Sanatan Dharma of Photographers ( and for everyone else)
At a temple I was asked a question whose answer I had no clue to. The revered Punditji, sitting amongst his disciples and sycophants mocked,’ you do not know whether you are a Sanatan Dharmi or an Arya Samaji and you call yourself a Hindu?’ . I do not care for such trivial matters. Nor do I care whether I am a Hindu or not, but that day the conversation ventured into philosophy of figuring out who one is in this Universe. We sparred on topics of Karma and afterlife besides the purpose of this one. Not surprisingly the Pundit ended up more bruised ( and irritated), as he had not asked enough questions to himself and hence could not argue convincingly without taking help of dogmas which any religion or belief relies upon for its survival.
I wanted to know more about Sanatan Dharma but I forgot about it till three years ago. It poked me for a journey into its realm as I was looking for solutions to take fewer pictures. You see, it was my endeavour to be less wasteful while doing photography. Because I have a 16 gb card, did not justify my being trigger happy and then finding luck in editing. Quite often in my walks, I resolved to capture not more than twenty frames, yet still came back with close to two hundred. It irritated me, that even after clicking so many, there weren’t more than five or six worth taking seriously and even one keeping in my portfolio. Then I accidentally read about Sanatan Dharma and my perception changed.
What is Sanatan Dharma?
Sanatan literally means eternal. No need to explain what eternal is.
Dharma, in this context, is the ‘Law’. The reason I use ‘in this context’ is that there are various interpretations of Dharma. This is my hybrid version and it suits me.
What is this ‘Law’? It is simply the Law of cause and effect. Action and reaction.
Now dear reader I’ll hold your hand and take you into another space. It is where the laws of Quantum Physics apply. Many of you science students will remember Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. For those who don’t know , I’ll elaborate. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle states that it is impossible to measure the speed and position of a subatomic particle at the same time. You can do either, but not both because the moment you try to do it, the other quantity changes . This is a simplistic yet adequate explanation as the position of a subatomic particle is usually a mathematical probability anyways. Basically whenever one tries to see something, that ‘something’ has already changed because of the observer’s presence. It applies to a photographer too and we will broach it later.
So keeping the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle at the back of our mind let us analyse this ‘Law’. The Law was never created by God, or the Universe. It is created by you. You are the reason, the cause and the effect of this Law. Surprised? Actually most of the basic principles of Hinduism rely on this philosophy, especially that of Yoga.
Delving still deeper, since you are the creator of the Law,the Universe is because of your presence. You may say the Universe was always there, what difference does it make whether you are , or not. Not according to the Law.The Universe is, because You are. Since it will end up as a debate in perceptions, let’s move on.
Big deal, I am the law, the master of my existence. Nothing new. I wasn’t even in control when I came into this world, nor will I be when I die. So why bother?
I ask you, when did ‘You’ come into this world? When You were born? when You lost your virginity? After Your first drink? When You realised the meaning of Life and Death?
Who is You? Are you a Son, a Daughter? A Father, Brother, Sister, Mother, Grand mother, Husband, lover . All or nothing? When are You?
The next step is to figure out your relationship with the Universe. This is an essential part of Sanatan Dharma and most other aspects of Hinduism. The entire premise of Yoga is based on this.
Unless You know who You are, the Universe will not know whom to react to. If you act in an arbitrary manner, the Universe will react in an arbitrary manner too.
Which means, to exist meaningfully ( for our own sake ) one’s journey is to first figure out who one really is, then our actions will result in specific and desirable reactions from the Universe.Our roles are described by the society for its functioning, but they do not help in self discovery.
Now when I take my camera out , I take it with an intention of discovering myself. This is a vicarious process. I capture what I see and I see what I can see. But the moment I poke my nose as a photographer, I find that the world has changed already,( remember the uncertainty principle?).Whether it is for a picture of a pebble, or a picture of my son. It then transforms itself into dimensions of a frame,composition, light, lines, expression and purpose.
A fashion photographer’s purpose is different from a street photographer’s to a bird or wildlife photographer’s, or is it?
To see beyond this cobweb, I refer to ‘Rolling Stones 500 greatest songs’. The number one on the list is Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’.”I wrote it. I didn’t fail. It was straight” is all he had to say about this song when he wrote it at the age of 24. But every song of Dylan is not ‘Like a rolling stone’.
The purpose of our journey is to figure out who we are and when we know that, the moment is not forever. It reflects briefly through our actions. When I take pictures on the street, I know that the perfect moment, the one I was looking for has come and this picture will work. It settles something within. It quenches that agitation and justifies the wastefulness of the hundred photos taken before. I simply feel happy. That’s it. I am no Cartier Bresson or Salgado. I am me and that’s what matters.It is my ‘ Like a Rolling Stone’.
So my Dharma is to see the world, the way I wish to see it. I see it through a perfect exposure, straight lines, colour, forms and a feeling which goes beyond all this. I am out to capture the world struggling to know what it is there for. I know I feel happy to complete my story, my understanding of the subject in one frame, so perhaps will always struggle to create a ‘body of work’ ( and hence will not get selected for the Delhi Photo Festival). But that’s me and it is futile to try and change myself.
But there is something called evolution. Referring to the ‘law’ and the uncertainty principle, one must never forget that we are a part of the Universe and therefore cannot treat ourselves as a rigid separate entity. Thus we evolve. Evolution is about adaptability ( unless you are a Karl Marx). If right now I cannot produce a quality ‘Body of work’, I must not assume that I can never do , or I must not try. Who knows, I might evolve into a photographer who can create a body of work at will. If I am observing the outside, the outside is observing me too. If I act, I am being acted upon. If the outside has changed by my action, I am getting changed too by its reaction. Letting that happen, being vulnerable ,is evolution.
So where does it leave us. Only you as a photographer knows why you are taking pictures and not some Bakchod ( word fucker) like Susan Santog or Calvino( simply because they were not photographers). If you don’t know, then take more pictures till you do. If you still cannot, forget it, just keep taking pictures. One day you will. The less you think about it the better it will be.Remember, even the Universe has evolved to this day by experimenting with so many life forms and species.
Now, I don’t give a shit whether I take 600 frames to reach my moment of ecstasy. I just go out and take pictures. This is my Santana Dharma. But whenever I am asked ‘Why are you taking these pictures?’ by a policeman at Mayapuri or someplace else, I fumble to give a reasonable answer. I still don’t know what to say to him, but to you I will say, “It makes me happy”.