Leading authors, photographers and artists tell us what brings them joy

Inspiration, kindness and generosity is much needed as 2017 kicks off.

 |   Long-form |   30-01-2017
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The first month of 2017 is about to get over and no one majorhas died from the musical or creative world. Sure Donald Trump was inaugurated as 45th POTUS, but that was inevitable. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi steered clear of making a declaration that would be deemed controversial. The political universe remained relatively calmer, despite the travel ban on people from seven Middle Eastern countries. 

Since we barely pause to reflect and muse over what goes on in our daily lives, so engrossed we are in our virtual lives, we hardly look at things, or listen to the beautiful music of this world, present everywhere if we care to notice.

There's little place in our world for stillness, for freezing a moment and deliberating on it - whether on a smile captured on camera or by our eyes, or a flower that has bloomed in our garden, or a bird that has come to perch on our balcony ledge. We have to no time to stop and wonder, ponder, no time to sing to one another, little time to laugh from the heart.

It's only then we realise what artists and writers and photographers and others do for us. They bring us our lost slowness, our solitude, our humane ability to wonder and wallow in the universal sublime. They bring us "joy", that boundless feeling of unadulterated happiness, an uncontaminated bounce of the heart, the beauty and truth in things we forget to notice, fail to appreciate.

At Harper's Bazaar, memories and moments mingle when writers, photographers and artists recollect what brought them joy, now, then, another time. It's the shadow of that joy, its amazing hold on our minds, that calms us at a difficult time, tethers us to the loved one, like a nurturing canopy of shade. We asked some of our writers and photographers to share their joy with us and make them ours.

Read on to lose yourselves in wonder.  

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Sandeep Biswas, Photographer

This is an image of a mother and daughter who survive by begging at the Nizamuddin Auliya Dargah in Delhi. It was taken around 1996-1997. I do not remember the exact date, but this was the time I decided to quit my job as a designer at an advertising agency and become a photographer. This was a transition period, since I left one profession while still struggling to enter another. This picture made me realise the joy of being a photographer and the joy of connecting with the world around me with the help of my visual expression. Over the last two decades as a professional photographer, my effort has been to keep up the joy of making images with the same passion and enjoy the medium with the same freedom.

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Photo: Sandeep Biswas

Karan Khanna, Photographer

The works depicted here are all a part of larger series of photographs that concur with my thoughts and "way of viewing situations", depicting our socio-economic condition and circumstances of existence that we as a country and people are bound by. Within this framework, it is my constant endeavour to visually transpose what are fleeting moments captured by the photographer — a daily event for the subject — without being overtly blatant.

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Photo: Karan Khanna
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Photo: Karan Khanna

Anuradha Roy, Author

Reading Sheila Dhar is my injection of happiness. It brings back the wicked pleasure of editorial sessions with her when she would actually tell the stories that went into her book, Raga N’Josh: Stories from a Musical Life. Her storytelling was a mesmerising, side-splitting combination of mimicry, gossip, satire, song. She had a way of transcribing the speech rhythms into words on a page that could only be done by someone equally at home in music and language. For example, there is in her book a Hindu priest in British Guiana explaining the Gita: “Is Krishna sayin to Arjuna ‘doan be drinkin, doan be dancin, doan be makin love, doan be enjoyin?’ No, no, no! He not tellin Arjuna dat, he not tellin you dat, and he not tellin me dat! He sayin ‘enjoy all—food, drink, dancin, makin love! Yea, be eatin, drinkin, dancin, makin love! Only remember, this all belongin to Krishna and HE GONNA TAKE BAACK WHEN TIME KOM!”

Or a listener at a classical music concert in Delhi: “Will he do guzzles?” And finally, a Carnatic singer explaining a kriti: “This is kriti by the revered composer Saint Thyagaraja. It is in aanar of the Lard Rama in the yincarnation of Kodandarama, or Rama with the Bow. Wo Lard, Wo Lard, the devotee cries in this kriti, yagain and yagain. Yagain and yagain devotee yappeals to the Lard to come down to yerth to save him…”

Anjali Joseph, Author

Joy is the basic vibration of the universe; it’s what makes atoms dance. But the joy that underlies everything can get covered up in layers of rubbish, notional as that rubbish may be. Getting back to joy, to me, means keeping in touch with the most authentic part of myself. It’s possible to drop worry for a moment and contact that joy — I find it in sitting by the Brahmaputra with a cup of tea in the afternoon, going for a walk, laughing with a friend about my most recent, ridiculous personal disasters. Paradoxically, sometimes it’s easier to make contact with basic joyfulness when whatever one has been striving for has fallen into dust. There’s nothing left to do but let go, and out of that release, that seeming vacuum, comes the buoyancy of joy which was there all along.

Chirodeep Chaudhuri, Photographer

My maternal grandfather, my mother told me, had a thing for collecting curios. I used to be captivated looking into those display cupboards—miniature musical instruments and kitchen utensils, figurines of animals and people, dinky cars and train models, I remember them all. My mother too loves such things, but she never quite collected as much. I am a collector at heart. It must be a gene I inherited

I take pleasure in walking through museum collections. And souvenir and antique shops, village fairs, second-hand book shops and such else. I often wish I had more money and a bigger apartment to buy and to house all those things I come across and desire, a bit like the cabinets of curiosities or ‘wonder rooms’ from the Renaissance period in Europe.

Collecting is, in many ways, like exploring, and it requires much resilience and some luck. Actually, it’s not very different from photography either. And each successful find, as with a successfully made photograph, is accompanied by a sense of deep accomplishment and indefinable joy. Like photography, it is also about memories, giving form to the theatre of the world or simply an experience that matters to us. The things that I have picked up over time come with stories of places visited, people met, a conversation had.

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Photo: Chirodeep Chaudhuri

Much of what I buy may not always be beautiful in the conventional sense, but they make up for that in character and they are, if I could say, a statement of who I am. People don’t get this business of collecting, especially if they aren’t collectors themselves. Most of my friends and even family think of me as a junk hoarder. My wife, too, initially did but today she has allowed herself to be co-opted into this enterprise, and is taking baby steps as an "explorer". She has expressed a desire to collect coffee mugs.

I don’t know, really, why I collect. On certain days I believe that it gives my life an added purpose. Sometimes I think I simply like the lure of the hunt. My senses are always heightened when I am around places where I smell a potential buy; my eyes are then more alert, darting around from the top-most shelf to the darkest corner. And then I spot it. My hand, in a sort of reflex motion, goes to my wallet to check my immediate financial standing. Oh! That joy!

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Photo: Chirodeep Chaudhuri

My collection of Mahatma Gandhi figurines grew one at a time. I found pieces in places as diverse as Varanasi, Krishnanagar, Bombay, Goa, the Hyderabad airport, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Delhi, on the outskirts of Patna while on my way to the animal fair at Sonepur, and also other countries like the USA. They come in all kinds of materials: Clay, wood, glass, plastic, brass, plaster, sandalwood, twisted wire, mother of pearl, ceramic, and even a couple of 3-D printed ones. Many bear a fleeting resemblance to the Mahatma and are a representation of its creator’s imagination. Would I ever stop collecting? I doubt that.

Though I may have slowed down with the Gandhis and moved on to USB pen drives, the instinct sits latent and springs out on cue, as it did a few weeks ago in the sleepy seaside town of Udvada, where I came across a curio shop that had a palm-sized bust of Subhash Chandra Bose. I sensed an acquisition. My heart began beating fast; the pulse too might have been racing. But it was a false alarm. No Gandhi. I may have missed laying my hand on one by a few days, a few hours… I’ll never know. I shall live for another day, I guess. The life of a collector, I tell you.

Fanil Pandya, Photographer

I took this picture while I was stuck in a roadblock near Tosa Maidan village in the Budgam district of Kashmir. Whilst waiting, I saw some children playing near the canal. I could not resist myself and joined them. Certain joys of life do not change irrespective of which part of world you are in, and one of them is playing in water on a sunny day.

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Photo: Fanil Pandya

Manjula Padmanabhan, Author

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Photo: Harper's Bazaar

Dinesh Khanna, Photographer

Bhagoriya is a tribal festival that takes place a week before Holi in the Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh. Besides all the other mela activities, one of the most popular are the Photo Studios, which shoot portraits in makeshift tents against painted backdrops. At a time, especially in urban areas, where people are getting jaded by the over-exposure to thousands of photographs a day, I was fascinated to see this woman’s sheer delight in having her photograph taken.

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Photo: Dinesh Khanna

Sophie Hannah, Author

One of the main things that makes me happy is books, and reading books. Possibly the best and most important book I’ve ever read, and the one I recommend to nearly everyone I meet, is The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle. It is the wisest and most helpful guide to how to live that I’ve ever come across, and I re-read it all the time. These are two of my favourite quotes from it:

“Any action is often better than no action, especially if you have been stuck in an unhappy situation for a long time. If it is a mistake, at least you learn something, in which case it’s no longer a mistake. If you remain stuck, you learn nothing.”

“Once you have identified with some form of negativity, you do not want to let it go, and on a deeply unconscious level, you do not want positive change. It would threaten your identity as a depressed, angry or hard-done by person. You will then ignore, deny or sabotage the positive in your life. This is a common phenomenon. It is also insane.”

Arnab Ray, Writer

The absolute absence of work, my mind purged of all the ‘to-dos’. No insistent ping on Outlook, no rude vibrations on the phone. Logged off, plugged out, eyes shut. Just me, and people and places and monsters, in full Technicolor, some that happened, some that never will, some I wish did, the what-ifs and the why-nots, spinning like cotton candy, strands of order emerging out of chaos, till finally the beginning lines up with the ending, or is it the other way round, and the story emerges. For just a sharp slice of a moment, I know who I am. The author. The God of my little universe.

Krishna Udayasankar, Author

Happiness is a cold, wet nose, or three, at the end of a large, fluffy body full of love and complete with a furry tail. Can be used (ridiculously) early in the mornings as a wake-up call, or at the end of the day as a goodnight kiss, or at any time of day, really. On occasion, the process and its effects may be extended by using a booster in the form of belly rubs. Best enjoyed in excess. Statutory warning: overdosing may lead to warm, fuzzy feelings in the area surrounding the heart, and in sensitive individuals may sometimes cause tears of joy and contentment. Evidence shows likelihood of lifelong addiction after single use. Once you’ve been loved by a dog, you’ll never be the same again.

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Photo: Krishna Udayasankar

Risham Syed, Artist

There are several paintings that have given me an amazing high, a feeling that can’t be described. But sometimes completing a work also gives one an incredible amount of joy, and I’m thinking of a work right now. I painted a detail from the painting called The Great Bath at Bursa by Jean-Léon Gérôme. It is hard to describe the joy at completing a work that has come together magically (or so one imagines). It’s that moment when things seem just right, and it is the right amount of ingredients that one put in. It’s putting that one last bit (or choosing not to put it) to complete the work and realising it’s done.

This section of a white female nude body leaning on a black nude was fascinating. The black woman is helping the white woman walk while everyone seems to be watching her. The incredible detail of the bath, the sunlight coming in, red hair of a white woman echoing in the turban, and the skirt of a black woman all made it an inspiring section for me. The reclining woman in the background inspired me to order a gigantic towel (it’s 10 times the size of a big bath towel) and I placed that under this painting on a brass towel rod with lion heads. The idea was to talk of the other, the representation of Asia in a stereotyped way that is regarded as embodying a colonialist attitude. To bring that conversation into the present, linking history with the past and back.

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Photo: Risham Syed

Waswo X Waswo and R Vijay, Artist

Joy is not a constant, for if it were, we wouldn’t recognise it when it happily elates us. When Rakesh and I make art, it is not only joy but work. There is a lot of planning involved, gathering and preparing materials, negotiating visual strategies, and often the random mistake that needs correcting even when well into the process. When we don’t agree on the details, there can be tension. Sometimes the final result isn’t what was hoped for, and we both rethink and formulate a change. But the joy always, magically, descends. Or rather, it swells up in our hearts.

It can be when a perfect mixture of green makes unexpectedly ethereal music with the perfect mixture of orange. It can be the soft gentle curve of a leaf. It can be the ironic laughing smile of a crocodile. You never know. It just happens. Rakesh continues to paint in the tranquil room that opens onto a terrace and a tree. He speaks of monkeys. I speak of crying peacocks seen the other evening in the village.

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Photo: Waswo X Waswo and R Vijay

I think we both enjoy wonderment. Rakesh shows off the pin-prick point of a favourite squirrel-hair brush. I scribble a new idea on a scrap of paper and ask him if it looks good. I can tell by his eyes if the idea resonates. The process continues. And then one day I invite Rakesh to my apartment, and over a pressed pot of coffee he sees our finished painting in a frame. His eyes sparkle wide and he radiates a smile. Watching him smile with satisfaction is my own personal joy. And at that moment we connect, and realise we’ve made music.

Andrew Voogel, Artist

These days I love getting lost in books. Primarily art books. Spending so much time in front of screens, big ones, small ones, while travelling, while in nature, while out with friends, always connected, networked, and wired. Art books represent a little escape from this super-plugged-in present that we’re all participating in. There’s nothing uniform about them. They come in all different shapes, sizes, textures, always embodying some concept of creativity and the artist’s vision that offers a quiet point to vanish into the pressing demands of our technological world.

A favourite recent find from two of my favourite artists, a zine collaboration between Californian artist Raymond Pettibon and New York-based Marcel Dzama that offers moments of absurd escapism. The zine collaboration was also presented as an exhibition at David Zwirner New York last January. This is one of my favourite pieces from the collaboration, incorporating two things that bring me the most joy: Vanishing from the daily grind to go play in the ocean.

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Photo: Andrew Voogel

Andrea Verani, Photographer

The biggest joy: the feeling of being free to fly, in unspoilt nature with the world at your feet.

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Photo: Andrea Verani

(Courtesy: Harper's Bazaar)

Also read - Madhya Pradesh gets a 'Happiness department'. Time to cheer up

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