Saturday, September 25, 2010

It Ain’t The Frame, It’s The Photo

I just got woken up! Its midnight and I’d had a long day. It wasn’t any barking dogs (I’d miss those rascals during my sojourn abroad when nights were creepily quiet or eerily noisy). It wasn’t a nocturnal neighbor either – it was black and white photographs. The thing was, you see, we’d decided to do this homage to the power of photography or tell stories using pictures, however you churn the yarn, fact was it was robbing me of my sleep and sleeping has become somewhat precious now that I’m getting thrown out of the thirties. Somehow that sleep has gotten and become almost aphrodisiac and if that’d what sleep has become, you’d better get the most of it.

My mental picture, even though my photographic memory is that of a mosquito’s, is increasingly becoming elephantine. There are pictures of family and friends flashing through my head; the most stubborn being that of a photograph of my father and Amjad Khan aka Gabbar Singh. 

It got embedded in me the day I saw it in my father’s album, due to no small measure to the psychotic affinity I naturally felt to the film Sholay and its iconic villain, Gabbar Singh, who was to me, the real start of the film (those days all you had to do to really traumatize me was to call me Gober Singh and I’d be shattered). That was the measure of the power of the fictitious character and you could imagine the panic and the pride with which I held and remembered that photograph – Gabbar holding my father with his right hand another Bhutanese fellow with his left. It was manna from heaven. I stole the photograph and lost it forever, trying to show it to the whole world. Amjad Khan himself passed on, together with my father, bless their souls and I still can’t remember the fellow on the left. I hope he is hale and hearty whoever and wherever he is.

That was one image that forever photographed itself in my consciousness. The others were mostly impressions that left indelible mind prints. As I lay with the Wang Chhu sound tracking the mental rolls this night of the owls and the odd traffic on the Expressway, I see Bruce Lee, in tight yellow spandexes with stripes of black, wielding a Nunchuku with that look of his that says “I’ll kick your arse.”
Bruce takes precedence again with that other iconic pose: he’s got bloody claw marks on his face and chest and he’s frozen in a position from where we know when the film rolled that Mr Han got kicked and punched so fast you kind of feel bad because there is nobody left for Bruce to lick his cut-wounds and go into that “Rage of the Flying and Kicking Meows.”

On an inspirational note, photographs from History and Geography books in school come to mind. You browse through the pages and there’d be scattered photographs of ordinary people and villages and cities from places you didn’t imagine existed. The library had a sort of concocted version of itself, spattered with books and magazines in random orders and shelves. I happened to come across one called “LIFE”. It changed my world forever. The photographs in the magazine had me spellbound. The issues I picked had the Man on the Moon, the Vietcong Colonel about to squeeze the trigger on some hapless victim, the little girl running naked toward the camera from a background of chaos and smoke and (napalm?) struggle to the picture of the Reverend himself looking over a sea of people about to deliver the “I’ve a Dream” speech.

These were followed by the Mahatma spinning (reading, actually) his Khadi Wheel, the Dalai Lama on horseback about to touch the plains of India, Che Guevara enjoying a Cuban cigar, and His Majesty the Fourth King in conversation with Fidel Castro and with Yasser Arafat, hands clasped in solidarity and raised in the air. More recently, the picture that comes to mind is His Majesty sitting on a school ledge, a benign smile on his face, listening to a little student. I wonder what he was listening to and what the little kid was saying. It does not matter what was actually said and that is the beauty of that photograph and any photograph that imprints itself in your consciousness.

The negativity gets washed over and over until you are overcome with positive a print that tells you a thousand different things as your own life experiences thicken and thin. These do not get deleted and that is the ultimate measure of the power of photography and that of a good photograph. (Whoever said the black and white era is dead must be lying somewhere, somehow, somewhat looking all bewildered, alive, wondering where that photo was hung and framed, and boy, that elusive sleep.) Having said that, good night, if you can get any and jolly good luck with your own black and whites!

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