Maximum Cuddly

In Nov, my friend from the kickboxing class quit work to have her baby. I saw her last week, a proud mommy of a beautiful baby boy. I took this pic in the Public Gardens, with the cherry blossoms in the background!

O, don't pinch those cheeks too hard. 😉

Ms Vibha

Meet Vibha, darling daughter of our good friends Vandana and Aravind. I shot this pic during a gathering at our friend's place on August 15th. All kids had dressed in traditional garb to celebrate India's Independence Day. Along with her mother and brother they are currently back in Bangalore and Mangalore visiting family. If any of you meet them there, give her a hug from me. And don't forget to remind her of Ayun maam. Kids you know, need to be reminded constantly. 🙂

That big smile and glowing eyes are for her mom. From being outdoors all summer, she's gotten a good tan (compare to next pic).

This pic is from nearly a year ago. She could stand and walk only by supporting herself. Yes! What a doll!

Dhanya in Honavar

My cousin brother is a bhat-maam (priest) in the small konkan town of Honavar, 15 miles south of Kumta. His parents had insisted he get a college degree – so after his BA in Economics he still decided to follow their priestly traditions. They live in spartan accommodations beside the temple. I have fond memories of visiting them during my school summer vacations. Every morning we herded cows to a distant pasture. There we would bathe in a local stream! 🙂 O, what joys for a city brat. Now I only visit during my India trips and don't herd cows. Can't forget my roots, which need constant nourishing!

His daughter, Dhanya is the cutest girl I have seen. Here I had to interrupt her doodling on the kitchen floor. The beam of light is from a makeshift skylight. A couple of terracotta tiles in the roof are replaced with a sheet of glass. Wisps of smoke are from the burning wood embers used for cooking. They have a gas cooking range, but my aunt grew up using a wood fire and rarely uses the range. The old-style door has a sliding latch and the open pantry is lined with steel dabbas.

What do you need to be happy? You'd be right if you guessed – a divine daughter and a row of mithai-filled dabbas! I am currently batting zero for a million!

Precious Kids we met in Karnataka

Kids at the Cave Temples of Badami pics by Arun Shanbhag
A nice part of visiting temples in India is, I get to meet the locals. The hard working laborers with a few days off to visit temples. These you wouldn’t meet in hotel lobbies or in coffee shops. Their kids care less for the soulful art, and are playing around with each other. Them, I look forward to meeting.

And so many I met on this trip to Karnataka. All, despite being poor, were rich of heart, of kindness and grace. Their eyes brimmed with joy. Through them life reminds us – there is a way to live! Through them I asked – what have I done with my life? For what? In the kindness of these, I find my happiest moments. Not in the bars, not in ritzy coffee shops on Colaba Causeway, not with my fancy gadgets. My camera incidentally is the vehicle for reaching out; actually, for them to reach out to me.

It's usually the poorest who will strike a conversation with us. Perhaps they have nothing to fear. Most are kids – certainly fearless! When they see I have a big camera, they come up and ask to take their pic. The common phrase was, “Anna (elder brother) photo!” pointing to themselves. I gladly shoot multiple pics and they scramble away, jumping up and down. With my big camera, they prolly feel like stars in a movie production. And I treat them like stars. Some stay back to ask where I am from. If they hang around long enough, I show them the pics on the LCD screen – then their amazement sees no end.

While I derive joy from this encounter, what's in it for them? Perhaps in approaching and dealing with me, their confidence is boosted. They may hesitate less, the next time they have to stand-up for something. Perhaps. Here I have assembled a few pics from our recent trip to Badami, Pattadakal and Hampi. Other than the actual sites, these interactions I craved the most.

Pic above: As we parked near the Cave temples of Badami, these two came up and he confidently asked me to take their pic. They appeared to be siblings – look at their beautifully intertwined fingers.

At the MahaKuta Temple complex near Badami: The kid selling Goli Soda darted by as I tried to get his attention. The other two noticed, ran after the kid and brought him back to pose with them. The kid was ~ 8-10 years old, selling Goli Soda.
Kids at the MahaKuta Temple complex near Badami pics by Arun Shanbhag

Busily shooting at the Hazara Raam Temple in Hampi, the girl in the center asked to first take a pic of their largish family. Then she wanted a pic with only a couple of her friends.
Kids at the Cave Temples of Badami pics by Arun Shanbhag

These boys did not want to be left out and asked to take their pics.
Kids at the Cave Temples of Badami pics by Arun Shanbhag

Kids at the Cave Temples of Badami pics by Arun Shanbhag
These girls were tending the baby and were thrilled to have their pic taken.

At the Vithala temple in Hampi, this young girl Gouthami asked me to take a pic of her family. About 10, she directed her mother and older relatives to pose. Then she wanted one with her mother (above). While I was surprised at her english, my jaws dropped when her mother spoke flawless english and explained. They were from a village in AndhraPradesh and were leaving for Tirupati on the night train. Gouthami wanted more pics and her mother wrote out their address; and I mailed the pics.

Gouthami at the Temples of Hampi pics by Arun Shanbhag

Gouthami at the Temples of Hampi pics by Arun Shanbhag

Kids at the Tungabhadra Dam near Hospet, Karnataka pics by Arun Shanbhag
I saved the best for last!
While visiting the Tungabhadra Dam, the adjacent gardens had a light and water show. We found seats in front of the fountains, which was to “dance” to the music. This group of kids were hovering along the perimeter of the fountain. They kept staring at us. To break the ice, I took a pic. They ran away. This happened a few times and finally one of the boys, boldly stood in front of me and posed a body-builder's pose. I took his pic and showed it to him on the LCD. He and his friends stared in amazement. Then they all wanted pics. Finally I got this pic of the 12 boys and girls in the group.

By now they were very friendly with us and all over our bench, squeezing themselves between M and me. I found some packs of Wrigleys chewing gum and offered it to them. They were thrilled! They spoke Telugu and I only knew a spattering of Kannada. I did understand “uuru” (town) in one of their queries and I replied, “Mumbai.” Sighs of approval spread through the group. They asked many more questions, but I could not understand what they were saying. But they just kept talking, and we listened intently and nodded. There was an older gentlemen with them, and he too only spoke Telugu. We could not figure out if the kids were from one family, or neighborhood kids out for a picnic.

As the show ended, our driver came to fetch us, and I asked him to inquire with the older gentlemen. We found that these kids were from an Orphanage in Raichur and were on a picnic to see the Dam and the gardens!!! My heart sank like a rock!

We walked back to the car in stunned silence; the kids waved us goodbye.

Here were kids with literally nothing in this world, not even family, and they seemed so content to be merry. M & I talked about how we had been quibbling earlier in the evening – we who have so much; and the kids, with nary a penny to their name were happily enjoying the moment. That was for an important evening, and I hope it changes our lives forever. Even today, whenever M and I have a disagreement, we think of those orphans we met at the Dam, see how happy they were with what little they had! Certainly, we have much more.

As part of our annual charitable givings, I hope to identify an orphanage in rural karnataka and make a huge donation to them. We have also decided not to take any more gifts to our relatives in India, but to instead continue and increase our contributions to the schools and other deserving opportunities. I encourage you to do the same.

Update May 2009: Now many years later, I see this event did have a profound impact on our lives.

What oh what could she be thinking of?

Continuing my response to 's Friday Four Photo Project (F2P2). Having succumbed to temptation (log-in for protected post) its time for CONTEMPLATION.

Some weeks ago we visited my cousin-brother and his family in CT. My adorable niece Nisha, is the first one up and awakens everyone else to play with her (read – attend to her every whim!). By mid-morning, we had finished brunch and I caught her thinking deeply. Got me wondering, What, oh what could be going on in this little four year old's mind?

Maybe it's that big 'bu-bu' on her leg. She insisted I take a pic of it. She was probably concerned that was going to leave a big scar and mar her aspirations for supermodel-dom.

Perhaps, she was weighing how best to deal with this young man who seemed smitten during the party the previous evening. Whatever it was that she was reflecting on, I feel proud that she will make a thoughtful decision. One of these days, I will too 🙂

Pic taken with Nikon N75, 85mm/1.8, and ISO 100 Fuji Reala.
The camera shop is going to get a piece of my mind for those scratches!

Gundi and Navya

On Friday, our friend Sandhya delivered a baby girl. Gopal and Sandhya are thrilled, and so is their three year old daughter Meghana. She goes by Gundi. BTW, Gundi is quite a character. She is very mature, caring and needs constant attention. She chats incessantly in Kochi Konkani. Like most kids her age, she cannot pronounce the letter “r” and calls me “Ayun – maam.”

Ever since her mom was expecting, Gundi wanted a baby brother. In the hospital when she found it was a girl, she apparently asked, “Will she turn into a baby brother after a few days?” Cute uh? Whats with that hairdo you ask? I think its straight from Kochi. Yesterday they had a “cradling/naming” ceremony for the new arrival – Navya. This pic was taken last Sunday when the baby was 48 hours old.

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