The Photo That Taught Me a Life Lesson

The board read Talk about the Himalayas by Swami…with photographs.

It was one of the weekly events that took place at the Club, and I had attended quite a few. Sadly, many of the enticing subjects had been presented by boring speakers. It had made me wary of letting myself be trapped into a closeted space where any hasty exit could be seen by the speaker, and would not miss being noticed by the others in the audience. Not wishing to be counted among the rude, I had become quite choosy.

A lecture by a Swami seemed anything but enticing. I was in my late twenties, and swamijis and their involvement with meditation and isolation were not among the interests on  my radar. I decided to sit it out. My friend, who had accompanied me decided to go in and sit through. Her curiosity was of a deeper colour than mine. We had a plan to have dinner together post the lecture, so I had no alternative but to hang around. I settled myself into a comfortable chair, drew out the book that I always kept in my bag for such emergencies, and immersed myself in the pages. An hour would pass quickly enough.

It did. But when at the end of it there was no sign of the talk session ending, I started fidgeting. Perhaps the Swami had sent the entire room into a deep meditation, and entered into one himself, and they would not emerge for another hour! I was getting hungry. I decided to wait another 15 minutes and then think of a ruse to rescue my friend. I could only hope she was seated somewhere close enough to the door.

A very slow fifteen minutes later, I cautiously opened the door and entered a room that was darkened. The only light available was focused on the screen, which was blank at the moment. The outline of the Swami, seated on the stage, was visible in the half light that spilled on him from the blank screen. I squinted, hoping to spot my friend; this was the right moment to whisk her out, if I managed to locate her.

There was a click and the screen came alive. I found myself staring at a photograph of an intensely blue lake surrounded by mountains, many covered in snow. It took my breath away. The Swami’ s voice came alive too, as he explained that this was one of the many lakes that could be found among the deeper reaches of the Himalayan chain; providing fresh water to the animals and humans who might live in or pass through the area.

I was stunned by the idea of lakes in the middle of a mountain range. All the experience of past readings had only shown me mountains, as if stacked one atop another in endless lines; no thought had presented itself about the possibility of lakes. And such beauty as the slide was depicting.

I do not remember how I found an empty chair. But I do remember watching and listening transfixed as the slide show revealed one amazing photograph after another of landscapes of astounding beauty. Images of stone and rock, colour and contrast as vivid as any Nature could ever paint. As the images changed, I crested mountain slopes, gazed at peaks glowing golden in the dawn, imagined the roar of rivers in the gorges and the drip of the water from glaciers melting in the afternoon sun. It was a world beyond my imagination, and my imagination grappled with it, and struggled to make it its own.

Through our dinner, I could speak of nothing else, as I plied my friend with questions about the slides I had missed. I had after all, caught the very tail end of the presentation, and only a handful of images.

Who would imagine, I said to her, that a Swami would have the wherewithal and the ability to shoot the vistas the Himalayas offered. My friend smiled at me, holding back her criticism. One reason why she remained my friend, for I was often hasty in my prejudice and my preconceived notions of others, while her mind had swinging doors that allowed many a new thought to enter.

Suffice to say, that as this happened in the pre-Google days, I spent the next few days reading up about the show and the Swami in the papers.

Today, I look at the event as a life-changing one, as it infused in me a deep fascination for the mountains, rekindling a love I had forgotten in my years of living in the city. Since then I have read countless books on the Himalayas, and the expeditions to the many peaks that have been carried out over the years. I have in fact trekked through some of the better known trails, exploring glaciers and the origins of rivers. And found myself capturing on my phone, vistas almost as exotic and breathtaking as the ones the Swamiji had captured on his camera.

Well, the Swami was not teaching meditation as I had suspected, but he did impart a valuable lesson: that one must look beyond one’s preconceptions to know what lies beyond!

Meet the Writer: Sathya Saran

Best known for her long association with Femina, which she edited for 12 years, Sathya Saran is also the author of a diverse variety of books. The Dark Side reflects her love of the short story, while the critically acclaimed biographies, Years with Guru Dutt: Abrar Alvi’s Journey; Sun Mere Bandhu Re: The Musical World of SD Burman and Baat Niklegi toh Phir: The Life and Music of Jagjit Singh bear testimony to her love of cinema and music. 

Sathya latest book is  a biography of Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia. Currently Consulting Editor with Penguin Random House, Sathya also teaches fashion journalism at NIFT Mumbai, Kangra and Srinagar.

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