A worker welding small machine parts together at a factory in Gurgaon, Haryana, India (3 March 2018)
A worker welding small machine parts together at a factory in Gurgaon, Haryana, India (3 March 2018)
Sound is etched on silence, solid space on empty space. Emptiness wraps up everything like a womb wraps up a baby. The negative space is never negative.
I found it chocking and claustrophobic when I recently (24-26 July 2017) saw an unfinished building oddly jutting out of the main locus of the JNIMS (Porompat, Imphal) buildings, squatted across the Pong Lambi. I had not noticed it in my two other visits to the hospital earlier this year—one in mid-March and the other a bit earlier.
Twenty-one years ago in early 1996, when I, as a young boy, came first to the hospital (it was called the JN Hospital—Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital—until it was raised to the status of a medical science institute a few years ago and renamed the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS)) to attend to my maternal grandfather who was getting intensive care in a separate room at a private ward, the road had quite a busy traffic flow because of Mahindra Jeep commuters, besides others, especially between the MG Memorial Hall (Imphal West) and Sangomsang (Imphal East) long before the cheaper if irritatingly-too-noisy means of transports—the first and second generations of three-wheelers—became popular in these parts of the state, Manipur. Honestly, irrespective of their undeniable socio-economic and historical importance to the country, I hate auto-rickshaws for their inconsiderate noise and terribly ugly looks and color. When grandfather was sleeping and I had an hour or so to myself, I walked far south-east along the road to see the vacant fields and wetlands edging away far into the distance on both sides at most points of the road that tapered apparently into the faraway greenery of the Nongmaijing Hill. The air was cold and fresh, and being there instilled a liberating feeling in me.
When I saw it in my recent visit, the part of the Pong Lambi before the JNIMS was more like a seldom-swept, asphalted backyard parking lot of some affluent minister with visitors from all over the country—the road brown in the July heat looked old and to have stopped losing aggregate and ageing; the dust that had gathered in the dips in the rough surface texture had turned into dry mud and the layer of new dust seemed to have been there not disturbed enough to drift in the air to change place, and the uniformly brown asphalt surface bore almost no sign of darkening by tires visible on roads in regular use. No new signs of wear and tear. It was not difficult for any visitor driving for the hospital along this part of the road to sense that the vehicles coming from the opposite direction started not long before—the vehicles felt to have just swerved and not all vehicles in the middle of a long drive would not come at the same slow speed which characterized almost all of those vehicles I saw there. My suspicion about something possibly having happened there to the once familiar place was later confirmed by the cul-de-sac the jutting, unfinished building had made of the road.
I had no personal feelings associated with the place but seeing the building inconsiderately squatting there cutting off the road quite apparently social instinctively shocked me. What immediately flashed in my mind the moment I saw the obstruction (or objectively speaking, the erection of huge physical structure across the road) was the Berlin Wall. Later, when I had found out the name of the road was Pong Lambi, another wholly different thing struck my mind, triggered by the word Pong, a term (it is perhaps a chance sound similarity) the Manipuri’s knew the Burmese by, without actually knowing the status of the road’s historical association with the Meitei-Burmese trade relations before the Anglo-Manipuri war of 1891.
The change in the physical structure of the place due to the protrusion, something like an unnatural outgrowth of the earth right across the road, nudged my mind to have a different attitude toward the place and to physically behave differently to it than I would have twenty-one years ago or any time without that structure. Later I walked and casually surveyed the place and discovered that the addition of that building in that particular way in the physical environment of the place had nudged the people there also to behave in a certain way that would not have been the case in the absence of the building across the road. The way the built environment emerged ensuing from this odd building’s stopping the traffic rendering redundant the rest of the road south-east of the building (red-circled in the picture) is the physical proof of how people’s settling behavior has been influenced by this building on its south-east. Due to encroachment by human settlement (the legality of which is beyond the purview of the task at hand), the road on the south-east of the building has shrunk into an alley in stark contrast to the width and health of the part of the road on the opposite side of the building. Irrespective of the legal status of the JNIMS claim over the piece of land across the road (yes, the government is the owner of the land and for larger public causes such as the JNIMS, it can make adjustment reshuffling to the patterns of settlement at least of limited areas), nobody would have dared to do anything that would lead to the shrinking of a road in full use. Later on, while researching for this series, I came to know that the part of the Pong Lambi before the JNIMS has now been renamed JNIMS Road.
The movement of people east of the new JNIMS building in question has changed, the settlers closer to the hospital, in the absence of a artery, taking to the small alleys leading to the Porompat DC road while the people of further-away places such as Sangomsang having to take the Khongnang Makhong Lambi on the Iril river and then the Porompat DC road. This shift in movement is quite phenomenal.
Our concern in this series is not to judge the merits and demerits of the physical environment but to study the psychological influences of the physical environment including built structures on how humans behave.
I had observed the interesting scene from the upstairs for over ten minutes (I would have had no idea about it had the security guy—after I had already taken a couple of shots—not told me it was quite invitingly odd for a person to stand at one place and keep staring like that for fifteen minutes) before figuring out what to do about that. Luxury cars on the sale show at an open showroom at the bay of the largest shopping mall in Delhi.
Down there were people of all walking speeds—some looked casually at the show as they walked and passed on by; some streamed on for cares outside of my field of vision without even caring to cast a glance at it to find business there; some lingered there with no obvious reason with the long-staring patience of a chronically unlucky angler or of a seasoned detective with nothing to detect or a weathered photographer without a camera whose business all in the wide world is to stare at people buying cars; every now and then some young boys and girls from pre-earning ages to a couple of years into working strayed excitedly for a while into the bay and posed, often pouting their lips or displaying a broad smile from ear to ear out of nowhere, in front of the cars (not very close to those otherworldly things they are not so confident to dream of) for a photograph or a selfie before they disappear in a minute or so; a few stuck around there, climbing in and out of the cars, as if in a virtual test drive at the busy bay, posing for the photographer who took photographs of whoever came behind the wheels; leggy beautiful salesgirls in body-hugging black shirts, skirts and semi-seethrough leggings were busy briskly plying about their business with glossy formalities in their hands and the young salesmen—apparently perfunctorily but immense patience—were talking with or explaining things to inquirers and those who hand the bank in their pockets while their companions where checking the cars nearby.
Now I had what to do—I set the camera: 1 sec exposure, f/16, ISO 100. To “ghost out” the movers and blur the lingerers a bit to superimpose the passage of time on the scene. I trained the camera, focused it on one of the headlights, and while the shutter button was in the midst of responding to my pressure and milliseconds before it fired the camera, the mall blacked out, but the shutter button continued and the camera obeyed.
Accidentally the result was interesting, though it was more than just a bit too dark, with the headlights looking like two pairs of monster doe-eyes glistening in a totally dark world, and the ghosts of the relatively fast movers had disappeared in the unhauntably dark shadows. I would have missed it during the blackout if I had not set the exposure down that long, and yes, luckily the aperture of that much high value. I decided that I could compensate for the underexposure in post-production. Yes with some greening grains.
Here I have turned up the exposure demonstering the doe-eyes to reveal the human business going on there though still in the dark.
The fingers of time—
They press me out of life.
The light from the stars—from ancient miles—
And the present glitter in my eyes—
They meet in a kiss—
Sucking the breath out of me—life.
I run away from time
From bodies of time creeping around,
and here in the dark
I struggle to plug every hole
with time-tight tissues
I have torn away from my heart
to keep myself warm
and untouched by decay
until I stop my breath.
This black cave, the only space
carved out in the whole rock-solid world.
A black stone womb. Cold.
A single impossible hole. Blinding bright.
Time. Endless. It flows in.
Licking tongues of smoke in a shaft of light
straight as a freight train in full speed
into the jaws of the darkness.
Spiraling. The hooks of an arrow.
Never ending. It flows in. Time flows in
like from an oxygen tank. Keeping me alive.
Giving me time in this black stone womb.
Time stretched thin out to eternity.
To feel every single bite of pain
every single tear in the tissue
in the world where nothing else exists.
Nothing else. Nothing. Just live.
An immortal. A god in torment.