Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Magical Hands

His hands are gifted. He knows magic. Creating immaculate shapes out of plain mud has been a gift he inherited in legacy. 

 His name is Zaffar and he resides in Zangam, a rural village of Kashmir, with his family of ten and a kucha one room house. Every morning, he walks twenty miles to fetch what he calls the finest and rarest alluvial soil in the mountainous region, for which he needs to plough, carry and till until they are enough to make around 20 utensils a day. As I indulge in a conversation with him - with the help of a local interpreter who translated his Kashmiri into Urdu to me, his four sons: Zeeshan, Rizwan, Zaqeer and Misal run and surround us. I smile at them and ask them whether they go to school. Zaffar hesitates to answer. 

Zeeshan, the oldest one among them being around 12, is the only one who could converse in Urdu and he tells me that he used to go to school till 4th grade, where he learnt little bit of Urdu. Ever since the birth of his fifth and sixth brothers, who are around 2 and 1 respectively, he has not been going to school as his father needs his help to carry extra soil. I am taken aback. Zaffar, who couldn't make most of the Urdu that his bright young son spoke to me, asks my interpreter about what I inquired. I quickly change the topic by asking him how many pots, utensils and hukka pots he sells on a daily basis. He makes around 30 in total, out of which 4-5 get broken when they are taken into furnace and he sells them at around 10 rupees each.

I am saddened. A gifted artisan, whose art is unparalleled and whose skills could earn him fame at the world level, is making just around 200 rupees a day, for earning that he and his son have to walk for over ten miles daily, have to find and till unclaimed lands in inaccessible tract and carry around twenty kilos of soil on their backs; for which his son had to leave his school; with which he has to feed his family of ten and few months down the line, survive the biting cold of Kashmir.

Having nothing more left to say or hear, I begin to leave his house, asking Zeeshan one last question: 'do you want to go to school?' I inwardly pray to hear a yes and await his reply.

He says, 'Yes, even my father wants me to go to school. But, he needs help as well and I'm the elder son.'

I am touched by his maturity. I, being a struggling artist myself, couldn't empathize more. I made a promise to them that the next time I return, I would stay in their village for three months and teach them, and meanwhile, I'll support their education financially as much as I can, with the help of my willing friends and help Zaffar market his art in cities.

They are waiting to hear from me. I'm waiting to hear from you. Please help me raise money for rural artisans - people who are gifted but owing to their lack of resources, are not able to monetize their gift.

P.S. In case you want to help Zaffar, you can contribute in my fundraising campaign at Milaap (www.milaap.org/harsh). Having met over fifty such artisans during my ongoing tour into the roots of India, I urge you to lend your helping hand.

Empower Zaffar and thousands others by GIVING A LOAN at: www.milaap.org/harsh

Monday, June 25, 2012

Why you should NOT keep your camera out while travelling?

I will start this article with a little bit of self-marketing. I will tell you how once I was a passionate photographer and how when I became every photographer's dream : a professional traveler, I almost stopped using my camera. 

 It all started when I went to Glasgow. I had a Kodak C700 camera, the most basic camera back then and I was awed by Scotland's unparalleled beauty. I developed the keen sense of vision and snapped whatever I saw in its entirety. I also started a photoblog called Rods and Cones(www.harshsnehanshu.info). My father gifted me an SLR and I started taking photography seriously, for the next two years. 

This year, the turn of events in my life brought me closer to my dream - of travelling across India solo and I became a professional traveler. Going by the photographer's point of view, this was the best opportunity for the photographer within me to evolve and practice, but somehow, the entire idea of travelling suppressed my hobby, something about which I'm happy more than sad. 

The reason why I got a bit detached with photography is because it stops you from travelling to your fullest. Travelling is an art: art that requires you to open, exercise and unwind all your five senses to your surroundings, to the sounds around, to the sensations around, to the smell of the place, to the taste of the delicacies and lastly, the sight of scenic beauty. Photography is a great exercise for mind and sight, but it numbs the other senses to such an extent that you stop living and start just seeing: which is just one-fifth of the travelling experience. 

I don't recommend you to not carry your camera, but I strongly recommend you to keep it in your camera bag, and take it out only when you have lived through the first few moments of experiencing something new and beautiful. Travelling is an art, don't let the artist in you die by caring about just one color: experience the entire spectrum instead.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

हर्ष की तलाश

आज जब फेसबुक में उन्हें उनके नए हमराही के साथ मुस्कुराते देखा
तो अन्दर से एक आग सी खौल उठी, लपट दर लपट खुद को जलाती हुई

 आग जब ज़हन को जला बैठी तो एहसास हुआ कि अभी भी वो बाकी हैं कहीं
एक अजब सा सन्नाटा अन्दर से बोल उठा, कहने लगा कि मैं निकम्मा हूँ

मैं लड़ा, खुद को निकम्मा नहीं साबित करने में निकम्मेपन की हदें पार कर बैठा
सन्नाटा हार कर वापस ज़हन के उस पार जा बैठ गया, और इधर मैं और उनकी तस्वीर

मैंने उनकी आखों में झाँका, बहुत कोशिश की उनकी मुस्कान को झूठी साबित करने की
लेकिन नाकाम, बेइंतेहा खुशी मानो गरम तेल की बूंदों की तरह उनके चेहरे से मेरी ओर बरस रही

मैंने उनके हमराही से नज़र मिलायी, उनकी मुस्कान मुझे नीचा दिखा रही थीं
और फिर, पता नहीं क्यूँ, मैं मुस्कुराया, बेझिझक, बेफ़िक्र, और उनके हमराही शर्मा बैठे

न वो समझ पाई मेरी खुशी का कारण, न उनके हमराही, पर मेरी समझ ने कहा -
उन्हें किसी की ज़रूरत थी खुश रहने के लिए, लेकिन मैं - हर्ष ही हर्ष