Thursday, 7 June 2012

Asatti. Stories with my father.


My father was my first reservoir of stories. Every night a new one, about jungles and dogs, elephants and tailors. Aesop was his favorite guide. When I wouldn't sleep, his stories would be about me and my brother, he'd describe great journeys the two of us would be on together, through fantastic lands, our pet dogs as characters always with us. I could never get enough of them. And when he used to be away from home, on a posting in the mountains (he was in the Army), this would be what I missed of him the most.
Our storytelling has always been out of breath, and we dive into details before the listener has the time to be prepared. Let me take you for a dive then, with my father, through his own written words, we will have to dive in head first, it would take too long for a lesson in details. We can't wait to share the stories. If you don't understand particular words, just keep reading on, you'll get their meaning in the end, you need to hear those words, you see, english simplifies the flavor of the experience too much.

We're watching him as a 4 year old boy now, it's a story about his first sacred space, the place he learnt to write the alphabet in a little town in central Kerala, in the far south of India.
I will try helping you through all the words in parenthesis.
I leave you to him.

Year of the Lord 1953: The start of Formal Education

I learned to read and write at the kalari run by our very revered Asatti at her home. Asatti was always dressed in a spotless white mundu (long waist cloth) and chatta with a kawani (towel on her shoulder). This was the traditional dress of elderly ladies during the time – the same dress that Ammachi, your grandmother, used to wear, and a pair of huge kunukku (huge gold ear rings worn by older women at the time) on her ears. She lived with her brother and family. Not sure if she was married, was a spinster, had lost her husband, or had children – I never enquired.  The kalari basically consisted of a shed next to their house – mud plastered floor, one foot high mud plastered side walls to enable cool breeze to flow in from all sides, it had no windows or doors, just a thatched roof supported on tree trunks cut from the compound – one entrance/exit.

Asatti armed with a small cane used to sit at the entrance on a small wooden stool chewing paan (betel leaf and tobacco). Her chellam (a little box) containing the ingredients for paan and a brass spittoon were the only furniture in the kalari. We students used to sit cross-legged along the side walls on the floor, on small mats we brought from home. Each student had a small pile of fine sand in front for writing the alphabets. When not sitting in the kalari, one could run around and explore the compound giving a wide berth to their dogs – free access to Asatti’s house including kitchen for a sip of water – open urinal – stand any where in the compound and let go – for more serious big-job use the family toilet.

For my initiation to letters, Asatti had come home on the auspicious Vidyarambham day (A day considered astrologically correct for the start of an education) – she was given an offering of paan leaves, arecanut and some money – she made me sit on her lap – some rice was spread evenly on a thali (a copper plate) – she held my right hand index finger and wrote the first letter of Malayalam alphabet in the rice.

The next day onwards Achachan, my father, used to walk an extra 500 yards to drop me off at the kalari on his way to his shop. I used to be hanging on to the little finger of Achachan as we walked to the kalari. My dress consisted of a pair of shorts with cross straps to prevent it from falling off – no socks, no shoes, no chappals, no shirts – not in fashion as it was not required in those days !!! One of the helpers from home used to fetch me back from the kalari in the afternoon. After a few days when Achachan was sure that I knew the way, he would leave me a short distance from the kalari – I used to reassure him that I would manage fine – but in fact I used to be very scared walking alone on the narrow path with overhanging trees and vegetation that led to the kalari - fearful that a booooju (a ghost man who kidnaps little children, my father always built him into our bed time stories) or a bear would jump out to catch me – being all of 4 years and a few months. I was pretty brave though.

Studies at the kalari : The reference material was palm leaves, the writing tool - the index finger of the right hand, the writing medium – fine sand. A heap of sand was always kept at the far corner of the kalari. Each day the moment I entered the kalari, I'd picked up my mat and lay it at my designated seat, then I'd collect a small quantity of sand from the corner and spread it evenly in front of myself – and I'd be ready for the day’s class.

On day 01 you bring a fresh palm leaf – using a pointed iron rod called narayam, Asatti writes the first five alphabets of Malayalam. You take the palm leaf and go to your seat – keep the palm leaf in front of you – and write the first letter in the sand simultaneously shouting out loud the letter you are writing. Asatti comes around to help you, steady the fingers and closely monitors the progress. As soon as Asatti is convinced that you have learned the first five letters, she adds more letters to your palm leaf – and over a period of time you have a heavy bundle of palm leaves to be carried to the kalari and back home. Each day on getting back home from kalari the first question from my elder brothers / sisters was “Ethra eettam kitti?”, meaning.. 'How many upgrades have you gained?'. Each time Asatti added the next set of 5 letters to my palm leaf, it indicated that I had acquired one more upgrade. One could get three to four upgrades each day. To highlight the writing on the palm leaves, we used to rub the inky sap of crushed leaves on them – as taught by my elder brothers / sisters.

Asatti’s cane: One fine day I dozed off while sitting on the mat and writing in the sand. I woke up when the cane landed on my thigh just above the knee, and with Asatti menacingly in front of me. I cried the rest of the day at the kalari. Asatti gave me some home made sweets before I went home that day.

My brother, Josekuttychachan, did not like the idea of going to the kalari every day - there were days when one of the helpers at home used to seat him in a basket and carry the basket on his head all the way to the kalari where Asatti would suitably receive him. My brother, Kunjappachachan, would hide in the bushes at home instead of spending time at the kalari.

1976: The day I got married.
Asatti was invited home on 28 Jun 1976. Just before setting out for the church for the wedding, she was given an offering of paan leaves, arecanut and some money, just like on the day I first met her.
She was my first teacher.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Potato chips and golf


This is a photograph from my first film roll.I had never focussed on taking pictures before design school. I'd never managed to get close to a camera, never summed up the courage to ask to examine one, either.

When I was a child, I once told my mother I'd like to try using a camera, and she shook her head saying it was a hobby for rich people, rolls were expensive, so was developing, I would have to metre out each photograph, it was like taking up playing golf, she said.
I laugh when I think of her explanation now. I never questioned it. We had code words between us since the time we were little, like whenever we were running out of money, she'd ask me to think more before asking her to buy me potato chips when we were out, for some time. When the dry period passed by, she'd get me a packet of potato chips herself, and I'd know I could ask her for them the next time I felt like some.

The camera as an object was strange, all the technicalities aside, I wondered how I would ever manage to convey the tangle of patterns in my head through a single image. It felt like such a responsibility to have to get the colours right. It felt disrespectful to not be true to the light I saw. I didn't want to waste any film.

This picture is from the first assignment, with 'balance' as the subject, the instructors wanted us to focus on lines, on complementary weights in terms of colour and object as opposed to a literal translation of the word. I had just spent 5 years in an engineering college, no one had ever asked me to explore the lateral, the tangents, seep into them, try layering them, ever before. And when you're practicing on images in a country like India, it demands you shoot pictures also respecting the delicate balance people create to go on living.
Sometimes, it does feel like playing golf.



We had travelled to the beach to be away from the routine.

It had been raining, taking the camera was a risk, I'd rather have my hands free, I lugged it with me anyway.. it had been sitting in front of me for days, it tends to develop an eagle eye after awhile.
Maybe I'd find a starfish I told myself, maybe the fishermen would be bringing in their boats..
She was walking way ahead, I started following her because of the whispery sound the hay made as she walked, like a musical anklet. She was just as I had thought when I got ahead of her, carefully put together. Her shoulders smoothed down by the sun, pulled tightly over her bones by the wear, age creeping in from the shadows, glowing from the inside, her chest covered by a cloth knotted to a string which in turn merged with her beads, layers and layers of real coral, and artificial coral, the artificiality not hurting my eye for a change. Her teeth were coral too, tobacco stained coral. Everything connected so seamlessly. May she never lose those safety pins, I thought to myself. I walked away wanting to get my hands on some charcoal, explore for myself how the light and body dipped in and out of each other.

An hour back I had nothing to say, and now I was missing my blank sheets of paper, I laughed to myself and walked ahead. I enjoy living. I can't say it any plainer.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Loud sandstone giggles


I spent the first half hour just running my fingers along the familiar columns of books, breathing in deeply this unique aroma of jute, parchment, film slide sheets and thumbed-through familiar books. I had missed it much. 
I was tracing back the roots of a nomadic tribe I am working with in Rajasthan, I always end up going back to my data mine in Ahmedabad when no one I know can answer my questions. These books talk back to me.
I happened to pick up this book on temple art. Between 950 and 1150, the Chandela dynasty of Khajuraho, erected temples as an ode to transcendental emotions. Young boys, celibates being reared to be men in hermitages were sent here to examine these sculptures so they could contemplate on life, prepare for the world, and their path ahead as householders.
I could hear her giggle out loud in the quiet corridors of the library. The poor boys. How she must have giggled at them. Loud sandstone giggles.

The body's language


A vegetable seller at the Khar mandi, preparing for the day in the wee hours of the morning at his stall, seated in a perfect lotus position.
I am in awe of this inherent, natural body language the people of this land flow into unsuspectingly.

Raju bhai


Three years ago, I was bursting with stories waiting to be told. I laugh when I think about it now.
I talk about it in the past tense because I have just gotten back to my script writing recently (I have been writing for others for the last year) and it has made me trace back paths to all my earlier projects, to reflect, to see where I've come from, and where I am now..
I was just out of film school, just completing the edit of a project I had labored on for more than 7 months and I was filled with the energy from the outcome to tell many more.
You see, it was the first project in which I came face to face with ‘the audience’. The protagonist of my film was Raju bhai. A 42 year old man from a small village in Andhra Pradesh, who found he could dance when he was a child, preferred playing ‘house’ with the girls, and wanted to be an actress when he grew up. When he came face to face with the realities of his environment, he took to dancing instead, on stage, where the audience paid at the entrance to watch.
I met Raju when I was eating an omelette outside my design school, I was laughing with some friends, drained, red-eyed, unslept, and bang in the middle of a project, he was sitting at the next table with the owner of the stall and watching me laugh. It didn’t take us long to start talking, especially after I found he was a dancer. My friend was making a documentary on dance at the time, on the Mughal form of Kathak*, and I had spent many days as part of the crew, listening to the sound of ghungroos**, I had many questions to ask about his form of dance, whether he taught it, where he trained, how it all started. He had a great sense of humour, and I liked his deep throaty laughter, we got on well from the very start.
I visited his home a few days later, in a slum, near the lake in the industrial part of our old city of Ahmedabad. He waited for me at the entrance of the slum, I saw him, when my rickshaw drew to a stop, he looked restless. He hugged me on sight, and quickly guided me through the interconnected pathways of the slum into his house.
It took me some time to discover his world, why it was so secret, why he didn’t want me to be seen with him.
Once we were in his house, in his space, he relaxed and got down to boiling a kettle of tea for me. I met his friends there, other just like him, all dancers, all surprised at my arrival.
I spent days in that dwelling of his, and each time we went through the same drill. He watched, I spoke. I felt like I was going through a series of tests, Raju bhai was gauging me somehow, seeing how I spoke to the others, answering my questions, watching me tie my hair while speaking, he was observing me, and I knew it. I didn't find it uncomfortable, I was wary of people too, I knew how it was to build oneself a cave right in the middle of a community. I stayed. And spoke.
Till one day I was talking about the boy in my life, and love, and he burst out laughing.
That’s when he told me his story, he laughed and drew closer, set himself to braid my wild, unruly hair into a neat plait, and told me his story of love. I heard about his lover, his dancing, the private birthday parties thrown by elitist businessmen, where entertainment meant watching men dance in women’s outfits to film music. I wanted to come and watch, I told him, he laughed, pulling my head straight so he could continue setting my hair,.. and continued talking. He told me the story of his sexuality, and what it meant to be gay in a low income family in India, he told me about friends who had died of AIDS in front of him on that couch in his room right before us, he told me about the meaning of Kathak, the Mujra***, the art of it. And then, he danced for me on the last day.
I made a film on him later. It started from my footage from his first dance for me in his living space.
He trained me for my trade.
Because I had to keep so many of our conversations safe.
But I still had to tell his story.
I had to tell it in the way any person.. old, young, homophobic could understand him and his lost love, the reason why he never let anyone in, why it hurt him that no one recognised him without his show make up, why daylight made him a 42 year old man again in everyone's eyes, and how the nights meant it was daybreak in his other world.
I could not allow my anger to take root in my own storytelling. And that has been the biggest lesson ever. I had to be just the messenger.
And I took on that role, whole heartedly just for him at first.
Today, it feels like every person is an ocean of stories. It felt like that back then as well, but Raju bhai made film making more than just telling a story for me.
This film making process I learnt from him is hard. It needs you to look at the surroundings, look into the context, it speaks in hard uncouth, unfamiliar tongues, makes you fight you your own prejudices, your own suffering, to be able to relate what happened and who's life changed because of the sequence of events through which life plays itself out.
It demands you be truthful, it demands responsibility.
It demands me to trust my instinct. 
And I demand it all of myself, inspite of my failings.
The image up there is the first draft of a poster my friend Jaykrishnan made for me when he saw my film first. He mailed it to me the morning after. It was unexpected, and it filled me with so much emotion. He said he tried capturing Raju bhai’s dance at the end, when he went into endless swirls in time to the music before he drew to a poised breathless stop, in his little home, in a slum in Ahmedabad.

* kathak : It is one of the eight classical Indian dance forms.The name Kathak is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘katha’ meaning story, and ‘katthaka’ in Sanskrit means he who tells a story, or to do with stories.
** ghungroo: A musical anklet tied to the feet of classical Indian dancers
*** mujra: A poetic dance form, with a lot of stress laid on lyrics, the mujra was a cross between art and exotic dance, with the performers often serving as courtesans amongst Mughal royalty or wealthy patrons.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Nomad sign post


The sign reads, "Please do not ask the driver what the time is."
I was ready to get off at my stop after a night of travel in the bus, bleary eyed. I saw his writing scrawled in a hurried Hindi, and broke out laughing. He looked up at me for a second, before looking back at the road, eyes red, a slight smile setting into them.
'It seems it's the only question they can ask me. In and out, in and out of that doorway, what's the time they ask, what's the time. It makes me mad.'

Monday, 28 May 2012



It was cold.
Stanzin and I had been down this route every morning for the last week. He brought me breakfast, defrosted the plumbing, drove me around, took me to his secret spaces up here in the mountains near Leh, and helped me get people together to work for our assignment. We usually stayed quiet in the mornings, he sang under his breath. He saw me looking down at the frozen river at the bottom of the valley. A few metres on, he stopped the car.
" Go.", he said.
I raised my eyebrows, laughing.
" You carry that camera every day. Now get off the car. 
Stay on this side of the valley. I'll come back in an hour. See that mountain over there.." he said, pointing in the distance, "Behind it is Nang, they get sunlight at 10 am in the morning everyday, 4 hours late", he laughed.
"I'll blow my horn on my way back, and you wave me down, okay?"
I nodded. We had spent so much time together working in the valley, never really having spoken about what we felt. He didn't even look up at me before he sped away in the jeep. I stepped back from the road. And wheeled around to stare at the white.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Language, as the light in your eyes

In response to a debate on storytelling in non native languages on Cowbird

From the time I was little, I have had the habit of closing my eyes shut right in the moment, an attempt to save something in my mind for later. I wrote then too. My mother had the habit of going through all I wrote, when I discovered this, my words got cut short into keywords, words only I would know, contexts only I had seen. Funny, because I use the same method to sketch out my characters for the scripts I write. It reminds of me of the exact light, the mood the person has just stepped out of, the direction he wants to go, the image description makes the language come alive for me.

When I work on the field, it is the same, I never speak the language of the people in the interiors most often, but I do manage to speak, inspite of the difference in our words.

In Rajasthan once, I spent long hours in the heat by the anvil of a reticent, quiet blacksmith, a master traditional scissors-maker, who carried on with his work the whole afternoon like I did not exist. I kept speaking to him, in the language I knew, tottering between words from his language and the closest dialect I knew to it. Eventually, he understood I had seen his method in the mountains far north, he understood I had made a short film on it, he understood I wanted to share it, the only thing he said to me after the four hours of my intermittent chirping was to come at 2 pm with the film to his house.

At 2 pm, I set up the laptop on his jute bed as instructed, he collected his wife and kids and sat himself on the floor to watch. My film, shot in Ladakh, had a Ladakhi metal worker who described his process in Ladakhi, my driver translated it into Hindi on camera, I had the film subtitled in English, and I played the film for the scissors maker and paused it every once in awhile to translate the images out into a mix of Hindi and the dialect of Marwari this man spoke. 

Right in the middle of this exchange, his eyes suddenly shone when he saw the Ladakhi man pump air into his kiln using a goat skin air pump, and started speaking excitedly in fast Marwari, he got up, let go of his intimidation with the laptop, took it into his lap, and pointing at the image kept talking to his wife and me excitedly. I learnt later, this was the exact process his grandfather had used, the same goat skin air pump, he identified tools in the background, he asked me to continue playing the video, and marveled at the old Ladakhi man's work as he carved a dragon out of molten metal on the jug handle he was crafting. I didn't have to do anything. We were just juggling around words from five languages in his living room, we were almost talking to ourselves, we continued with our words solely on the basis of the light we saw in each other's eyes.

I believe any words work, however they totter out in alien tongues,.. it is finally about the light in your own eyes, and the words flow out in desperate attempts to describe what that light sees, especially when you see the light in the listener's eyes.

The image up there for example, is from Karnataka, it was the bath house of the Queen of the kingdom. I spent the entire afternoon lying on the floor under each of the arcs forming the corridor around the bath area. Each square so different, each one such a storyteller, I thought about the sculptor who crafted each one of them, his thought process, was he thinking about the queen when he worked, had he been instructed to create each different for her amusement? I thought of the queen's maidens in waiting, the starry nights, the visiting king, about myself, about my teachers, about objects, and art and the meaning we try engraving into our bodies of work.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Precious cargo


On the move from one land to another, this last week
Got immersed in a flurry of images from the past
The sinking-in was cut short.
I was called back to the first land. Urgent, they said. 
For my own image-making this time.
I was tired, I found my seat, waited for the train to start its rumbling
A young mother sat opposite
I smiled a tired smile.
She left me to watch over him after ten minutes of my sitting there
I was a little shook up. People hide their shoes in the trains sometimes, you know?
So much responsibility handed over because she trusted something
What? What did she estimate?
He was too little to speak
He just kept looking with those eyes at me
I couldn't help but look back
Precious cargo.
She came back and he looked away, 
she said he always thought she wouldn't come back.

Friday, 25 May 2012

An ode to a building


I studied film making at an old school designed during the Bauhaus movement in the 50s, built with the objective of safekeeping the traditional crafts of the country. It is the one piece of architecture I believe breathes, and has a curious mind of its own.

Each classroom has a ledge opening outwards, students crisscross through the ledges to create routes skirting the outside of the building, to the watering holes, smoking spots, the spot facing the big tree, or leading to the canteen. All shortcuts end in spiral staircases. 
They tried removing them, but an unexpectedly united protest was launched by the students. Posters, graphics and a few abstract installations were stuck up all over the place, on most of the pillars, with odes to the spiral staircase expressed. The authorities never even got to see the protestors, the communication was enough, the spiral staircases were never taken down.
I met some of my closest friends while taking these shortcuts.
It's a building of concrete and brick. No paint used ever, except for the doors. We refrain from painting walls, unless of course you want to express something on it with paint. There is no internal wiring for the electric cables, over the years, as the number of appliances used by the institute increased, they began routing all the wires together in tight bunches strung to the side of the roof. 
It has always charged me to see the wiring just so.
Like I wrote in a diary 4 years ago about the wiring.. 'It feels raw and waiting and responsible and truthful, stripped bare and tied together in knots. It feels like great things are possible, that things can be cleaned out, that many heads have leaned back against these very brick walls and thought the same.'
The form of the building I believe lends itself to the people who live and breathe in them. 
We ended up being stripped bare and tied together in knots too, here.
This photograph was shot during the Navratri festival, at the altar of the goddess Kali, erected by the students. All the idols were crafted of straw (like the traditional artisans make them in West Bengal), the floor was smeared a muddy brown, and like any good temple pooja session, left a perfect mix of chaos in its wake... flowers, burning incense, ghee, prasaad, any mythologist's semiotic fantasy, topped with an exploring cat.
All this, in the folds of the concrete and brick building which tries picking patterns in a country where according to an old proverb, 'Every two miles the water doth change, and every four the dialect'.
I understand the need for that plain base brick and concrete.

Thursday, 24 May 2012


The form of the land makes you reach out to people in so many different ways.
The land defines your movements, the arch of your back, the tone of your voice, the pauses, how much you want to reach out to the next person. We really are not separate beings, for me, moments like these make the lines blur between the human, landform, wind, tree, each mimics the other only to be able to reach out more.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Used tea cups


The hair cutting salon has a chandelier, lustfully adorned with fake crystal
I watch this woman getting her hair dyed,
watching her watching herself.
It feels like I am the only witness.
Like a nightmare, where you know a friend is close by your side,
but he can't see,
and you can't explain
The barber picks up the used tea cups and hesitates a bit just before leaving,
he has to wait for the dye to dry.

Monday, 7 May 2012



So the children were taught at the end of the class yesterday how to brush their teeth, a volunteer donated a set of new baby sized toothbrushes, and the teachers performed a demo for the kids which sent them into peals of laughter.
This is Ravi, in the line to get his toothbrush just before leaving for the day.
I know that excitement. 
A new tooth brush can still make my day, any day!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Of jasmine trees and clenched crayons

He thought it would be wonderful to have little children studying under the crepe jasmine tree hanging over the backyard. That was it. He rented out the space for his studio immediately. He got a black board built into the boundary wall, got slate plastered on. At the end of one of his shoots (he’s an advertising filmmaker), he got his set designers to make 15 little desks. He got them painted in matted primary colours.
One day when his life got a little ordered, when he could possibly manage to predict his days or weeks better, maybe he’d start a school here.

Classes were scheduled to start yesterday. We weren’t sure the kids would actually come.  He’d written out the permission letters himself in Hindi. He had his accountant make out a version in Marathi.

The children were from the slums nearby, some of them had never been to school, others went for afternoon classes to the free government centre close by, could make these kids out easily from the lot, they were the only two who could write out their names on their worksheets out of the set of 17 children who filed in by school time.

Art, math, and English for two hours in the morning. Part of the drill involves drinking a glass of milk and eating an apple in front of the teacher before leaving.

I'm glad he imagined children sitting under the shade of that jasmine tree when he first saw it three years ago. Yesterday, I showed a kid how to grip a crayon, she'd held it so very tightly in her small fist.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Early mornings from Himachal

Early morning scapes around Bikrama's house, starting with this retired soldier who'd taken up seeding for all the neighbors who asked, this is him scattering corn seeds.

Bikrama Devi's Pallo

I shared Bikrama’s roof for a week in a small valley in Himachal. When my bus crawled into the little town leading up to this valley, I was alone and it took some getting used to. I didn’t think much of it till I had to get to finding a place to stay for the night, that’s actually when the valley opened up to me. The big valley and its deep plunging little paths felt like they were all mine, waiting to be picked through, I felt light.  I lugged my bags forward looking for the right signs, the feeling was quite like walking between the book racks in a book shop and waiting for a single book to call out to you. That’s when I saw those two guys up there. Between the fresh hay, the potted flower-sill and the tree branch supports I knew I’d stay in any place they had for sharing.

This would be the typical dinner sequence at Bikrama devi’s house. Pallo would be finishing the last of her homework in the courtyard outside, Bikrama’s husband sat near by breaking the firewood into smaller pieces for the kitchen fire.  He never said much. He was a carpenter, he’d built the entire house himself, he doted on Pallo the most, she’d told me in the evening.  During my stay there, Bikrama sat to talk every evening, about how this valley was so quiet, everybody so soft spoken it got to her head, sometimes she felt like getting out her dholak and walking down the streets singing loudly, these confessions amongst questions about meditation and why so many people from other lands came to this valley to meditate. I tried my best to explain it to her, but she shook her head half way through, saying the others were lucky, they had an education, they knew how to be silent, find silence, she had too many things to look into like the kids, the goats, the field, the oncoming winter. I stopped myself from saying anything else. I’ve learnt a little after walking through villages for some time around the country.

This is Pallo’s face as her mother brushes her hair down into two tight plaits for school every morning.  

Early mornings

In Mumbai, the city, waking up really early in the morning holds out so much more to the day, to my day. It’s so much better to catch the city when it has just woken, it’s much warmer, less suspicious, people still have a sense of humour.

It’s funny how different the early morning in an Ahmedabad is in comparison, the people are so at ease with their every day routines, the old women in the street rush to meet at a friend's house to sing a few hymns to their favorite diety, a woman leans on the railing of her balcony, combing her hair, she watches me stand at the door of the house below, taking pictures. The old women finish their singing and hand out some prasaad* to me, flashing a fast smile my way as they head back hurriedly to wherever it is they came from. I’ve often thought of picking one of these old grannies and spending the day following them around their curiously busy days. They remind me of my own grandmother's routine in Quilon in central Kerala, a morning with her would mean she’d go look into the cow broth set on the wood fire in the outer kitchen (a delicious smell of wet earth-dry coal and burnt wood wafted out all at once when you stirred that broth), go get her basket and climb up a few yards up our rubber tree hill to pick some herbs (I could never figure if they were for the hair oil or for the kitchen masala), she’d take a quick look at some of the dry coconut holders collecting gummy latex from the rubber trees, and then, right there, still leaning against a tree with one hand, she'd give this wordless, wide eyed look to the high tree tops waving in the morning breeze for a moment before leaving.
I’d follow her back down as she went to see if the dry hay had been set out for the little calf and get back to the kitchen in time for the fisherwoman’s visit. I’ve always wondered what it was exactly she thought when she looked up at those treetops, sometimes she'd look down into the well in the courtyard with the exact same expression.
For now, I have to settle with early mornings elsewhere, and the secret lives of so many other silently whispering souls.


Here's me stepping back to get the bigger picture.

*prasaad : blessed sweet meats handed out just after an invocation of a deity, the pooja