meaning in them. I glue a few into my book.
I can’t sleep. At 3:00 a.m. I come downstairs to get some writing paper. As I pass through the atrium I hear a splash. In the fish pond, concentric rings of water are lit by the moon. A dull brown fish has made itself known. Usually they are silent, gliding along their underwater paths. They eat puffed rice and mosquito larvae, and survive. I feel a pain in my chest, as though they were very dear to me.
I draw Julius Caesar, his stone face split down the middle as if struck by lightning, and then other statues. Repetition is order is harmony. Their blank gaze is soothing: they are not interested in my nooks and crannies.
Should these water buffalo vertebrae, which I picked up off the ground from some land we had once, still be on that table, fifteen years after I casually dropped them there?
On the way to the car, bones:
White shards half-buried. Old news,
not enough to make a whole of anything.
And those chairs in the hallway! Only crazy people would not have discarded them long ago – their foam collapsed, home to generations of lizards, whose miniature broken ping pong ball eggs we sweep up from time to time. Can I point my finger and dissolve them into atoms?
The big copper water vessel, those pinecones from the hills. That brass thing from Thailand that someone gave me, I never even liked it much, but here it is. Too many books! Too many dishes! I'm sinking, I'm about to disappear.
The utility room! so full of old newspapers, bottles. I must call the scrap man with his cycle-cart. But first I pull out some torn paper, and glue it in.
Okay, I'm feeling calmer now. I’m listening to a cheerful Hindi song, with a chorus which means approximately, "You bastard, you're finished! You've had it!" It's so incongruous with the bouncy music that it makes me smile. I'm drawing and singing along under my breath -- 'tu saala kaam se gaya!' The house is still a mess. Never mind.