Photographs and Memories

By Rigzin Chodon Leh, Sep 24, 2013
Leh :
As the voices of the children echoed the street of the Old Leh Town, I listened carefully to understand what made their cries so joyful and loud. Their voices were filled with excitement with a sudden impulse that, for a moment I wondered what got them so excited at this time of the day. I could hear few adult voices as well. They sounded unfamiliar but when I listened intently I heard few foreigners asking the little Ladakhi kids to jump by counting 1, 2, 3 and go.

All this happened while I was making the evening tea at 5 O’clock, a time when the kids are back from school, a time when they have leisure time at their hands and a time when they can go out of their respective homes and play with their friends. I heard them all this while but now with those excited voices, I longed to see them play. I peeped out of the window and saw young Ladakhi boys and girls wearing cute little clothes; some of the girls wore scarves on their head. They were happily climbing the walls of the Chorten in the street. Along with them I saw three foreigner guys; they were loaded with cameras in their hands. They seem to be persuading the kids to jump at the count of three. The fair-skinned tall foreigners had the kids enchanted with their friendly nature. The kids liked it when they lifted them up and placed them on the wall of the Chorten with utmost care. The magic struck when they smiled and laughed with them and clicked numerous pictures with their magic wand—in this case, the camera.
I heard someone call the name “Angmo” time and again. The voice of a man called again and said, “Angmo, Come home”. A little girl who replied, “O lay, coming”, never seemed to have returned home. She was too engrossed in the interesting turn of event with the new friends that she met today.
This rendezvous came to an abrupt end when one of the Italian men said, “That’s enough, now we go” to those kids. The innocence of the children and their laughter seemed dull and disenchanted as soon as they heard what the man said. As the guys packed their things, the excited kids just sat on the Chorten wall thinking how abruptly their time with those men ended. The guys were leaving, they patted the kids on their little head, waved them goodbye and vanished in oblivion. The kids looked at the empty street, deciding what to do next.

Then the eldest kid from the lot held the hand of one of the younger kids and asked her to come along. The young one without hesitating extended her small hands. They jumped down from the Chorten wall and like the leader of the pack of young ones, led them through a street-- a street which, after sometime, I could not track.
I sat there looking through the window, contemplating on all that just happened.  The group of children met the group of foreigners, shared a laugh or two, posed for pictures that the foreigners thought they wanted-- pictures of the wonderful friendly young Ladakhi children--who on their own terms became pals even for that brief moment.
But what I thought went missing is the picture of those kids returning home hands in hands with their brothers, sisters and friends. The faces of the foreigners will fade away in time but the pictures of the ‘joyous’ faces will be saved somewhere; maybe on a blog, or on a face book album or a magazine or a photo journal or on just another folder of a laptop which would be titled—Leh, Ladakh, Summer of 2013.

Brief momentarily pictures like these does not paint the real picture of the kids of Ladakh. What we miss in a picture sometimes is the real picture behind it. No one clicks the picture of a kid who is sad to have been left alone to play and go back to their ordinary playtime or life. Only the happiest or the joyous moment is captured. The kids holding hands, leaving the street is a mental picture I clicked and it bothers me to think of how people take advantage of their innocence and their friendly nature. They come and take what they want and leave the kids half-heartedly wanting for more. And when they know they are not going to get anything more, they leave hoping that some other day they will get to play with some new foreigners who would click their pictures again.