Monday, May 7, 2012

Last of the shadows

My preoccupation with the construction of the Olive Ridley house has resulted in one victim, namely, my documentation of its progress through shadows cast on canvas. When I finally realized that I had overlooked much, it was already too late. Thus, before the scaffolding finally came down I hurriedly took photographs of the shadows cast by it on the plastered dome.

Looking at these photographs on my computer now, I feel a kind of sadness and nostalgia. It feels like a process has abruptly ended - that which will be impossible to replicate again. I congratulate myself for having captured these fleeting images for posterity, but, immediately doubt its' veracity. These images are not real; they are usually manipulated on Photoshop and therefore do not qualify as ‘real images’ of ‘real moments’.

Kunal Sen my friend from when we were at school, dropped in the other day. While discussing computers and digital photography – in terms of authenticity, as in, what is real and what is not, his observation seemed so very true. He felt that in the entire history of documenting images, the only period that may be considered comparatively unblemished, is the time between the beginning of photography and the coming of the digital age. Prior to these hundred odd years, artists manipulated the images – artistic license! What they achieved was always considered a good resemblance to the ‘real’. Again after the advent of the digital age, one can never be sure that an image has not been even slightly altered. This seems to imply that soon enough the virtual will be considered more real than reality itself.

To illustrate this he explained how the virtual and the real are getting mixed up. Generally, a computer game consists of various levels and on one; a player has to earn enough points to get a weapon necessary to win at that level. But, the worlds start getting mixed up here. He earns the weapon and sells it on eBay. Another player buys it in the virtual space of that game! So the actual transaction of money happens in the real sense for a virtual weapon…this is crazy! Or is it?

For me, this virtual world of writing blog posts is another reality. I am hiding my fears and agonizing about the safety of my design in the real world, but, admitting it on a blog is so relieving. Is this virtual space my retreat from the responsibilities of reality? I wonder.

Other Shadows & a Silver Lining

As, I was privately musing over these ponderables, I was disturbed by the incessant ringing of the telephone. The voice at the other end seemed flustered and I was rudely awakened to the responsibilities of reality. It had been raining cats and dogs for the last few evenings and the roof had begun to leak. It was spoiling the already finished and drying mud walls. A shadow of gloom descended on me as my worst fears were already coming true.

I put the phone down and called up Laurent and discussed the problem with him. He assured me it was a minor problem and that given the experimental nature of this design, much worse could have happened. Armed with a list of technical suggestions from him, I made arrangements to leave as soon as possible.

However, my euphoria of the past weeks had given way to utter dejection and had made the spring in my step disappear. I no longer looked forward to experiencing and fishing for happenings on the Canning Local. I hired a car and took along Smriti and Shohini (the last named is my daughter) as if for moral support! Arriving at Maheshpur we went straight to the shelter to survey the damage. Yes, there were leaks and the damage was much less than I had been led to believe. I breathed a sigh of relief. The problem was soon sorted out and repair work undertaken.

Interestingly, I found that everyone involved in the construction were deeply disturbed at the turn of events. I knew that this would hamper the completion of the house and therefore behaved as if this was a normal thing to have happened. So, “It’s no big deal”, I tell them. This seemed to lift their spirits, yet they tried to find someone or something to blame. “Now, come on, it’s my fault, okay?” I said. There was a moment of stunned silence and then they grinned sheepishly at me, as if chided by a school master for talking in class. I tried to explain the best as I could that “the plaster was not at fault, it was a flaw in the structure. This flaw will not compromise the structure when it comes to heavy rains or storm, but, what has affected it now is the weight of too many people working on the roof all at once. Since the structure is quite rigid, it led you to believe that it can take any amount of load. That is all. Now, let’s talk dates. The artists’ workshop will begin on…”

They nodded their heads in agreement. Responsibilities were discussed and designated.

I know I am an incorrigible optimist…no one needs to remind me of that! But again, I have to admit that this virtual space in many ways aids catharsis.

Rear view of the shelter and me. Picture courtesy Kunal Basu.

Shadows of Earlier Journeys

Traveling for more than three months between Kolkata and Maheshpur had settled down to a humdrum routine that I tried to make the most of. Watching people and noticing oddities had become a pastime that spiced up this not so comfortable journey. The auto-rickshaw rides between Canning and Maheshpur were absolute cliff-hangers. With Apiluddin becoming taciturn and not so dependable, Lal Babu’s contacts kept ferrying me.

The driver who served me most was Gautam Bera – a burly, dour faced man who drove like a maniac with a mission to kill as many as possible including me along with himself. I would not unsling my camera bag, and despite the reserved status of my auto kept my rucksack on my knees, poised and ready to cushion a fall. I would hold on for dear life as he sped past buses and trucks and hollered at laggards of the lesser variety of vehicles plying in this region. My knuckles would turn white and my face ashen (despite my dark complexion). After every such ride I needed a while to get my equilibrium back and for my hands to stop shaking. Finally, I decided that I had had enough. First I drove in and out once in my own jalopy with Laurent for company. That was pleasant indeed! But, then I could not find someone to accompany me. I therefore took the train and once again - Gautam’s auto was waiting. This time he fell asleep while driving. I suddenly saw the auto meandering dangerously. I shouted and woke him up. This happened again and again. I finally managed to stop him and offered him a cigarette. “What’s wrong with you?” I asked. “I am sleepy” he stated in a matter of fact manner. He offered me no other excuse. I finally reached the Ashram, my hands shaking much more than usual.

The last two times I went to Maheshpur was in the air-conditioned comfort of a hired car. Kunal and Sushmita Basu visited the shelter the previous week and this time was with Smriti and Shohini. The journey by road is not bad, especially, after you have had the patience to negotiate through the crowded bazaars between Rajpur and Baruipur. The road is lined with trees and their shadows make this journey quite pleasant. As always there is conversation to liven things up.

But, I miss my ritual chicken-egg roll without ketchup, the guessing games of station names, trying to make sense of snatches of conversation and imagining stories about unknown people. On the way back this time, I stop the car near the Canning station and buy us a bottle of chilled mineral water from my regular stall. “A sip of this chilled water never felt so good,” I remark as I pass the bottle. “Nectar!” agrees Shohini.

No new pictures of the Olive Ridley this time as I wish to reveal the complete shelter to you next week. Until then my friends!

1 comment:

Laurent Fournier said...

Dear Abhida, I had only one or two really good bosses in my professional life.

In the sense, not only good people but also good in their job of being a boss. They knew how to lift the spirit of their team by saying exactly what you said to your team in Mahespur.

But these are not only words and we can only imagine how much of hard solitary work is cristallised in the soothing confidence they exude.