Women in India

“यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवताः ।
यत्रैतास्तु न पूज्यन्ते सर्वास्तत्राफलाः क्रियाः ॥”
– मनुस्मृति

“The divine are extremely happy where women are respected; where they are not, all actions are fruitless.” – Manusmriti

All the women who are reading this, I beg for your forgiveness. I hope this International Women’s Day brings about a change, not just in words, but in actions too.

It was on the morning of 17th December 2012, I trembled as I read the gory details of what was done to Nirbhaya the previous night. How could men do those things to a woman? Were they men, after all? And weren’t they born to women? And Aruna Shanbaug, ever heard of her? Before dying, she spent forty three years in a vegetative state in Bombay hospital. Her only fault was she was alone in the basement of the hospital where she used to work as a junior nurse.

In India, five women get raped every hour, seven get assaulted every ten minutes. From worshiping the feminine form as the source of creation to committing unfathomable crimes against her, we as a society have deteriorated a long way. From revered Goddesses to not even as equals and objects of pleasure, how did this fall happen? This calls for some soul-searching as a civilization.

In 9,000BC, some eleven thousand years ago, emerge the first evidences of humans doing agriculture for the first time in the Indian subcontinent. Till then, humans had been hunter-gatherers, leading a primarily nomadic lifestyle. They would seasonally move up and down the subcontinent in search of food. Agriculture was a serious affair, the fields needed to be tended to, and the crops needed to be watered. And in this transitory phase, just when they were starting to hone their skills in agriculture, the humans of the subcontinent faced a new challenge. How to be hunter-gatherers and farmers at the same time?

Because the women were not as strongly built as their male counterparts, given their existence by nature was for a different purpose, the answer was obvious. The women stayed back and started to tend to the agricultural fields, while the men ventured out, at first to hunt/gather, and later in history to explore and conquer. There was the foundation of our civilization as a matriarchal one. And it functioned with women at the center, everything else revolving around them. Given the large role women played at that time in procreation and keeping the household sorted, they began to be revered as Goddesses. Progressively, women took over all the intellectual jobs/vocations, those which weren’t physically as demanding and did not include much travelling, and allowed them to act as the foundation of a household.

The early invaders of this civilization did not have much success, not because of the lack of their military prowess, but because the foundation of this civilization, its smallest unit, the household remained intact, thanks to the above design. Over the period, they changed their tactics and went after the very foundation itself. When the women were attacked, the men didn’t have a choice but to protect them, and hence they kept them inside the houses. After a few generations, the act of protection became “traditions”, and then followed the ill-practices of purdah and sati. As time passed women lost their rightful place in our societies, a seat above rest of us all, earned by them for being creators themselves.

We as a civilization  failed them, and continue to do so even today!

First of all, women don’t need equal rights as men. Because, equal right would be equal in true sense if men too are capable doing things that women do, including managing a household, taking care of everyone’s needs and child birth. As a man myself, I am incapable. So, when feminists shout for equal rights, I cringe and rightly so!

Secondly, women were created better than men, and any objectification or anything considered demeaning in the household and outside needs to be dealt with sternly. The mindset that women as someone inferior needs to be shunned.

And lastly, just let her be. Stop ogling!

Remember, we can’t be the Vishwaguru if we keep ill-treating the source of creation itself.

A small girl smiling for the camera on the hanging bridge across the Bhagirathi river, in Nautela, Uttarakhand.

In frame: A small girl smiling for the camera. Her smile could qualify for borderline grinning. I was busy taking photographs on the hanging bridge across the Bhagirathi river, in Nautela, Uttarakhand when I saw her and her tiny tot friends crossing. They were really fascinated by the camera in my hand.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.


The Last Gajapati

ईन्द्रद्युम्नो महाराजो जगन्नाथार्चकः पुर,
जातः प्रतापरुद्रः सन् सम ईन्द्रेण शो धून।

King Indradyumna, who previously worshiped Lord Jagannath and built His temple in Puri, was born as Prataprudra, with the same opulences as Indra himself. (Gauro Ganoddesha Dipika)

When the reigns of Gajapati kingdom were handed over to Gajapati Prataprudra Deva, borders of Kalinga extended from river Ganga in Bengal in the north to Kaveri in the south and bordered the Bahamani in the west. His title read Gaudeshwara – Lord of Gaudadesh (present day Bengal), Nava Koti – King of nine crore subjects, Karnata Kalabargeshwara – Lord of Karnataka and Gulbarga (Bahamanis ruled from Gulbarga, or Kalaburgi as it is known today). Undoubtedly the most illustrious King of Kalinga, he was the longest serving monarch of the Gajapati kingdom and ruled for forty-three years (1497-1540 AD), and he was also the last.  In 16th century AD the Indian subcontinent was going through unprecedented churning and the Gajapati empire of Kalinga was not untouched.

The last King to have ruled when Kalinga at its greatest extent also happened to rule during the time when Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was spreading the message of Bhakti (devotion) through out the Indian subcontinent. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu himself. Such was his appeal among everyone that once when the fierce armies of Gajapati Prataprudra Deva and that of the Sultan of Bengal were fighting a battle with each other, He and His devotees crossed unharmed right across the battleground into Kalinga.

Gajapati Prataprudra Deva was a devout Vaishnava. Prataprudra Deva had always wished to meet Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, but was denied audience, because Mahaprabhu was an ascetic, and having renounced material life He did not want to have anything to do with women and Kings. Till the time He had only heard that Prataprudra Deva led a very simple life, unlike that of any other King, having utmost respect for scholars and learned men. To test Prataprudra Deva further, He even likened Prataprudra Deva to a black snake obsessed with power. The King was disheartened and even went to the extent of abdicating the throne, so that he would be able to meet with Mahaprabhu. Prataprudra Deva was advised against it.

The King of Kalinga is not the King, but merely a servitor of Lord Jagannath, and rules the land in His name and only as His representative. Lord Jagannath is the true King. As a normal servitor, the King with a broom in his hands, sweeps the three chariots of the siblings – Lord Jagannath, Goddess Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra, during the annual Rathyatra festival, during which they embark on their annual visit to their aunt. And this has been the practice from millenia.

And it was during Rathyatra, that Mahaprabhu saw Prataprudra Deva sweeping the chariot like a common man. Impressed with Prataprudra Deva’s humility and piety, Mahaprabhu granted him a special power through which he could see miracle that was about to unfold. Prataprudra Deva saw there were seven groups of devotees dancing in front of the chariots, and each of the groups had Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu dancing with them. He was there with all seven groups, at the same time. Seeing the miracle Prataprudra Deva’s beliefs became stronger about Mahaprabhu being an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and hence Lord Jagannath himself.

Devotees of Lord Jagannath praying when he appears on his chariot, during Rathyatra.

In the meantime, Prataprudra Deva saw that Mahaprabhu took a break from dancing and went to a nearby garden. He followed Him, changed his clothes from that of a King to that of a commoner, and started recited verses from Mahaprabhu’s favorite chapter from the Bhagavatam. Moved by the way the King recited the verses, Mahaprabhu told him, “I have nothing material with me to give you, however I can embrace you.” And then He embraced the King.

It is believed that the mythical King Indradyumna had built the Jagannath temple in Satyayug. Gundicha Devi, the aunt to whose place Lord Jagannath travels every year during Rathyatra was the queen of King Indradyumna. As events turned out, King Indradyumna could not meet his Lord for the last time before dying, and hence took birth as Gajapati Prataprudra Deva during the time of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu so that he could meet his Lord in flesh and blood.

More about Gajapati Prataprudra Deva:

Gajapati Prataprudra Deva did not have a smooth sailing as the King. He was only seventeen years old when he faced his first challenge, an invasion from the north, by the Sultan of Bengal (1497-1500 AD). He had just finished defending the north of his empire, when he was challenged from the south, this time by the Vijayanagara empire (you can read more about the Vijayanagara empire in my earlier post called “The Torchbearer” by clicking here). His Vijayanagara campaign was about to end after eight years (1500-08 AD), when the Sultan of Bengal again sent his general, who taking advantage of the absence of Gajapati, was able to march all the way till Puri. Prataprudra Deva hurried back and in 1509 AD drove out the invading army of Sultan of Bengal.

In 1509 AD, the most illustrious emperor of Vijayanagara, Krishnadevaraya ascended the throne (you can read about Krishnadevaraya in one of my earlier posts by clicking here). He challenged the Gajapati’s supremacy, and Kalinga and Vijayanagara were locked in battle that lasted for seven years (1512-19 AD). The battle ended when Prataprudra Deva conceded defeat after the capture and death of his son and crown prince Virabhadra. The Gajapati had to retreat to the north of river Krishna as per the treaty. A few years later, the Gajapati supremacy was challenged by Quli Qutub Shah, of Qutub Shahi dynasty of Golconda, and remained greatly intact with only minor losses of territory.

Apart from defending the borders of Gajapati kingdom to a very large extent during a largely tumultuous period in the Indian subcontinent, Prataprudra Deva also patronized art and literature, himself having authored nine literary pieces in Sanskrit. It was during his time that the Panchasakha (five poets and friends Balarama Dasa, Jagannatha Dasa, Ananta Dasa, Achyutananda Dasa and Jasobanta Dasa) produced their best work and flourished despite being openly opposed to few of Prataprudra Deva’s actions. This proves that the King was very tolerant and lenient towards his dissenting subjects too.

With the Gajapati kingdom ended the military hegemony that Kalinga held in the Indian subcontinent, which had so far helped Kalinga sway history in its favor, right from the time of Emperor Kharavela in 2nd century BC.

You can read my other works related Lord Jagannath here:
1. A wait too long – Click here
2. Sees it all – Click here
3. Master of the Universe – Click here
4. The Krishna Connection – Click here

In frame: Devotees of Lord Jagannath praying when he appears on his chariot, during Rathyatra. This unique way of praying, extending two arms in the air with open palms symbolizes the devotees urging to Lord Jagannath to rescue them from the figurative mortal sea. Interestingly, the followers of Mahima Dharma also pray in a similar fashion.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.



The Torchbearer

अविद्यारण्यकान्तारे भ्रमतां प्राणिनां सदा ।
विद्यामार्गोपदेष्टारं विद्यारण्यगुरुं श्रये ॥

To souls that wander in utter dismay in the dense forests of ignorance, He shows the path of true wisdom; In sanctuary of that great Saint Vidyaranya!

Not many people from the past have contributed to the shaping of India as a civilization as it is today, like Saint Vidyaranya did. Saint Vidyaranya was 12th Jagadguru of Sringeri Sharada Peeth mutt and was the chief pontiff for six years, from 1380-86 AD, before attaining Samadhi. He succeeded his younger brother, the 11th Jagadguru of Sringeri mutt Sri Bharati Krishna Tirtha, who was the chief pontiff for forty-seven years, from 1333 AD till his Samadhi in 1380 AD. Saint Vidyaranya was probably by far the shortest serving chief pontiff of all the monasteries founded by Adi Shankara. What contribution could Saint Vidyaranya have done in those six years that could have shaped the civilization to such a large extent. Well, it wasn’t what he did in those six years, but what he did before that!

Once Saint Vidyaranya was in deep meditation on the Matanga hill, near Hampi, in present day Karnataka (Oh! You have an idea where this is headed?), when he was approached by two brothers, Hakka (Harihara Raya) and Bukka (Bukka Raya). These two brothers were commanders in the army of the Kakatiya King of Warangal. In the battle with the army of Sultan Mohammed Bin Tughlaq, they were captured and taken to Delhi, where they were forcefully converted to Islam. After having won the confidence of the Sultan, they were sent back south to establish order. Seizing an opportunity, they converted back and declared independence. They had come to Saint Vidyaranya to seek guidance, after one of them had a dream about it. That is how the foundation of Vijayanagara empire was laid.

Legend has it that Saint Vidyaranya chose a site for the capital city, Hampi, for the empire to last for eternity. As per the legend, this was the place where a hare had stared down a tiger while being chased. Apparently, after some studies he came up with the exact date when the foundation was to be laid by the two brothers, and the chosen auspicious time was some time in the night. The legend goes on that he instructed Hakka and Bukka to touch the pick-axe to the ground and there by symbolically lay foundation of the city, at the precise moment when they hear the conch that he would sound from far off. As per the legend, it didn’t go according to the plan. It was pitch dark and both the brothers were waiting for the sound of conch to touch the pick-axe to the ground. And finally, after hearing it, they followed the rituals as instructed. After the rituals were done, they returned back to their horses, and that was when they heard the conch again. Confused, they rode back to Saint Vidyaranya and reported hearing two conchs. That’s when Saint Vidyaranya apparently had an inkling of the empire not lasting forever. Vijayanagara empire lasted for slightly more than three centuries.

The contributions of  Vijayanagara to the civilization, be it in literature, architecture, irrigation, economy, trade, diplomacy or military campaigns and tactics, are immense. For example, when Babur was establishing his foothold in the north, Vijayanagara was being ruled by one of its most prominent rulers – Krishnadevaraya. If not for him, Babur probably wouldn’t have hesitated marching down south, and India as we know today as a civilization would have been completely different. I wrote something on parallel history, where I touched upon this topic and called it “Drawing Parallels”. You can read it here.

As advised by Saint Vidyaranya, Harihara ascended the throne of Vijayanagara empire first, while the work on the new capital in Hampi was still on. He reigned for twenty years. After him, his brother Bukka ascended the throne and reigned for twenty one more years. It is during the reign of Bukka that the capital was shifted from Anegondi to Hampi. Saint Vidyaranya was the spiritual guru and a trusted advisor of the Emperors of Vijayanagara for close to half a century, during which time the boundaries of Vijayanagara as well as its prosperity expanded manifolds. It was during his time that the Sringeri Jagadguru came to be addressed as ‘Karnataka Simhasana Pratishtapanacharya’. It is believed that he also initiated the first three Emperors of Vijayanagara into Atmavidya, the Emperors who ruled Vijayanagara in its formative days for seventy years among themselves.

Legends aside, the new capital of Hampi was designed under the guidance of Saint Vidyaranya as a Sri Chakra. A Sri Chakra has nine triangles of varying sizes with a centre point. The triangles are arranged in five concentric levels, and are circumscribed by two concentric circles, a total of seven levels. Hampi has Virupaksha temple at the center, seven layers of fortified walls, with nine gates around. Well, Connect the dots?

Sun and the hawk
The setting sun over the rugged terrain of Hampi, capital of erstwhile Vijayanagara empire, in Karnataka, India.

Had Saint Vidyaranya not laid the foundation of Vijayanagara empire and had not imbibed his teachings in the early rulers, don’t you think our history would be entirely different? During the course of my research, I have developed an interest for Sringeri, in Karnataka, and have added to the list of places I must visit.

विद्याविद्याविवेकेन पारं संसारवारिधेः ।
प्रापयत्यनिशं भक्तान् तं विद्यारण्यमाश्रये ॥

In the sanctuary of Saint Vidyaranya, who holds aloft the torch of discrimination between the knowledge of the real from unreal, and helps the devoted across the sea of birth!

In frame: The setting sun over the rugged terrain of Hampi, capital of erstwhile Vijayanagara empire, in Karnataka, India. As if the drama unfolding in the horizon to the west was not enough, this hawk while returning to its nest unexpectedly flew into my frame, heightening the drama manifolds. Decisive moment, I say!

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.


The Striker and the pieces on a carom board

They are family, kin and friends, how could one kill,
Void they would leave behind, who would be able to fill.

The ones that he grew up playing with, and the ones who taught,
Unable to take on them, was there a way the battle won’t be fought.

The battlefield lay in front of him, and the warriors gave battle cries,
He was unable to pick up his weapon, even after a million tries.

He was given a code to live by, and million reasons to kill,
Told they were his enemies, whose void he need not fill.

He was shaken violently, when he hesitated and refused to fight,
To see things clearly, like he would in the morning after a dark night.

He was chosen for this task because he was mighty and just,
Unlike mightier warriors filled with jealousy and blood-lust.

The ones in front of him were dead the day they joined the wrong,
With justice and morality on his side, he felt ever so strong.

Understanding his duty and worth, he started killing with rage,
Without seeing who was in front of him, or what was their age.

He killed for many days, and many of his beloved ones were taken away,
Rule of justice finally established when he stopped, and was there to stay.

This poem and the accompanying photograph are my attempt to draw an analogy between the Kurukshetra war and our day to day life, even something as uneventful as playing carom.

I try to portray one of the most important teachings of Bhagvad Gita, that attachments make us lose sense of right and wrong, just and injustice, moral and immorality. To uphold and do what is right, one must rise above every form of attachment, and look at things objectively. And when the time comes to do one’s duty, it has to be done no matter what.

In frame: The striker and the pieces on a carom board, clicked on manual mode using my Oneplus 3 phone during the carom tournament at office. This photo was edited using Google Snapseed.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

Why travel?

//राही बन//

आराम और सुविधाओं से भरी बेरंग ज़िन्दगी जिएगा कब तक?
निकल बाहर और राही बन, रास्ते को बना अपना घर,
भाग उस मंज़िल की तरफ, जिसका पता ना मुझे है, ना तुझे
जा.. जी अपनी जिंदगी, क्यूँ की उम्र बाकी है बहुत कम..
ऐसी बेरंग ज़िन्दगी जिएगा कब तक?

One for the road
An empty stretch of road between Ujjain and Mandav, in Madhya Pradesh, India after almost 25-30 kms of non-existent roads.

I will admit! For me, travel had always something very tempting about it. My father, who is an avid traveller himself, sowed the seeds of love for travel. And when I was a kid, my mother (who is a History major) would tell me bed time stories about Xuanzang, Faxian, Ibn Battuta and Captain James Cook, and I would lie on the bed imagining myself as an explorer/traveller. Though I have not come too far from those bed-time-stories days, I think it has been good start, although late.

I have been able to cover only a small fraction of this magnificent land. For a starter, I have been breathless on Khardung La in the Himalayas, and have been dwarfed by the majestic mountains in Kedarnath, and have almost frozen in the waters of Gangotri, and have been mesmerised by the Ganga Aarti in Rishikesh. I have criss-crossed central India hopping from heritage sites to religious places, and have been wowed by Kailash temple in Ellora and paintings of Padmapani and Vajrapani in Ajanta, and have been transcended into another dimension while watching Bhashmaarti in Ujjain. I have been lazy in a Goan monsoon, and also have been awed by the magnificence of Hampi. I have crawled up and down in the coffee estates in the Western Ghats, and have also seen the calmness of the sea in Rameshwaram, and have been on the Vivekananda rock to see the three seas meet.

Wait! That’s not all. I have driven my beat Maruti 800 to places. I have ridden my Pulsar 200NS for thousands of kilometres. I have taken my Scorpio on multiple multi-thousand kilometre road trips, and have been on the roads for days together.

Ahaa… Wait! That’s not all, either. I have been stuck on the highway with a cyclone approaching. And as I spent my night in the car and the eye of the cylcone came really close, the howling gale almost blew the car away. And at least on two occasions I have been stranded on the road, surrounded by flood waters, and water levels slowly rising all around me. In such situations the natural choice boils down to either survival (an animal instinct) or humanity (that differentiates us from animals). In the small village I was stuck in on one occasion during the floods, there were at least two hundred more people stranded. And all of us were fed well by the villagers, without being charged a single penny. Without any idea how long the floods will last, wasn’t it brave of those villagers?

Had I been confined, I will not be having these wonderful experiences to share, correct? The travel experiences have shaped me into the kind of human I am at present.

Why I travel, explained in 3 P’s:

Places: Only words and pictures will not do justice to the places I have been to and the stories behind them. The befitting tribute to those places can only be paid by visiting and experiencing them first hand. How on earth can someone tell how it feels to be starved of oxygen at five and a half kilometres above mean sea level? Or, how it feels when water at sub-zero temperatures hits the calvaria? Or, how it feels being stranded in the eye of a cyclone and the gales are about to blow away your car?

People: The great explorers of the past were not dumb to have travelled the world and learn nothing. Humans learn best from experiences of other human beings. And what better way to meet new people other than travel? I have never seen more honest people than the Laddakhis. Being fed by villagers during the floods and for free was the best gesture any human to have ever showed me. I have had instances of total strangers coming and talking to me when I was on a ride to Odisha on my Pulsar 200NS and in the course of the conversation, telling me about places of interest nearby, or about the road that lay ahead. And, people are not always pleasant. I have also been conned many times during my travels. I call them “learning experiences”.

Passion: I am the happiest when I am on the roads, away from my desk, away from my flat. Only someone with love for travelling will understand this. Good news is, there is no way you will not fall in love with it after you start travelling. I mean, I wasn’t born with this love either. And those selfies at beautiful places are a bonus!

Few points of wisdom:

Something always goes wrong when one travels. It is the risks that make travelling even more enticing. Here are a few things that I keep in mind when I am travelling:

Time: When travelling, I always keep time in hand, and utilize it to the fullest extent. I divide my travelling days and set realistic targets for the same. Seeing places is a serious business, you see!

Lights (while self-driving): I have done a fair bit of driving/riding under the lights and have come to a conclusion that it is not worth it. It is a proven fact that human reflexes while driving are much less effective under artificial light. Then there is always the risk of unsocial elements, ghosts and unsocial-elements-dressed-as-ghosts at night. I hate ghosts and hence I try my best to avoid night driving. Pun intended!

Money: Not all places have ATMs. And post demonetisation, not all the ATMs dispense cash. I carry just enough to survive and overcome an eventuality and much less than an amount that will tempt someone to kill me. As a rule of thumb, I would start my day with Rs 5000, and replenish it back to that level at start of each day.

Maps and research: I carry a road atlas as a back up to the map on my phone. Most of the times, I do my route and stoppage planning beforehand. The most fun part of travel preparation is setting up an itinerary. I call it research!

When in doubt, I lie: If it is a self-driven road-trip, when asking for directions I always ask directions to the next big town on my route, and not to my destination. When the stranger I am speaking to does not seem right, or is too inquisitive, or both, I just cook up a story. Believe me, it is not a sin to lie when it comes down to safety. And I have a thing against serial killers!

Have fun: When something goes wrong, and something always goes wrong, I don’t get bogged down by the incident and look at the brighter side, instead. Remember, if you have no control on the outcome of a crisis, have a good time while having the crisis.

I also admit that I am yet to see the world, and have experienced just a fraction of what so many other people might have. Although late, I am glad to have started travelling. And travel I will!

Finally, let me repeat the wise words from John A. Shedd for you – “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags, and get out of the house. Go Now!

Credits: Poem at the top penned by your’s truly!

Note: Please get in touch if you have difficulty in reading Hindi, and would prefer an English translation of the poem instead.

In frame: A stretch of good road between Ujjain and Mandav. We stopped here to straighten our backs after 25-30kms on non-existent roads. Yes, that happens in a Scorpio too!

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

Could you repeat that, Mr Capa?

“If your pictures are not good enough, you are not close enough.” – Robert Capa

Well, that’s what Robert Capa said. But, who was Mr Capa?

Robert Capa was the “greatest combat and adventure photographer” in history. If you are not in the photography business or have got nothing to do with cameras, you would probably not know him. An accidental photographer like many of us, he becamse a legend because of the way he dealt with his profession – dedication and commitment.

The said quote was in the context of war photography. Robert Capa lived and died during an age when there were no fancy photographic equipment. And in that age, more often than not, one had to walk in to the thick of action to get that appealing frame. We are talking about bombs going off all around, bullets whizzing past ears. That thick of an action! And it was this “getting close” part which helped Capa in capturing some of the most dramatic photographs of the wars that he covered.

How is the quote relevant for me in this age, when we have all the fancy equipment we can think of: super-zoom telephoto lenses, the best sensors, and what not? How is it relevant for me when I have not seen a live combat in my entire life? Combat as in when people are trying to kill each other! And most importantly, how is it relevant in my life? Read on for the revelation!

Capa’s quote in the context of photography:

On a scale of one to telephoto lenses, how lazy are you? That’s a weird scale, isn’t it? Not when we are discussing photography.

First, let’s all agree that photography is all about interactions with subjects. Alright? The goodness of the photograph is directly proportional to how well the photographer has interacted with the subjects. If the broad genre is people, then it becomes interaction with people, and if the broad genre is wildlife and/or nature, then it becomes interaction with the nature (insects, trees, birds and animals included). Simply put, the photographer needs to get involved with her/his subjects. And one cannot get involved with the subjects without getting closer, can (s)he?

For me, capturing people was always difficult. I was shy by nature. I was not comfortable talking to strangers. For this reason, most of the times I came across as arrogant. When I say capturing people, I do not mean staying in my comfort zone, taking out that telephoto lens and start capturing people from far off. And then, out of those thousands of photos chose one that is reasonably good and call it “candid”. Well, nothing wrong in that! Nothing wrong other than the fact that I would be bull-shitting, if I say “I capture people”. So, to challenge myself, I took up making portraits.

The photographs where the subjects look right at the viewer, I find these photographs as most intriguing. I feel these are the photographs which connect with the viewer instantly. And to capture those, the subject must be aware, and one needs to abandon all the inhibitions and ask for permission from a total stranger. That is the thrill part!

And that is the level of involvement (“getting close” in Capa’s words) one needs, irrespective of the genre of photography. All or nothing, I tell you!

With time, as I develop my skills of making a portrait, I am also developing my people skills. Now, I do not mind approaching a total stranger and ask for permission to make a portrait. If it is a “yes”, you can see the result in the portrait above. And if is a “no”, I take it in the stride and keep working on my smile.

While making portraits, how do I know how close is close enough? Well, definitely not so annoyingly close that I am encroaching my subject’s personal space. But close enough to capture the right emotions.

Below is yours truly in action, while making the portrait above. That close is close enough, I think.


I have never been caught in action, except for this one time, all thanks to my good friend Amit Kumar Singh.

Capa’s quote in the context of life:

I am going to tweak that original quote slightly.

“If your life is not interesting enough, then you are not living it from close enough.”

Well, you are alive, aren’t you? And what part of “being alive” do you find not interesting?

More about Robert Capa:

Capa lived and died in an age when there were no fancy photography equipment, in an age when photographers had to “make” photographs. Yes, he died at a young age of 40 back in 1954, when he stepped on a landmine while covering the French Indochina war. He had a love story too! He was engaged to Gerda Taro, another combat photographer, who was killed in the Spanish civil war in 1937. Capa contributed primarily to Life magazine. He clicked some of his most famous photos when he accompanied Allied troops during D-day invasion, in World War II. He was the co-founder of Magnum Photos. For all his association with war and death, here is his second most famous quote:

I hope to stay unemployed as a war photographer till the end of my life.” – Robert Capa

In frame: A flower seller in Gudimalkapur flower market, Hyderabad, Telangana, India. I initiated the talk by asking if I could take pictures of the marigold flowers she was selling, and she agreed. After the photographing the marigolds, I asked if I could make her portrait, and she agreed but said it is going to cost me. So, we bargained and settled for a “nominal” amount. So much for people skills.

Also, I have used a 3-step Brenizer technique here, for the first time. These are three photographs from top to bottom merged in to one.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.