Shepherds, Santa and Vaccination: A Christmas Story

“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” […] that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” [Luke 2:8-20]

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The power of listening in public health

“Common people were apprehensive about vaccines. More than the disease. Which is obvious for something new that has direct implications for their life. The same happened in cases of hospitalisation during first and second waves. In my 17 years of experience, I faced this apprehension among parents too. To vaccinate their children. But me and my team overcome the refusals. For both children and adult vaccination. How? Just by listening to them. People must have questions. About vaccines. Especially in the age of social media. Fake news spreads faster than wind. So, we must answer their queries to combat the myths. We must devote time to listen to their worries and answer them. To convey we are here for you, anytime, if something goes wrong. No one wants to die. No one experienced this pandemic in their lifetime. Not even us. You know, injecting a vaccine is matter of a second. But we must win the heart of a person to build the confidence before we penetrate the syringe in the body. It’s his or her life, after all. For me, that’s vaccination. To win the heart. Gaining the confidence.”

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Vaccine, Bollywood and the gift of the magi

A three and a half hours long discussion. About connecting Bollywood with India’s very own Pneumococcal Conjugate vaccine. Pneumosil. In its birthplace, Maharashtra. Over a few cups of Irani tea. On the ground floor of iconic Alfred talkie.

The septuagenarian became excited to listen to my intentions. He brought out his works from a simple plastic packet. Simple like him. Ongoing, unfinished and finished works. Describing the tedious process. I was amazed. I told, ‘La jawab, Chacha’.

He looked up. ‘La jawab? These works? Then you didn’t see my Ustaad’s works.’ I asked who is he? He paused for few seconds. Touched his right earlobe. And told, ‘M. F. Hussain. I am his shaagrid.’ The disciple who worked with his guru for nearly one and half decades. ‘Even my best of the works, those received accolades from others, didn’t even come closer to his worst works. He is the best cinema poster painter in the history of Bollywood.’

I asked him, ‘can I get one of your work?’

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Chasing Vaccines to Harappa

THE BEGINNING – DUSK

The night was dark. Thick dark. Immersive, intense, illusive. I was sitting in that amidst darkness. On a charpai. In a land of Māru, Meru, Meramañ – Desert, Ocean, Mountains. Years ago, people named it Kutch. Because it has a resemblance to the tortoise. The lifeless land exists in this earth between wet & dry seasons intermittently at the Rann (desert).

I was sitting there for a while. Since the dusk. On the same charpai. Marshy salt flats were all around me. Snow white, but not so bright, or glittering. Not as immersive and intense as the thick darkness. Because of absence of the sun. But definitely illusive. The whole day was overcast. Often cloudy. What I imagined in my mind to get a frame of vaccine transportation in this white salt land miserably failed today. Because of the light. We all were praying wholeheartedly, so that sun would come out in the dusk, even for few minutes. But the luck was not with me today. Then, everyone left slowly and gradually. One by one. Except me. I was looking towards the horizon. Mesmerised by the illusion. Created by the overcast sky and grim salt land. So dry and lifeless, it seemed that the land immersed under deep pathos for ages. So deep and raw that is not possible to express. With tears. The chilling breeze was blowing through the Rann from far northwest. But my mind was much occupied with the depressing failure. The somatic senses didn’t respond to it. I would like to cry. But couldn’t. Like this land.

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The Dark Side of Photography

In 1839, John Herschel coined the term Photography, parsed from its Greek origin “writing with light”, instead of the commonly used misnomer “drawing with light”. In this respect, photography closely resembles with writing. But with a stark difference. 

How can I write, or more precisely, narrate the light? How the viewer can perceive (read) it? Simple. Nothing but the help with the darkness. With shadow. Shadow is my weapon. My armour for creating narratives written with light. Whether it’s natural or artificial, doesn’t matter. My goal is creating and capturing the shadows, the darkness, to narrate the light. That’s my story. 

Highways of Inequality

When I finally finished the photoshoot for my exhibition in the village near Jalalabad, the sun was already in the mid of the sky. It was end of the May. The summer of the northern India was in full swing as the outside temperature touched 48-degree Celsius. Me and my co-traveller from the organising partner of the exhibition, a young lady in her mid-twenties, started early morning from Lucknow to reach the destination on time. The village was about 200 kilometers away from Lucknow, near Jalalabad. As soon as we finished the shoot, we started off immediately to catch our return flight to Delhi from Lucknow in the evening. In between, to combat with the dehydration in the scorching heat, we kept drinking water to keep us hydrated. And unfortunately, it was filling up the urinary bladder slowly and gradually. The moment we reached Aligarh – Kanpur Road, I asked the chauffeur to stop the car somewhere near a roadside public toilet, so that I could relieve the pressure in my lower abdomen. He stopped the car in front of a gas station, where I found three open urinals under the sky. The urinals were stinking with strong smell of ammonia and devoid of water supply, though the provision was there. Born as an Indian male, I managed to void and with a much-relieved mental & physical state I came back to the car to embark. I was about to board, when the young lady asked, “did you find any toilet space for us? I am also under pressure.” That moment I felt that I had done a criminal offence in my life. I was guilty that I felt never before. I asked the staffs of the gas station and as expected there was none. We did not find a single functional toilet in the entire expressway that can be used by women. The few options available in the roadside restaurants or dhabas, were not at all in a condition to use. She travelled for next three and half hours sitting beside a guilty soul. She was having definite abdominal discomfort, prominent in her face and body language. 

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