I was the voyeur. A voyeur with an unwieldy bad camera. After having shot the lakes, the hills, the greens, and posed near all of these, the background to the background, the carrier of memory, the lushness of the Meghalaya village in North East India, where huts are built on stilts, brought home some home-truths. The Khasi tribes are among the poorest, and like many poor people, they have no choice. They do not care about how they are portrayed and they do not care how they are perceived.
I had tried to strike up a conversation with the woman; for some reason I called her the spider woman, because she was at the loom weaving a cloth that would take weeks, but cost little and brought her little. This was sustenance.
Since words were inadequate, our communication deadpan, I took a picture. There was no choice of angle. The baby tied to her, back to back with a little hook, was compelling enough. This was one creation she would not let go of. The fabric would be sold. An unknown maker, an unknown buyer, an unknown wearer.
Can I even dare to compare the child to the web she weaves? Will he not grow up and leave, be sold into the large marketplace and labour? The fabric of humanity may look rather pleasant, but we are all being woven by somebody else’s perceptions and needs.
There is also the mother-child bond. Both are expressionless. In these parts the child is nursed until quite late. A malnourished mother ensures the baby is not hungry. If her frail frame can work at a raw and shaky loom, then why can her breasts not ooze out a little milk?
There is silence in this picture. One might think it is the silence of the lambs being herded. I see it as the silencing of noise and clutter. This is simplicity. A simplicity that I have complicated with my projected thoughts. It is not that a photograph speaks a thousand words, but that anything that does we make complex by adding to it – or subtracting from it. In fact, the addition is the subtration.
But, then, even as voyeur, I learned a bit – about bonding, about innocence, about fatalism, about living, about life. About the complex simple.