Nepal

On the 25th of April, 2015, catastrophe struck Nepal in the form of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake which claimed over 7,000 lives. Roads became dysfunctional, mobile networks jammed, marketplaces got shut, and in the vacuum created by shock and grief, the media rushed in.

When I landed in Kathmandu, on the 1st of May, shops were re-opening and taxi-prices reducing. The extra food I’d carried quickly seemed superfluous, given my hotel near the Pasupati temple had no shortage of food, electricity or water—comforts I wasn’t prepared for mentally by television reports.
Over the course of my stay, I visited Kathmandu, its outskirts and some distant mountain villages of districts Sindhupalchowk and Gorkha. The scale of sorrow was piercing—many had lost family members, yet more had lost homes. All had lost the ability to get a single night of peaceful sleep undisturbed by aftershocks, real or imagined.

What moved me most, however, was the remarkable resilience and warmth of the people. Despite the persistent trauma, people retained their sense of humour, apparent, for instance, in every bumpy bus ride where speed breakers were appropriated as aftershocks. Or as villager who chuckled while explaining to me that what held everyone together presently was the scale of tragedy, its shared aspect, and the absolute mistrust in their government.

In such calamitous circumstances, the media is an agency vital to accelerating relief work and funding. But often, the affinity for exclusives and the ‘big picture’ eventually reduces a tragedy to indifferent data, acknowledging only above-average suffering as newsworthy. On my visit to this breathtaking country. I attempted to find the faces behind numbers through individual stories and portraits, finding as many angles as I could to understand the long term effects of such a catastrophe and the apprehensions of those who survived it. an attempt to understand the unfathomable grief, one picture at a time.

all photos ©monicatiwari

 

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Much ado

The goats resist but surrender in a few bleats.
A buffalo breathes his end in deep phlegmatic bellows. This lasts a while.
The camel’s scarlet blood squirts for long, in long forceful gushes- revelries drowning his desperate notes.

Durga idols crafted over diligent weeks get their necks broken by cranes.
A face-down topple of the Mother in black filth uplifts everyone.
The devotees complain of itching from the accidental (dreaded) splash of Her final abode.

How difficult is it to understand the truth behind rituals?
Or must we ever rely on ourselves to destroy all noble conceptions?

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bakr blog

durga blog2

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Space

The local’s grillwork window light
chequers a shirt’s pencil stripe.
Strands of unclaimed silken hair
rest on the next lap, undeclared.
An unsuspecting back for a backrest,
an erring saree tucked between thighs.

Restlesss reds of roving BESTs,
the staple red of szechwan spreads.
Skin burning tar-borne noontime breeze
and wet currents for the seaward cheek.
The din muffling matters on urgent lips.
Sleeping eyes, ignored, on shuffling limbs.

One cobbled thumping city.
And waves of us- crashing against more,
receding within more- waves of us.
I rustle past some, we are unaware.
We unaware rustle past me.

It’s time i go to Town to look
or go out of Town to look
or reach somewhere looking
for a place of quiet in this big city.

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Gurgaon

A few images i took as part of the ‘Neel Dongre awards/grants for Excellence in Photography’, 2013-14. Some of my work is discussed in an Interview with Better Photography magazine for its August issue, and Galli Magazine features my essay on Gurgaon in its October issue.

 

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The Heirloom

I’m innately a sceptic.

Growing up has been a move away from religion. As a child I hoped to reverse this flow, feeling scared or ungrateful. Scared of what? Ungrateful to whom? God, Of course. I feel grateful to my parents for the liberality they allow. We are free not to join in for vacations to religious spots. We are free not to bow down in temples. We are free to pray, not pray. Though my mother does her Puja for a solid hour everyday, and it is a beautiful vision, the sweet incense fragrance, the tinker of bells and my mother’s loveliness inspire my main attachment with it.

Do not understand me as an non-believer. I look for a word between atheist and religious- I suppose the English language lacks one. Western civilisation intricately links the Church with God and lack of faith in the Church as atheism. In the East, there is the widest scope for spirituality minus religion.

Certainly, I lack the zeal which draws millions of ‘believers’ to vast religious gatherings such as i witnessed recently. I was there for the Maha Kumbh this year at the first bath (nahaan) on khichdi, purely for reasons of photography. However, I’ve never known myself to be steadfast to a cause, and nor did I alter my temperament this once.

Staying on the mela ground in a tent of acquaintances of neighbours of relatives, I rushed myself through the task of getting accustomed to a hard bed (aka floor), food with sand grains in it, and an indian loo (the majority of indians abide by this style of s(h)itting). The endless walks I underwent each day, all in failed attempts at photography suitably relieved me of any passion I associate with it in romanticised contemplations.

Standing knee deep in the Ganga Sangam at dawn to capture the approaching akhadas*, I realised that while I removed my shoes out of concern for.. well, my shoes, for the many domicile photographers the concern was to not disrespect the Ganga. On a similar note, a lady in my tent wanted to see my photographs to have a ‘darshan’ of the babas. Etcetera.

Really, you may scorn at my defining the above as religion and not Faith.
For I do believe that a number of people have realised absolute faith by combining religion with a scientific temper. But I have my doubts where religion is passed as a heirloom, generation to generation, unquestioned.
Is it simplicity of heart, which allows for such untainted faith or merely a dullness of mind which rejects all questioning of established norms. In the best form, I believe religion makes people helpful, pure and humble. At it’s worst, it creates a stagnant stupor. And at its brainwashed best? A riot or two, perhaps.

That said, I do believe that unadulterated Hinduism encourages active and questioning minds.** It is as liberal, as a set of standard guidelines (isn’t that what religion eventually is) for the masses can be.

But I shall ever look for the sweetness of the Divine free of religious shambles.
As God is my witness.

the heirloom