30 Years, 20 Passports: Untold Stories of Steve McCurry’s Photographic Life

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The ageless wonder

For 91-year-old Sunanda Rangappa Nayak, age is just a number. Her cheerful disposition, magnetic presence and love for life will have one and all mesmerised.

ImagePicture above:  Sunanda says “Hi.”

Charismatic, cherubic and vivacious, this sprightly ever-smiling 91-year-old lady has a presence which is angel-like. But behind the veil of cheerfulness is a woman who has fought problems aplenty all her life.

Early days

Born on 7 September 1921 in Cochin (now Kochi) to Nidodi Babayya Nayak and Sharada, Sunanda was afflicted with filaria when she was just 5. She had to discontinue her studies at TD High School in Cochin when she was just 8 years old because acute filaria made it impossible for her to study. A fall from a swing only added to her woes.

At 23, she was married to Rangappa Ambalpady Nayak of Udupi who was seven years older than her. Post-marriage, the couple stayed in Mangalore for some time before moving to Bombay (now Mumbai) in search of greener pastures.

Tough days

Misfortune struck the family soon. Rangappa Nayak had to quit his job as salesman in Popular Pharmacy, Bombay owing to failing health. Though the couple was staying in a joint family at Bombay they found it difficult to make ends meet. Sunanda took up a job in the packing department at Minal Metralise. After one and a half years, she moved to Cymose where she worked as a store-keeper and then 5 years later she quit the job to work as a compounder with a lady doctor who practised near Victoria Terminus. Unfortunately, Sunanda couldn’t work for more than 5 years with filaria again making her life miserable. “Every now and then I would get fever,” she says.

ImagePicture above: Sunanda smiles for the camera.

The US stint

In 1981, goaded by relatives Sunanda went to the US. She worked for 9 months at Maryland as a baby-sitter. In the US, she stayed with her dad’s relatives and her niece. In spite of all the problems she had faced back home in India, Sunanda missed her country and thus 11 months later she flew back to Bombay.

Husband’s death and later

Sunanda had no children. Her husband passed away in 1986.

After her husband’s death, Sunanda moved to Bangalore and for the last 27 years, the garden city has been her home. Why did she move to Bangalore? “An aunt was seriously ill and I moved here to be with her.” She loved her aunt who she says was almost like a mother to her. Sunanda and her brother had spent a great part of their childhood with this aunt who had no children of her own.

Back to work

Since her aunt’s death in 1989, Sunanda has been staying alone. She started working again at 69! First it was with a Ladies Co-operative Society for 5 years as a store-keeper, then it was at the Mysore Poultry Farm in Hebbal again as a store-keeper for another 5 years and then as a saleswoman for another 2 years. She doesn’t work now.

ImagePicture above: Sunanda in her kitchen.

She cooks all by herself

How does she run her home which I noticed is sparkling clean? “From the money I saved and from a lot of generous contributions from near and dear ones,” she says with a smile. Her endearing disposition has won many hearts. Her mobile rings now and then with callers inquiring about her health and well-being.

ImagePicture above: Her mobile rings every now and then. She has a lot of fans.

In between all the conversation, Sunanda has found time to cook a fine tea-time snack for me in spite of my protests. And she wouldn’t let me off without a cup of coffee.

I ask her if she loves cooking. “Oh not really. I took to cooking only after I moved to Bangalore.” What is her favourite dish? “Biscuit roti [a Mangalorean speciality],” she says with a twinkle in her eye.

ImagePicture above: Sunanda astride her neighbour’s scooter.

Talent with languages

Besides Konkani, which is her mother tongue, Sunanda can speak, read and write in Malayalam, Marathi, English and Hindi. She also speaks Kannada and Tamil.

ImagePicture above: Sunanda loves visiting temples. She visits a temple every day.

A day in her life

How is her day like? “I wake up at 6 am and have bath and then cook and have breakfast. I then visit a temple. Once I am back from the temple I prepare lunch and after having lunch I have a 2-hour nap from 2 to 4 pm. I do not miss out on my evening cup of coffee at 5pm. Dinner time is 10 pm and I go to sleep at sharp 11.” She adds, “I do not eat hotel food and I don’t have onion and garlic.” She has a servant do the housekeeping.

ImagePicture above: Sunanda performs puja every day.

The walls of her modest home in Rajajinagar are adorned with pictures of deities. She performs puja every day.

ImagePicture above: Sunanda has an ever-smiling countenance.

An avid traveller

I ask her about her hobbies. “I love travelling especially to holy places. I have travelled to Tirupati 34 times, the most recent visit being last year. I must have climbed the hill in Tirupati at least 9 times.” She has travelled alone on most of her trips. Her love for travelling has taken her through the length and breadth of the country. You name a place and she says she has been there – Badrinath, Kedarnath, Varanasi, and all other major tourist destinations in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. She makes it a point to have a darshan of her family deity  Lakshmi Narasimha in Mulki, South Kanara, every year. She hardly misses a family function.

ImagePicture above: Sunanda sometimes rides pillion.

Commutes by BMTC buses even today

Surprisingly, Sunanda travels around the city mostly by BMTC buses. At times, she even rides pillion on two-wheelers. When I ask her to pose for photos, she is quick to change into a beautiful silk saree and is as enthusiastic as a bubbly schoolgirl.

Sunanda had a heart attack 5 years back. How does she manage to maintain such a cheerful disposition and be so active in spite of all the difficulties in her life? She bursts into laughter and attributes it to God.

ImagePicture above: Sunanda at her gate.

Even as I leave, Sunanda has not stopped laughing. She sees me off at the gate and makes me promise that I visit her again. Here’s wishing the gritty lady many more happy years!

Rakhi makers are getting more creative!

The festive season has hit a high with a spate of festivals around the corner. Raksha Bandhan, the festival celebrating brother-sister relationship(s), is on Wednesday and like always the market is flooded with Rakhis of various designs, hues and sizes.

Rakhis are bands that sisters tie around the hands of their brothers on Raksha Bandhan day. In return, sisters get gifts and a promise that they would be cared for always.

Every year, Rakhi makers seem to be getting more and more creative. Have a look at these pictures that I clicked last year:

Rakhi adorned with Bal Hanuman theme. Little boys would love these:

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A rakhi embellished with a peacock:Image

This one has a central swastik motif:

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Colourful rakhi with stone-studded flowers:

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Aww….Krishna with mischief written all over his face:

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A rakhi with a central floral motif adorned with beads and little hearts:

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This one’s for Zoozoo fans 🙂 :

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Ganesha strums a guitar on this one:

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A bling-laden rakhi:

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Bal Hanuman at his mischievous best 🙂 :

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Krishna plays the flute:

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Which one would you take home?

15th August: India celebrates its 67th Independence Day… Congrats.

IMC - India meets Classic presents ...

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY TO ALL OUR INDIAN FRIENDS !
(The Hindustan Times on 15th August 1947 about celebrating India’s 1st Independence Day.)

India-independent-The-British-Rule-Ends

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,
Where knowledge is free,
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by domestic walls,
Where words come out from the depth of truth,
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection,
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit,
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action – Into that heaven of freedom,
my father, let my country awake

Rabindranath Tagore (Creator of India’s National Anthem)

View original post 25 more words

Kabuliwala

Last Saturday started on a memorable note. I happened to watch ‘Kabuliwala’, a yesteryears’ Hindi classic based on the story of the same name by Rabindranath Tagore. The film was screened at the National Gallery of Modern Art auditorium as part of the outreach programmes for ‘The Last Harvest’, an exhibition of paintings by Rabindranath Tagore. I was so touched by the story it drove me to tears.

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Story

The story starts in Kabul, Afghanistan. Abdur Rehman Khan (enacted by Balraj Sahni), a Pathan trader, falls into bad times. His little daughter Amina had recently fallen ill resulting in Khan, a widower, spending a huge amount of money on her treatment. He had borrowed heavily and owing to a drop in business was unable to return the money back. He decides to go to India to sell his merchandise and return to his homeland after clearing his debts. Bidding farewell to his aged mother and little daughter is painful.

While the little one is asleep he manages to get her palm impressions on a piece of paper that he would carry to India. He leaves early in the morning before she wakes up.

Khan arrives at Calcutta along with a group of fellow Afghan traders. He peddles his ware (dry fruits and shawls) across the streets of Calcutta. The Afghan traders are called ‘Kabuliwalas’ in the Bengal capital. For some reason, Kabuliwalas are a feared lot in the city especially among children and mothers of young children. Stories of Kabuliwalas kidnapping young children in their huge bags abound in the city. If a child refuses to eat, his mother scares him into eating by telling him that the Kabuliwala will put him in his sack if does not obey.

Abdur Rehman Khan is big and burly like many Kabuliwalas. The sight of him sends children scurrying to their homes. Once when he approaches a group of children they all take to their heels except one little girl. She is Mini, daughter of a writer (enacted by Sajjan), very much the same age as his daughter Amina. He goes down on his knees and puts his arms over her shoulders. She smiles and runs saying, “Kabuliwala”. She tells her mother (enacted by Usha Kiran) about a big Kabuliwala with a big bag whom she has just seen outside their home. Her mother warns her that the next time he would put her in his bag and take her away.

Unlike his wife, Mini’s father has no issues with Kabuliwalas. The next time Khan comes near their home, Mini shouts out “Kabuliwala” and hides. Khan enters their compound but does not see Mini. Hearing his voice, Mini’s dad comes to check what he wants. Khan tells him that his little girl has just called out to him. Mini’s dad finds Mini and gets her near the Kabuliwala. Khan offers her some dry fruits but refuses to take money. Mini’s dad coerces him to take it. After this meeting Mini does not fear Khan and Kabuliwalas. She chats with the Kabuliwala every day much to the consternation of her mother. Her father is unperturbed and he even invites the Kabuliwala inside his home and asks him about Afghanistan.

When stories of kidnappings surface, Mini’s mom gets her silver anklets so that she can trace her whereabouts through the jingles. But Mini knows how to dodge her mother. One day Mini invites Kabuliwala home for her birthday which is the next day even as her mother watches the two conversing from afar. She chides her husband. As the house will be thronged by visitors and children, Mini’s father calls out to Abdur Rehman Khan and asks him to keep away from the house for a few days. Khan agrees only to surface in the house on Mini’s birthday. He tries to keep a gift for Mini in the house without attracting anyone’s attention. Mini’s father notices him and gets annoyed. Khan slips the gift in Mini’s father’s hand and scoots. Mini’s father does not tell this to Mini.

After the birthday celebrations get over Mini waits for the Kabuliwala to offer him sweets that she had specially kept aside for him. It is a rainy day. She gets impatient and leaves the house to find him and hand over the sweets. In the process she is away for a long time. Her parents realise her absence and her father and servant leave home to find her. In the meanwhile Abdur Rehman Khan comes to know of Mini’s absence and he also sets out to find her. It is he who finds her after passersby notice a child sleeping near a pavilion. He takes her in his arm, she offers him the sweets. It is then that the servant notices them. Misled by him that Kabuliwala is a kidnapper, people around start thrashing Khan. Mini’s father arrives in the nick of time and learns from Mini about what had happened. Mini’s father saves the Kabuliwala from further attack.

When Mini falls very sick, the Kabuliwala refuses to move away from the gate till she recuperates. All the time he offers prayers to the almighty. Mini’s father is touched by his gesture.

One day after he has finished with a day’s work Khan returns to his dwelling to find his fellow countrymen sing about his homeland. Abdul Rehman Khan becomes emotional and pines for his daughter. He has already cleared all his debts. He decides to collect his dues from all those who had borrowed from him and then return to Afghanistan.

What could have been his last few days in Calcutta become a nightmare. A man who had bought a shawl from him on credit refuses to acknowledge the same. He instead swears at Khan and manhandles him. Enraged, Khan stabs him to death. The police take him away. On the way to the police station, Mini and her father notice Khan being taken away. Khan falls on his knees and speaks to Mini and weeps not telling her where he is being taken away.

The best efforts of his Afghan fellow traders and an expert lawyer fail to get Khan relief from imprisonment. The judge as a gesture of Khan’s honesty in accepting to having committed the murder waives the death sentence and instead grants him 10 years rigorous imprisonment.

After 10 years Khan is released. He just can’t wait to talk to Mini. On the way he buys bangles for her and goes to her house. Mini’s marriage preparations are underway. Her dad notices Khan and is happily surprised. Khan asks for Mini to which her dad says that he cannot meet her. Khan then gives him the bangles and asks him to give them to her. Touched by Khan’s show of affection, Mini’s father calls out for Mini. Mini arrives in her wedding finery. Not realising that his Mini is now a grown-up girl all set to be married Khan looks around for the little girl whom he last saw 10 years back. Her father asks Khan to have a look at the girl who is now standing in front of him. It is then that Khan realises that Mini is no longer the little kid he once knew. She cannot even recognize him. An inconsolable Khan then remembers his daughter Amina and wonders if she would recognize him.

Filled with emotion Mini’s father asks Khan to return back to Afghanistan  and re-unite with his daughter. On realising that Khan has no money to afford the return back home, Mini’s father decides to hand over the money he had saved for the marriage music band and lighting to Khan. Though Khan refuses, Mini’s father asks him to take it as a gift from one father to another. Mini gives one of her bangles as a gift for Amina. Khan finally accepts the money and the bangle and bids a tearful goodbye to Mini and her father.

Balraj Sahni’s portrayal of the Kabuliwala is simply superb. His Kabuli diction and emotions at the end of the film are priceless. Sonu is adorable as Mini. Sajjan plays the perfect dad.

Songs

The soulful songs touch a chord with one and all. Click on and listen to these tracks:

This song sung by Hemant Kumar has very meaninful lyrics. At the end of the song Abdur Rehman Khan asks the singer what the song means. The man says that though night and day are so different as dusk falls we hardly see any difference between them similarly whatever the difference between human beings be it caste, creed or colour the feeling of love exists in all of them and cannot be distinguished.

The song sung by Manna Dey which makes Khan pine for his daughter and return to his homeland.

The movie is on YouTube. Do watch it!