The camera isn’t my best friend. Not yet anyway… It behaves more like a woman I know, not intimately, but like I know her from somewhere… maybe our eyes met at the club or the library a few times, and then the briefest of hellos on a few others. We touched, shook hands and then we danced. She didn’t move the way I wanted her to, nor did I lead like she would have liked me to. But did we want to meet again? You bet we did..
It wasn’t really love at first sight but there was intrigue, and a hint of old world romance… a vision that we might travel to exotic lands and witness the world from a whole new point of view, a vision that was ours, and ours alone. Every time we meet, we play and get to know each other a little better and once every now and then, while at play, our passions rise when we meet and our visions fuse into one and we have this image, this child of our impassioned immersion into each other and that moment. And then the day seems like it’s been a good one.
But while this affair with the camera is new and flushed with the rush of blooming love, there’s another love that warms the hearth in my heart.
I was a rather shy and reticent kid, with a mouth full of braces and far too many teeth. I wasn’t particularly good at being the teacher’s delight either and so I didn’t feel like I had much to say which the world might want to care about and so kept my own company. But I did scribble, needlessly, endlessly, pointlessly, but I must have enjoyed doing it. While friends, faith and the world beat the reticence out of my bones as the years went by, I still enjoyed scribbling, as pointlessly as ever, but now I was getting paid for it.
Writing words kept me sane through my younger years, and it didn’t matter if I wasn’t a “gift ed” writer. Words were like a sisterhood of childhood sweethearts who urged me to be; like they were daughters of the Muses, playmates of my childhood, anchors of my adolescence and indulgent lovers of my adult life, coaxing me to write them down as and when they choose to appear. I might know only a few plain janes, compared to the many pretty ones that shimmy down the keyboards of others; I might not even know how to choreograph and articulate them in a manner that would show them off to their best advantage, but they’ve stuck by my limitations and I have stuck by theirs… so far.
So this is what it had come to. A dilemma between what says what I have to share best. And it’s an old debate that has been simmering the editorial houses of publications around the world, just like the one in our kitchens about who might be the better role model between dad and mum (I didn’t say parent, because it’s just been ten months since I’ve become one and it’s a no contest. I can’t even begin to hold a candle to all that a mother needs to, wants to and has to do for a child). It’s a soft debate because both sides like each other, and are inspired by each other, and yet, to one who is in love with both mediums, it is a dilemma that gnaws away at one’s experiences as one is pulled towards one medium and then the other.
I’m an impressionable child of my times and so I have spent many happy hours in the dusty attics of writers thinking what wonderful lives they live, pleasuring our imagination, stirring our souls and making money while they are at it. And then I spent a few evenings at photo exhibitions, chatting with nature and travel photographers about their travels into faraway lands, in pursuit of a vision and adventure and romance and coming away with the distinct feeling that a picture indeed was worth a thousand words.
I like writing. Even when chased by a deadline that gains on me faster than I can type, a word well placed is like finding an oasis in the over-heated squeeze between word-count and production costs. And a piece that surprises one’s readers with an unexpected degree of quality is often rewarded with words of such kindness and warmth that one could live off them for weeks and months.
On the other hand, the magical beauty of a story captured in a moment, and touched by the vision of the photographer has the jaw-dropping power to shock, stun and move the viewer in a way that only a picture can.
So as a teller of tales, and as one who would want to tell them best, I have often stopped and stuttered, even as I waded into a story and wondered, which medium would help me bring that moment to those not present? Would the mind’s eye capture the timeless beauty of three giraffes loping, as if in slow-motion, into the sunset in the Masai Mara better than the eye of a camera? Or would a photograph have captured the sense of metaphysical magic and repressed power and angst in the glowering eyes of a tantric who lives all alone in a cave, with a cow for company and a leopard for a neighbor, in a forest on the Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh border better, than the 1000 words that told his story in this very space some years ago?
I don’t know the answer, but for your sake and mine, I will find out, once and for all, if a picture indeed is worth a thousand words. And when I do, I will share the answer right here, through the medium that will say it best...