Recently I was on vacation. Up in the hills in Uttarakhand amidst pristine nature. The journey was both tough and soothing. Tough on the body (which has got spoilt with minimum exercise) but soothing on the mind (which over-exercises with unnecessary thinking). Joy of taking such trips is not just to reach A point as destination and exclaim with joy “Oh, wow, this is it. This is splendid !” but to soak in every moment of the journey itself, stop by, admire, introspect, seek, observe, share and enjoy the experience. Since it involved trekking in high altitudes in treacherous conditions and unknown pathways (no roads) we had to depend on the Nepalese porters who kept bugging us all through that we will not be able to go further. We must engage them. We did finally when we couldn’t walk any further.
Did we know who these guys were ? did we check their antecedents ? did we check their ID cards ? Aadhaar ? did we even know their names ? were we insured ? did we know if they knew the path ? what happens if they slip and fall ? what happens if they rob and abandon us ? what happens if they misbehave ? are they registered with some agency ? Did any of these questions cross our mind ? Not at all. WE JUST TRUSTED THEM AS THEY DO IN THE HILLS. Well, it is not that there is no background check at all. There is. With the hotel guys, with the tour guide, with the registration centre, with the check-post, with other porters themselves. It is trust all through. While there is room for better management of these porter services, the point I am making here is down in the plains we are paranoid about these security checks, frisking, CCTV cameras, entering in the visitors books multiple times in the same premises, antecedent verification, ID proof etc. etc. ……yet, we hear gory stories of molestation, exploitation, murder, robbery, kidnapping and what not of children, women, elderly. So much so that we are constantly living in fear, in mistrust, in anxiety, in anticipation of the worst to come. Unfortunately the incidents around us are vindicating these fears and apprehensions. I shudder to think how I just trusted my life with an unknown porter up in the hills at about 12,000 ft., piggy riding on his back with no one for company. Except the sound of the pitter-patter of the rain, gurgling of the streams, whirring of the
insects, rustle of the leaves, the strange inexplicable, deafening silence of the majestic valleys and of course the thud-thud of the porter’s boots and his huffing and panting as he tried to steady his steps and speed down the slippery, wobbly cobbled pathway …………the surroundings were picturesque and out of the world, but I sat still and relaxed in the porter’s Pittu (the bamboo basket carried on the back), holding on to dear life. I JUST TRUSTED HIM LIKE GOD.
Even as our news channels are ‘breaking news for days (!!)’ about a young boy’s gruesome molestation and murder in an International School in Gurugram, my thoughts go back to the hills. The little ones that you see in this banner study in ‘Sky Public School’, a non-descript school up in the hills where they have to walk 4-5 kms every day. Parents are farm labourers who cannot drop their children to schools. The older children escort the younger ones but it was heart rending to see that as young as 4 years old, trudge up the winding mountain roads to school each day from villages around, come rain, come shine. The same roads that we travelled on a pittu or doli. No school buses ply on these roads. No fancy vehicles to ply them, no nutritious breakfast, no caring parents to wave them good bye, no drivers or conductors. They are all to themselves. What is their safety ? Are they children of lesser gods ? Are people in the hills more trust worthy ? Are we down here harping too much on safety ? Is it an issue of wealth asymmetry ? Is it an issue of migrant workers ? what is it that we see a dramatic rise in such heinous crimes ?
I am told August 19th is designated as World Photography Day. Objective is to “share photographer’s world with the world”. Do we really need a day for this in today’s world where every moment seems to be a photographer’s moment, what with selfies, facebook and instagram playing out our lives in the public. Everyone is a photographer so to say. Every moment is a photo-op moment. So much so that I wonder if we have forgotten to ‘live the moment and live for the moment’ ! We seem to be lost more in capturing the moment to share with others than savouring it when in it.
Well, if photography is an art, who could be the artist of these beautiful creations….
Be it the Kanchenjunga sunrise, be it the still waters of the Kukkanahalli lake in Mysore, be it the frozen mountains melting into the Tsongo lake, be it the greenery, the Chitrakaar or Artist can be the one and only HIM. The following lyrics from an old 1967 Hindi film “Boond jo ban gaye moti” describe the wonderment best :
“Hari hari vasundhara pe neela neela ye gagan
Ke jis pe baadalon ki paalaki uda raha pawan
Dishaayen dekho mgabhari, chamak rahi umngabhari
Ye kis ne ful ful pe kiya singaar hai
Yeh kaun chitrakaar hai, yeh kaun chitrakaar” (who is this artist, who is this artist?)