ON BEING A ROCK STAR
“I don’t want to go home.” I started saying this when we reached the half way mark of the trip. I don’t want to go home. Here, I’m a rock star. Back home, I’m a nobody. Here, 20-something cute young men (and they are always cute) come up to me and ask: “Can I have a picture with you m’am?” Back home, no cute young man wants to have his picture taken with me. Here, scores of children have asked me for my autograph. Back home…OK, you get the picture.
We were at the Kolkata airport, heading towards our gate, standing on one of those long rolling walkways that do the walking for you. We were tired. We just stood there, facing forward, Alan clutching a coffee. A young man came along side of us. He was walking as we were being propelled gently forward, keeping perfect pace. He had his cell phone poised at us, filming. “Hello,” he said. “Hello,” Alan replied. I ignored him. It was way too early, I was way too tired. “Where are you from?” he asked. “Chicago,” Alan said. He asked a few more questions. Alan’s so polite, he answered them all. I slowly looked over at him, gave him my best Greta Garbo look, and said: “You know…we’re rock stars.” “Oh,” he said. He turned off his device and let us continue on the automatic walkway to our gate. Alan alerted me that I still had my sunglasses on.
ON BEING A GURU
We became rock stars on our last trip to India. Perhaps the first time we became aware of our stardom was at the Dandeshwar temple, in Karnaghar. We were with Emma, and she didn’t quite know how to handle the crowds of people that always formed around us when we opened our binder of photographs. She especially, with her blond curly hair.
Our stardom definitely continued into this second trip. Almost everywhere we went, people would stop us on the street, start conversations, invite us to their homes for a “proper Bengali meal.” Everyone wanted their pictures taken with us. I was of course always delighted when a cute young man was involved. I later learned that Bengali men have a very strong connection to their mothers, and that perhaps I was a “mother figure.” I was fine with that.
But my rock star status escalated to the guru stage on a trip we took to Kerala in January. It was the one vacation we would take during almost 5 months. I was lying on a hammock, stretched between two palm trees, looking up at a blue cloudless sky, a cool breeze was coming off the lake, removing some of the heat from the sun. A perfect Kodak moment. Occasionally I’d try to read, but usually I just dozed off.
At one point I sensed a presence and opened my eyes, only to find a young woman standing by the hammock. “Hello m’am,” she said. “Hello,” I replied. “My name is Karishma. Where are you from?” she asked. And the conversation started. The inevitable question arose quickly: “What are you doing in India?” As soon as I mentioned photography, she lit up. “Oh m’am, I LOVE photography. I had a really fine SLR, but I dropped it in the water and it got totally ruined. Now I just have a small one, and I go into a camera store and ask them how to take a good photograph. They take out the camera manual and hand it to me. That is not what I want. That is not what I’m asking.”
As it turns out, she is in college in Delhi, studying business management. Then she plans to go to graduate school and get two MBAs (don’t remember in what, just remember the ‘two’). She will get married after that, and perhaps then she can pursue her real passion, which is photography. “It looks like you have it all planned out. But why do you need to wait till after you are married to follow your passion?” I asked. “Because my father says that I need to get an education and a job first and then later I can do my hobby.” “Oh, but I think you need to do what you really love NOW. Do not wait for later. That time may never come.” I was really taking a chance here, totally contradicting her father as well as the standard Indian educational system.
I don’t know what got into me, but I proceeded to talk to her about photography and the excitement of making art. Of training your eye to really ‘see’ what there is and to translate it into an image. I talked about Cartier-Bresson and The Decisive Moment, about Eugene Smith and his remarkable vision. About Robert Frank and Dorthea Lang. About some of the incredible Indian photo archives that we had visited in Delhi just a few weeks before. About how she should perhaps volunteer at one of these places, just to be able to handle real photographs from real moments in time – to be a part of history and hold it in her hands, relishing its importance and artistry.
At one point Kala came over and both women were sitting on the grass at my feet! Very empowering indeed. Karishma was clearly absorbing everything I was saying. She had the most beautiful smile. I said I would send her a reading list. She thanked me profusely for my knowledge, for my time. “Now you are my guru,” she said.