Twist the lens until it clicks into place. Pinch the lens cap away from the body. Flick the switch and awake the mechanical body. Squint. Swivel. Kneel. Tilt. Zoom. Focus. Look. Inhale.
There is my finger, pressing down on the smooth plastic of the convex button and then there is the click, sometimes a wink in afternoon sunlight, sometimes a gasp of the shutter in a dark room.
I fell in love with the chromatic landscape of India in the spring of tenth grade. I downloaded Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited. There on the TV, bright mandarin orange carnations, the cool khaki and lime green of leather trunks, the streaming teal of train cars. After our first two days in India, in rainy Mumbai, I resigned this palette of unimaginable colors to the majesty of the movie and not the country itself. When we landed in Ahmedabad, exited the sterile white steel of the terminal, the city swarmed with life of dusty color.
Snap. The beads of a Gramshree project scattered on a glass counter. The sheen of bright blood orange orbs, the matte yellow of knitted ornaments, in the background, Vandana's patterned shirt of brick red and white flowers.
Snap. The baked shadows of the Step Well in Ahmedabad. The variety of stone structures like a sea of hazel eyes. The carvings of the arches and windows, every square inch like the coursing lines of a henna tattoo.
And then came our last night in Ahmedabad, a bittersweet dinner which we agreed to eat in silence. We hoped to bask in the reflection of our past few days in the welcoming city that Ghandi once called home. We strolled as a group into the dining area, approached the doorway and received a hearty marigold-yellow bindi before entering. The lights of the room turned off, the tables removed, what remained was a square of neat place-settings. In the center of the room, a dripping beeswax candle and the carved gray stone of a bust of the Buddah. Each place setting on the ground had been decorated with scrawling white designs and a small candle, each with one word before the place-setting, mine: kindness.
Those first moments, the dim beauty, the swaying candle light of that room fulfilled every selfish, vain westernized fantasy of India. The dripping candle wax and translucent white flowers whispered all the reasons to make beautiful movies about India. It was satisfying. And yet, for the first moments of that thoughtful dinner instead of reflecting, or thinking about kindness, all I thought was how badly I wanted to take a picture.
I like to take pictures to feel the heavy weight of the DSLR in my hands, to induce that familiar mechanical blink, but most of all, to remember. The camera allows for the indulgence of a moment captured forever, a moment never forgotten. But maybe also, a moment never experienced. I did not take a picture during the dinner. The shutter would have cut through the waves of silence in the night's humid air. And as much as I wished I had a vignette for that dinner, that night of a lifetime, to be sure that I would never forget it, there are things you can't capture with any ISO or shutter speed.
Gratitude, pulsing with each exhale.
Humility, in someone's eyes, pouring you a glass of water.
Happiness, sharing a room with 'noble friends'.
Silence, pooling in the night.