Can a brain be totally destroyed and completely frazzled? Can a personality be entirely lost or distorted? Can a reality be altered, a way of looking at the world developed from childhood be undone and a substitute landscape be programmed in which is entirely alien and has no distinguishing or recogniseable mileposts or features?
What is reality? A construct, a metaphor, a burden, something that others want of you? To define your own landscape what toolkit is required?
The auto rickshaw sped its away across Delhi this afternoon carrying me, but not carrying me. It carried my body but I could argue I did not occupy my body nor my mind. The cluttered roads and tracks of Delhi moved past in a multi-coloured prism, combining with fumes, noise and a thousand other stimulants like on a racetrack. I felt like Bowser from my son’s now ancient computer console game Mario Kart, whizzing around alien landscapes in a kind of vehicle unlike conventional road cars, dodging and weaving to make the fastest ground, spinning at times like a dervish but always engaged in the race. The roads of Delhi are absolutely like that. Everyone else is engaged in the race too.
Because it is so alien I feel I do not belong here at all. It is cool to walk amidst it, to watch it, to occupy another dimension from which to view and make sense of it. But I do not belong here. That is why I was not in the rickshaw today, not really, only an avatar of me, something like a brain operating outside of a body, a city and a continent.
The rickshaw dropped me outside of the great mosque again. Every time I have arrived here it has been by a different route, a different incision through the city, different roads, directions and roundabouts. Today I was taken through multiple lanes and back roads to gain an advantage over the weekend traffic, through rundown parts of Delhi behind the slightly glossier parts tourists are allowed to see. Here the braziers are even blacker, the smoke rising from them reaching further into the heavens and the pits and debris in the road deeper and more difficult to negotiate. This is illusion and artifice; nothing can be so confused. This is Maya.
It is said that by exercising a muscle it becomes stronger. Is it the same with brain? Will activity strengthen it, rebuild it, provide it with shape and contour again? Will it rid it of concrete and obfuscation, sharpen its synapses, free it from its obsessions? It is thought to be so. But what is the best form of exercise?
The rickshaw vanished back into the crowd and I wondered which way to go. Do I go backwards or forwards? That is the question, whether to seek solace from contemplating what has been or planning what may be. But what control do we really have of either dimensions, how can we consider or predict the role of others who intersect with our lives when motivation and value systems are less than clear? What is necessary to achieve immunity from the effects of others?
Another dimension is sideways – diverting like a crab, but with a little more grace, into the metaphysical, intellectual and emotional voids beside us, rather than in front or behind. Its akin to increasing one’s operating space without really going anywhere, but developing alternative viewpoints and strategies to steady the ship and steer a course though inclement weathers.
Today I had planned to seek to take only 1 worthwhile photograph, an image which would sum up the day and the world as it looks today. I decided to to adopt two primary strategies, leaving the shopkeepers behind, and enter 2 different worlds concurrently. Firstly I would consciously look for colour and shape in almost abstract form. This would be considered, involve signs, the textural qualities of walls and interplay of light and shadow. It might involve people but not necessarily. The important point of this though is that it involves a degree of higher brain activity; assimilating parts of the environment with certain visually arousing features and making sense of them. The second approach would be a random, literally ‘shooting from the hip ‘ approach, photographing people in the crowded and bustling market streets without looking through the camera viewfinder, relying on autofocus and luck to make the image.
Both approaches can of course be extrapolated to represent certain approaches to life and I will not be drawn on the approach I have favoured over the years.
What is undeniably interesting is that all of the images included here on this blog post were as a result of the first approach. I took far more photographs ‘shooting from the hip’, surreptitiously walking around people, delaying my trajectory through crowds trying to anticipate interesting looking people’s reactions, standing still sometimes as scenes developed before me. But it was unsuccessful today, though on another day it might have been more successful; the stars as they lined up today suggested that consideration was more effective. Also I have ended up with more than just the one single image I was hoping to obtain. It I were to choose just one out of the batch, it would be the woman ironing her clothing with a coal filled wood and metal iron. But I like the others too.
Does this teach us anything? I suggest not, other than possessing a range of flexible strategies in life is better than single-mindedly and blindly adhering to one philosophy.
Chandni Chowk was a continuum of metal and steel shutters, premises joined together by a tangle of electricity cables forming a larger grid. Large pictures of Gods lived also in this tangle of cable, complementary invisible energies serving the community around. People ghosted through the continuum, but it was largely deserted. I made my way back to the large mosque and larger spaces, joining the throng again where barbers performed their trade on the streets, people were washing themselves gloriously in public from buckets of brown water and the business of life continued. Hailing another auto-rickshaw I became Bowser again, whirling through the aortas of a cyber city I did not belong within, the product of a computer simulation I have no control over.
Tomorrow I travel to Kolkata.