Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Finding Contentment

I put the postcard-size prints of the photos I’ve taken on the desk for the photography teacher to look at. It’s the end of class and most of the people have already left. 

As she looks at them, Emily comes up. She wants to ask her a question. She notices one of the photos – the silhouette of leaves on a tree. 

The sun is behind them and two leaves stand out in relief, their calligraphic curves swishing towards one side.
She says something mildly appreciative and then, “And they reflect your culture, don’t they?” Emily has white hair mixed in with black. She also has the air of a little girl. I find this question irritating. What does a photograph of a leaf have to do with my culture? Emily points to her hand, says something. “You mean mehandi, henna,” I say, slightly dismissively. Then, I go back to shuffling through the photos with the teacher.

They were mostly photos I didn’t like. Most of them were the product of my mind. I clutched my camera tightly and completed the assignment for the week. They looked just like my thoughts – tangled up, busy. Thoughts I had thought before. Photos I’d taken earlier.

But a few of them stood out. I’d walked around in my neighborhood, slipped out of my mind into the present. Later on, when I came home, it felt like I’d had an infusion of energy. Things were easier to do, even things I don’t like such as cleaning the house.

After the initial easily gliding months of my move from India, there had been days here when there was a creeping cold around my heart. Was I to blame? For being so reserved, so slow to warm up to people?  But even with people, there were times I felt utterly alone and unable to take in any nourishment they could provide.

Maybe I’d bitten off more than I could chew. Maybe shifting countries wasn’t the kind of change I could navigate. These were moments when I swung low, before I recovered. It was hard to predict when I would feel like that again. I kept on depleting my stores.    

Sometimes, you come across things that you recognize as answers, but things you haven’t lived yet, things that are still not wholly real. And then, by some great luck, you take one small initial action, which leads to another, then another and you start embodying that truth without knowing how exactly you got there.  

In a book by Nathaniel Branden, I’d read a line which said that often what we are most lonely for is a connection with ourselves. And that connection can’t be found by looking outside, looking at other people. I didn’t see how that was possible, how I could actually replenish myself, give myself what I need.

Then, for the first time in my life, I found that the things that I’d been struggling with all my life – doubting whether I was really a writer, whether I was really an artiste – were the things that I needed to have faith in to come home to myself. Whether anyone read my writing or praised my photographs was a secondary thing, the process itself created a space inside me that I owned, that I could stand inside.

I discovered this because doing these things was possible here. I could take classes, writer’s workshops, let myself experiment. I’d serendipitously landed in a place that has many opportunities for creative people. 

I’d also landed up in a relationship with someone who believes in me and loves me. This love creates a space in and of itself. It creates the safety I need to move forward into the unknown territory that’s essentially an artiste’s life. While my mind clings to certainty, this space is really my home, the self I am aspiring to, the self that I am slowly becoming.

In the middle of a growth spurt, I have often only looked at the displacement, focused only on the loss of identity that happens when you let go of an old life. But displacement also does something else. It churns our soil, lets us incubate. After a while, little shoots and leaves start appearing. 


  1. Ritu... I think I would have reacted to that Emily girl differently.... That's the perfect opportunity to push the plot... Yeah... we love leaves... We have a leaf festival.. In the festival... we are just dressed in leaves.... leave-themed weddings... leaf season... we bathe in leaves[Neem Leaves]... :)...

    All I say about change .. displacement is--- never loose the sense of objectivity!!! :)... which reading your blogs.. you wont!!!

    1. I am smiling Hersh :) Maybe I will try it the next time :)

      And thanks ....I am working on it .