Laughter

July 30, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Camera in hand, I let curiosity lead me around the construction site where a massive sculpture of Tara, the female incarnation of Buddha, was taking shape. The figure stood atop one of the highest points in this northeastern region of India, visible for miles. The large room beneath the sculpture would eventually become a prayer room, a destination for faithful pilgrims. I was struck by the entire structure's craftsmanship; ornate designs draped concrete pillars like luxurious jewelry. I marveled at the skill, time, and intense manual labor this architectural feat would take. Soon, I came upon two young men who, in rhythmic tandem, were using a plane to craft a door. We didn't speak the same language, but I hoped my request to photograph them expressed honor for their talent and handiwork.

My continued exploration led to a back area where I discovered children playing. They were probably the son and daughter of these men. I admit to feeling immediate giddiness. It was as if I suddenly stepped into the setting of the many travel photographs I'd studied. The children were beautiful; he may have been eight. She was not much older, but old enough to be her baby sister's caretaker. The weather was cold and overcast, but the covered porch area might as well have been a grand indoor stadium for their marbles match. They were shy at first, but I just waited, watched. Soon, laughter pierced their game, and with awkward gestures, I asked them to show me how to shoot. Hours of practice had obviously refined their skill; my attempt to replicate their shooter's aim didn't even come close. I think they were amused.

We began to laugh. There was something about these children; they lived in temporary corrugated shacks, their flip flops couldn't stay the chill, and they were so small against the magnificent Himalayan backdrop. Yet, this massive structure's dirt floor was their stage, and marbles their muse. I hesitated just a moment before asking, with more awkward gestures, for a few photographs. And then, handing over the camera to the boy, modeling my shooting technique, we attempted a few portraits. 

His sister and I posed, and waited. And waited. And of course, attempting to "help," I played the ridiculous mime. He got that shot. And the next that went much like the first. We all laughed. We tried again and then switched. He and I played the posers' role for his sister's spot-on shots. Their quiet, unassuming demeanor drew me to them. Too soon it was time for me to leave, even though it was the last thing I wanted. I wanted to know more about them. At the very least, I wanted to know their names. It wasn't to be, but the look-show-watch-try moments we shared were absolutely precious to me. The language barrier remained, but with a little uninhibited creativity, we understood well enough. Laughter had bridged the gap.


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