The Spirit of Christmas

Shivajinagar in Bangalore, India is one of the busiest central bus stops that connects most areas throughout the city, surrounded by plenty of small shops and flea market stalls in the surrounding lanes. And St. Mary’s Basilica which is a stone’s throw away from the bus stop was the subject of a street photography session(Courtesy: Focus Bangalore) held over the weekend. This basilica is the oldest in the city, and was built along the lines of Gothic styled architecture with predominant arches, ornamental motifs and stained glass windows. The basilica is also the city’s most important destination for St. Mary’s Feast, celebrating the birth of Mother Mary for 10 days in September every year, culminating in a grand chariot procession on the last day, attended by over one lakh devotees. And for Christmas season, the small shops and bazaars were stocked with a plethora of exciting and colourful festive decorations that every passerby would glance at with awe.

I have been travelling through the same central stop for college for 4 years, yet the place seemed so unrecognizable. Not just with the colourful Christmas bazaars that had sprung up for festive sales. The area was still as crowded and choked with traffic, local auto drivers yelling routes and directions to motorists, loud honks, paan stained compound walls, potholed roads and hankering sellers. What had changed was the atmosphere in the market. Instead of the usual sale of grocery and goods that are picked up for oneself on any other normal day, the season’s festive sales did succeed in bringing people to shop for their families and loved ones apart from themselves. Or for their Christian friends celebrating the festival. The crowd just had to stop at these small shops on their way through the lanes, with its amazingly wide assortment of decorative goodies. What the festival brought in the most, was inexpressible joy in the eyes of the below poverty line  families running these small bazaars for a living, while their innocent children continued to dust off toys and other accessories on display, thrilled with the shopping crowd and the sales. I put down my camera for a minute and stood on the street side, watching, sinking in the rare certain warmth and love which could only be experienced for real-the spirit of Christmas.


Colours of Christmas


Heavenly Peace


The season of giving


Passing prayers


St. Mary’s Basilica on Christmas Eve, Shivajinagar, Bangalore


Reflecting faith


Grave Matters


At peace


It was in the last week of December, 2011, that the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat, College of Fine Arts, Bangalore hosted the National Art Camp in the campus premises, buzzing with a multitude of visual art forms from water colour painting, charcoal sketching and traditional painting to abstracts, mixed media art, installations and sculpture. The camp, apart from giving us students a small peek into the daily dedication, tradition and skills of the senior artists also opened doors to new ways of thinking, essential for any creative process. The most debated idea was that of drawing lines in art with respect to morality, ethnic culture and religious traditions, which was profound in the Photography session we lined up to attend. After a day’s grasp of some basic fundamentals of using the DSLR, our mentors enthusiastically proposed a practical street photography session for the following day, giving us the chance to experiment with our cameras. The catch, however, was it wasn’t just another by lane into a market as we expected. We were taken to the Audugodi Cemetry, much to our bewilderment, while our photography mentor was at complete ease with the immediate surroundings, with his eyes already darting around for (interesting?) compositions to be captured with great expertise.


Grave matters


Now, while Bangalore is a relatively more open place in comparison to other regions in India for art and design, I realized at this point that we have much more holding us back than what we think. The expression on everyone’s face was plain bewilderment, considering that our much awaited exciting street photography session turned out to be at an isolated graveyard. Booyaaaaaah.


In the shadows


Well. So people have their own perspectives on the idea of God, ghosts, spirits, supreme powers and souls. As children, we are constantly made to believe about a God, or a higher power for blessings and thanksgiving. At the same time, we are made to take refuge under the same idea of God, find solace in His being for our very vulnerable human emotions and are dissuaded from anything away from these ideals. And standing right at the entrance of the graveyard that day brought back some old, unknown, unexplored and hence feared subject of the departed.To which, the better approach would probably be to allow one to explore and read on subjects concerning the same, and allow every individual to follow and respect concluded beliefs, both his own and others. So the more adventurous of us did enter the graveyard after the initial hesitation, and I was glad we did. While I do know there were a bunch of my classmates who were already into photography and doing some good work too, the same few missed out on this session due their personal religious beliefs ( or was it fear?) of not stepping into a graveyard.


” Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven- for she loved much. He who has forgiven little, loves little.” Luke 7:47-48


May be it wasn’t just about the lighting, setting white balance or exposure values or about a couple of photographs to shoot. May be its about how much we can open our mind to a situation that calls for accepting the new, with a firm result. Art for art’s sake, yet again. During the interactive session after the photowalk, our mentor explained that photography was not just about recording the state of our surroundings. Everyone knows what to expect to see in a graveyard after all. Or any other location in general. But what did make all the difference was if we had a story in our frame, that could give the viewer a new way to look at the same objects.




To conclude it all, it still surprises me about how many more barriers we have to break in our process of learning. And also about how much more is possible with a determined and creative mind. Many thanks to Deepak John Mathew Sir, NID Ahmedabad, guest lecturer and our mentor at the camp for sharing his immense knowledge on the subject, and his constant belief in fine art photography being a story led  by the power of human expression.


“He’s just left his office.”
“Any breakthroughs?” her voice trembled slightly.
“No, still trailing him. I’ll call you soon. “
I hung up abruptly, noticing his car swinging out of his office campus and off up the road. The car turned left at the end of the road, as I hurtled to keep an eye on him from a safe distance, gripping the steering wheel tightly with my sweaty palms. The way ahead was completely jammed with vehicles. His right arm was visible from behind where I was, resting on the open car window with a lighted cigarette.
The prospect of trailing this successful executive in his thirties, tall, medium complexioned, with broad shoulders, dark hair and a strikingly confident and serious face; was something I’d been contemplating with a certain awkwardness.
Big cities, big money. Big people living double lives, perpetually stuck with uncertainties and risks all around. Games that never amount to more than they’re meant should, however, play themselves out, sooner or later.
The car ahead slowed down, halting at a parking lot beside a large college campus. Stepping out smartly, he slammed the door shut and crossed over to the opposite pavement of the busy road, looking out casually on either side.
As I grappled with parking my car at some distance, an attractive young lady, fair, slender, with shoulder length hair in a red halter dress came running into his arms cheerfully. Guessing she must have been waiting for him, I crossed the pavement briskly, watching them walk into the café together.
Taking my place at the cigarette stall in the corner, I silently watched them catching up animatedly over coffee and snacks. The glass exterior of the café glinted brightly in the now setting sun. An hour later, they headed towards the deserted parking lot area, holding each other closely as he whispered in her ears and she giggled. My hand instinctively fumbled for my car keys in my left pocket as I camouflaged myself behind some overgrown hedges at a short distance from the neat row of parked cars, leaving them apparently alone.
Headlights from a passing vehicle interrupted me armed with my camera, illuminating the place in bright white, while I was unmindfully clicking their intimate goodbyes.
My heart raced.
Her hands loosened the grip on his shoulders, eyes widened with shock. She froze, now aware of my unexpected and unnecessary presence.
Tension erupted like lava, scorching me inside, wiping out every other feeling. I doubled the grip on my digicam and immediately turned, darting past the bushes hearing her exclaim. With sheer panic throbbing in my head, I burst out of one lane to another aimlessly, making spontaneous deviations here and there, till I was completely sure that neither he nor his female accomplice had any possibilities of trailing me. The lady had caught a glimpse of my face before I managed to exit. He would have, at the most, seen a figure slipping into the dark shadows of the bushes.
Long time later, I walked back to my car panting heavily, watching the varying length of my dark shadow as I passed by under the illuminated yellow street lamps on the pavement.
I looked up at the night sky; the stars stared back, unblinking, indifferent and unobscured by pasts, ghosts and memories.
No, I wasn’t born for this kind of life.
I desperately longed to get back to my Colt, now lying idly locked up in my closet, from after my suspension from duty. A bullet too many and getting spotted with some really bad company became public knowledge; and the vigilance department started breathing down my neck like vultures after carcass. And here I am, off the force as a private eye leading the trail of an extra-marital affair, while being simultaneously and ironically tangled with my very own internal affairs, waiting to get the cases off my back.
Grabbing some much needed Jack Daniel’s back home, I turned over the day’s newspaper and lighted a smoke. A huge photograph of a familiar face filled most of the inner page.
My next case. Another corrupt individual.
“Battle for Mayor’s Post Intensifies”
The instructions were clear. Aid a little low risk tragic incident and conveniently frame the rival for the job.
Downing the bottle, I looked into all the photographs in my digicam, while trying to remember every small detail right from the beginning of the investigation of this extra-marital affair after the tip off. The drink was enough to cast all these unforgiving fragments of bitterness, disappointment and uncertainty, together into a comforting blur.
I closed my eyes for a moment, feeling downright miserable about the nature of my job. Unsettling questions buzzed in my mind repeatedly about the serious consequences of proving this extra-marital affair. It was my sole duty as a private investigator though, to keep up the responsibilities from my side to my client, with the job that she had entrusted me to do, going to any extent to do it well.
Attempting to console her with that reasoning, I phoned her soon afterwards, assuring to meet her the next morning.
Still flipping through the photos, I visualized the confrontation in my head. Short, fair and slightly plump, she was a prominent figure independently running her own charity trusts and orphanages successfully, and had a very impressive and pleasing personality. Pondering over the sensitivity of the issue at hand, I felt drained, exhausted.
I sighed.
My job was done.

“Are you sure you don’t want a drop home?”
“…Vikram…really, I’m fine,” she said, pulling her face together. It was an extremely sticky moment. She rushed on,”…my sister must be waiting in the car…thanks, for all your help…”
Recognizing my dismissal, I gave her one last glance watching her turn away while trying to stash the envelope containing the photographs I’d handed over minutes ago into her leather handbag. Behind her, the ceramic Buddha sat still with strong incense wafting around leisurely, with his eyes closed, looking serene, at peace and rather paradoxical.
I stepped out of the Chinese restaurant, the honking of vehicles and hankering of vendors clearly growing louder by decibels. I looked at her car ahead, my eyes still unfocussed, as I imagined her sister growing restless waiting for her inside.
She was looking down examining her manicured nails. Checking her watch casually, she looked out of the window, our eyes met.
I was then sliding uncontrollably on an expanding avalanche of shock, as sparks of recognition flickered between us.
We stared, frozen, dumbfounded, as reality seemed to close upon me; and we both realized we didn’t exactly need a formal introduction.


Prologue Script to short film ” Fate Plays” by independent film maker Santosh MP.

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Rangoli Rambles


A world of colour!

Rushing to work this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to spot a Rangoli, a decorative Indian folk art form in which delightful patterns are hand drawn with coloured pigments. The few times that I have spotted one is during festive celebrations alone, with most homes opting for the ready-to-use sticker versions due to time constraints. However, the look and feel of a hand drawn Rangoli can hardly be surpassed by any of the other available alternatives, and should truly be appreciated for its aesthetics, craftsmanship, composition and much patience.


Auspicious beginnings

The Rangoli is mostly hand drawn by women in front of the door of their homes, living rooms or courtyard spaces, traditionally with plain and coloured rice flour and flowers. Meant to invoke blessings and bring good luck, the Rangoli lends its colourful and intricate charm to any space, and any auspicious occasion.


Line and form

While the tradition has remained alive for years together, the Rangoli has had many adaptations down the line. The simplest decorative forms are drawn after the floor area is cleaned, and range from line drawings to forms filled with colour. Floral motifs, geometric patterns, elaborate designs and abstract forms in a mix of styles and executions are nothing less than a visual treat.



 The traditionally used rice flour is usually combined with vermillion, turmeric and other natural pigments for a myriad of colour options. Synthetic colour variants, flowers, petals, sand, glitter, lamps and other accessories are sometimes added as a part of the arrangement. Ever since I’ve witnessed the long hours my neighbour used to spend on creating a beautiful Rangoli, I’ve been mesmerised by the immense patience and dedication that goes into this craft. So, when I heard about the Rangoli Utsav a year back, all I wanted to see for myself again was the now fading  art of hand drawn Rangolis. And to my delight, it did not disappoint.


Facing Competition

The Rangoli Utsav in Bangalore, India, is a part of the annual Ganesh Chaturti festivities by Shri Vidyaranya Yuvaka Sangha at Commercial Street. For that particular day, the otherwise busy shopping hub of the city is the canvas for participants of the Utsav. The street is blocked exclusively for a massive Rangoli contest open to all ages and a duration of 3 hours to create a Rangoli pattern in a choice of materials and styles. One of the particularly different patterns I came across here was a portrait in progress, with different tones of the coloured pigment being used for a more 3D appeal.


Taking to the streets

The smaller Rangoli design I ran into today in my vicinity was an immensely huge surprise in between the chaotic traffic snarls. I took a minute to examine the delicate strokes, the lines so precisely hand drawn, the filled colours so refreshingly appealing. Every resting grain of flour on the pavement could only speak volumes on the hours of faith and dedication that had conjured up a stunning aesthetic design. I love Rangolis, and with today’s inspiration I also reminded myself to try creating one at my home at least during a festival holiday, when I can make time for some homely arty indulgences. For more goodness, positivity and colour invoked to life itself.

An Everyday Journey

Impenetrable clouds of dust.

A sudden violent rush of hurried feet.


The bus conductor’s voice boomed, as the masses unified, heaving their way into the already crammed bus that threatened to breakdown with the load. Having magically compressed ourselves into its restricted volume, our legs jostled alike, unable to differentiate which belonged to whom. Hands hurriedly grabbed poles, seats and anything reachable in the vicinity, as the bus groaned and began moving.

The conductor rushed through the crowd with apparent ease, and an air of familiarity; shouting over irritated heads for the ticket fare. Ladies rummaged endlessly in their tiny handbags for change. A dropped coin merrily rolled away and vanished down into darkness, as a dozen ladies gripped their sari pallus and bent down, eye brows raised; attempting to trace its location in vain.

A sudden break threw everyone off balance. The driver furiously abused the passing motorist from the window, using the choicest swear words in an interesting mix of four different regional languages; leaving school kids grinning. The heat inside was capable of evaporating us up as a whole, and assorted range of scents from unwashed socks to body spray swarmed the air. The five inch long pointed pencil heels lost balance with the jerk, and trotted backwards piercing my foot. Moving aside, I found a dripping oily head with a string of fresh white jasmine flowers in full bloom, its super strong fragrance making me dizzy.

I turned away, witnessing an impossible feat in that melee, a mirror had popped up a little ahead, and a lady checked her hair, frowned, reapplied make up to her satisfaction and smiled. Whistles erupted randomly from far behind.

The bus took a turn, and the journey progressed into a test for survival. Carefree school boys hung out at the footboard, thoroughly enjoying pelting paper balls and calling out to bewildered bikers. The murky puddles of varying depths (courtesy: BBMP) left the passengers holding on for dear life. Then, having decided to productively utilize his travel time, the very urgent half an hour long phone conversation of a man at the back of his brother’s divorce, his wife getting pregnant for the second time and his newly purchased property got wide publicity. He majestically spat paan out of the window, mindless of unsuspecting passer bys below. Taking his cue, two more coughed, five more sneezed.

A cuddly little baby quietly asleep on her mother’s lap erupted in her highest frequency, the sinusoidal waves of her cry crashing right through our ears. The mother desperately tried to calm her down with ten pairs of eyes shooting furious glances. Suddenly, the uptight lady beside turned back and slapped the gentleman standing behind her, rattling off a full-fledged lesson on moral science and ethics, while a tiny tot tightly tugging her sari for support freaked out, moving away quietly to hold the rickety pole for support.

Stepping out on reaching the stop made me smile, at how a bus journey, so domestic, mundane; was also full of action!


Cell Phone Mayhem!
Pen and Ink on Ivory Sheet 10″ x 12″