iSurmount | When ‘Travel’ Opens Doors and You Walk In…

It’s been about 18 months since I quit my desk-job and it has never been about ‘How I Quit My Job To Travel’ as much as it is ‘Travel Made Me QuitMy Job’. And no, that’s not mere wordplay – for earlier in January while gazing at the ruins of Hampi, I found myself scribbling this in my journal:

May be travel was meant to be that wedge in the door…
…the door towards opportunities I had been shutting myself out of from complacency that came with doing things I had grown to become familiar with!

May be travel wasn’t meant to be only about travelling…
May be it was meant to show me that living outside one’s comfort zone didn’t have to be as scary as it seemed…

May be the comfort zone wasn’t as comfortable as I was making it seem in my head…
And the most important may be of all – may be I could live outside my comfort zone without experiencing discomfort!

Those lines signify exactly what the journey so far has been. I have pushed myself out of every known comfort zone. And not just when it comes to traveling! Sure, I have been to places I was otherwise less likely to consider while simultaneously forging my own style by exploring budget friendly ways to financially sustain my wanderlust.
But I have also been taking on other opportunities.

Take becoming a counsellor for instance.
Yep, over the past few months I undertook a formal course in counselling – more out of my own personal interest in self-development. But as it turned out, the effects have been manifold. For one, I am qualified to pursue something I have naturally been drawn towards (by virtue of being an empath). But along the way, I began to realise that it’s helped me grow as a person – and it has helped my writing to evolve as well. 

And it allowed me to overcome one mental block – of clicking portraits of people!

I have been a development sector professional and here’s the story of how that block was born:
When I was working at an NGO in Mumbai’s slums, a group of students from Harvard had dropped by for a visit at one of the health-centres. I was tasked with taking them around the slum community and I couldn’t help but notice that almost every one of them was armed with their iPhones and DSLRs. Needless to say, everywhere we went this group of students went *click click click*. To me, that became a symbol of commodifying people – and in this instance people who were considered less fortunate. And it stayed on with me…

Even after I began traveling on my own
Even after I had quit my job
Even after I received feedback that my stories were good and could get better if readers had faces to assign to my text
But nothing seemed to make that block go away!

In my head was stuck this thought: Taking photographs of people is no more than an intrusion into their lives and a violation of their privacy. It is an act that commodifies people and their emotions just for the sole purpose of the photographer’s gain.

Back to my training in counselling, one of the components was called the ‘Shame Attack’ wherein as students each one of us had to undertake an act that we had somehow assigned as being shameful and had since refrained from ever putting ourselves through it.

I’d understood that while there was some basis for my thoughts around photographing people – not all of it was entirely true for me. But for that, I had to undo the stuck thought before merely jumping in and beginning to take photographs of people on the streets!

So I began by telling myself: There is a fine line between being ethical and being unethical on the subject of taking photographs of people specifically. However, this doesn’t take away from photography the role that it has and continues to play. While I use words to evoke a gamut of emotions, I love taking photographs to complement the stories I want to keep telling. And while some people may not be comfortable with a stranger taking their photographs, it does not translate that all people are averse to it. Secondly, people feel less intruded upon when you seek their permission prior to taking their photograph (instead of creeping them out).

With that self-talk out of the way, I set myself to task.
I had to put myself out there - in people’s faces rather literally - through this anxiety inducing activity of not just taking photographs of people but asking them for their permission to do so. If they agreed then well and good – I would get my photograph and learn how it wasn’t a ‘shameful’ activity at all. If they didn’t agree then well and good too – I would see how it wasn’t about photography being unethical. People’s preferences were a separate criteria in themselves.

On the day of the activity after I had boarded the train, something that had never happened before occurred! I hesitated to take my camera out. I had to remind myself that this was okay and exactly what I was attempting to overcome. My palms were clammy and I almost justified to myself that the train was too crowded to bother taking portraits of people!

For my first subject, a kid by the window caught my eye (as I did his) and I asked his mother if I could take a photograph of him. She agreed and almost instantly readied herself to be in the frame. This was working out better than I thought. The kid was my ruse (maybe) but this was successful with a discerning adult populace too!

One photograph done – my first – and I knew I had only begun to get used to the idea of approaching people to click their photograph. When I got to five photographs, both my anxiety and my belief around photographing people being unethical had been brought down to something easily manageable!

This shy kid slipping behind his mother's shoulder my was my first muse. In many ways, he mirrored what I was feeling. But I owe it to his mother here for making this first shot possible. It was wonderful watching her readying to pose alongside with her little one.

Kids truly made it easier for me. But this shot was special because the mother went on to tell me that her daughter (in the photo) is a model for children's wear. I was left to realise how easily a camera can break down barriers - people are mostly willing to let you in a bit. And then some more. 

With the third shot, I decided to make a move away from kids and walked to a street vendor and asked if I could take his photograph. He seemed indifferent which I had initially interpreted as refusal so I tried to explain it was for an assignment, until I heard him say: “Haan haan, le lo…”

The fourth shot happened two days after just to gauge whether anxiety levels had returned to where they once were. It seemed to be so. The setting was the same – I was in a train. There was another kid but a little too far away. So I approached the lady in front of me. Here I used her tattoo on her wrist as the ruse for her to strike a pose and she agreed instantly too.

And finally, in an attempt to not have to talk myself through talking to someone, I walked up to a flower vendor and asked if I could take a photograph and like the vendor from the other day, she too seemed to be quite okay with her photograph being taken by me. 

In the course of putting myself through this ‘shame attack’, I have been pleasantly surprised to see how ready people were to have their photographs being taken – no one ever asked me what the purpose or reason was. It surely gave me a little high to watch people’s eyes light up when they smiled during and after seeing their photograph on my camera. As it turns out, these tiny bits of happiness are enough to elevate your own spirits – even without doing much!

And that's how travel has been the wedge in the door and prevented me from slipping into complacency? This is just one example. But it turned out to be something that gave me an idea that I am very excited about. Do read iLaunch | My Eureka Moment = Be You For You to know more!

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