The Camera in our Head

Visiting a bookshop or a library always offered a surprise to me. l invariably came back home with some books that sought me out rather than my seeking them. A book tucked away on the far shelf, or a sight not exactly within visual range, can draw you to it taking you unawares.

For instance, one particular evening, quite by chance, you decide to take a different route back to your nest, and you get to see the pulsating path of magical silvery light cast by the just-risen full moon upon the river Ganges. On a couple of occasions, one in Coochbehar, and the other in Dehradun, while on the road, I distinctly felt someone invisible taking my hand and guiding me to a picture-postcard perfect setting.

On the Coochbehar main road in the afternoon one day, I was wandering along. Before long I came to a fork, where on the left I found the ground had gently sloped up an embankment. There was a flight of rough-hewn steps leading to the top. It was twilight time. I mounted the steps and was immediately shut out from the rest of the world.

A little distance ahead and several feet down was a roughly round lake, its placid water reflecting the blue of the cloudless sky. Far away hugging the horizon, the blood red disc of the sun was about to drop, and issuing from somewhere beyond, the sound of azaan hung suspended in the air. I don’t remember how long I stood there. But I still wonder how exactly at the instant when everything beautiful coalesced together I was drawn there.

In Dehradun, an interview with author Nayantara Sahgal over, I was scouring the city in the vikrams. While travelling along Indira Nagar Colony, I got down for no particular reason. Walking with no destination in mind I found a small pond on the wayside. Skirting it went a trail which I followed, and lo and behold: right in front, there was a vast orchard on which stood very tall and stately Sal trees. The trees rose up 40 meters and beyond.

Their huge oval-shaped leaves lay strewn on the ground. It was early afternoon, but it looked as if dusk had already descended there. It was misty and shadowy. A palpable silence reigned. I had been to Simlipal forest in Orissa and Jhargram, but never seen such majestic Sal trees before. I loitered there alone for a while feeling airborne, as if I was in a never-never land.

When I chanced upon these places, I had no camera with me. I was dissolved into the scenes, and it never occurred to me that I wish I had one. I still behold the landscapes as if I viewed them only the other day.

We had once visited Bilkeshwar Mahadev Temple in Haridwar, located in the valley of Bilva Parvat, where we found a sadhu who quite detested the presence of camera-wielding tourists who apparently invaded his privacy. When they went on a clicking spree, he exclaimed: “Has not god given you a camera within, which is far superior to anything available outside? Why can’t you all observe in silence? Why do you have to take pictures with this machine and spoil the atmosphere?” His words still linger like the sights I once had been witness to.

First published in The Statesman

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