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I was born an only child to my parents, in Delhi, into a family torn apart by the aftermath of the India-Pakistan partition. Hailing from an affluent background in Pakistan my family was now struggling for survival in the walled city of Delhi totally penniless. Embedded with deep insecurities and freshly bearing the scars of partition my family was now setting up trade in the walled city dealing in fabric. It is relevant for me to mention this background for these very insecurities I too inherited from my family and they remain with me till date even with the changed times and lifestyle.

Things improved gradually financially, with the trade flourishing and much because of the sheer hard work of my grandfather, father& chachas (father's brothers).We settled in Delhi at the start as big joint family. I have grown up hearing tales of how our family had started life selling fabric on the pavements of the walled city where we now own several properties. My father could never get over those scars of partition. I too was repeatedly made to realize that ( for better or for worse) even though I was born much later in Delhi.

At the age of five I was put to school at St.Xavier's High School, Delhi. That period was to become the most memorable part of my life. I remember enjoying school life thoroughly. I was an above average student with a lot of love for extracurricular activities. In school I would love going hiking, camping, swimming & cycling with the boy scouts. From the very start I was naughty and mischievous and was a regular in getting in and out of trouble. After school I went to the Delhi University and took up English Honours as my subject. But nowhere was it in my mind to take up studies serious. Restless from the start I wanted to travel the world.

I now join the Merchant Navy  at the age of seventeen ,as a deck cadet leaving college in the first year itself. I loved this new experience and was good at learning navigation. Very soon I was promoted to become the navigating officer. For the first year I never came back home at all. I was fulfilling my desire to see the world thoroughly meeting different types of people and experiencing different kinds of cultures .

Once while travelling to the city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia during the month of Ramadan, I was amazed to see gold slabs and coins being sold on the pavements of this city. On the loudspeaker I then heard the evening azan (prayer call). To my utter amazement I saw the vendors leave this gold unattended and enter the nearby mazjid for prayer. Such was the strictness of the prevailing law of the land that anybody caught stealing would have his hand chopped off. Nobody dared to steal.

Now quite a different experience was when my ship entered Bangkok in Thailand. To my utter surprise I saw hoards of women entering my ship. Their  numbers must have been no less than a hundred odd. I was on duty and I objected to their entry and was immediately  informed  by my senior  officer to back off as they were entering with the permission of the captain. These were sex workers who stayed on my ship till the time it was there. Nobody was questioning any morality or ethics. It was gala time for all officers, crew, and  the Captain.  I soon came to realize that this was 'way of life' for most sailors .

One horrific incident I still remember was when our Burmese radio officer died on the ship due to  liver failure. Like most sailors he too used to drink a lot. As we were still many days away from the next port,his body was put into the deep freezer of the ship. This was the same place where all vegetables and other eatables were stored. Life went on as if nothing had happened and everybody was eating and drinking like any other day. In a ship-life  relationships and friendships are fairly temporary and the moment a person gets off the ship all these are left behind and forgotten.  My bag of experiences was filling up fast and most of these were alien to my inherent nature.

Restlessness and void  again set in fast. I was getting bored after  about five years of sailing. Novelty had worn off and my nature and upbringing was not that of a sailor in most ways .I finally decided to say quits and join the family business which was waiting for me to return. My dad was overjoyed at my decision.

I had no problem settling into the business  environment as it just happened to be in my blood. I now decide to get married too. I got married and soon  after become a father of two adorable children. My age at that period would have been early twenty or so. Time  flew by fast earning bread and butter for my family. Nothing was more important than bringing up the kids properly and with a lot of love, something which I was deprived of badly during my childhood days.

The same restlessness and void again set in soon . I was  in a dilemma, now trying out  new ways to end this emptiness . I initially tried my hands at learning sculpture at Triveni Kala Sangam in Mandi House, but soon realized that medium was not for me. Destiny seemed to have other plans for me. It was during this period that I was gifted a SLR  by someone, a Ricoh 500 as I now try to remember. The camera body had a dial with some numbers and also some numbers on the lens of which I had no clue. There were photography classes being held in Triveni Kala Sangam Basement and I joined  these classes  with sculpture classes which I was already attending.

It was here that I met my photography teacher and now a dear friend Satyasri Ukil for the first time. The Basic course was about learning the techniques of Black & White photography. Satyasri was a dedicated, honest  & straightforward  teacher. His likes and dislikes purely dealt with the merits of the image and not with the person who had shot that image. I learnt fast under the guidance Satyasri. A few of us guys, some of them now renowned photographers, formed a small team under Ukil  (as we address Satyasri,till date).We shot,developed and printed the whole day long under his supervision .  Photography was now no longer a mere hobby but a frenzy, a medium which we all wanted to excel in . I soon set up my own small darkroom in my house kitchen and would develop and print negatives all night long.

I  start  trekking again now with a SLR  in hand, going to high altitudes of Garhwal Himalayas. I remember showing my first serious work to Ukil and found him overjoyed. Soon my ambitions grew and I start shooting for the advertising agencies. My first breakthrough came from the agency 0gilvy & Mather whose creative head was Benoy Mitra. He just happened to be at the colour lab where my portfolio prints were coming out. He saw my work and quietly handed over his card asking  me to see him at the agency. I was overjoyed as this was breakthrough I needed desperately. I soon  started getting assignments from major Delhi based advertising agencies.

But now  I start  getting bored from shooting mountains,  product and fashion. I still needed to express myself in a different way. I decide to work towards my first solo exhibition. For sponsorship  I show my landscapes and other mountain work to the management of India International Centre. After seeing my work they agree to sponsor my show fixing the date to 28th November 1998. It is pertinent to mention here that I had then only shown  beautiful landscapes and mountain TP's for their approval as I had nothing more at that time in my kitty.

I start a new journey, first shooting  Ladakh, which I found immensely peaceful and tranquil. The quiet inside the Buddhist monasteries acted as a balm for my troubled mind. Filtration of light from the windows and doors into its dark interiors was indeed very beautiful. I would sit inside these monasteries for hours at a stretch calming my taut nerves. The prayer gong would echo inside the main hall and seep deep inside my soul. I have always equated light with God and have always believed that the darkness of the human soul will ultimately become alive with the play of God's Light on it. 

After wandering  in and around Leh  for a some days I decide to move on further  towards Kargil and then to Padum (Zanskar ). On route I saw the most colourful landscape ever witnessed. It seemed God had specially sculpted this barren mountainscape, with  elements like water, wind and snow and then painted it with strokes of such different hues. I stood there spellbound admiring the creativity of that Master Sculptor.

During the same period, Kumbh Mela was being held at Hardwar which I decide to cover. Considered to be the largest Hindu religious gathering in the world, with around 1 million people expected to visit, it is a spectacle to watch. Hotels were jam packed with people and media  from all over the world. After significant hunting, I managed to find a room for myself. Not wanting to waste any time I immediately set out for the shoot. On reaching Haridwar market place I saw  hundreds of completely naked Naga sadhus loitering around aimlessly, smoking hash.   Their behaviour  showed no signs of spirituality either. With ash smeared faces, they  looked more demonic than godly.  It was a weird sight. Soon  I came to understand from the local inhabitants of Hardwar that the whole show was a complete farce. These  so called ascetics shed their clothes and storm the streets only during the Kumbh festival. Neither do they live in the remote Himalayas leading a renounced life, but on the contrary live in their lavishly furnished air conditioned  rooms in Hardwar itself!

My contention got proved the very next day when I witnessed a massive fight that broke out between the local police and the Nagas. Whoever came  in the way of these Trishul armed sadhus was at his life's risk.  The streets of Haridwar resembled a battle ground with broken bottles, stones, iron rods, bricks strewn all over the place. Blood lay splattered on the streets. I saw local shopkeepers down their shutters in a frenzy  and run for dear life. The police retaliated with full force of tear gas shells..  It was now the so called ascetics turn to run. The ash smeared faces morphed  into blood stained ones. God what a sight !!!! These were no saints but downright criminals to the very core, most of them. 

On the day of the procession, I woke early and positioned myself on roof top of a house near the Niranjani  Akhara, a place that  houses  these Naga sadhus. I was testing the auto focus of my telephoto 300mm Canon lens when I saw a group of Nagas gathered  in the Akhara compound. What shocked me was the sight of one Naga fiddling with the genitals of the other Naga. Luckily, I was  just in time to capture the act in my camera. This created a furore when this image got published on the first page of a leading Indian newspaper " The Indian Express".

I would be presenting a lopsided story  of the Kumbh if I were to write only about the wayward lifestyle of these Nagas . This festival  all through history  has been a congregation of  learned  mystics and saints too. These are the people who have devoted their life to study and meditation. There were hundreds of huts built by the Kumbh authorities for the sadhus to stay, across the river bed. I visited those and sat with some very learned sanyasis listening to their discourses and hear them sing bhajans(devotional songs). An extremely nice and peaceful experience for me. Animated discussions would take place among the mystics about the existence and nature of God. I too would sit among them trying my best to grasp whatever was being said. 

My next  visit was to Varanasi. Here I found people visiting  the Ghats in very colorful attires. A activity on these ancient Ghats like the  Dashashwamedh Ghat  would start very early in the morning. People from all over India visit Banaras to perform various religious rituals, right from the birth of a child to the cremation of the dead and also later to perform rites for their safe and comfortable passage after death. The quality of light that  I found in Banaras was very  warm & golden and I wouldn't hesitate a moment  to call it heavenly.

Now a special  reference to the Manikarnika Ghat " the ghat of the dead" is needed. People from all over India come to Kashi (ancient name of Banaras)to cremate their dead at Manikarnika. It is believed by Hindus that a cremation at Manikarnika Ghat gives the human soul an unhindered passage to heaven. Pyres are being lit here continuously without getting extinguished for the last 3000 years. But it was on this 'Burning Ghat 'that my worst nightmare was to begin. I would visit this ghat daily looking at the activities. It was not very long before I realised that whenever a body of a poor person would come in, it would be cremated in a bizarre manner. It required two 'mun' wood at the least  (mun is an Indian measure of  weight equivalent to 20 kgs)  to cover a human body completely for cremation. But the person accompanying the  dead body did not have that much money in his pocket. So only that much wood was purchased in which only the torso  could be covered by wood. The legs and head were left hanging out and the pyre lit. The head would get burnt in a horrific  manner with  the head and feet  falling  away from the torso partially burnt. Then these torn away parts were picked up and put into the pyre or thrown into the Ganges. This whole sequence was so bizarre that I decided to get it on film and show it to the world. This I did manage to photograph secretly even after a lot of objections and hindrances  from the people in charge at Manikarnika. Man really "was"  meeting his God in Kashi, though in a very bizarre manner. So much for Kashi, our Gateway To Heaven. I have not posted  those pictures on this website to avoid unnecessary disturbance to people's minds.

The IIC Gallery wanted to see the final prints that I had decided to display. Nowhere in my final selection were those beautiful landscapes to be seen. Their place had been taken by naked sadhus with Trishuls and burning ghats & corpses. The Gallery management told me in no uncertain terms that they will not allow the show to go on unless these pictures were withdrawn. My dilemma was that my photo essay "Where Man Meets God'" was a story of a photographer's passage of life, his wanderings, his search for God. This essay was incomplete without these pictures. I told the management that I will show my work as it is and will not remove any picture from the list. Much courage to take this right stand was coming from Satyasri Ukil who stood by me all this while withstanding this massive onslaught. IIC Management banned my exhibition.

It was during this period that me and Satyasri Ukil were introduced to Suneet Chopra a reputed Art Critic. He later introduced us to Siddharth Tagore, a gallery owner at Art Consult Hauz Khas Village. Siddharth Tagore offered to hold a preview party of my work at his gallery inviting respected artists like B.C.Sanyal, Jatin Das and many other  artists of repute. The preview was a major success with all these stalwarts in their respective art fields giving their nod to my exhibition. Mr.Khushwant Singh the famous and a very respected writer too came up with an article on me in his column "Malice Towards One And All .Now IIC started shifting its stance and a compromise was reached. "That the images will be allowed to display but only facing towards the Gallery wall, whoever who wanted to see them could do so at his own discretion". Almost everybody saw those images. Many reputed people visited the exhibition. Eight major newspapers wrote elaborately on this exhibition. There was a TV interview also held by a channel too. The exhibition was a huge success on the whole.

 I  have been shooting ever since refining my images and  thoughts, though this personal search for a meaning to life and death still continues. I  have continuously read  on this subject and  shot in locations related to this personal quest of mine. The year 2017  should  bring in the culmination of my thoughts and  images in the form of a Coffee Table Book which I  tentatively title as 'Entangled".

Life  for me as a photographer  continues.............