Wabi-sabi: Bison and Birds

Apr 2019

Copyright © 1993- Ganesh H. Shankar
Around two hours of drive from Bangalore to Kokkare Bellur appeared to have lasted only half an hour thanks conversation I was having with my hard working photographer friend Ashok Mansur, sitting next to me. It was around 10:30am when we reached Kokkare Bellur, too late for any "light" conscious nature photographer to reach a destination.

Bison and her Birds

"Kokkare" in my mother tongue, Kannada, means "Egret". Kokkare Bellur is a small village, about 90KM from Bangalore. An interesting fact about this village is the relation villagers have with nature, in particular birds like spot billed pelicans and painted storks that visit this village for nesting. They nest in the backyards of the houses in the village, living harmoniously with villagers. In some sense, the birds live in the first floor of their house and villagers in the ground floor. One of the villager told me a interesting story. About 100 years ago the whole village was hit by plague. The villagers fled the village and moved to this new village, Bellur. Birds followed them too during the next season! Villagers treat these birds as their daughters. In Indian tradition ladies return to their parents' house for delivery. These nesting birds are daughters of this beautiful village! During every winter they arrive here for the delivery!!

We moved around in the village streets for a few hours. I made some images and I wanted them to be as Wabi-sabi as possible, trying to do some justice to the spirit of the place. The austere ambience of the place deserved to be felt than seen. I had decided not to process the images other than a bit of cropping here and there. They may be over exposed, under exposed, "not beautiful", "looks raw", asymmetric, "harsh lighting", busy, cluttered, essentially all that we photographers usually avoid. However, in this case visual elements in the images seem to align very well in my heart. The place reminds me of my own village where I grew up.

In the scorching heat we moved around the village. I saw a bare footed messenger of God. It reminded me of a "Dassaiyya" who used to visit my home in a remote village during my childhood days. He used to give me a natural hand made chalk piece which I could use for writing on my slate. Every month I use to wait for him to visit my home. He would come home and blow his conch shell. My grand mother use to give him some rise grains that we used to grow in our paddy fields. Many such people use to visit our houses. Questions like, "why can't he work I do?" was non-existent then. Visiting homes in villages, blessing them and requesting that day's living was his job, inherited from his father and his grandfathers. Society had accepted that it is his job. Scope of "logic" as a subject did not extend as far as it has today in our cities. The practice continues even today in some of our villages. Atheism as a word does not exist in our villages. Rightly so because in this deeply divided society people survive only on the deep rooted psychological support by believing in almighty. This belief is the very fabric of the society in our rural villages. Elected representatives visit our villages only once in five years during the general elections.


Life and Beliefs

While moving around the village street I met this cute boy who was eager to share his knowledge of the birds that visit this home. He told me that the birds are named "pelicans" and "storks" and these birds eat one Kg of fish and drink two litres of water everyday. Innocence and enthusiasm to talk to a stranger in his village was very evident on his cute face.

Boy of Bellur

We moved on further. People in many houses were busy with sericulture activities. They gave unconditional broad smile and invited us to see what they were doing. They did share that their hard work is not at all proportional to the living they make. It was easy to guess that very little of 35% of our hard earned money that gets deducted every month from our salary as income tax reaches our villages. I hope a generation or two from now things will improve.

These silk balls are used for making silk sarees. The famous one being "Mysore silk sarees". The irony being many of the women who sell these raw yarn can't afford to buy a sari for themselves!

We walked around small lanes within the village talking to smiling villagers. What I loved most is the slices of time arranged in layers, everywhere in the village. Some of their houses may be hundred plus years old. Age old feeble looking pillars still support roofs of the house. Inside of the many of the houses have sky as the roof. They painted their walls in wabi-sabi style going by their simple feelings, not driven by complex logic like that was used in the so called Cubism. An artist in them probably knew very well that we can't be bigger than Nature! Their decision to paint one side of a wall with one color and the other side using another appears spontaneous. It does not seem to engage a viewer in complex logic. Simple figures and contours of subjects in nature decorate their walls. Nowhere complex algebraic logic, abstract lines and patches of colors where more is attributed to the void to be seen.

Slices of Time

Wabi-sabi - Things as they are

Village Art

Couple of ladies in one of the houses were generous to offer us lunch. People in our villages have much broader heart than us in cities. Sharing and community living is part of their very fabric. These two ladies wanted us to have their photos taken. We were more than happy to make some images. These smiling and not so smiling faces, colors, colors on faces culturally says a lot. It goes back to customs and values they believe in. Let me not hazard a guess here to say more.

A Portrait

I was fascinated by this little cute girl in deep thought(!), relieving her scorching heat on a granite slab in her house while their parents were busy with sericulture related work.

The temperature was soaring. Birds were returning to nest to feed young ones with fish and water. They were protecting the young ones from harsh light with their open wings. Having chosen to build nests amidst a busy village they have to negotiate many power lines and towers. I am sure, that plastic bottle on the electric pole must be serving some purpose, not exactly sure what that is. The "Tree no. 15" seem to provide some shade for a bison and a bird. The hanging roots appeared very philosophic.

We roamed around till late noon. It was too hot to continue further. We later visited a small hillock nearby where there is an excavated ruins of an old Jain temple. A lone small tree provided some shade for us to take rest.

Ashok - taking rest

Before starting back we had some peaceful time. Nice breeze at the top of the hillock was very pleasant.

Only three of us were there at the top, Ashok, myself and of course the omnipresent.