The thing is, I think I can come up with a whole world of ideas when writing about myself: my life, my dreams, my joys and my sorrows. But when I actually sit down and try to put it to paper, nothing ever really shows up. It boggles me. It really does. But then I guess I don’t really have a lot of things to talk about. I mean, at the end of the day, I’m still just a twenty-year-old university-attending kid (not so much nowadays, obviously). I’m another one of those boys who has been thrust into studying subjects he doesn’t want to; reading books he doesn’t enjoy. It’s a pretty sad life, if I may say so. As of this moment, I don’t really know what I want to do. My parents are pretty confused too. They aren’t sure how to react. You see, most children from my country – myself included – have been brought up to think in a particular manner about certain things. Exploring anything outside that realm is not really encouraged.
I guess what they say is true: “You’re lost, boy.” Indeed, I am.
But I find that street photography challenges that way of thought. It makes me see things in new ways and it allows me to explore a world I was previously unaware of. When I walk through the busy and crowded streets of my city with a camera slung over my shoulders, I sense a freedom that I haven’t felt before. In many ways, it’s an experience that is extremely enriching and cathartic. I prefer to take pictures of strangers I come across in the streets, who sometimes mirror my own feelings and emotions. Photography, in that way, helps me answer difficult questions about myself.
The films help too. You see, these days, I find myself watching an insane amount of films every single day. And not just the big-budget American blockbusters – in fact, I rarely watch Hollywood. Instead, I watch just about anything else I can possibly lay my hands on: Taiwanese films, Iranian films, John Woo action flicks, German Expressionism; you name it and I’ve probably already seen it. It was during this fine endeavor that I first came across Wong Kar-Wai’s “Chungking Express.” The film was alright. It was pretty dope. But what really struck my imagination (crucially) was this one protagonist from the movie: Faye.
To tell you the truth, I fell head-over-heels for this girl, Faye. She’s this sweet and bubbly twenty-ish waitress in a late-night fast-food centre, and she’s also ridiculously good at her job – cleaning the place and serving food. She’s very attractive and most importantly, she keeps listening to The Mamas And The Papas’ “California Dreaming” all the time on a loudspeaker. And when I say, “all the time”, it is indeed ALL THE TIME. She says it “keeps her from thinking so much.” She’s right, of course. Trick your mind; that’s the ticket. Interestingly, it also reveals one of the more important aspects about her: her dream. No prizes for guessing. Yes, the dream is to visit California. Oh, by the way, she’s from Hong Kong.
Now if I think about it clearly, I think the reason why I like Faye so much is probably due to the fact that she’s so much like me. I mean, looks aside – I’m ugly, she’s pretty – I found many similarities between the two of us. Of course, the main reason is that we share the same discontentment for our surroundings. It’s not that the things around me are so terrible, it’s not that bad honestly. But to borrow a quote from Faye in the film, “I had to know whether it’s sunny or rainy in California.” I too have to know if things get any better from this absolute nadir of a life I find myself in. She wanted to go to California. I want to go to Hong Kong. That’s my dream.
This is something my parents don’t understand. They must think I’m good-for-nothing at this point – spending all my time in the bed, laptop open, watching films, reading, playing video games. I wouldn’t blame them for thinking it. I’d almost agree. But the situation is frustrating. They pressured me into studying engineering, I clearly stated it wasn’t for me, and yet here we are, and I feel like placing the blame on them.
On top of that, I’m twenty now, old enough to stand up to them, to make my own decisions about my own life. Why should I listen to what others think of me? Isn’t personal happiness and satisfaction of utmost importance? Should conformity trump fulfillment for the sake of comfort? I don’t think so and I don’t want others to dictate my life. I’m ready to grow out of my disillusionment and depression, I’m ready to live by the saying: “Life is too short to be doing something you don’t enjoy.” And yet…
I can’t say I know just what I want to do. Sometimes, I’m not even sure of my feelings towards photography. On the one hand, I’m forever-fascinated with the camera and the picture-making process. It satisfies me internally and makes me happy. But then again, I’m perennially on the search for this one picture, a single image in my head which only I can see, but which I cannot describe with words. It’s something that I look for in every picture of mine. That, in turn, tires and saddens me sometimes. So, it’s a paradox.
Here’s what I do know: I want to enjoy life. I want to visit Hong Kong. I want to find enjoyment in the little moments. I want to live a life of my choosing and I want to be free, happy, content. I want fulfillment. Maybe in a couple of years, when I finish this silly degree, my dream will come true. Will photography play a part in that? Perhaps. Another thing I know is that photography defines me in a unique way and provides genuine meaning to my life. If I could just walk the roads of life with a camera in my hands, I’d feel fulfilled.
Note: All the pictures were taken in my hometown of Calcutta, India, before and during the course of the global lockdown.