Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

80. Without Interpretation

Once while traveling in Satpuda region, I saw a man worshiping some stone God. It was just 7.00 in the morning. As I am interested in studying history and culture of various tribes, I thought of taking a photograph of that tribal man. My colleague had a new digital camera and he was enthusiastically ready to test his photography skills. He immediately went into a photographer mode. I asked him to wait for couple of minutes.

As a believer in people’s privacy and their right to share information, I thought it was necessary to take permission of that man before taking photograph. My colleague laughed at it. He said, “Why would the man object to being photographed?” But I insisted. So, my colleague asked the man whether he would mind being photographed. Generally when asked this question, villagers do not object. But this man said, “No, please, do not take my photograph”.

I felt little triumphant that I was sensitive to the rights of tribal people. It was a pleasant surprise to meet a poor tribal man, courageous enough to say emphatic ‘no’ to urban people. Rural-urban, educated-uneducated etcetera still define power positions in rural India.

I was curious about his answer. The man was neither too young nor too old. He was alone. For few minutes we silently watched his worship. He continued his worship without paying much attention to us. I took opportunity of this silence and I asked him various questions - about what God it was, why it was being worshiped, why was he alone, where was his home etc. The man seemed eager to talk to us. He explained to me that in the memory of the dead, each family erects stone images at the outskirt of the village. Once in a year, in a particular period the family worships those ancestors.

The worship ritual seemed to be simple and a sort of routine matter for the man. He had some flowers, few herbs, a chicken (of course dead), and some liquid in a pot and few lines to utter. Within few minutes, the worship was over. The man inquired about us – who we were, from where we came, why and so on. We answered all those questions.

I was trying to analyze the response of this man and wanted to understand his perceptions and reasons for not allowing us to take his photograph. I was expecting some deeper religious concepts, some type of taboo, some ban on giving information to outsiders, and some sort of belief about protecting the tradition. Finally I asked him “Why you did not want us to take your photograph while worshiping? Was there any specific reason?”

Now it was the turn of that tribal man to be puzzled. He looked at me, smiled and just said, “Oh! Sister, I have nothing against you and there is no special reason. My clothes are not good enough for a photograph, they are dirty and torn, and that is why I did not want you to take my photograph.”

Looking at my reaction he spontaneously consoled me, “Next time if you inform me in advance, I will wear best of my clothes, I will even bring whole of my family here and then you can take any number of my photographs during the worship.”

I was completely taken aback!

Everything in life is not so complicated and not so deeply rooted as it appears to be. Life is simple, natural, innocent, and instinctive. Then why invite misery by interpreting it? Our interpretations brings in our choices, our biases, our miseries and out perspective into it.

To see things (persons, events, happening,) as they happen is an art. It might be good, bad or ugly, but why take its burden on ourselves? To ‘take life as it is’ is difficult but not impossible.

That morning, the man taught me the need to learn the art of living without interpretation! Art of taking life as it comes to you….


  1. Wonderful post !

    Interpretations are to oneself ! To learn to be devoid of them, or just being conscious of the fact that it is 'my interpretation of reality' and reality itself could be something else....that makes a huge difference. Brings about a sense of balance i guess !

    Lovely read. As usual !

  2. Thats why we have a right brain and a left brain(and NOT one big fissured mass.....)

    Our education teaches us (hopefully) to be analytical and orderly, but does not emphasize the right brain instinctive aspect enough. The older , marginally educated simple rural folk often live in a better mental balance....

    Like Kavi mentioned, it about a sense of balance ...

    Enjoyed this post !

  3. being an anthropologist I can connect to this refreshing post in a more rational sense. we often carry the baggage of prejudices wherever we go . One of the few good posts I have read recently. Interpretations, yes, are quite relative and the subjective interpretation always dominates the objective interpretation. Am I interpretating the topic with a tilt? Anyway, I loved it to the core. I will recommend it my readers. It is more comprehensive than it appears. Great job.

  4. Interesting Custom,, yes and I have found that people love being photographed. They like being asked first and shown the photograph afterwards....

  5. Sense of balance! You are right there Kavi!

    Ugich Konitari, the 'education' at least should teach us to respect this instinctive-ness!

    Mahesh, not to interpret is difficult.. our trained mind starts interpreting immediately.. but once we learn it, it is fun :)

    Satyask, yes, generally people like to be photographed .. but NOT ALL.. for VARIOUS reasons!

  6. i am sorry this is off-topic:

    Hello Aativas

    Welcome to my blog.

    I was referring to state sponsored false propaganda in my post.

    You are absolutely right when u said:-
    ""This can happen to any FANATIC.. no matter what is his/her religion or country""

    But in Pakistan there is a
    TVMedia-mullah-military policy of false propaganda where they teach non-senses like Pak existed 5000 years ago!!etc. Something we need to avoid in our country.

    Cheers and thanks for visiting.

  7. absolutely!
    during my travels, i encountered a man bathing his buffalo. i asked him whether i could take a picture. he said, 'you can take my photo but not my buffalo's' i asked him the reason. he said 'why do you want buffalo's photo?'! so i told him that i wanted to take a photo of the buffalo being bathed. he laughed and said 'no' and turned away bringing to an end the conversation!

  8. Lovely post! I agree- we are so often unnecessarily analytical.

    'the art of living without interpretation'- such a nice way of putting it!

  9. Lovely post. Loved it. Interpretations depend on frame of mind.

  10. Indian Pundit, thanks for your visit and yes, state sponsored fanaticism is matter of concern.

    magiceye, that is an interesting experience :)

    manju and The Virgin Author, welcome to Times Change. Thanks for your appreciation.


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