A year ago I sat with a tiger in the deep of a jungle.
I sat 20 feet away from the beast, and slowly took my camera. The langurs had all stopped their racket. The wild myenas held their breath. Even the leaves were frozen. Such stillness and silence eloquently spoke about the majesty of the creature on my track.
Only I wasn’t listening.
I was busy checking light, composing frames, clicking buttons. Many friends later asked me seeing the video of this writer with the tiger, what I had felt at the moment. ‘Weren’t you afraid to sit that close to a tiger?’ Actually, I had no fear. Not that, I am brave. But I didn’t see the tiger. I didn’t feel the tiger of “fearful symmetry” that Blake, the poet, saw. I saw a tiger within a frame. The nearest relative to it, if you want to imagine my state of mind, is a television tiger.
See. I spent more than 200 hours in forest chasing a tiger. And finally when I got one, I was busy twiddling with my camera. What else do I remember! I forgot most of the adventure. At the end, while recounting the experience to my daughter, my mind had to helplessly curl around the photographs I had taken, to cadge off stories that could stay for a lifetime.
The rest was silence. Gone.
Whatever was not captured was meant to be forgotten, swept under the carpet, blown away by the next crisp image in the camera.
Out of frame, out of mind.
Don’t think I am the only one stricken.
We don’t see the places where we travel. Instead, we see only the photographs of them at the end of our journeys. Everything becomes fodder for the lens, be it birth, death, mirth, love, trees, children, neighbors, miseries, mysteries.
Tell me honestly, could you relive your wedding day in a seamless flow, from that glorious morning you were woken up and pushed to the bathroom by your cousins to your first night when you sat along with your girl on the bed strewn with jasmine flowers? Don’t strain your mind in vain. You won’t remember much, thanks to the wedding album you could always fall back on. Leaf through it. You have only some splintered and frozen emotions caught in rectangular spaces, skittering frames of still life for a real wedding—all but scattered tombs of moments that once touched and shook your core.
Thanks to those pictures our memory is constructed like a T-20 game, showcasing just the bash, never the warming up. This is the case with birthdays, festivals and even deaths in our life. We recapture the past with the aid of photographs. Few see that much precious life stands outside their borders, the slow burn, the muted colors, the first nanny who took care of our child, who had promptly been cropped off from the frame. Few hear the ocean rumbling beneath as they wet themselves in the trickle of images they salvage out of their life. Few put the camera phone back into his pocket to savor with naked eyes the sun gathering its scarlet robes to get ready for the scintillating fireworks in the west.
You think technology hasn’t yet grown a brain to unsettle us?
Believe me, the machines that we wield to capture life, have long captured us behind their lenses; they recalibrate our vision, manufacture our thoughts and memories, and finally force us to create new identities as we take selfies with a charging train or a lion in the background. We put out strange acts for the camera and later, embarrassingly, believe in the funny stories our own acts tell. There will come a moment, I fear, when we begin to live out more in photographs that float around than inside our body.
We let the camera see, as our eyes are relegated to a secondary position as they don’t have ‘record’ and ‘share’ buttons. But I wonder! When did words lose their power of telling stories and etching scenes? Like flies, we, vectors of pictures, too pollinate around social media with false representations of places where we think we’ve gone.
“Lucky you!” a fan screams, and we check the pic again. We get a vicarious pleasure by seeing the place for the first time in the photographs we ourselves have posted for others. How ironic! Ask yourself. Did you really see the place? The truth is simple: only the camera has traveled. And, it’s now back with its two-dimensional tales. Was the sunrise this stunning? You wonder at your own click.
Frames, frames, frames everywhere. We travel in frames, revel in frames, revolt in frames, love in frames, break away in frames, dictate in frames, rule in frames, turn kind in frames, get angry in frames, see ourselves and others in frames, see the setting moon and the blooming rose in frames, play husband and wife in frames, act father and mother in frames…the rectangular frame forms our life and philosophy.
If destiny would take me across the path of a tiger once again, I promise myself I’d drop my camera and take it all for myself. I will listen to the silence of the jungle. A real tiger in real wild.