Paul interviewed Raghu, while his mother silently chopped green herbs. "They say, your father has joined the Aghori clan in Varanasi?" "Yes, sir." "Is it true that Aghori men smear their bodies with crematorium ash and drink from dismembered human skulls?" "They only use bodies of the Dead.", his mother finally broke her silence. "Before he left, he taught Raghu the art of driving away bad luck by offering sacrifice to Lord Rudra. My daughter is sick and we are famished.", she hissed gleefully, passing the knife to her son. The acclaimed documentary maker's camera was only found.
"Come back soon", his grandma told him as the kid accompanied me to the neighborhood where a guy who owns a motor-rickshaw stays. We reached the neighborhood and he waved me goodbye and left. “I will drop you at the nearest hotel and get back before dusk.” the motor-rickshaw guy said. “but I want to go to the nearest town...” And that is when he said all 12 people of the village including him suffered from nyctalopia. “All?” I asked. "Except the kid". he replied. I asked him to come back tomorrow morning, I have a story now.
“Again the same beans and chapatti, I am not eating it.” Cried young Vishnu. “Shut up and eat, and thank God that we have something left to eat. This year’s draught has left nothing for us,” said Vishnu’s mother. She added “Beta when you grow up and get a good job then you shall eat whatever you like everyday.” A tiny drop of tear fell in the exquisite plate to Saltimbocca as Mr Vishnu Prabhakar snapped out of his childhood memories and turned to the waiter of Taj and asked “Can you cook dry beans and chapati for me?”
"Why do you need a finger cap?" I asked Anoop. I was surprised that he wanted a finger cap. He could have asked for anything! After all he did win the bet! He shook his head when I showed him the chocolates or toys or even a mobile phone! "No, I need a finger cap", he insisted. "Alright, will get you two! Happy? But tell me what will you do with them?", my curiosity was way ahead! He said it's because the chillies hurt. What chillies, I wondered. He took me to his home where his mom had blistered hands due to allergy.
'The murder happened right here' Inspector said, pointing to the site. 'No weapons recovered. No eyewitnesses. No clues yet' ACP then noticed a smiling boy, wearing stripped shirts. He ignored him momentarily. Inspector continued, ‘We have though traced small footsteps around the area. Seems to be of a boy’ ACP again looked at the boy. He was still smiling, by the wall. He went near and said ‘I wonder what you are smiling at. I know you have seen everything. Only if you could tell me everything’ and tore the poster off the wall.
The little boy was drawing with his finger on the thick layer of dust on my car’s hood. As I approached, he stopped his work and tried to eliminate his masterpiece by wiping the dust off with his little hands. “The car is too dusty for a little boy like you to clean single handedly”, I told him smilingly. He smiled back shyly. As I tried to capture his dancing eyes in my camera, he posed coyly near his shanty. In a month, this whole area would be demolished. Hopefully, he would like his new 225 sqft SRA tenement.
'Big or small? Nut or plain?', just for standing still a chocolate. Not bad, he thought. He had been yanked from his mud play to stand in front of his house. His thoughts filled with milky goodness. Patched wall, dry plaster wall wearing off, his leg bearing witness to that. 'Will mom let me have it all or make me share it with her?' he was worried. ' This should get me some money for his new shorts ', she thought shredding the cut leaves determined. The lens smiled at them capturing their little moments of happiness.
" We have a kid now. " " Sad he plays victim in your plot" "Babe, just enter my cabin for once" " He's smarter than his father. He told me he will take care of you because you need him. So you can keep him. I will save you the legal hassle. " " But wife, ( if I may call you that) that is not what I meant. Just come in here. " " Course I'm kidding. Am taking him with me. Shall drop both papers in your study. I resign" I picked my bag and gracefully left. He wouldn't dare.
Walking through the streets of Jhansi, Shreya found a narrow lane. The entry was flooded with water from the drain but she moved ahead ignoring the stench. This is what Shreya had come for, a picture depicting rural India for her book. In search of the perfect exemplar, she sought for enigmatic yet somnolent faces. Hari was standing by the mud wall of his home eyeing her camera with immense intrigue and it was then she knew this was it. Shy yet delighted he stood somewhat reluctant, slightly curved smile for the perfect shot - a window into his life.
Mother: Son go to the shop and bring some flour. Son: Look mother that tourist photographer is clicking snaps Mother: they just click poor people's photos and earn thousands. Son: what's wrong in that. Mother: what do we get. Son: Respect, because of us their families get bread and butter. Mother: Don't talk like saint. Son: mother this is humanity and we need to help each other.
“Mother,did you see what Rahul brought?” “Hmm.New cycle ” “Wasn’t that beautiful, mother?” “Hmm. It was.” “Mother, When father will come back, he’ll buy me a cycle,right mother?” “Hmm, He will.” Said mrs. Jamal and take out her deep breathe carefully. “My one will be more beautiful than rahul’s cycle, right mother?” “Hmm, it will. Now go for shower while my cooking is complete.” “Okay mother.” Said karim and left from there. After karim left, mrs. Jamal wiped her tears from the corner eyes. She couldn’t tell her son that his father died 3 months ago.
She continued with her work and let the boy speak. She had taught him what to say. His parents were yelling at him to go back to work at the building site. He refused. He wanted to be like other children, go to school, play. His legs trembled with fatigue and fear. The first blow landed between his ear and neck. The second.... The old lady stood between her son and grandson, curved knife in hand. “I’ll kill you if you touch him. He’ll live here, go to school.” She didn't want another generation of illiterates in her hut
Mom: Where have you been?
Son: Right here playing..
Mom: Why do you keep me from truth like your dad?
Son: No Ma, I tell you everything..
Mom: You didn't tell me about your job at the mill!!!
Son: (Wondering - How would she have known) Job... What job?
Mom: Look straight and smile honey...
We both live in same district. But with a difference like a valley. Any car comes and children run behind it in hope of freebies. Asked her views for her own development and she looked puzzled. Only thing poor can think ……is food. All energy goes in making ends meet, where’s time to think anything else ?? When we worry about looking gorgeous on weekends, she worries what to feed kids till then. Same age as mine, she looks like a grandmother. I came back with heavy heart…. which lasted till I got busy preparing for party tonight.
I was dazzled by that unconventional smile, playing on his lips, dearly held desires into his coiled fist and an unblinking gaze. He leaned against the wall when I pointed camera towards him. He was barely 6 years old and dissonance of his fate already played its role. He lost his mother three days ago as I was informed yesterday and I came here to collect his whereabouts, that’s what our NGO does. After completing paperwork, I started rolling the clicks and suddenly sagged back. I took off my glasses, smoothed my eyes “Yes! She was here, still here.”
Papun again returned like a battle tested veteran with dog ears, torn books, shoes grimmed with cow-dung, matched with dirty shirt and pant. Radha as a mother, sensed his helpless smile, like Abhimanyu, of facing single handed, seven warriors! "Why didn't you beat the daylight out of the chaps that hit you?" She asked. "Who are they to stop you from entering school?" Papun read her perfectly abusive and unprintable expressions and said, "Ma, let them buy knowledge from their Dad's money. I will earn it from my determination and your mind-strengthening spinach vegetable." And he smiled.
"What is your name?" "Shivu" "Who do you live with Shivu?" "My father, mother and ajji" "Do you go to school?" Shivu shook his head "What do you want to do when you grow up?" "My father works in building houses, I want to do the same." "Why do you want to do same thing that your father is doing now?" "Father builds house for other people. I want to build nice house for my family and myself to live in." He grinned and ran to resume playing in the mud with his friends.
After winning best photographer award Interviewer: whom do you want to thank for this award? Anirudh takes out an old torn pic from his wallet and shows the interviewer. "This is me 33 years back. A foreigner came to visit my village. He stayed at our place and taught me photography. I don’t have his picture but I owe my career to him. If he hadn’t taught me to go after my dream, I wouldn’t be here."
We were on a road trip. I was enjoying capturing the huts, the beautiful scenery and people working in field in my small lens. We entered the main roads in village and stopped at a small hut. The lady in hut was sweet to give us some water. There was a small kid shy to come out. I called him out and gave him my camera. He was in a village far away, not knowing about things we consider fun but still he was so happy clicking pictures and getting his photos clicked.
“First they thought that I’d done something wrong and thus scolded me. But when our school teacher told them, they were at peace.” “Really? So your parents aren’t overjoyed to know that this beautiful letter and Rakhi you had sent to our soldiers has been loved by all? Even our president has praised you.” “They’re happy. But they worry about my studies. They want me to become a doctor. Then they’ll celebrate. Also, mother hates people coming to our house for untimely interviews.” “Suraj!” his mother called. Looking at the knife, I hastily took the photo and ran off.
The lack of electricity and paucity of water were neither of his concerns. Keeping his sister happy was! "Get up Kishore. You'd again get late for school," screamed ma. Kishore hated the mundane morning ordeals. Keeping aside his childish dislike for school, he felt worse because he saw his elder sister yearn to attend classes. Her only shot at gaining bits of education was to write Kishore’s homework. “You go, attend school in my place today. I’ll spend time at the lake.” His innocent heart thought this to be a valid barter. The one validated by a smile.
'Who are these people' 'They are from Hands party of India. They gave me Rs. 1000 for posing for their campaign poster which reads ‘I learn. I teach. Country develops. Vote for Hands’ 'So who were the people who came yesterday.' 'They were from Lotus party of India. They also gave me Rs. 1000 for being part of their campaign poster which reads ‘Education. Prosperity. Development.I vote for Lotus’ 'So what happens when both the posters come together in tomorrow’s papers.' 'Well, the readers shall have a good laugh, as we are having right now with the money'
“Acche Din Aane Waale Hai”, His mother thought. Elections were done and dusted; Delhi was swept clean again by the ‘Mufflerman’ and the balance was somehow restored. He didn't care what everyone thought, he didn't care what his mother thought. His rugged body depicts a different dream, a dream that every Indian dreams of. His big round eyes speak valiantly. There is a certain glitter of conviction in his otherwise wistful eyes which screams, “No matter what happens, we are going to beat Pakistan in the World Cup on the 15th of Feb 2015.” #WeWontGiveItBack
He stood there smiling, oblivious to worry and pain. Not a care in the world. The world was his sandbox and when it rained, every puddle was a source of delight. He did know that his mother slept hungry so he wouldn't have to. Nobody had called him "dirty" and turned him away yet. He did not understand why mother said it was a cruel world, or what "cruel" meant. He was happy that the man with the camera wanted to take his picture, but too young and naive to know that he was an object of pity.
"Mera bhi fotu lo na" I was taking pictures of a cow tied to an old well. Rural life was the theme for the next edition and I was on a deadline. Did not have time for ‘people’. The voice took me by surprise. As I turned around, our eyes met. His eager expectant eyes had a kind of innocent brilliance while his smile was strangely muted. Almost Mona Lisa like. He wasn’t sure whether to smile. I took his pic but could not continue. I left defeated. Unable to complete my work Incidentally, he made it to cover-page
Sleep evaded Viru as he made plans for next day. Mantriji was going to visit their basti. He could go back to his real name Aditya and his parents with Mantriji's help. Dawn broke and "Amma" dressed him in new clothes and didn't thrash him like usual. Mantriji arrived with reporters. He had a morsel from the food Savitri served and posed with Viru. Just when Viru was about to speak,Amma came,the sickle in her hand with which she always threatened to cut his legs and make him a beggar. Viru's words dried. The chance was lost.
“Does anybody by the name Mr Karan Raheja stay here?” asked Ratan, from the Income-tax dept. He knew the answer even before he asked the question. None of the addresses he was tracking that day had turned out genuine. The inmates, a young boy and his mother looked amused. “Never heard of such a name in this village”, the mother replied. Ratan decided that he has had enough and left back for his town. 2-days later, a “friend” of Mr Raheja visited the hut and handed over a parcel to the mother "thanking" for her help.
“Have you seen happiness anywhere?” “Here it is! On my legs, stained by the powder from the playground where we play kho-kho. We won!” “So friendship is important too?” “That would be my brother. See these clothes? They are his. I love them!” “Ah! So you have found love?” “Of course. There she is! Toiling every day. Hours don’t matter. Neither do the cuts on her skin or the sweat on her brow.” “Do you want to see the world?” “I do. Right here! Cozy, humble, years of stories written in the walls. With the people I love most!”
Leafing through the pages, my fingers stilled over a picture. A rural boy with his poor mother, in an overwhelmingly pathetic state at the background. Definite winner shot for the NatGeo assignment. Instead, had went to my personal photo archives. A foolish move, colleagues had said. Boss had tried to tempt me into giving in to publication of the picture. I'd shrugged off. Reason was, my abhorrence for the sympathy the picture would have got it didn't deserve, with fame. The picture had an emotional connect. Couldn't just let it get commercialised and sold.
Raju loves playing football, but he doesnt have money to buy one. So, he decided to ask her mother to buy him a football. Her mother was cutting vegetable, raju went near her and asked "Ma i love football" Mother(interrupted him and said) "i know" but you know what ?!! today i have earned 100rs and now you can eat whatever you want. "Raju's dream of buying a football vanished in front of him, as pain in his stomach had started dictating terms to the dreams in his eyes" he smiled and said matar paneer...
Is that it? "Yeah that's the stuff worth a million bucks" ,Dino replied. I stood there gaping at the greens framed in the picture. Here I was a software professional from a small town on a holiday with the most colorful personality and the most eligible bachelor in the Islands. It was Valentines Ball and he had just danced with me and told me the secret of how he earned billions as a mass tort lawyer in the biggest case of the year. And he had stumbled onto the fraud because of his goper Sam the little boy in the picture.
I am happy and content being me. I don't see a need for anything else at this point in time. My mother will be cooking my favorite dish and I always help her do it. He politely excused himself from the conversation, but not before inviting me join them for a humble but exquisite meal. I left. I didnt have words to describe those eyes of hope. I felt my experience as a journalist came to a naught. I was stumped. I posted a verbatim conversation that stole hearts.
“What is it? Please, mother! Dipu is pacing his little legs up and down outside their rickety shack. “Oh, my sweet boy! You know it’s a surprise. Your uncle will be here soon” her voice tired, yet trying to match his elation. Since her husband’s death, life hasn’t been an easy ride for her, struggling to keep five mouths sated. There are days when she dreads waking up. He’s always been able to sense his mother’s anxieties, but not today. Today, his bright, kind eyes are bursting with hope. “Look, mum! Uncle’s bringing a bike” “Happy Birthday, Dipu! “
Anuj thinking to himself "I know He will come but she(Maya) is still cynical about him. He promised me while leaving hastily." Maya(His mum) while chopping vegetable thinking to herself "How can I convince Anuj that he is no more interested in us. He has become Neta. His promises are no more important to him." All of a sudden people begin to cheer & wave at the coming convoy of Neta, Anuj smiled thinking "Now Neta has changed"
“Look at that kid outside that dilapidated house! And his poor emancipated mother! Oh why do these photography exhibitions always put up such depressing photographs of poor, unhappy people?!?” said Megha, sighing heavily. Keeping my gaze on the photograph on display, I replied “Depressing??? Poor yes, Unhappy No way! I was just looking at that little smile playing on boy’s lips, those dirty legs which he probably got playing around and thinking how happy he looked, content with the life he led. Kind of inspired me actually" It is all about perspective!
Not so long ago, there lived something more important inside us. In fact, it still survives inside of us today. Safely caged. It's hidden thinking it might get a chance to be free someday without knowing when. Patiently, it resides in us holding the same innocent smile the peaceful child holds.
He was the head of the family. He worked in the field with the farmers while his friends went to school and played hide & seek in the evening. He didn't care for education or recreation. All he ever wanted was to cook like his mother. On some days, he would secretly watch his ma make his favorite ladies' finger curry. He knew that one day, when they had enough money to live, she will allow him inside the kitchen and let him make the curry himself. His eyes glistened with hope and happiness... and sadness.
"Darn, which place is this?", looks like the guys have marched well past this lane. Cursing herself for being so heedless, she jostled for space. Meera, had bunked her previous lecture and slipped through the barbed wire, unnoticed. A sharp turn and her eyes narrowed down to a mother son pair. "Good Lord!!!, this boy is going to blow all my savings up in smoke, what an urchin; avoiding school", she retorted, whilst chopping the vegetables. Just then, she cut in, handing him a toffee, "Kiddo, lead me to the bust stop". At this, his face lit up.
Bholu and his parents are happy to have new clothes and good food after a long time. Bholu was excited about going to the big city with the quarry agent in the evening and meeting his three elder brothers who had also gone similarly one by one earlier. His parents were happy that the village money lender would not bother them for at least one year. While Bholu was leaving, a politician from the dais in the village ground was exhorting the people to produce 4 to 10 children to serve the society and the nation.
"Papa..papa.."A smiling Sushil imagined his son. He was returning home after 8 months. Radha would be waiting....with Kheer and even sweeter smile. Sushil remembered her as bride. It was her smile which melted his tough army heart. Delivery of 3 kids have taken a toll on her health. She was looking weak last time. "Tomorrow only I'll take her to doctor"- thought Sushil. Chotu came running as he sighted father. His mother, 2 daughters came out. But where is Radha? He got her in photo hanged on wall... with flower garland.... and a mesmerizing smile.
‘I want to be an aeroplane driver,’ said Ankit with a smile. That was his answer always, when asked what he wants to be. And he would give his dazzling smile to seal the deal. The tourists loved to take his pictures. At six years, Ankit was familiar with this drill. Everyday, tourists would pass his house in the slums. He would make sure, they see him. He would smile at them, they would ask questions. Then they would give him some money and take his pictures. It added to the income and his mother could come home early.
“Move a bit to the left, your left, perfect. Yes. Smile!” *Click* “Now will you answer some questions?” “Ok.” “So Deepu, what does your father do?” “He is a truck driver. The best truck driver ever.” “Oh, nice. And your mother?” “She cooks. She’s the best cook ever too.” “That’s great!” “Yes. They both work hard so I can study, and become a doctor.” “Nice. And will you also be the best doctor?” “I don’t know. I’ll try.” “Why? You don’t want to be the best like them?” “I do.” “Then?” “But I’d rather be the best son ever.”
Radha stood outside the school gate. The sun briskly finished its westward journey as Radha stood transfixed at her spot. The watchman of the school finally broke her trance and asked her to leave. Back home, Radha kept staring at the photo hung on her wall. A phoren babu had caught her unawares as she was making breakfast for Raju, her son, and immortalized her on a frame. Tears welled up in her eyes. The photo was taken a year ago. The day Raju died of food poisoning due to mid-day meal at school.
His first week In Silicon Valley and he had already received a grand project to deal with. “Could I be happier?” he asked himself, caressing the framed photo placed on his futuristic desk.” “Cute kido you have there! Is he your father?” Dev turned and gave his colleague a shiny smile. “It’s me, when I was 7.” “Wow, you came a long way, no?” “Indeed. I had no idea my photo would inspire so many people to write about me on a special website. Well, one day, Bill Gates read one of these stories. The rest is history.”
Durga was slicing and dicing the vegetables just like any other day. But today she was going to make a new dish to surprise her husband. After finishing slicing the vegetables Durga called her son into the house and closed the door. In the evening her husband returned tired after the days work. Today he looked sober. He sat and asked Durga to serve him dinner. After finishing the dinner her husband looked satisfied. The new cuisine was delectable. He asked, "Dinner was yummy! What was it?". Durga replied, "Your son".
Interviewer: Okay, thanks! That was a great interview kid. Now look in the camera for a photo. (Kid stares in the camera as if it were a magical object) Interviewer: Hey, you got to smile kiddo! Kid: Smile? What's that? Interviewer: *Bewildered* okay see this here is a smile. (Shows how to smile) Kid: *copies and smiles* Wow that feels good.
I went around the slum in search of moments worth capturing. This woman was preparing to cook whatever she could, for her poor family. Her son stood by in excitement. “Why are you so excited?” I asked. “For that!” he pointed at the ‘food’. A moment of awkward silence and then we broke into laughter. Raising my camera, I moved a few steps back. “Poor, hungry people.” A guide walking foreign tourists could be heard at a distance, “This is real India!” I looked up. The boy was still smiling. I captured happiness.
"Aai!" Raghu ran towards his mother shouting, right in the pile of veggies. Shakuntala gave a angry yet concerned look. "Lagi?" She asked. Raghu shook his head for a no. She told him to stand outside, his favourite punishment, collected all the vegetables and continued. Raghu smiled outside looking at his dad. He knew his treat doubled after punishment. And nothing was more soothing than his Aai's loving calm after a fake display of fury. His dad smiled back. "Like father, like son", mumbled Shakuntala, continuing the wrath on the edible.
Everyday Shanta kept aside a small portion of the vegetables she cut for her customers to feed her son Satya. With a drunkard husband who wrested away all her cash, most of the times, she would go hungry. But Satya had now grown up enough to understand what his mother did. Quietly one day, he came home with a small wad of notes and placed them in Shanta’s hand. “I have got a few car washing jobs Ma,” he said, “enough to feed both of us. You don’t need to steal vegetables anymore.” Shanta’s eyes misted. Words failed her.
Playing with his friends on the ground under the sun is one of the few highlights of his day. And nothing could possibly come in the way of his commitment to fooling around in half-pants—shirt or none. Sometimes, he skins his knees and sometimes, his elbows. But as long as he’s able to run around stomping up dust, he’s perfectly fine. However, his mother isn’t a great fan of his monkeying skills as she has her hands full with the never-ending trial of life. Hence, the little man’s trouble isn’t sneaking out of house but getting back in.
Ratul: Ma, I am hungry. Give some food, please. There was no rice in the ricepot. Then Ratul's mother started to boiling water and said "Ok, Son! just wait few hours. Food will be cooked soon." Hearing this Ratul went to play with friends. His mother cried for a while because she was hungry too but she was unable to provide her family with much food. Then she went to a filed of vegetables. Borrowed some vegetables from there and boiled it. Then Ratul ate the full curry and slept with a smile.
Maa : "Golu , I know it is you alongside the door. Let me finish with this maithi then we will play hide and seek" Maa : "You must have been playing with your stupid kanchas with friends. I am going to throw them away now!" Maa : "You better don't make that irreproachable face. It won't melt me!" Son(to psychiatrist): "Will she get cured?" Psychiatrist: "Since your father's death I have not seen any sign of recovery" Son(to psychiatrist): "She believes that I am still her 8 years old kid and we still live in our old wrecked house"
"Beta, stand here and look at me. Don't smile. Auntyji, can you please put down that knife and pose with sickle. Madhu, check the light. Quick. I need to get the hell out of this shitty place ASAP." "Sir, but the boy, he looks too clean, even his clothes look new." "Damn, Just make him roll in the dirt a bit." "OK, now its perfect. Auntyji look down. Beta look in to the camera. excellent. See Madhu, this is how you sell India to the foreign tourists. Stupid kid, didn't I tell you not to smile."
Outside the kitchen, he waited impatiently, for his mother to leave the kitchen, to wash the herbs she was chopping. He couldn't wait to escape with the two bowls of food, he'd seen there. Not too far away, in an impoverished little hut, two tiny souls were feasting on the food stolen from an equally impoverished kitchen. What did it matter to the 'little thief' what fate awaited him? All that mattered was he'd been able to fulfil his promise of not letting his starving friend go hungry for another day!
The man with the camera asks him to stand still and smile. He tries to force his lips upwards. In borrowed clothes and powdered knees, he is playing a part. He wants to shout out that this is not him. That his mother, his home, his respect, his privacy, is not for sale. But the hollowness of his stomach makes a liar out of him.He looks straight into the lens, reminding himself that this embarrassment will bring him a little money. That tonight, his mother and his little sister will not go to bed hungry. And he smiles.
How happy he was to see all those people wearing colorful clothes; People who brought him chocolates and a blanket for his mother. They promised to send him to a good school and a job for his mother. His eyes lit up imagining himself in a school uniform, playing with others of his age. But the mother knew, for she was used of seeing these people every 5 years.
I wasn't a stranger to curious kids, tagging along the man with cameras dangling around his neck. This one was different. He had something about him that said he knew a lot about me. I had never been so conscious about my workings before. On my last day, I made a picture with him, for my personal collection. Years later, when my works went on auction, 'The Boy Who Knew' was sold out for four times its base price. Along with the check, I received a note that read, "My son would appreciate a memory when he returns. Gracias"
I had never seen an Aeroplane, only heard, from my friends in the other village. Every morning, they used to talk about it in school. I woke up earlier than my mother and without making a noise, sneaked out. I had to run for about 5 kms to reach the place. The sun wasn’t out yet. I was looking up in the sky and zoom it came, right above my head. Big, beautiful and scary, I kept looking till it disappeared. I ran back, hoping that mother would still be asleep. I am standing at the door, she isn’t.