My Days in Palampur as a Fanatic Photographer

Having decorated my life with music, on a recent journey but through a different medium I experienced a similar nostalgic euphoria. It wasn’t the humble humming of a novel innocent melody or a rhythmic chuck on my distorted Vintage Vibe Stratocaster (electric guitar), it was the picture of a leaf!

My frequent travelling worries my mother. I have never stayed put. Sometimes I wonder if it is the reason for the grand art of abandonment (my career). I am erratic, unplanned and a sudden surprise.

Most of the time, it is a blessing for what the universe sends when you give up control. Life carries you on her gentle wings, there are ups and there are downs, but if you let go of the control, it is a breeze all the time. Beautiful and ethereal, living turns into a flow.

The universe has brought me to Palampur and Palampur has blessed me with a month full of winter energies. The naked trees, barren autumn ground, the dried leaves and the chilly evenings, it is a sensory override, of course, but it is also cleansing. And I think I am here for a reason. It is time for the redemption of a soiled soul.

Tiny dried seedlings that look like pearls, and flowers morphed into raindrops, and leaves with all kinds of bronze shades. Dusky, dusty, dirty and decorated, I never knew browns were so potent. The other day my friends visited me and one of them had to ask, ”Saby, why are you living in this barren, deserted ground?” ; he was right. It is a barren, deserted ground, the spring has left for now. It is winter, and it is supposed to be like this. It is a time to stop, take a look, feed yourself, prepare for the spring, for new life – it is rejuvenation. Some seeds germinate only after they go through the frozen winter mornings. And I feel as if I am the seed. There is a dire urgency to go through this extended cold plunge. There is something on the horizon that is calling for me and now I can almost see it.

Winters are spells of outrageous productivity and work for me, I lock myself in a room and sit and work. That is what I have been doing for the past several years, winters is when I write the most. This time, however, there is a disturbance.

Palampur is to blame, and once again something in me has been altered. It takes time to adjust, you lose a few friends here, you make some mistakes there, and it is a generally confused state of being, yet it is alright. As if I am taking a break to grow a new pair of eyes. I have discovered another universe in this winter-decorated barren land, another God in its tiny little things, another me in the dried old leaves, another chance, a resurrection in a seemingly dead, sleeping Earth. I can see it, and it is my mistress – a camera instead of my beloved wife – the guitar. Is this cheating?

Perhaps it is a preparation, all those years of thinking what to see. My ears know when to hear and when to listen, but this transformation from a medium of sonics to the dithered world of visuals is tremendous and is challenging my core.

I used to be the genre-guy, who had serious issues with people who listened to anything related to pop. Like everyone, I too grew out of this ignorance and I am ‘trying to be’ more accommodating, and then it changes. The definitions of music are pushed so far that all ideas of songs and art shatter.

Every sound is music, and the untamed, untouched Earth is the only way to experience it in its true essence. A cow moos in the spring shower of evening birds, the sound travels far and wide, and the whole presence is an ultra-high-definition audio system. The reverb is real and not synthesised, and it is apt. No need to ponder about the right settings or saturation.

I asked a sunset-chaser friend of mine what his affection for sunsets was that it pushes him to walk ten miles just for a peek of the setting sun. It happens every day, you can miss a day or two and you can live without it, but what is the urgency? “Saby, it is a painting that is changing every second, it will never be the same… ever again… it neither cares for time nor shape or form and thus it is pristine… like another life. And I can watch my identity arise and disappear with this ever-changing scene… it is a reminder, a transcendence, my friend” Half a minute of a monologue and he opens something up in me immediately. I start to notice.

Noticing similarities in two creative processes of completely different patterns only widens the question of what is a medium itself. Why does it exist? Is this a premature naive attempt at understanding art? What is a medium, and should it be intangible, if about the process then why associate an identity with one? Why this reluctance to accept?

At one moment during my time in Palampur as a fanatic photographer, I managed to get into a sublimely deep meditative space. A space of absolute flow, a spiritual bliss and “non-existence”. In some old tattered book from the ages when they had no electricity, I read about it once. Of course, I have received certain hints during my life, and some very strong signs of it being real too. Because I cease to exist, and my identity dissolves when I am writing a song or playing in front of people, is the reason I regard myself as a musician. But I had never imagined myself being in this nostalgic, familiar space through a different medium (photography). It is surreal and impractical, but it is here and it was happening to me.

All I remember is coming back to awareness. A sheer unforgettable blackout! But even during this detachment, I was still tuned in, hyper-aware of my existence, my presence had slightly altered. I was the leaf, the air, the Earth, the water, the breeze, the birds, the trees, cars, the camera, coffee… I was everything all at the same time. Just as I am the listener when I sing.

There is no reason to explain this further, or in detail, as the universe functions in weird ways and the more we try to understand, the more it defies. My problem here is that I am not a photographer, I am a musician, and I am dulling the boundaries between what is allowed and for how far, and I am obsessed. The beliefs that make me who I am are being challenged like never before. It is far more about this moment, not so much about what will I eventually end up doing. This moment, when I discover another universe, a layer is added to my illusions (or, is a layer being peeled off?).

Krishnamurthy says having the highest order of ethics and morals is pristine and cumulative yoga. And here is this duality that runs with art as well, once you push it far enough, the boundaries between what is art and what is not are easily disarmed. Everything is art and you proceed with the ulterior extensions of whether art is a derivative of intent – a strong empirical evidence of consciousness.

There comes a moment in your life when all of a sudden you feel an urge to orientate yourself with something you accidentally discover. Whether sublime or faint, such moments should be regarded as the highest orders of virtues and should neither be discarded nor taken too seriously. It is the balance of what we know, how we know and the unknown that can probably drive us towards the true meaning we are supposed to serve. This moment feels exactly like this. It is not a random idea that you get one day about an intellectual prop, but it is a statement of exercise, of practice. It is a major shift in perspective, either evolved or more confused, regardless – a major event in your being.

It could change everything. How I look at the world, and how I process sound. Everything could have a new definition and would demand another novel exploration. It is substantial.

Soon, once I leave this decorated, sacred land, I shall see a group of white-crested laughingthrush. A monotone, minimalist shade of grey with a bold statement of the black highlight around the eyes, it shall appear to me as one of my creations. The time in Palampur will have changed how I process this information. I would have rather appreciated it, intellectualised it with my vague understanding, and just turned it into a God, but now I shall claim it as one of my own, or assess my belonging to this random avian culture. There shall never be anything novel about the bird anymore, it will be a sudden strange familiarity; as if I knew, as if I had known everything ever since.

Photography is, I am discovering, a way of seeing. It is not a skill, it is an essence of being. The camera is the skill of understanding light and shadows, the techniques, but it is not what a photographer does. This understanding is of course limited, and as a novice, it is more glitchy than a suburban novel.

I don’t think I am an artist either, because I am not. I like stories, I like meaning. I like to take random things and turn them into something precious. It is a disease, and it is growing. I like order and I like to belong. And I have my very strict definitions for good and evil.

A cold wave sends shivers down my body, while I wake up on the frozen ground on this winter morning. The idea to start the day feels excruciating and the bed has never felt this comfortable, but the camera sleeping right next to me is looking me in the eye.

All the pictures above were clicked at Radkaat, Palapur, in January 2024 by Saby Singh.

Hey there, I am Saby and the more I think, the more I realise that I am just an observer. I write songs, make music, love to photograph nature and I also wish I was a writer.

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One response to “My Days in Palampur as a Fanatic Photographer”

  1. Mocking Jay Avatar
    Mocking Jay

    This piece of considerate writing is just like your songs, contemplative, silent and meditative.

    I wish heartily, your art.

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