Entries in Sujitha (24)
On the train to Pune; happy times unfold atop the void that cannot be filled nor forgotten; feast, hunger, excitement and beauty on the street
Here is Sujitha, the bride, who in the morning had henna applied to her hands, arms, feet and legs, now riding the train that will take her from her home in Bangalore to Pune, where she will join her groom in a Hindu wedding ceremony.
As you would suspect, I shot a series of photos from the beginning of the 18-hour train ride to the end, except, of course, for the hours that I either slept or laid awake in a dreamy haze in my sleeping place, which just happened to be this place. Sujitha had her own sleeping place across the aisle, as did everyone else in our party, but sometimes she would sit with me for awhile to keep me company.
As to the rest of the pictures from this journey, I have yet to even take my first glance at them. I took this one very near to the beginning of the trip and so chose it to represent the entire trip.
Later, perhaps not until after I return to Alaska, I will take the time to do a decent edit and selection and will then make a post dedicated solely to telling the story of the train ride, another to tell the story of the henna application - and others to tell other stories until I am done.
So this is the kind blog I hope this turns into - one where I drop in framentary pieces of experiences on close to a day-by-day basis, and then tell more comprehensive, more carefully thought out pieces later.
I feel like I should be able to tell a comprehensive story every day, but I can't. So fragments, followed later by comprehenive - that is my goal.
I grabbed this one, because it was right at the tail end of the CF card that I last downloaded, and so it was easy to grab. Sujitha's cousin Aishu arrived here a bit after 5:30 AM following a 15 hour bus ride from Bangalore. Sujitha and Aishu are very close. Right now, they are out doing last-minute wedding shopping. I am very sad to have stayed back and if this blog were the only thing pressing me, I probably would have post-poned this post until tonight (it is now 1:00 PM in India) and would have followed them.
Oddly enough, a couple photo orders have come to me here in India, both with close deadlines, for pictures that I had taken in Alaska and, as a result of circumstances I won't bother to detail, happen to have brought with me on another harddrive. One is guaranteed to succeed and will pay me just a tiny bit of money, the other has no guarantee at all - in fact, the publication involved has sent or will send a photographer to Barrow to get what they need, but as I do have related material, they have asked me to send them a few as well.
So this is the one that will take me the longest time and greatest effort and it is the one that comes with no guarantee of success at all and to fill it I had to stay behind. Margie and I will be totally flat broke within just a few days of my return home and I have no paying jobs pending whatsover. If this one does succeed, the per-photo rate will be a good one, so I must take the time to fill the order, even though I am in India and would rather be out experiencing India with Sujitha and Aishu on the last day before Sujitha's wedding ceremonies begin.
As we move about and do the things that we do, there is much laughter, hugging and dining - we dine all the time - and we have a good time, an enjoyable time. My in-laws here treat me every bit as one of their own, so much so that I do not even like to use the term, "in-laws." I prefer the term, "family," because that is what they are to me and that is how they treat me.
Be certain, though, that even with the laughter, hugging and warmth, there is an underlying void of sadness that also travels with us at all times. As she was packing her bags in Bangalore, Sujitha came up with this bag that she had received as a gift from Soundarya - her Soundu, my Sandy. Soundarya painted the bag herself, so it truly carries her a window to her spirit.
Sujtitha also showed me a pile of mementos, such as birthday cards, notes, drawings and such that Soundu left her. Lying right on top was this picture of Margie and I. I took it in March of 2008, in Anchorage, right after we came out of a movie we had gone to at Century 16. I took it just for Sandy, so that I could email it to her and share the moment with her.
Not for any other reason did I take this picture. I took it for Sandy.
She then printed it and hung it where she could see it, everyday.
Sandy never met Margie, but she loved her just the same, because Margie is my wife and soul mate, mother of my children and I shared with my Muse and platonic soul friend the love I feel for them both - two very different kinds of love, but both absolute and unconditional love. This can be pretty hard to explain, but that's what it is.
I had resolved before I came that I would let no one here see tears come from me - save for Sujitha, who planned to take me on a memorial journey that I knew could not help but bring out the tears - a journey that we actually did take and it did in fact bring many tears - but no one saw them, except for Sujitha, who shed even more of her own.
Well, perhaps some standing nearby saw our tears, but they would have been more concerned with the tears of their own hearts.
Yet, when I saw this, I could not stop a few more tears from coming. And then Ganesh gave me a very special memento and that was that. I could not hide my tears from anyone present, and all the immediate family were present. I did not shriek and bawl, but the tears did come, and then my tears were joined the by the tears of others. Sometime, maybe when I am home, perhaps I will photograph that memento and write about it, but not right now.
Late yesterday afternoon, Sujitha took me on a shopping trip that would last until a bit before 11:00 PM. Her mom Bhanu came along, as did Murthy and Vasanthi and also the groom, Manoj. Sujitha bought me a "sherwani" - an Indian-style suit so that I could wear it to her wedding. She says that I look very handsome in it. Being kind of short and stubby, I am not certain the word "handsome" ever applied to me and if it did, I have left whatever day or two that handsomeness took place on long behind.
Still, it is nice to hear her say such things.
After we bought the suit and then left it to be taylored, we journied to a snack shop, where we first had very thin, round, pastries about the size of golf-balls filled with the liquid of one's choosing - spicy or sweet, or sweet and spicy. Then Manu bought us all what he jokingly called "Indian hamburgers," although I did not know he was joking and so afterward told our hosts here in Pune that we had eaten India burgers. They had no idea what I was talking about. Sujitha was laughing like crazy. That was when I realized that Manu had been making a joke.
Anyway, they are served on a bun of sorts. I do know know what they are made of, but maybe it is some kind of big, stuffed, pepper. It is hot. And I, who so love hot and spicy foods, am on doctors orders to avoid hot and spicy because after decades of stuffing myself full of jalepeno peppers and spicy Mexican food, I developed a terrible acid reflux problem and it really tore up the walls of my esphagus, throat and upper stomach.
So, even though I still love hot and spicy, I must be very careful with it. My condition has improved significantly, but even so a hot and spicy meal can take me down, fast.
In India, all the food is delicious, hot and spicy - and I am fed huge serving of it upon huge serving, and when I say, "Enough! Enough! I am stuffed." they say, "okay, have one more" and then give me three more, or maybe four. And I eat it all, every bite. Just before we left Bangalore, I learned to say, "Pottam! Pottam!" ("Enough! Enough!" in Tamil and it helps, but still I get extra servings even after I am filled.
Anyway, as our meal neared its end, I saw three children of the street step quietly up from behind us to stare at our food.
Very discreetly, so much so that I did not even realize she had done it until the shop-keeper served them, Sujitha bought "Indian hamburgers" for the children.
After they had eaten, I was scrolling through the pictures I had taken so far through the evening when I became aware that all three of the street children where standing just behind me to my left, intently peering at the pictures that flashed across the LCD on the back of my camera.
They were fascinated.
They spoke no English, but through gesture I asked if they wanted me to photograph them. They did. So I did. It astonished me how happy and excited this simple gesture made them. Unfortunately, I could not photograph the scene as I showed them the pictures of themselves on the LCD - but, as you can see, they were truly excited.
Now, I had a big debate in my mind whether to use this frame or the one just above it. There is a very strong school of thought in the photographic community that I hang out in via the web that even though the web presents us with the opportunity to put up as many pictures as we like, it is perhaps more important than ever to strictly edit yourself, to narrow the ten pictures you want to use down to as few as just the one that most succinctly tells the story.
To tell the story of how excited the children became, the first picture works best. So I decided it would be the one I would use.
But this picture better tells the story of beauty: how beautiful these children who live and eat off the street are.
I wanted you to see their beauty, these children of the Indian street, who I am helpless to help.
And I wanted you to see their excitement.
So, discipline and schools of thought be damned - here they are, two pictures instead of one - or maybe, four pictures instead of one.
Or perhaps I blew it alltogether and failed, because I did not take one picture that told the whole story by itself. So maybe I should have disciplined and edited myself so strictly that I should not have posted even one of these pictures.
But I did.
And I did the children no good at all - except, perhaps, for just a moment, to show them that their presence on this earth has been acknowledged. When one's presence is acknowledged, then one knows one matters.
I have a number of stories coming together, but no time to edit, no time to post. In less than half-an-hour, we leave for the train station, where we will begin an 18 hour ride by rail to Pune. Anyway, here I am with Kruthika and Sujitha - off to do some pre-wedding shopping. Yes, this will be one of the little stories I will tell when time and circumstance allow.
Kruthika and Sujitha have wrapped their faces to protect them from the smoke and dust that will beset us on the drive to the place where we will shop.
After the shopping trip, we stopped at this tea shop where Sujitha treated Kruthika and me to a mango shake. Oh, it was good! I drank it too fast.
Then four people, including two children, came in all painted, as they had been participating in the holiday, Holi, which is more of a north Indian celebration than here, but still Holi celebrators could be spotted painting each other. This is Lavith Golechha, 3.7 years old, who had been celebrating hard.
A couple of hours ago, I heard a horn blow outside the house. It was this woman and her calf, seeking alms. Oscar, the family dog, grew overly excited.
The alms seeker.
Bhanu stepped through the gate and gave her the sari that now rests atop the calf, plus some coins.
Now I must pack up this computer and go!
As she takes her morning bath, Ada Lakshmi is adored from half-a-world away; Vasanthi's wonderful coffee; Suji's first wedding gift
All those gathered around grin in adoration as they look at the computer screen... Bhanu, Ravi, Sujitha, and Murthy. Bhanu and Ravi are Sujitha's parents, Murthy her uncle.
The unfinished tattoo on Sujitha's arm contains the names, "Anil" and "Soundu," framed between angel wings. When finished, a portrait of Soundarya and Anil will also be framed within.
And this is who they so adore - Ada Lakshmi, the daughter of Murthy and Vasanthi's son, Vivek and my niece Khena - the two people who took an American family and an Indian family and with their love made us one family - that family love extends also into Apache and Navajo. Although they have not met, Sujitha has connected with Lavina and everybody on Facebook.
Ada is taking her bath at the family home in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Every day, Murthy, Vasanthi, Ada Lakshmi, Vivek and Khena get together like this over a Google connection.
Khena and Ada Lakshmi, after the bath.
Have I mentioned Vasanthi's coffee? If you have never had south Indian coffee prepared by one so skillful as Vasanthi... it is... wow! I just cannot come up with the proper adjectives to do it justice. She does not make it with water but with milk. It is smooth, it is rich, it is... wonderful.
Ganesh, son of Ravi and Bhanu, makes a coffee toast.
The little girl in the picture on the wall behind is Vaidehi, Vasanthi and Murthy's other granddaughter, from their son Vijay and his wife, Vidya. We had dinner at their house a couple of nights ago. As soon as I get the chance, I will make a post and all who view it will see that Vaidehi is an energetic, enthusiastic and mischievous girl.
Truly, she is.
Suji and her coffee. People here have their coffee in tiny cups... usually even tinier than this one. Last time I was here, Murthy gave me a set of tiny Indian cups. When I am home, I usually have my morning coffee in a tiny Indian cup - both because I love the cup and to help keep me from drinking too much.
Here, Vasanthi keeps a larger, American cup, just for me, and fills it at least twice, maybe thrice, each morning and then again in the afternoon and also at night. I drink every drop.
To drink Vasanthi's coffee is kind of like taking a short trip to heaven.
After her trip from London to Mumbai, Pune and then here, Suji was left a little tired. Her brother gives her a place to lay her head, but, being a brother, teases her a little bit.
After I returned to the US following the wedding of Vivek and Khena, Soundarya sent me a link to an online album she kept of pictures of family, friends, cows, puppies, dogs and bugs. I was taken by that album. There was tremendous love in the photos... so much love... plus a good dose of fun and mischief.
Right now, the groom, Manoj, or "Manu," remains in Pune. The bride and groom will not see each other again until the wedding, which will begin March 12 and continue on into the afternoon of March 13, with many rituals to follow over the next week. It is customary for an aunt to give the bride her first wedding gift.
So Aunt Vasanthi does just that.
Then all present followup with their blessings and well-wishes.
Among her gifts - what will be a most beautiful saree. After I spend a little time in India and then return to the US, I kind of miss seeing the beautiful clothing Indian women adorn themselves in every day.
During my first two visits here, no one in the family had a car - they all got around by motorbike, bus, taxi and auto-rickshaw. Now Ganesh has a car - a cute one, made by Tata. At $4000, it is billed as the cheapest car in the world and it gets better than 60 miles per gallon. Ganesh just got it. Tiny as it is, even the back seats have more leg room than many American cars I have ridden. There is not much room for luggage, though. Like a Volkswagen Beetle, the engine is in the rear.
I love it. I want one. But they don't sell them in the US.
I want one!
Ganesh drives off with his father and sister and mother, Bhanu, who waves from the back seat.
Tonight, I will shift from Murthy and Vasanthi's house to Ravi and Bhanu's.
I should note that I am keeping this blog on Alaska time. So, this will post at 6:10 PM Sunday, but here in Bangalore it is 8:40 AM, Monday.