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A gift for our troubled times

There is one particular form of ‘goodness’ I want to draw your attention to. It’s a wonderful book that was recently gifted to me and which I cannot stop looking at. Karan Thapar writes.

columns Updated: Oct 13, 2013 01:04 IST

Dussehra celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Sadly, as we approach 2014, I’m not confident that will happen next year. At the moment I can only hope for the best.

Today, however, there is one particular form of ‘goodness’ I want to draw your attention to. It’s a wonderful book that was recently gifted to me and which I cannot stop looking at. Each time I turn its pages I’m captivated by something new. Or I return to what I have seen previously, irresistibly drawn by its power and beauty. Also, it might be the tonic we need.

It’s a book of photographs the likes of which I have never seen before. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. These are priceless.

Called Rajasthan Under the Desert Sky, it’s a collection of photographs by Rajesh Bedi. A project that took five years of his life, many of the photographs are astonishing views taken from cameras mounted on a kite or even a hot air balloon.

The most striking picture is on the back cover. It’s of a Bishnoi woman suckling a young chinkara gazelle on her left breast whilst a child, presumably her daughter, is feeding on the right one. She’s mother to both her babies. Nothing could capture more vividly and undeniably the Bishnois’ love of animals and their powerful commitment to conservation.

However, it’s Rajesh Bedi’s desert landscapes I find haunting. They are dramatic, sweeping, and though the vista they depict is harsh and brown, undeniably beautiful.

My favourite is of a withered tree, set against an azure sky, with village women balancing pots of water on their heads in the foreground. It has a Daliesque quality. It seems surrealistic but, of course, it’s only too real.

I can’t claim to know Rajasthan intimately but its people, colours, forts, animals and sheer grandeur is a photographer’s delight. Every single photograph in this collection is proof of that.

Now there is no dearth of picture books of Rajasthan. There are countless collections of photographs of its exotic maharajas and their christmas-cake palaces. Of its forts, fairs and festivals. What makes this collection unique is its focus on Rajasthan’s stark, severe but serene landscape and its resilient, actually undaunted, people.

Gillian Wright’s wise introduction attempts to explain Rajasthan’s unique relationship with the desert. By incorporating it into their lives, its people have learnt to overcome the challenge but also become part of its greatness and splendour. If words can explain the magic of the accompanying photographs this is perhaps the closest one could get.

This is why these photographs are a balm for the creeping concern I feel. They provide an illustration of how our country can triumph over adversity by simply not giving in. They suggest a way out of the despondency I fear will increase as the year ends.

One picture in particular does that for me. It’s a photograph of a shepherd in the desert ensuring his lamb can drink when water is scarce. It shows him transferring a mouthful of water direct from his own mouth to that of the lamb. I see it as an allegory for the careful striving that could dispel the looming darkness ahead.

Meanwhile, Diwali is three weeks away. If you’re looking for a gift that would be special, different and memorable this collection of Rajesh Bedi’s photographs might be the perfect choice. I’ve spent hours absorbed by its images. So will the lucky people you gift this to.

Views expressed by the author are personal