In the UK, spring has arrived. Suddenly, everywhere I look there are vibrant yellow daffodils. Not only outside, but also indoors in vases, bringing a splash of seasonal colour to our work and living spaces. Three days ago, the clocks went forward, heralding the start of British Summer Time (BST). Our evenings gained an extra hour of sunlight. The air is now noticeably warmer, just enough for people, who’ve felt sun-deprived all winter, to break out their shorts and little dresses. In the daytime, I see bare-legged students with their laptops in their front gardens. And I see young professionals congregating outside their front doors in the evenings, chatting over glasses of wine. It’s like Britain has awoken.
With such a noticeable shift in the mood all around me, it’s with a slightly heavy heart that I say it’s time for me to get going again. I’m flying to Egypt next week, which I’m thoroughly looking forward to. However, I feel I’ve got things somewhat the wrong way round. It’s funny how life can often turn out so differently to what one plans or envisages. As recently as a year ago, my firm intention was to split my existence 50-50 between England and India: England for these spring and summer months, India for the ‘cooler’ part of the year from the end of the monsoon season until the festival of Holi.
As I shared in an earlier journal entry on my journey into photography, this last year has brought its fair share of surprises, together with a rather large portion of change. While life continues to be unpredictable, I can say for certain that it’s exciting! I’m not yet at that stable place where I’m basing myself out of a home in London and travelling regularly on assignments overseas, but I’m working towards it. The four months that I’ve spent in the UK have given me a chance to recharge my batteries and refocus after a long period of living out of a rucksack, and now I’m ready to launch into that existence again. But before I do that, I think it’s worth pausing for a moment and looking back at my time here.
It all seemed pretty clear the night I flew into London on 3rd December 2010. I should point out that I’m referring to the visibility. As you can see from the image to the left, the clarity in the night sky was astonishing. Our flight path took us down the River Thames, and I could make out many of London’s iconic landmarks perfectly. Here, for instance, is Canary Wharf , with its bright white hat on. The big loop of the river around the Isle of Dogs, and the O2 (formerly the Millenium Dome), are also clear as day. This was my first glimpse of London after nine months away, and I liked what I saw. (You can see more aerial images from my journey from India to England in this gallery.)
On the ground, it was another matter. I had landed back in the middle of 2010′s ‘Big Freeze’. As soon as I had turned on my mobile phone, while still seated in the plane, I learned that there would be no way I could reach my aunt Claire’s home in East Sussex that evening. Trains and buses weren’t running, and many roads were closed. Claire spoke of lorries jack knifed in the road near her house. I quickly arranged a Plan B: to go to my friend Toral’s home in East Croydon. But as I bombed along the Tube in her direction, I heard that her house had been cut off too! Luckily, I sorted out a Plan C: my aunt had friends near Finsbury Park, so I stayed on the Tube till there. As I waited at the station, I soon began shivering. I was wearing everything warm that I had in my possession. Imagine the shock, after hardly needing a second layer once in nine months in sweaty India! I didn’t even have a coat, and soon I resorted to pacing up and down the underground tunnels until my aunt’s friends arrived, just to stop the shivering from becoming violent.
I never used to have a problem with the cold when I was a kid and as a teenager. But I’ve been out of England for so much of my adult life, almost all of which has been in hot climes (particularly India), that I’ve begun to really feel it. So the shock intensified at my aunt’s house in Forest Row. I gather that central heating is expensive in England these days, so she kept it off at night, even during mid-winter. I therefore wore a full set of clothes in bed, and slept with a hot water bottle and about three blankets and two duvets! Getting out from all that to go to the toilet was a tough one, and owing to some plumbing problems at the time it also meant tackling a flight of stairs to get to the downstairs loo. By the time I was back, the cold had ensured I was well and truly awake.
So began what has become something of an annual pilgrimage during the last few years: my month-long tour of my friends and families’ homes around Christmas and New Year season. Only this time, I thought I was back in England to set up a base for myself, not just to drop by, share seasonal cheer, and jet off again. Over the course of December, I visited my aunt and cousin Laura (with her new baby) in East Sussex, my newly-married friend Jennie-Ann and her husband Russell in Liverpool, my brother in Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, family friends in Bath, my father and step-mother in Calne in Wiltshire and my mother – back in the UK after a decade of living in France – at her new home in Whitstable in Kent.
As you can see from some of the photos here, my family – like many Brits – likes to go walking. When the days are short in the winter, we often feel determined to make the most of them. Snow and cold are not obstacles (though rain can be!). The cool, crisp air was just what my mind and body needed, as it made me feel invigorated. Of course, it also afforded excellent opportunities for photography. Indeed, you can see plenty more of my images from East Sussex and Calderdale in West Yorkshire under snow in this gallery.
Where you see slides like the ones above, you can click on one of them (best to start with the first one) to view it full size with captions. You can then scroll forward and back by clicking on the ‘next’ and ‘previous’ tabs on the right- and left-hand sides. Click outside the image or press Esc to return here.
I spent Christmas with my father and step-mother in the town I grew up in, Calne in Wiltshire. I say “grew up in”, though I was actually away for most of the time at boarding school in Bristol and then Cheltenham. In spite of my prolonged absence, it’s the closest I’ve had to a ‘home’. Other than the last couple of years or so when I was based in Bangalore, I’ve never lived anywhere longer than a year. I’ve been pretty itinerant ever since age 18. When my Indian friends ask me about ‘home’, I suppose they must be referring to where my parents are. Yet until quite recently, I regarded India as my home as I stayed on there so long and made so many close friends. Having said that, after six years of living in India I was certainly pining for a bit more Britain in my life. As I said, I was aiming for the ideal: a happily split existence between ‘here’ and ‘there’.
Coming back to Wiltshire is always pleasant, and I enjoy catching up with my folks. It’s not really ‘home’ anymore, though. They don’t live in the same beautiful house they built up from a state of neglect after buying it in 1991. They’ve downsized to a cozy place on a site where the school I went to briefly in the early-’90s used to stand. It doesn’t quite fit my brother and I for more than a few days. So I come, we share good food and good cheer, and I move on again.
I was due to fly back to India on 3rd January, after spending New Year with my mother. However, a painful breakup with my Indian partner of three years convinced me that it would be wise to stay on ‘back home’ for some time longer. Family friends Ann and Gordon Glass told me I was welcome to stay with them while I got back on top of things, so off I trotted to the UNESCO-listed city of Bath.
I have known this couple ever since I was born. In fact, my father went to school with Gordon. The last time I spent a serious chunk of time with them was ten years ago, when I was last at crossroads my in life. At that time, I was 21 and just about graduating from my Bachelor’s degree. Like many thousands of young men and women my age, the burning question then (as it was again recently) was, “what shall I do with my life?”. Gordon is great at helping people to introspect and draw out the answers to questions like this, as I found then and have recently rediscovered. Of course, I came with quite a lot of awareness of what I now want to do with my life, and what I needed most this time was some security: a roof over my head, the space to think and, perhaps most importantly, a place where the pressure is off. Ann’s delicious and wholesome cooking, long late-night conversations with Gordon, meditation (sometimes) and sessions in the swimming pool were just what the doctor ordered. Oh, and regular nightly games of Scrabble!
It was here that winter turned to spring for me. That seems like an appropriate metaphor. Just as butterflies hatch from their chrysalis cocoons in the spring, so too am I emerging from my winter cocoon after a transformative period, during which I’ve evolved from caterpillar status, developing beautiful wings with which I’m set to fly once more.
During this winter, I’ve faced some challenges and come out the other side with enhanced clarity. This is not the place to muse on my post-breakup personal development, so I’ll leave that to one side. Suffice it to say that it’s happened! On the professional front, I’ve used this clarity to build on and strengthen what I already had.
This started with the consolidation of my thoughts on the concept of vision in both photography and in bringing about positive change. As I explain elsewhere on this site, I feel passionately about the role I can play in merging photographic and philanthropic vision. I recognise that one of my greatest strengths is my ability to tease out pathways along which visions can be turned into reality. My work with Gordon was reciprocal, as we served as case studies for one another. His single greatest vision is of the birth of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA), and he is keen to take the campaign for its establishment to the next level. Our discussions on how this could happen went so well that it could have led to a full-time job for me, working with him on organisational development! Perhaps this was my first test of resolve for a career in photography.
My work with Gordon on the UNPA signalled my re-engagement with international affairs. Though I studied International Politics at First Degree level, I have felt somewhat removed from events and debates in this area while in India, whose media focus tends to be far more inward-looking than the UK’s. And then, of course, came the momentous happenings that spread like wildfire across the Middle East and North Africa this winter. I watched them, mesmerised. For days, I followed Al Jazeera English, Channel 4 News and Newsnight religiously. My first instinct was to get myself off to the Arab World at once. But I had to restrain myself, because I’d already made the decision that my role as a photographer is not to capture breaking news.
Instead, I decided to reach out to my network and see if I could build some contacts in the region and start scoping out possibilities for a visual peacemaking project in the near future. I am a proud member of the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers (IGVP), as their commitment to “displaying common humanity and images that build bridges of peace” is absolutely in step with my own values and emerging mission. I am clear that I don’t just want to document: I want to make a difference. Happily, I have succeeded in making several great contacts in what was until recently a region in which I had little experience. This coming Tuesday, I’ll be heading to Egypt to meet some of them and to scope out what might be possible later this year as that country heads towards its first elections of the post-Mubarak era.
In the midst of all this cerebral activity, I’ve also spent the winter developing my photography skills and honing my offering. I have been shooting the changing seasons (see my galleries of Wintry England, covered in snow, and of the March into Spring), constructing this website with the help of Neha Loonawat (if anyone knows php coding and can help us with developing my image archive search facility, please let me know!), reading a lot that’s been written by photographers I admire (the likes of David duChemin, Steve McCurry, Matt Brandon and Michael Freeman), networking with other photographers with whom I hope to collaborate one day soon (such as Cathy Topping in Australia, Hend Ismail in Egypt and Andrew Rappé in Bahrain), making steps to get my name out there under the eyes of people I’d like to hire me in the future (I even did something I thought I’d never do: I joined Twitter, which I’ve discovered is an incredibly powerful publicity tool) and investing in new equipment for my next endeavours (such as a professional audio recorder, as I hope to start making audio slideshows soon).
‘Having a life’ has also had something of a look in. While previously I knew only the Glass family, I made some new friends in Bath thanks to CouchSurfing (which is about far more than just surfing couches!), and this got me out and about, exploring the area. The Glasses proved a pretty sociable bunch too, and in addition to marathon sessions of Scrabble, Sarah’s Thursday visits tended to be as regular as clockwork. She and I bonded over our shared love of photography, and we had fun snapping away together along the Kennet and Avon Canal as well as during her shared birthday party with Gordon. And then there was the Bath Half Marathon, which Katie (the third Glass sister) ran to raise money for the Prince’s Trust and I turned out to cheer (but mostly photograph – see this gallery).
As I type this, India have just beaten Pakistan in the mother of all cricket matches, reaching the final of the 2011 Cricket World Cup. I feel a little sorry not to have been there in person. Given the collective passion of almost everybody in the subcontinent for this game, I can imagine how electrifying the atmosphere must be now, all the way from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. My friend Abhishek Kumar told me this morning, ”we gave a holiday to our staff today. Everyone went home. The accountant refused to meet us. Our client cancelled our appointment. And a scheduled training was also cancelled, primarily because no-one turned up. I am in my office, working. Probably the only person at work in Bangalore!” I won’t make it there in time for the final either, but I’m sure I’ll be back in my former adopted ‘home’ before long.
One thing I do know is that it’s time to move on from here. I took Gordon and Ann out to dinner last night to thank them for being such wonderful long-term hosts. My bags are packed (a bit early, just to check that everything fits!) and I’m doing last minute errands and saying my goodbyes. On Tuesday morning, I’ll board my BMI flight to Cairo.
And then… well, I’ll let you know how things pan out! Just be sure to keep checking back here.