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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

Spinning Stories With His Photos, Arjun Kamath Is Protesting Against Taboos With His Art

  • IWB Post
  •  April 11, 2018

“But hope comes to those who see beyond the suffering of the present,” combine this line with the most soul-stirring picture and you’ll see why I am such a big fan of photographer Arjun Kamath.

The revolting sound of Tai and her men shook Avani to her very core. She knew they would soon be upon her if she didn’t pull herself together quickly. Wounded and terrified, Avani collected herself, and scrambling to her feet with Surya in her arms, she began to run through the Kashyapi as fast as her torn bloody legs could take her. As she ran through the thick forest, limping painfully from the deep gash in her foot, her eyes remained fixated on the horizon, as if an oasis awaited her. The sky was ablaze with hues of reds, purples, and oranges, reminding her all at once of brighter, happier times in the past and the deep emotional and physical wounds of the present. Little did she know that Tai had spread her men throughout the forest with strict orders not to leave a single stone unturned. Avani had run so far that she could actually see the Vimala River in the distance. Fatigued and hurting from all her wounds, she crouched behind a wall of thick bushes to catch her breath for a brief moment. Overcome by emotion and completely exhausted, Avani looked at baby Surya’s smiling face, and kissing her on the forehead, she whispered, “I’m sorry.” Hot tears streamed down her bloody face and fell onto Surya’s cheek, staining the infant’s face with tawny reminders of the danger they were in. Immediately, as if responding to her mother’s tears and fears, she let out a gentle cry, “Maaa . . . aaaa . . . waaaa!” Surya was just a few days old and she definitely couldn’t speak, but Avani clutched her to her bosom as tightly as she could and wept silently and helplessly. She just called me “Amma!” Avani thought to herself. Aadi would be so happy if I told him, a gentle smile now appearing on her blood-stained face. However, before she could feel grateful for having such a beautiful and miraculous baby who just called her Amma, she heard the ominous hissing of Tai’s men. Fearing for Surya’s life, with her heart in her mouth, Avani wrapped the cloth around Surya even more tightly so she could secure her as she continued evade the men. The sun was now a fiery red orb of light slowly tip-toeing at the edge of the horizon. Threads of sunlight lingered in the sky, mingling with the rolling clouds and dyeing the heavens first orange and then red. As the sounds of Tai’s men’s footsteps grew louder, Avani darted in the direction of the Vimala, hoping to find Aadi by taking a narrow path that she saw in front of her. Within minutes of Avani emerging from the thicket of bushes, Tai’s evil men, who were hiding behind thick trees and huge rocks throughout the Kashyapi, saw Avani’s orange sari pop against the deep brown bark of the trunks. Immediately, and as if on cue, they slithered out of their hiding places like venomous serpents, creeping across the Kashyapi at lightning speed, their eyes glued on their wounded prey. Avani’s heart was racing and her ears were ringing with the pounding of blood through her veins. Nearly blinded by her tears, she ran aimlessly in the direction of the river, her blood curdling from the sound of Tai’s command, “Get her now!!”

The revolting sound of Tai and her men shook Avani to her very core. She knew they would soon be upon her if she didn’t pull herself together quickly. Wounded and terrified, Avani collected herself,…

This picture is a part of his widely celebrated photo series called ‘Avani’ which is about a beautiful, humble and bold girl in the fictional village of Pravadh. We see her struggling to survive in a patriarchal world and how she strives to save her newborn baby girl- a story of love and sacrifice.

As Tai stamped the skull of the baby with her giant foot, a sharp, stinging pain pierced her leg like a bolt of lighting. She stamped the baby’s head again, and this time her heel cracked open, sending fountains of blood onto the cold Kashyapi floor. Sensing that something was wrong, Tai turned to Avani, who was laughing maniacally despite the men pressing and twister her arms with all their might. “How dare you?” Tai hissed. In truth, she had sensed something was wrong the moment Avani started to laugh. Beads of sweat formed on Tai’s head as she bent down and opened the cloth, expecting to see Surya’s bloody, distorted face. To her surprise, instead of baby Surya, there were only sticks and stones, the same kind of stones Avani had used earlier to attack Tai’s men. Tai’s eyes turned red with anger as she turned towards Avani. “Where is the baby?” she growled, her eyes protruding from their sockets. Avani’s laughter vanished, and with the anger of a thousand scorned goddesses, she screamed, blood and saliva oozing from her injured mouth. “How dare you even think about killing my child? How dare you?” Her voice echoed through the Kashyapi, sending a chill down everyone’s spine. Tai stood still, her body trembling with anger as she stared at Avani’s livid face. She had never seen this side of her. “You will never find my child, so don’t even try!” Avani gasped, spitting out blood as she spoke. Tai glanced at the bundle of stones and sticks one more time in utter disbelief, and then she turned to Avani. Avani was naïve and innocent. How had she managed to do this? Avani had protected her child, and that’s all she cared about. As she looked at Tai’s shell-shocked face, her anger melted away, her lips curling into a mocking smile. “Ask your men to hold me tight,” she said in a serious tone, her eyes locked on Tai’s face. “Should they let go, I will break your neck with my bare hands, crack your skull, and feed your body to the wolves!” Tai’s anger skyrocketed. Not only had Avani hidden the baby, she had just insulted her in front of her men.

As Tai stamped the skull of the baby with her giant foot, a sharp, stinging pain pierced her leg like a bolt of lighting. She stamped the baby’s head again, and this time her heel cracked open,…

“I have always failed to understand as to why it is the victim who is shamed, insulted, blamed and given some ill-placed sympathy. It is an imbalance, an injustice in society but I can’t go fight with people. So, I decided to mold my frustration, my angst into something soul-stirring and use it in a constructive way to fight these deconstructive elements,” said Arjun.

 

After Avani had attacked Tai’s men with the sharp stones, they had tumbled to the ground in a heap, wailing and screaming in distress and pain. That was when Avani had taken advantage of the distraction and turned sharply to hide behind a huge boulder. For a brief interlude, there was not a man to be seen. But Avani could still hear the distant screams and wails of Tai’s men. In panic, and fearing for the life of her child, Avani hugged Surya to her bosom with one hand and then quickly filled the cloth in which Surya had been wrapped with sticks and stones so that it would seem as if a child was still in it. Once she had filled the cloth, she emerged from her hiding place and ran in the direction of the Vimala. Upon reaching the riverbank, she knelt down quickly and, dipping her fingers in the cool water, placed a few droplets of fresh water first into Surya’s mouth and then into her own. As the sound of Tai’s men’s footsteps grew louder, Avani quickly made a makeshift raft out of the midrib of a dried coconut leaf. She placed baby Surya on this as securely as she could. Before setting Surya afloat, Avani had frantically looked around for Aadi, but he was nowhere to be seen. “Aadi, Aadi! Where are you?” she had screamed at the top of her lungs as tears streamed down her face. With each passing minute, the sound of Tai’s men grew louder and louder as they began to close in on her. Taking a deep breath and with the Lord’s name on her lips, the helpless Avani kissed Surya several times before gently setting her afloat on the little raft, praying again and again that little Surya would safely reach the neighboring village of Bandhumati. Avani then ran away from the Vimala, holding the bundle she had made from the sticks and stones as if it were a baby in order to distract Tai’s men. The men found Avani and began to chase her, not realizing that the baby they were looking for was no longer with her. As the sun sank behind the Pravadh roof tops, its color deepened from orange to crimson red, making it seem as if heaven itself was in mourning. As baby Surya floated away quietly down the Vimala, a furious Tai had walked away from Avani’s body that lay bleeding on the ground, hoping that the vultures would feed on her flesh and destroy her very existence. And with each struggling breath that Avani took, the calm waters of the Vimala gently caressed Surya’s raft, as if it were reassuring Avani, asking her not to worry about her child. Tai and her men frantically searched the Kashyapi for hours on end, but Surya was nowhere to be found. Not long afterwards, the clouds above parted to reveal a large opal orb enveloping Tai and her men in its silent moonlight. The Vimala’ surface shimmered with stars like floating diamonds and the moon like a single pearl mercilessly stealing all attention for itself. Furious that the light had faded away so quickly, a frustrated Tai screamed at her men, blaming them for their incompetency and lack of effort. However, deep within, Tai was overjoyed that she had gotten rid of Avani in such a brutal manner. Aadisesha was brought back into the Sayan home on the next day in accordance with Tai’s orders. He had been tortured so much that he no longer remembered his own name or that he had a child or wife. The blows he had received on his head had taken a toll on his memory and speech, almost turning him into a vegetable. He could barely walk or even speak as he sat on a chair outside the Sayan entrance, staring blankly at the Tulsi plant. Tai hoped that Aadi would recover soon, so that she could get him married to a new girl from a rich family, hoping that this would allow her to rake in another huge dowry from the marriage. Nobody knew what happened to Avani once Tai left the Kashyapi forest with her men, nor did anybody care enough to find out. Tai lied to Avani’s parents, telling them that Avani had left the Sayan Home a month ago saying that she was going to visit them, but she had then gone missing. Tai concocted a story that something must have happened to her while crossing the forest on the way to their house. The parents were devastated; they searched the Kashyapi for days on end but found no trace of Avani. They were too scared to question Tai and succumbed to her evil ways. As Avani breathed her last on the Kashyapi floor, Surya safely reached the banks of Bandhumati where she was picked up by a fisherman and his wife. They were a childless couple, overjoyed to find Surya on the riverbank; they welcomed her into their lives, thinking that she was a blessing from God. Avani, a woman of substance and power, had faded away. But hope comes to those who see beyond the suffering of the present. The stars above encourage us to carry on through the darkness. And Surya, a new life brimming with sunlight, after surviving an epic journey across the endless Vimala, now brought happiness and hope to a childless couple.

After Avani had attacked Tai’s men with the sharp stones, they had tumbled to the ground in a heap, wailing and screaming in distress and pain. That was when Avani had taken advantage of the…

And ‘Avani’ isn’t his only creation. Another one is ‘Coming Out’, where he depicts the LGBT community and how even something as pure as love is pitted against shallow ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of society. Hailing from Bengaluru, Arjun is someone who can spin stories from his photos and if, one day, he compiles a novel or a series of novels out of them, well, I would be the first in line for a signed copy.

Well, that was me fangirling, how about you learning about this magical storyteller in his own words?

If I am not wrong, you were an engineering student before picking up photography as your career?

Like other Indians, who consider Medicine and Engineering as the most credible professions, I too went for the latter as my friends were opting it too. That notion of having company trumped my personal liking of it as a career. But soon I realized my heart wasn’t in it, I would constantly zone-out- I wasn’t excited about studying those subjects.

My photograph, “The Little Boy From Hampi” has been handpicked to feature amongst the National Geographic favourite images of the year 2017 😎 . . . #portrait #boy #hampi #karnataka #india #photography #arjunkamathphotography #nationalgeographic #natgeo #natgeoyourshot #favourites #2017 @canonasia

2,067 Likes, 54 Comments – Arjun Kamath (@arjunkamath87) on Instagram: “My photograph, “The Little Boy From Hampi” has been handpicked to feature amongst the National…”

Oh, I totally understand that feeling. What did you do then, plan some major rebellion?

Haha! No, I started getting involved in extracurricular activities like quiz competitions, mad-ad, theatre and then a 10-day workshop in photography. It set me on the path of experimenting with my first camera (point and shoot canon) and boy! I was liking the results I was getting. I got better with time and fearless, mind you.

Thanks to my travels across the country, I’ve met some inspiring, resilient and courageous women/girls. Thank you for the inspiration and strength ❤️ . . . #portrait #women #girls #india #kolkata #kashmir #asia #earth #people #culture #places #travel #travelphotography #travelgram #instatravel #traveldeeper #travelstoke #photography #arjunkamathphotography #womenofinstagram #inspiration #strength #resilience #colorsofindia #sliceoflife #everyday

708 Likes, 8 Comments – Arjun Kamath (@arjunkamath87) on Instagram: “Thanks to my travels across the country, I’ve met some inspiring, resilient and courageous…”

On my trip to Delhi, Bangalore, and Mussoorie, I took the camera with me and explored the world through it. It was way back in 2009. After the workshop was over, I put up those pictures on Facebook and I found that other people liked my pictures as well, just not my friends and family. For the first time in my life, I was getting genuine praise from strangers for my work and the best thing was that I actually fell in love with photography. Exploring people, emotions, colours through my lens and adding my own dimension to them- I can’t explain the feeling.

But this was a huge step, was your family supportive?

They were always with me, but they just wanted me to be cautious. Like when buying my first DSLR. They advised me not just rush into it and practice with my point-and-shoot camera first. But eventually, they realized that I was not playing the fool (we laugh) and voila! I got my first DSLR camera. Despite being an engineering student my parents allowed me to do what I loved, not forcing me to follow what the world thinks is right.

Well, family indeed is our constant support system. So, do you remember the very first picture you clicked?

Not the first one, my memory is in shambles here, but I do remember one of the very first pictures I took. It was in the old city market in Bangalore where there were two young boys selling fruits. Their laughing faces, their childish antics of throwing grapes at each other enamored me. Here we are, plagued by the smallest inconvenience and these kids were enjoying working under the sun. They were so happy that someone was taking their picture!

Aw! Oh well, I wanted to ask about the short stories that accompany your pictures, which convey the story beautifully on their own, so why do write as well?

They give a little more depth to the photos and are the building blocks to mount the pictures on. The pictures give your thoughts a place to start from and the stories add the perspective. They allow you to build the world around the scene depicted, making you feel as if you’re present there- very much a part of the moment portrayed in the photograph.

 

The wildlife held its breath as Alpana embraced Maitreyi; the girls had been in love for the longest time ever. And although the leafless trees stood like witches over their petite figures, they stood there undeterred. They had finally come out of the closet and now there was no looking back…

The wildlife held its breath as Alpana embraced Maitreyi; the girls had been in love for the longest time ever. And although the leafless trees stood like witches over their petite figures, they…

Some may find that they are unnecessary, that it’s absurd to add such long stories, but I say they are the body that the essence of the picture resides in.

Maitreyi and Alpana were shoved back into the closet…

Maitreyi and Alpana were shoved back into the closet…

But what strikes me as the most illogical is when people comment that how uncanny it is for a man to pen down what a woman thinks like.

So, what is your reply?

Well, I tell them that I gain this perspective from being close to my mother. She is not someone who is obliged to do the household chores but as an individual with her own thoughts, someone who gives her all for us. And that is every woman on this planet. You don’t have to be a woman to understand one but just willing enough to see her soul.

So true. Tell me, Arjun, how you come up with the ideas of your photo stories?

Like for ‘The Awakening,’ I had been coming across a lot of articles where young girls have been subjected to child labor, molested, sexually abused. She wishes to break free of her captors but is overpowered. 

‘You messed with the wrong people!’ howled an infuriated Darpad, his face reddening with rage. Upon closer inspection, Darpad and Kavi had seen multiple nails sticking out of each tyre, realising they could no longer use their bikes. Darpad’s angry scream tore through Ambavati like a great shard of glass. The blood drained from Krishna’s face, making the hair on the back of her neck strand straight up. Hari, Kanja and Kavi, who were feeling overwhelmed by the sudden turn of events, jolted to attention at Darpad’s cry. With eyes widened and pulse quickened, they spun around frantically, wondering who could have dared to interfere. We’ll get whoever used those firecrackers and nails. This is going to be fun! Hari jeered, as he scanned the temple courtyard, which now seemed empty. Darpad, the most furious of the lot, spun around quickly and waved his hands through the smoke, only to see a green skirt in the distance. ‘A little girl?’ he muttered, taking a few steps forward. As he warded off the thick smoke with his bare hands, he saw little Krishna’s smiling face, the puppy cradled in her arms. Krishna had failed to realise that the smoke was only. She was too engrossed in cuddling the puppy to remember that she had taken on the most dangerous boys in town, who would soon spot her as soon as the smoke disappeared. ‘You little whore!’ Darpad growled. Gesturing to the other boys to follow, he darted towards Krishna. ‘Bring those nails along. We’ll hammer them into her tiny skull!’ he hissed. Kavi, Kanja and Hari were equally furious. ‘We’ll parade her naked on the streets of Ambavati!’ Kavi grinned as he ran behind Darpad. Kanja and Hari followed, their faces now as red as tempered iron. Before Krishna was aware of making a conscious decision, she let the puppy escape into a thicket of bushes and her feet began pounding furiously on the uneven road. Krishna’s breath came in small spurts, hot and nervous. At her sides, her fingers had curled into fists, arms pumping to aid her escape. Krishna quickened her pace; she could hear Darpad’s heavy steps right behind her. He was so close, she could almost feel his outstretched arms. As the chase ensued, Krishna’s scorched throat stopped her from screaming. ‘At least I sa-saved the pu-puppy!’ she gasped, throwing herself forward with even greater abandon. Her lungs and heart were pumping, but she couldn’t seem to get enough air as she sprinted forward, trembling with panic.

‘You messed with the wrong people!’ howled an infuriated Darpad, his face reddening with rage. Upon closer inspection, Darpad and Kavi had seen multiple nails sticking out of each tyre, realising…

In the house, she straightaway rushed for what seemed like the back entrance. She didn’t want to waste even a single second asking for help or trying to look for people in the house; those few extra seconds lost could cost her, her life and Krishna couldn’t take a chance. Knowing that she didn’t have much time to make her escape, she quickened her pace and bolted towards the back entrance. Meanwhile, the boys had entered through the front door. ‘She’s rushing towards the back door!’ Kavi screamed as he saw Krishna run. Kanja, who was right behind Kavi, turned towards Hari and Darpad, ‘We can stay inside. You both go around to the back!’ They nodded in agreement and started running. In the meantime, Krishna had kicked open the back door and run into the backyard, but not before latching the door from the outside. Within a few seconds, she heard Hari jeer menacingly, ‘Someone’s going to die soon. I wonder who?’ to which Darpad responded, ‘I can’t wait to hammer the first nail into her skull!’ With one hand pressing against her forehead Krishna tiptoed toward a shed covered in blue tarpaulin and hid behind it. “They’re going to kill me…” she thought as warm tears dripped down her pale cheeks. Krishna was now breathing hard, but the moment she heard the men she tried to avoid making a single sound. Each second seemed to last forever, but she stood perfectly still in the little shed in the relatively small backyard. As the men got closer, her breathing became erratic, deep, and then shallow; but she fought it. She fought the feeling as her body writhed to be free or shut down entirely. Each time her body moved a part of her got stronger, learning how to cope, and a part of her became weaker. Despite the ambient temperature, her skin was icy as all her remaining blood was being diverted to her vital organs. That’s when a final burst of adrenaline kicked in, with such force that her legs exploded into violent motion. She couldn’t take a chance! She had to run! She darted across the backyard in the opposite direction from where the men’s voices were coming, jumped over the little compound wall, and slipped into the back lane. On hearing her rapid footsteps, Hari and Darpad spun around quickly and saw Krishna’s green skirt as she disappeared over the wall. ‘There she is.’ Darpad said casually, with the confidence of a king who had won a battle. ‘Let’s get her!’ Hari said excitedly. In the meantime, Kanja and Kavi had broken the back door of the house, which Krishna had latched from the outside, and now followed Darpad and Hari, who had already started running after her. Krishna couldn’t formulate a thought. So far all of her actions had only led to more pain, and she started to fear that there was no way out of this. She glanced at the houses around her as she rushed ahead down the empty lane, tears running freely from her eyes. No doors were open, and there wasn’t a single person in sight. Helpless and desperate, she screamed at the top of her lungs, as she spun around wildly, ‘Please help… please!’ But not a single door or window opened. She screamed again, ‘Please help me… they want to kill me, please!’ But still nobody responded, and not a single door opened. As she heard the boys’ footsteps closing in, she rushed to the nearest door and started pounding on it with her bare hands. ‘Open the door!’ she cried, but there was no response from the other side. Kanja, Kavi, Darpad, and Hari were now standing only a few feet away from her. They were closing in on Krishna with big grins on their faces.

In the house, she straightaway rushed for what seemed like the back entrance. She didn’t want to waste even a single second asking for help or trying to look for people in the house; those few extra…

What if she actually possessed that kind of strength to choke them, break their teeth, crack their bones and bring them to their knees?

As the powerful wind circled and howled above, Hari momentarily lost track of where Krishna was. As more sand rose up into the air, the boys stumbled about involuntarily, trying to form a huddle, hoping that it would prevent the raging dust from entering their eyes. But with each passing minute the wind only grew stronger, and more and more dust and sand rose into the air, reducing visibility to almost zero. Realizing that this was her best opportunity yet, Krishna leapt forward, drew her fist back and ploughed it into Hari’s stomach, smashing his guts together and bursting blood vessels. ‘You fool! Your mother is a woman too!’ she screamed, her blue veins now leading the way to her fiery eyes, which had turned red like the evening sun. As blood continued to flow incessantly from Hari’s wounds, Krishna’s gaze quickly shifted to the other three boys, who were still stumbling about, and then back to Hari. ‘I’m not done with you yet!’ she warned, as Hari crumbled to his knees in extreme pain, his face now locked in a grimace, his skin pale and clammy. Krishna’s punch had been so powerful that Hari now felt like someone was reaching inside him and ripping his guts out with their bare hands. But before he could even scream, Krishna grabbed his injured jaw with extreme force, forcing him to bite his own tongue, almost splitting it into two. Dark red blood gushed from Hari’s mouth in spurts, and oozed freely into the spaces between Krishna’s fingers. His vision became blurrier as his once blue shirt turned darker, and all he could see was the scarlet blood that had flowed in his veins. With each drop of blood his life was slowly ebbing away, leaving him paler and weaker. ‘But I won’t let you die’ Krishna said firmly, as she looked at the dark stream that dripped from his mouth. ‘Not so easily…’ she added before kicking him squarely in the chest like he was an insignificant piece of muck. As Hari collapsed on the ground before Krishna, Darpad, Kanja and Kavi staggered about aimlessly, blinded by the coarse sand that continued to sting their eyes. ‘Where is she?’ Kanja gasped covering his face. ‘Argh, I don’t know! I can’t even see!’ Kavi wailed. Little did they know that their friend had just collapsed onto the ground in a bloody mess, but a few feet away from them. In the meantime, Darpad-who was growing more frustrated with each passing minute-growled ‘I’m going to skin you alive you whore!’ as he swung his arms wildly, thinking he may be able to hit Krishna if she was close by. But little did Darpad know that Krishna was standing right behind him, her eyes now glued to the back of his head. ‘I’m right here’, she said softly as she tapped him on the shoulder.

As the powerful wind circled and howled above, Hari momentarily lost track of where Krishna was. As more sand rose up into the air, the boys stumbled about involuntarily, trying to form a huddle,…

But how do you find models that fit your imaginary character sketches?

I always go with my instincts. I am so immersed in the story that when I look at a model I instinctively know whether they need to be in my project or not. Even if there is a upar-niche I know I’ll make it work.

You have countless fans (me being one of them), you must receive many messages that touch your heart?

I remember one in particular. It was in response to my short film ‘The Birthday Trip’ which highlights child sexual abuse. A girl messaged me, confiding that she had been sexually abused by her grandfather as a child and she hadn’t told anyone, not even her own family members. I was the person she decided to share the burden of her heart with, I felt honoured.

The Birthday Trip

It’s Dia’s eighteenth birthday and she’s going on her first ever road-trip.

When ‘Coming out’ was released, a girl from Sri Lanka messaged me saying my story has given her the hope to at least consider telling her parents about herself and finally coming out of the closet.

It must feel amazing to impact lives positively. But what about negative feedback, have you ever gotten any?

Luckily, I have rarely received any negative feedback but I remember a guy who commented on my photo story, “Avani,’ saying ‘What bullshit is this?’ I didn’t even have to respond, within five minutes other people just bashed this man with comments, left right and center. The guy deleted his comment and ran away from there.

As Lankeshi stepped closer to Ranika, the trees seemed to cease their rustle and tense up with nerves for what was to come. Lankeshi suddenly flipped up the walking stick in her hand so that the blunt metal handle was in the direction of Ranika’s face, and leaning forward she gently placed the cold metal against Ranika’s chin, using the stick as a prop to turn Ranika’s face from side to side. Ranika was strong and intelligent; she loved her family and was good to her friends, but these eyes… gazing at her, falling all over her… couldn’t see any of those qualities. No, they just saw her deep brown hues. While his wife examined Ranika, Rudra stood next to her in support and mumbled, “You’re a bit of rough from the all the games in the sun, girl. I don’t think our son is the one for you.” Dhananjay and Sudhamini were too overwhelmed with what was happening and froze. What Lankeshi was doing was unacceptable! But she had a calm and confident demeanor that made it seem like she was just being curious. A wave of inferiority engulfed Dhananjay as he stood next to Rudra with his head bowed. He was insulted-hurt. And suddenly he was keenly reminded of the pompous Rudra from his childhood, of the Rudra who hadn’t invited him to his wedding. Still, no man should directly insult a friend, especially one who was a guest in his home. Dhananjay could never be the kind of man to break society’s tight chains of behavior. But for Sudhamini, as much as she tried to hold it in, her pain threatened to burst like a gush from her throat. Beads of water began to leak and trickle, one after another, down her cheeks. The muffled sobs wracked against her chest as she tried to understand what must be been going through her daughter’s mind and heart. Lankeshi didn’t stop her inspection. Still she stared into Ranika’s misty eyes. The hold she had over the girl gave her a thrill, the kind that was hard to get any other way. Power! She enjoyed that feeling of class, position, and judgement! Leaning back and with a forced smile on her face she turned to Rudra and said simply, “She’s too dark!” Rudra burst into an obnoxious chuckle. “She is!” Lankeshi didn’t join him. “It’s not funny! It’s insulting.” On hearing Lankeshi’s words, Rudra’s smile slowly disappeared. “I need some coffee!” He stretched his arm out and plucked the glass of still-steaming coffee from Ranika’s tray. A sudden silence now hung the air as Ranika stood with her head bowed, holding the empty tray. Everything was the same-yet everything was suddenly and utterly different. The trees in the backyard stood naked as they had before, but their twigs had curled in distortion as if they, too, were feeling Ranika’s pain. The sky had gathered into itself a blanket of gray cloud, desperate to hide the ugly incident from the heavens.

As Lankeshi stepped closer to Ranika, the trees seemed to cease their rustle and tense up with nerves for what was to come. Lankeshi suddenly flipped up the walking stick in her hand so that the…

Haha! Serves him right. So, were you ever on the receiving of any of these social evils that you depict in your work?

Oh, yes. I had been a chubby kid while growing up and people who fail to understand that the concept of perfection doesn’t exist, would constantly shame me. Colour-shaming, fat-shaming, ‘you’re short’, etc is just falsely believing that you are somehow fitting the criteria of ‘perfect.’

With crystal-clear water and pearly-white white clay at its bottom, sometimes, when the sun shone brightly, the pond sheened like a circular mirror had been placed in the middle; the only thing that ever gave it away were the ripples created by the turquoise fish that swam under the surface, especially when they came up to the surface to breathe. On some days, the pond looked like the moon, as if it had descended from the sky and made a home for itself in their yard. The white clay made for the moon’s surface and the little fish that swam created ripples, which looked like craters adorning it. As a child, Ranika would often look at the shimmery surface of the pond, even using it as a mirror to apply kajal and to get the position of her just bindi right. And she had always been fascinated by the clay, wondering why its color was white instead of reddish-brown, the normal color of clay. She had never seen any clay in her entire life that was whiter than what lay at the bottom of their pond. In the depth of despair, dejected and heartbroken, Ranika recalled the pond and its clay as she made her way down from the hillock. She never imagined that their beautiful pond, which she had always considered as the pride of their family, would one day provide her answer-the clay. The white clay could help her conceal her dark skin from the world. Approaching the waterside, not once did she look at her face as she stepped into the water silently, breaking its surface into a million ripples. She dipped her hands into the shallow water, scooped the white clay from the bottom with a deep sigh, and threw it into an earthen pot that had been lying next to a huge tree beside the pond. She then mixed the clean water of the pond with the clay, turning it into a paste. Her warm tears blended into the cool ripples of the pond as she kneaded and blended the paste with her bare hands. The beautiful pond, once her childhood companion, was now a mute spectator, a silent witness to the chaos in her mind and the open wounds in her heart… As Sudhamini applied the white paste on her bare skin, Ranika simply froze as she lay with her eyes closed on Sudhamini’s lap, hardly believing that this was the decision she herself had made. If she had been like a butterfly before, she felt now that she was regressing to the pupa. But what other rescue could there be from this sick feeling and embarrassment for her and for her family? This, too, felt like absolute torture-utter humiliation-but this was the only way! She could hear her parents’ sobs, a memory that would be seared into her brain forever, ready to resurface and torment her time and again whenever she was in a quiet moment. She felt now that she was in that moment between action and consequence, fleeting but eternal. Her decision made, she dreaded the consequences, the repercussions. A seed of guilt was germinating inside her, ready to sprout upon her defeated face. And she knew, whenever she would recall the most emotional and humiliating moment of her life, her personal hall of shame, this would be where the memory would always start. She had asked her mother, the woman who gave birth to her, to change her skin color, her identity… stripping both her mother and herself of whatever self-respect and dignity they had remaining. And all while her beloved Appa watched on helplessly.

With crystal-clear water and pearly-white white clay at its bottom, sometimes, when the sun shone brightly, the pond sheened like a circular mirror had been placed in the middle; the only thing that…

Hard to break this myth. Well, is there another photo story in the making? *fingers crossed*

In fact, yes! I am working on a photo story ‘Prakriti’ and I think I love this project even more than I loved ‘Avani’ or ‘Coming Out.’ Rest is up to the audience.

Great! So, aspiring photographers must be eager to attain some pearls of wisdom from you. What is your message to them?

Keeping clicking more, ‘cause that’s how you keep improving as there is no magic formula, no shortcut. Secondly, don’t try and follow anyone’s path. I didn’t, because I know that everyone has to carve their own road or else you will flop tragically. Find yourself, look for ‘you.’

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