Monday, October 01, 2007

On seclusion , and photography

I sit again , after the morning kora , in the New Orleans Cafe. The Boudha stupa shows just how heavy the rains have been , the whitewash being rinsed away from all nearly flat surfaces. The morning paper carries a story of of three villagers being killed in a flash flood near the border, an irregular event in early October. I'm still on a eating binge , after the ATM run (mostly on tsampa , tea & dried fruits) and generally being dhaba'd out. The New Orleans serves perfectly mellow potatoes , salads (something I normally don' touch on the subcontinent) and apple pies .. at a price. The kora revolves just outside the open doorway : monks , teens in jeans .. with iPods and malas, a prostrator with ironsoled flipflops as hand protection, and tourists of course. The doorway nags at the edge of my consciousness : I like sitting at the one table there , with my notebook and camera , but when I walk by it later I get to see it from the outside : the doorway becomes the frame for a shooting gallery for camera wielders.

Photography ... can't avoid the subject any longer. Source of many of my best experiences ... and equally the worst. It's easy to distance oneself from the
picture , and in some ways the the telling true tales of horror are related to the "real traveler " myth : content is to varying extent real , but the function is to boost the self image.

On the other hand , there are real issues. Two years ago in Ladakh , I went in to center court of a Ladakhi monastery - during services - to bring back (controlled words but face flaring like a Mahakala ) a tourist who used the altar as a support for his video camera.
Today the word hunting pack pops up in my mind as I see some groups shining up as groups of monks or Tibetan women comes in to range. A few makes the tactical choice of walking crosscurrent to the stream of kora walkers - something which requires some conscious effort , cuts you out of any blending or participatory experience ... but gives you the face shot.
The language in photography is propietary , exclusive : you take the shot , you shoot film (or chips) ... and then on the other hand digital photography has wrought a major change. When I first arrived here with a camera it was seen one of the obscure things that angrezis devoted themselves to . Today I meet people who take their right to their self image as granted : take a photo ... sure ... now show me . The way it should be, and often a source for joy . The Tibetan pilgrims from Nakchu and I had a lot more in common than one would think of first : places we both had been to , places we wanted to go to .. all unraveling as we went through a full 512 mb memory card.
And ,reactions to the blaring insensitivities aside, one must keep things in perspective : most people try to be nice . Seeing the odd crosscurrent walkers brings home one of two points : either their actions , or how few they actually are.
Responsibility is after all individual ... and includes the option of just standing in the way of the telephoto lens at the right moment.

Yesterday I had an other sudden flash of outside view of ourselves in the small garden of the New Orleans , eating organic vegetables and imported Italian pasta as the construction workers hang on bamboo poles above us , legs curled around the bamboo , tying together the scaffolding. We sat , not with elongated earlobes from the jewellery , but with sloping shoulders from our digital SLR:s , as in a modern day Kapilavastu court. GoreTex , the silk of today. To complete the irony one of the most common books found on the coffe tables is Siddharta - a book about a man who actually left his sheltered life and confronted himself with the realities of of living outside the court.

IndiaMike carried the same day a story on how a quarter of a billion of Indias citizens live on 14 rupees a day - which is a lot less than what we pay for the Darjeeling tea in the New Orleans.

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