A morgue for Pages

A strong impulse of caution passes through my body, my hands stay barely still and I try to dowse the adrenaline that is slowly seeping into every corner of my thought. Now this all may sound way over the top but you have to be there to believe it. I mean, how often do you get to hold something in your hands that is about 170 years old? And it gets even more beautiful if you break it down further, so 170 years is basically 2040 months or 62050 days old, a timespan in which two lifetimes can be easily squeezed in between and you would still have enough space for a newborn to touch puberty. And that, I held in my hand.

Well, If enormity is carefully scrutinized, thought upon, I assure you, it is one of the most beautiful things you will ever find.

So, my search for textures took me to the Delhi Archives, which now as I write down seems quite natural, I mean which other place would be so well suited for my context, however, I wonder what took me so long to go there.

Anyway, on the third floor of the archives you have the main storage room.(I’m cutting directly to the storage room because the architecture of the archive deserves a separate blog on itself). White tiled flooring, air ducts peep out of every corner of the ceiling, two wooden desks burdened with plethora of files and a desktop that mostly likely runs on windows 98, temperature controlled between 18 to 22 degree Celsius and well of course, the aisles are formed by rows and rows of track moveable metallic shelves and inside them you have the history of Delhi preserved.

If you think my description isn’t on point then I have the perfect thing for you, the archive room was basically like a morgue, it did give off that vibe. And come to think of it, the function of archive room is actually similar to a morgue. You see, morgues store dead bodies while archives store old and archaic documents, the sole purpose of these two spaces is to preserve things in the best way possible for future research and reference. Yet, before you question, these two spaces are not museums and that’s because they are not built with the purpose of aesthetics and display. There’s a slight but huge difference.

Well, you can differ with me on that, I love to romanticize, but just to set the mood I gave you that description. And as you go ahead with the blog, imagine the archive room as a morgue for pages, it will make it more interesting.

However, once inside, I was given access to municipal documents of the Delhi government from the year 1836 to 1941. The documents were neatly stored inside acid free archival paper, sandwiched between two handmade sheets and then immaculately put together in a file. Some of the documents were notarized bonds, some were letters to the Delhi commissioner and some were a documentation of certain legal proceedings. I couldn’t help but stare at them indefinitely, looking at their intricacy. Time, was obviously quite visible on them, sometimes as yellow and brown tints while sometimes as acid patches and sometimes as fragmentation of the edges. The documents were an art piece in themselves, at least for me they seemed to fit whatever definition of ‘art’, that I have in my head.

 

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1836
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1841
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1880
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1942
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1942
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1899
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1867
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Between 1900 to 1910

 

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1847

 

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1847

 

 

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1895

 

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1911

 

 

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1856

 

 

 

 

Write-up and photography by Aadit Basu

The images were taken from The Delhi Archive, Satsang Vihar.

aaditbasu@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All that you leave behind

The whole structure of life seems like a fractal, complex and never ending. The more we think about it, the more we realize how fragile and helpless we are. Often we find that this thought takes a deep root inside us, everything seems to be meaningless and this thought crumples all the beautiful little nuances that life offers us. I would like to stress on ‘little’ here because often in retrospection we think of life as a whole, as an accumulation and forget about the little details that make the frame complete and rather in reality it’s always the little details that make the difference.

Yes, this thought is poignant and overpowering and it renders everything around us as useless but it is not as powerful as you might think, it all fades away in the face of death.

So if life constantly reminds us how fragile we are or how impermanent we are, it is the thought of death that I find more liberating, actually it is the aftermath of death that I find more liberating. Depressed and hollowed by these thoughts, I randomly stumbled over my dad’s belongings, who passed away nearly 12 years back and I realized that the dead are always alive in what they leave behind. And here I don’t just talk about physical objects rather also the notions that are associated inside us in relation to the dead, inside us as memories and notions.

Slowly the stagnation inside me regarding life started fading away and I felt rather ecstatic wondering about the things that we will leave behind. Before I start exploring the residue of my father’s life I would like to talk about death for a while. I guess no one can deny that it is the recent aftermath of death which is the most piercing one, it is dangerously silent, it is infinitely deep and the worst bit, time moves excruciatingly slow here. Everything you interact with, you will relate it to the loss. The bigger the vacancy the person has lift inside you the higher will be your pareidolia with respect to that person. You will realize what a ‘second’ means and at that moment you will hate time for its existence you will loath it with all your heart but of course after the worst is over you will learn to respect it. For sure, death emotionally manifests a black hole inside a person. However just like everything else, time fades death too. It forms a bubble over those memories and you are gifted with a new pair of eyes, a pair of eyes which will make new memories and let go of the old. At this point of moving over death we can quantify it and understand it.

Although the dead are alive in our memories, yet as time passes by the memories peel off from the walls of our conscience and we realize this phenomenon somehow and it scares us, we are scared that we will lose out on the notions that we had about the dead, this fear seems to us like a whirlwind that will carry all the memories away. So we hold on to everything that was related to the dead, their photographs, whatever they made or even touched everything we try to hold on to. And this is why I think the dead are never dead as they are always alive among us, inside the little vacancy they created, inside the little empty space they created.

Our lives keep on moving long after we are gone. Our memories continually live inside others, even after we die, through them we interact with the world. In their actions and their thought, the dead are still alive.

I know this thought will still just be a consolation in the face of death but it is rather a strong notion to live by and to let go.

So next time whenever you think how useless life is, think about all that you will leave behind, all things you will be remembered for and you will surely find all the stagnation seep out of you.

Like I stated earlier, I lost my dad 12 years back, I must have been ten or eleven years old. To be honest, at that time I couldn’t comprehend the gravity of the loss and now after years have gone by I have an idea about loss and the way it affects you. Now that I am 22 I understand the vacancy more than ever, I still find him alive in the half remembered memories from my childhood, in his briefcase, his watch and slowly as times goes by I can see a much more clearer notion of my dad in me.

In search for texture and memories, I found a little bit more about my dad.

This is all that he has left behind and the rest can’t be captured into a photograph.

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The image of him coming back from office is the most vivid memory I have about him.

 

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His watch stopped at a random date.
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His camera still works.
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His love for photography has been passed on to me. Here are some old negatives that never got printed.

 

 

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These glasses hold the strongest notion I have about him. A newspaper, a cup of tea and a Sunday, that’s all missing here.

So yes, he is still alive in these things. In his briefcase, in all his works, in memories and most importantly in me. These are the things he left behind.

Just like textures, he is now a layer of memories, drifting within the physical and intangible.

 

The title “All that you leave behind” is inspired from U2’s Walk on.

Pictures clicked by Aadit Basu

 

AADIT BASU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Textures of a dying art

Ghalib’s hand moves rhythmically across the paper, swift, confident and in a motion of his own wavelength. Sitting just across the street from Jama masjid on the edge of the plinth of an urdu bookstore, you will hardly see him even blink his eyes while he’s working, the cacophony of Chandi Chowk does little to break his focus. So when he finally sees you, you will be greeted with a stern look and a question on his face “What do you want?”

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However, it is quite interesting to notice the change in his tone once he sees that you are interested in his art and it is not one of those gradual changes it is quite sudden and exclamatory. He starts talking yet his right hand keeps on moving and often I find him being constantly seduced away by his work, so in short there were a lot of intervals and yawning gaps, however, here’s what I have gathered.

So Mohammad Ghalib, the gentlemen I met is one of the few Katib writers left in India. According to him there are only three more Katib writers left in Delhi. Elaborating about Katib, he says that a lot of people misinterpret it as a style of writing or calligraphy rather originally the word was derived from the Arabic word Kitab meaning a book and a Katib was basically a person who used to be the keeper of the books or held the position of a writer or a secretary.

He puts pressure on the fact that in those days only a few got the position of a Katib as it required nerve churning patience, proper understanding of the language, its intricacies and also a fine sense of aesthetics.

Some of the major Urdu books were written by katibs between the 6th and 15th century all across the Middle East. Imagine thousand-paged books all handwritten, that was the kind of prowess and perseverance the Katibs of yesteryears had. He went as far as to say that the Katib style of writing added more to the word than there already was, some sort of subtle and surreal meaning in its own right.

The Katibs would write finances for the kings, documented incidents, memoirs in short they were the chroniclers; they were solely responsible for storing everything in written form.

However, now the few Katibs that remain have reduced to making contact cards, writing love letters and creating handmade copies of archaic Urdu books. He doesn’t mind doing those. According to him, as long as he gets to do his work he will do anything.

The thing that I need to point out here is the fact that the form in which he writes is centuries old, his artistry is highly precise and experienced. It has been passed on in his family for Generations after generations. Ghalib not only holds a very rare ability rather also a responsibility of keeping it alive.

So right here he stopped and I started looking for textures. I was sure something was in store, everything, from the form to the function had an historic significance.

 

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Yes we have come really far technologically and this Katib style of writing can now be downloaded as a font on your mac or windows however Ghalib uses a traditional set of handcrafted bamboo pens. And it is this facet of his ability that gives his work credibility and ingenuity.

These pens are basically your usual pen-size hollow bamboo chamfered from one end. Along with them you have ink and silk for erasing.

His pens and stationeries were at least 50 years old and this is where I found all his history stored and memories retained, on his bamboo pens. Thousands of words have come out of those pens, a thousand thoughts were given shape to by Ghalib’s pen and all those thoughts, happy, sad and everything in between were stored inside them and the only remaining tangible memory is in those textures.

If you get to meet him one day you will know that the pens are almost an extension of his body.

The textures I found:

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If you’re interested in learning calligraphy or want to know more about the Katib calligraphy, do visit:

http://www.arabiccalligraphysupplies.com

 

AADIT BASU

Picture credits : AADIT BASU

aaditbasu@gmail.com

Textures of time / Traces of memory

In a very basic sense, photographs capture moments. However, what matters to the viewer on a very superficial level is what the photograph is really trying to show in that instant. Seldom do we realize and ask ourselves about the million little things hidden inside a photograph, how many moments have bought this one photograph to life, how many intersections of fate and choices?

That smile on the face, those cracks on the wall, and those vibrant colours on the streets and the textures on the tree everything has a story and more importantly a history with an ominous touch of providence.

Photography is one of the most easiest ways we can really capture “now”- the moment, the moment which can never ever be created again. Every second is new and every second is old. So we capture the now and in our own way we make the moment immortal, again immortal being a relative term. Relative to our own individual lifespan.

Now if we really analyze time, we will comprehend that there is no real permanence around us, in physical sense as well as in the metaphysical sense. Time, as I view it, is like a constantly drifting heap of sand, however, I don’t know about the direction in which it is drifting in and I guess no one else does either, but yes, it is drifting and it is arbitrary.

Often thinking in these lines, I have felt insecure and have felt that we are constantly between a sort of hurricane or a turbulence and for one or the other reason we fail to acknowledge that and that is what creates the illusion all around us. We live life under the illusion of permanence. We try to hold on to time, try to capture it, yet the reality is that there is no permanence, there is nothing inscribed on a stone.

So this insecurity of ours that constantly tells us that we are not permanent is a collective conscience of the world and often the one that is usually dejected. We all try to capture time in our own sense but sooner or later we realize that even memories have an expiry date.

And we often ask “Are we really so fragile?” The truth is – YES and how we handle this in reality, on a larger scale, I guess, will come to define us.

It is a very simple thought that and we often say this that “Everything is just a process of time”or “Time cures everything”, well yes it is the most fundamental thought, however I guess the realization of this comes very slowly, we all know and have felt this, but it is not like an epiphany, it is a gradual process of understanding. It needs cultivation. It needs acceptance and in return what we get is a larger horizon of understanding and beautifully instilled patience in us.

So with that thought that everything is just a process of time. I ended up thinking about textures. Honest, unhampered ironies of time – textures. They’re a process of time, they cultivate in the most natural way and the thing that interests me the most is that they contain memory. Time no matter how intangible it seems it sure does leave traces around us. Everything that we have done since our birth till the present moment is engraved inside those textures, every choice we have made is contained inside them.

This passage of time is what gives us layers and layers of textures, each layer has its own story, each layer has been touched in a different way by time, each its own permutation of situations and somewhere between this intangible time and the tangible texture we find the “memories”. These memories have affected the shape, size and colour that we see in the present.

So just like photography, textures in themselves capture time. In fact, the beauty lies in the fact that textures don’t remain the same, just like time, they are ever-changing. I think the closest we will ever get to touching and seeing time is through textures. Photographs are basically just a visual representation of the past but just like I asked before how often do we really know the story behind every single element inside the picture? Why are those things there? What was the photographer thinking?

Here exactly in these fronts, textures transcend photography. They are innocent, they are natural and they honestly show how time has affected them. We don’t have to dig any further than what is on the surface alreday and the whole story is right there. Now it could be a living or a non living entity; both get affected by time equally and they leave a mark on each other for a lifetime.

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This scene from Alfrid Hitchkok’s Vertigo shows the section of a tree and the rings inside it  have been marked according to their corresponding year of significance. Somehow this concept intrigued me a lot and made me even more interested in exploring textures.

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Because textures are naturally shaped and given exsistence by time. We cannot deny how intimately they’re bound to us, how intimately they define us. They can easily be termed as the metaphor for all things that we have been through, everything is stored inside them. They’re the perfect representation of the world inside us.

In simple terms, as memories are in layers, so are textures.

To be honest, I have felt a certain sense of permanence within them. Maybe the words are not right, maybe “forever”,”ultimate”etc are all just illusions that we are chasing. Often while exploring the possibilities of textures and their impact I have asked myself that how much of forever will be forever for us and the answer has never come to me because there is none.

PHOTOGRAPHS FOR THE BLIND

I have often noticed that one of the best things, at least in the fields of art can never really be described or quantified; I think once this scale of premium artistry is achieved then the work transcends the verbose.Nobody can define it, it is formless yet it fits into every mould you put it into.

Now when I put this thought in line with the way a blind man thinks I figured that often we miss out on the feelings because of our in-built hardware that pushes us to quantify things visually rather than just pure heartedly.This sensation of touch is how he interprets the world, those are his words and in those are his emotions. We have to reach a different level of wavelength to actually articulate his sensibilities.

However in terms of photography, a photograph is of no use to a blind person, sounds, touch and above all his natural intuition is what maters to him the most. His inner gut is way much more stronger than people who can see. Now how do you explain the storage of memory to him for his world is completely different. He stores his memories way more different from us, his memories are made of touch.

The reason why I’m suddenly talking about the visually impaired is because come to think of it textures in a way are a blind man’s photograph.

Every time you touch a texture you touch a part of memories.

The search starts here

 

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This is Muhammad Kasif, a loban, he perpares coal for a variety of jobs and claims to be prepairing some of the finest coals in old delhi. He’s been in this job for more than 30 years and his hands bore the insignia of his history. He tells me that in years he has not seen his hands in their original colour.

 

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Found these vibrant textures in one of the alleys of Chawri Bazar. A million stories reside inside these textures.

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Amber Fort in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Built in 1592, photographed in 2016. Nearly 420 years of memories.

 

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Ravi, a cobler from chandni chowk. His father bought the equipments in the 80’s and set up his shop just outside Jama Masjid, prudently thinking about the large crowd that arrives there everyday. Somehow i feel this anvil has stored in a lot of memories in itself, not just the coblers but the customers as well.

 

AADIT BASU