BECAUSE WE COME FROM SOMEWHERE


I was more than a little surprised when my parents suddenly told me that they were moving away for a year. In what was to be a new challenge in their lives, they were going to be caretakers of a temple in a little village in north Karnataka.

Though I knew my parents to be God-fearing, they never struck me as overtly religious. Growing up in a country of confounding modernity, we had shuttled between a few metropolitan Indian cities, away from our home state Karnataka. Due to this largely limited contact with my roots, I’d never had a chance to understand what this temple meant to my family.

For my father, a retired banker, the connection to this temple goes back to the formative years of his childhood. He was born in Savanur in 1955, when my grandfather, an advocate, was acting as caretaker of the same temple. The 14th of the 15 children that my grandparents had, his earliest memories are of Savanur, where he lived as part of a large joint family comprising my grandfather and his siblings. The childhood home was a stone’s throw away from the temple, and my father, with his two older sisters, would visit almost every day as wide-eyed children to participate in the daily rituals. Though they moved away from Savanur while he was still a young boy, these early years inevitably left a lasting and largely unconscious impression on his mind.

Mother agreed to join him in this endeavour, but not without apprehension. They lived a comfortable life in Bangalore, which they had decided to put on hold for a year. Unlike my father, she was not emotionally invested or nostalgic about the place. Her only motivation was a chance to render her service to God and the community. Her role was to handle the logistics that entail the everyday running of the temple, including taking care of the staff and devotees who often travelled from great distances. No stranger to organisation and management, she channelled her expertise in raising a family and soon made herself indispensable to the everyday operations of the temple. Her contribution especially shone through in this family endeavour. What makes me immensely proud is the fact that she emerged as a veritable leader in a rigidly patriarchal and orthodox setup.

The images document a homecoming, a unique and cathartic journey that we embarked upon together, as a family. Photography gave me a sense of purpose in a setting, which despite being my origin, was ineffably alien, a symbolic pull from the past that I was neither used to nor ever quite came to terms with. Being an agnostic, displays of overwhelming faith could be a source of discomfiture. Making pictures gave me a convenient mask for my scepticism. The project is presented through the lives of the temple’s inhabitants, mostly members of my extended family and some local residents of Savanur.