I was born in Mumbai in 1979, my father’s hometown. We are four siblings- an elder brother and two younger sisters. We moved to Ujjain when I was 6 years old. My father was an engineer and got a chance to work in what was Asia’s biggest soyabean plant in those days. Shifting to Ujjain wasn’t difficult as the house allotted to us by the company was just ten minutes away from my maternal grandmother’s (naani’s) home. My father used to go for night shifts which generally left us with little time to be with him. So, he found a way of meeting us by getting our lunch boxes during recess.
On 21st March 1994, like any other day, he came to school but I couldn’t meet him. He gave my tiffin box to my sister. I thought I will see him after school but when we returned, we found no one at home. We were waiting for our parents to return when my cousin came in his car and asked us to come along with him to naani’s house immediately. He wasn’t smiling like always. As we sat in the car, my heart began to race. I was worried about my grandparents because that was the farthest my mind could go.
As we approached the house, I saw people gathered outside. When I stepped in, I saw my father lying on the floor. He had suffered a major cardiac arrest and passed away before he could be taken to the hospital.
I have always been a reserved, shy girl; a little nervous all the time. With papa’s death, unknown fears and helplessness made deep inroads. My mind was clouded with questions about what will happen now, who will take care of us and our future. After 13 days, we vacated our house and shifted to naani’s place. We received a humble amount as pension from the company, just enough to sustain our education and basic needs. We went about our daily lives like before but I think deep down, all of us were left shaken to the point where we never talked about papa. It was unnatural and strange. My mother never uttered a word about him, nor did we have any discussion amongst siblings.
I missed saying ‘papa’ and the urge to call out to him kept gnawing at me. I didn’t know who to talk to so I turned within and drew a plan for my entire life, dividing my years distinctly into phases- after school, I wanted to become a doctor. It was a dream that my father and I had nurtured together. Then marriage and children. A simple, beautiful life. But fate decided otherwise. My name appeared in PMT’s waiting list and there was no scope to skip a year preparing for exams. I needed to finish my studies and pick up a job as soon as possible. I completed my graduation and went for a walk-in interview with no details, the ad for which I had seen in a newspaper. The vacancy was for a ‘transcriber’ and I got selected. I owe some crucial life lessons to this job. I was always unsure about myself but now I stood up and took my own decisions.
It was also the time when I wanted to marry but I never believed in a stereotypical arranged marriage. A man saying yes or no based on just one meeting made me anxious. I dreamt of being in love and live with a man who would feel the same way for me. Somehow, it didn’t work out. The uncertainties kept increasing and as if I had to be tested more, I developed an acute skin allergy which ruined my face with big, painful pimples. It further reduced the possibility of my dream and some men that I met in person, weren’t compatible. Slowly, my consistent denial to proposals started affecting the family milieu.
From 1994 to 2004, it was a dark phase. I felt demotivated and became restless to meet my father, away from everything. Every low ebbed me into a place where I wanted to retire from the world.
And then, a miracle happened. It was as if papa heard me and sent an angel. My younger sister was practicing healing and meditation, and asked me to accompany her, trusting it will help me get rid of my skin problems. It is there that I met Mr. Rajeev Pahwa and his wife, a couple that was going to change my life.
Mr. Pahwa not only taught me how to heal myself but also counselled me on various issues. He introduced me to spirituality, read out excerpts from The Gita and other scriptures, and explained them to me. The way he spoke reminded me of my father. In 2006, while going to a camp, he said, “You should call me papa now”. From that day, he and his wife became ‘papa’ and ‘maa’ to me. My mother never disapproved of the love and comfort I was getting but my relatives raised objections. They assumed I was getting brainwashed against marriage. Because I never discussed it, nobody thought that I am still waiting for the right man.
In 2009, Mr. Pahwa wanted to revive his NGO and told me to be at the epicenter of its operations and functions. He gave me a camera and asked me to take photos of all events and competitions. Until then, I had never explored the realm of photography. To stand in the middle of so many people, click their pictures and being noticed in a crowd was something I had never experienced before.
I also took photos of flowers for an elderly painter who couldn’t go out to paint and was now confined to her room with her canvas and colors. I got print outs of my photos for her which brought a huge smile on her face. Her happiness became mine. I realized that clicking photos gave me satisfaction and gradually, it reflected in my work. After a decade, when we were planning to launch the first magazine of our NGO, I met a senior photographer and graphic designer, who we had called to design the cover page. He looked at some of my photos and encouraged me to upload them on social media with captions. He became my mentor and I joined an online mobile photography group which further boosted my confidence to show the world what I saw through my lens.
The journey opened new paths and I started writing for an art gallery owned by a wonderful lady. Impressed by my work, she offered that I put my first photo exhibition. I was thrilled! This opportunity introduced me to experts in the field and I gained recognition as a photographer. Soon after this, our NGO was selected for a state level Heritage Walk Project where I participated. That also became the first time I used a DSLR camera.
Photography wasn’t included in the plan that I drew for myself. I still wished for a partner but I had now reached an age where stability of mind, emotions and profession became most important. I was drawn to child portrait photography and this time, fate decided to be on my side. My mentor asked me to do a child and maternity photoshoot for a chain of hospitals. Subsequently, I did photoshoots for a school. With perseverance, offers kept pouring and people showed faith in my work. With every picture, I didn't only capture moments but also recaptured my lost focus and motivation.
Within two years, I set up my own maternity and child photography studio. I see it as a “divine appointment” with which the heavens and my father have blessed me. He also gave me mentors and guides who helped me regain my confidence and face uncertainties without fear. Today, I can say it with conviction that we should let life take its course and never stop dreaming. It can just be the next step that brings us to the end of the long, dark tunnel. Thanks to photography, I now see the world in a different light, or should I say, through a different lens!