The Photograph

A Tale of Childhood Innocence

“Wow!” Rehaan exclaimed. “Can I touch it?”

Anahita laughed. “Of course!”

His hands trembling with excitement, he slowly extended his fingertips towards the object Anahita held in her hands.  His eyes lit up the moment they felt the smooth plastic exterior of this amazing thing that had produced the image that he held in his other hand.

“What did you say it’s called?”

“A camera.”

“And this thing is?” He held up the article in his left hand.

“A photograph.”

“Wow!” He repeated.

Anahita smiled and patted his cheek.  “Would you like me to click one of you?”

Rehaan looked overjoyed. “Would you?”

“Of course!”

“Aakash! Anwar! Hanif! Ishaan! Khaled! Harish! Farhaan!” Rehaan yelled, running off to gather his friends.

Anahita got to her feet and watched as Rehaan animatedly explained to his friends what was about to happen. She couldn’t help grinning as she saw their expressions turn from curious to amazed, and she had to take a few steps backwards when they rushed towards her, all wanting to touch this astonishing black box that could somehow capture lifelike images of them.

A few minutes, several innocent questions and one heated argument over photograph location later, a decision was arrived at and the eight boys eagerly beckoned Anahita towards the end of the lane. She followed immediately, enjoying their thrilled banter as they half-walked, half-ran towards the bridge across the valley.

Anahita’s heart skipped a beat when she saw them clamber onto the wall that separated the road from the drop between the mountains before she reminded herself that they must have done this a thousand times before. She selected her frame and focused the camera as the children lined up along the wall. Looking through the lens, she watched them space out and practice smiling and couldn’t suppress her own amusement herself. She marvelled at their innocence regarding an article as universal as a camera back in the city, and at the same time, felt enormously guilty for complaining about now seemingly inconsequential things like missing her usual train while these children lived in dingy shanties and played with toys made of sticks and stones, and yet found such unadulterated joy in something as simple as having their picture taken.

“Hurry up!” Rehaan’s friends urged him impatiently. The poor boy was the tiniest amongst the lot and clearly incapable of scaling the height of the wall himself. As Farhaan bent down to lift the little kid, Anahita clicked on instinct. Before she could glance at the camera screen, she heard them beg for another picture. She spent the next five minutes indulging their newfound vanity before they were satisfied and wanted to inspect every photograph she’d taken.

Anahita spent the journey to her hotel lost in thought. Once in her room, she transferred and printed every picture she’d clicked.

The rest of the weekend photography seminar was a blur of colour and clicking. Anahita thought it focused too much on frames, lighting and the like and too little on the feel of the photograph. By the end of the seminar, she’d decided that their car breaking down near the little village was the best thing that had happened all weekend. Much to her co-passengers’ annoyance, Anahita insisted on stopping there again on the way back home.

“I won’t be long, I promise.” She quickly nipped out of the car to find the little boy whose thrilled face was etched in her memory. It took her only a couple of minutes to locate the group of eight boys running around in their dusty field of a playground. Aakash spotted her first and shouted in delight. Soon, she was surrounded by the entire bunch asking multiple questions at the same time.

When she finally managed to quiet them down, she said, “I’ve got something for you guys before I go.” Reaching into her bag, she pulled out the envelope containing the photographs. As she distributed them amongst the gleeful group, she found herself at the receiving end of several warm hugs.

“But what about you?” Hanif asked worriedly. “Don’t you want one?”

Anahita laughed. “I have all of them right here.” She patted her camera case. “But I have kept my favourite, just in case.” She showed them the first picture she’d clicked.

“Why is this one your favourite?” Harish asked naively.

Anahita shrugged. “It just is.”

***

At the end of her internship, Anahita was named the best intern and given the honour of having any one of her photographs printed inside the magazine she’d spent the past five months working for. She instantly submitted the first of the series of pictures she’d clicked of the eight village boys: the one with Farhaan helping Rehaan up the wall.

“Are you sure?” her boss asked, “You can take some time to make your pick.”

“I’m sure. This one is my favourite.”

“Why?”

Anahita smiled as she remembered Harish. “It just is.”

How to Embarrass Yourself at a Restaurant: A Reliable Guide

(Note: The author is an experienced figure in the field.)

 

  1. Choose a barely affordable restaurant to execute this scheme, being careful to remain blissfully unaware of taxes.
  2. Order several exotic items off the menu, all being precariously close to the upper limit of your budget for the meal.
  3. Eat, drink and be merry. (You might as well – this may well be the last time in your life you are setting foot on the premises.)
  4. Casually ask for the cheque, preferably with an attitude suggesting you have a bank balance that surpasses any sum less than 20 digits (you don’t of course, but this is the standard procedure.)
  5. Gasp at the amount on receiving it, wondering how you could possibly have consumed enough to justify your bill, before throwing a tantrum on noticing the exorbitant tax rates. (One of you can try fainting, just to add more drama.)
  6. Calculate everyone’s share. Make sure to take at least 15 minutes to do this.
  7. Gasp at your expected personal contribution again, this time wondering whether you (or your parents) even earn that much per month. (The fainting con must not be tried here – you may get robbed by one of your poorer friends while you lie still, pretending to be comatose. Naturally, you always have the option of abandoning the scheme and reclaiming your savings, but you’ll want to retain some shreds of your dignity as you walk/run (most likely the latter) out of the eatery.)
  8. Turn out your pockets in full view of everyone in the restaurant.
  9. Fall short by several rupees.
  10. Begin emptying your pockets of small change.
  11. Count the pooled money. (It’ll be even more helpful if you forget the amount you counted and recount numerous times. It’s all part of the experience.)
  12. Rejoice, because your chillar saved the day!
  13. Leave the exact amount (and not one paisa more – they charged you 1/10th of your bill as service tax!) on the table.
  14. Get the hell out of there!
  15. Realise in horror that you counted wrong when the maitre d’ follows you out and informs you in a controlled tone that you paid Rs 10 less.
  16. 50% of the group can stay back to do a recount of your carefully collected funds. The other half can try their luck and make a dash for it! (Of course, this ruse may not work, if it dawns on you that the others have absolutely nothing left and, by God’s will, one of them stuck up there is the only one with a car to drop all you kangaals home, so you will have to fish deeper to come up with some more small change – if any.)
  17. Procure said change (assuming there is some, as there always is, hidden in the depths of your wallet) and swiftly call dibs on not being the one to go back and hand the 10 Re 1 coins to the now frustrated restaurant staff. If you were slow enough to have landed this job, do it with as many airs and graces as possible, bravely attempting to conceal (in vain, naturally, but still) the obvious fact that you have no cash left whatsoever.
  18. Get the hell out of there! Again!
  19. Pile into said car and zoom off before the restaurant sends another employee after you to extort more money.

Relax! You were fortunate enough to escape with Re 1 per person!

Silent musings of a homesick Bombayite

Life in Bombay is in no way perfect. It is unpredictable, at times irrational, and can even be downright chaotic. But only those who have lived here know that there is beauty in the chaos.

A few days ago, while talking to a colleague during some (extremely rare) downtime at work, I heard the phrase, “I would love to visit India but I couldn’t see myself living there.” And even though I have left India by choice, my impulse, of course, was to convince her otherwise. I first offered the disclosure that the only 2 places I’ve called home in India were Calcutta (for 2 years as a toddler, so I am hardly an authority on what it’s like to live there) and Bombay; so naturally, I would have to limit myself to the latter. I then began an impassioned speech about the fast-paced city life, the food and the sea, but I had to stop short because of a very valid rebuttal. Which was that that the appeal of life in metropolitan cities in other countries is that they are melting pots of different cultures from around the world, whereas isn’t India mostly just filled with Indians? Which, if you think about it from the perspective of someone who has lived in … say New York City, is quite true.

 

I admit that I was defeated, and felt pretty ashamed that I hadn’t been able to do a better job at describing the beauty of life in the city where I grew up. But then I realized that the reason I hadn’t been able to explain just what it is about Bombay that makes it so wonderful is that my city isn’t really a city at all— it’s an experience. And just like you cannot truly explain the joy of devouring one pani-puri after another to someone who has never tasted one, you cannot accurately define what it is like to live in India’s City of Dreams to someone who hasn’t been there.

 

Sure, it’s hot, crowded, dirty, polluted and even becoming increasingly unsafe in recent times. There’s poverty, corruption and a certain amount of religious intolerance anywhere you go. People can be resistant to change and will brand you immoral for incorporating new ways of life into our culture. You could talk or bribe your way out of almost anything, and still be arrested for minor public displays of affection. Life in Bombay is in no way perfect. It is unpredictable, at times irrational, and can even be downright chaotic.

 

But only those who have lived here know that there is beauty in the chaos. Where else in the world would you be able to watch a glorious sunset from a seaside promenade just a pavement away from the heart of downtown? Or buy everything from household necessities to imitation jewellery after fighting tooth and nail for a seat on your train commute to work? What other city can boast of such a staggering variety of local delicacies you can buy off the street at all times of the day or night (if you know where to go)? Where else can you set out to shop all day, every single day of the year, through 9 pm at the very least, and return home with everything from fantastically detailed designer knock-offs from an illegal roadside establishment to authentic local handicrafts from a fancy couture store (or the other way round if that’s what you’re looking for)? And where else in the world does June bring with it the intoxicating aroma of quenched earth and the cool breeze that promises both a spectacular as well as devastating monsoon?

 

Want to enjoy an evening of carefree laughter? Make your way to any one of the many comedy clubs around town. Is fine arts more up your alley? How about visiting an art gallery? Want to go out for a night on the town? Take your pick! Or perhaps you prefer a romantic evening out with the one you love? You’re spoiled for choice. Maybe you’re just in the mood for a quiet night in. Order any cuisine you fancy to be delivered to your doorstep. Looking for a lazy Sunday brunch? Just Google your options and watch your confusion compound with every mouse click. Or maybe you want to spend your weekend volunteering. There are thousands of organizations working for hundreds of causes to choose from.

 

Marine Drive. Kanheri Caves. High Street Phoenix. Colaba Causeway. Luxury high-rise urban homes. Suburban bungalows. Mild winters. Torrential downpours. Imported figs. Locally grown alphonso mangoes. Regional schools. International educational institutions. Bombay has something for everyone.

 

But do you want to know what makes this city truly magical? It’s the people. For every heart-wrenching tale of dreams crushed by unfortunate circumstances, there is a success story of a self-made man with humble beginnings. For every victim of a viscerally nauseating crime, there is a recipient of a heart-warming deed of kindness. For every enraging act of censorship, suppression or ostracism, there is a group of people going out of their way to incite a revolution to fight for the rights of people they don’t even know.

 

True: Bombay’s culture is not representative of the world population. That is only because India is still a developing country and is not yet seen as a land of opportunity by most people from outside of India. It’s probably a good thing too, because we have yet to perfect the infrastructure to support even more people and acclimatize our society to accepting cultures from all over the world. Our influx is steadily growing, and outlooks are slowly changing, but we can’t honestly be classified as a world city quite yet.

 

Also true: despite being an obviously homesick, thoroughbred Bombay girl, I have voluntarily chosen to pursue life 8000 miles away from my home, family and friends, in a cold country with a different way of life. I have been, and will continue to be criticized for abandoning my country in need for money and a better lifestyle. I am undeniably at least partly guilty of this accusation, but I believe that after studying day and night for so many years— and working in such a critical field that will truly require me to study all my life— I deserve not only to be well paid for my expertise but also to have access to the right technology and resources that will help me make a difference. So while there were many things that made this admittedly selfish choice easier than it should have been, it was still a huge sacrifice, and not a day goes by that I do not miss my home enough to want to throw caution to the wind and hop on the first flight home.

 

And who knows? Maybe one day, I will.