There are no strangers

Ever noticed how, when you’re attending an exhibition or an event, many people have ready smiles? I certainly have. So I generally have a perpetual smile on my face — childhood habit — because my eyesight is not 20/20. I remember someone once accusing me of not smiling back at them — truth is, I have short sight and astigmatism which make me look slightly vague, and I just didn’t see her. In any case, my Mom was always amused by the beatific smile I seemed to carry all the time and would tell me I looked like I always had pleasant thoughts running through my head.

So yeah, back to the smiles at events. I find that the attendees invariably are ready to break into a smile, probably because they expect to see someone they know. My theory is, they are there to make friends, so not surprising that they would smile at complete strangers. It makes sense to me.

Any event I go to, especially the open-to-public ones, my attitude is always one of “I am ready to help.” I tend to easily slip into the role of guide and enjoy noticing every little thing around me — the milling crowd, people from all walks of life, enjoying the street food, kids running around bugging their folks to buy something they’ll probably never get but nevertheless persisting. I love the buzz of voices as I walk through, camera poised to catch what appeals to my eye.

And yes, I smile a lot at people. I’ll bet they sometimes wonder if they know me — must be the bespectacled look. Sometimes I enjoy taking photos with total strangers. Doesn’t seem unusual at all — it is as if we are in a separate universe where everyone is connected.

Last week, I visited the Chitra Santhe, an annual event that happens under the aegis of the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath. Artists from all over the country apply well in advance for permission to exhibit their work. On D-day, the entire road where KCP is located is closed to traffic. With the artists, there are other vendors who arrive from all over to make hay while the sun shines. A walk through this road is a treat for the eyes, as one gets to enjoy various forms of art. There are talented portrait artists scattered all over the place, ready to do a fabulous job sketching.

I usually have some company, but this year, I went alone. Although, once I got there, I was part of hundreds of thousands of people and as usual, felt like I was at a huge friendly party.

I had a field day clicking photos of kids, art, portrait artists, and just about everything that caught my eye.

At one point I bumped into another photographer — I have the moving mass of people to thank for that — who was quite unperturbed about the collision. I couldn’t move away immediately and just stayed put. It was good to just stand there watching him looking into his telephoto lens, with his assistant hovering near him. I found myself wondering what the photographer’s face might look like. I could see his long curly tresses — perfectly permed, his hands holding the camera in place, his stance implying concentration, and his blue denim shirt and jeans. I smiled to myself, thinking, hey, here’s a look that would fit my novel’s hero to a T — if I were to write one, that is. Impulsively, I clicked a photo of him.

The next moment, he moved the lens away from his face. I was inordinately pleased to see his charming smile and smiled back in response. I showed him the photo I had clicked and he said, “hey! that’s a great pic!”

I thanked him and we moved on amicably, in opposite directions. I spent the rest of the afternoon chatting up strangers, helping people take photos and generally had a great time until I decided to head back home.

I felt good. I’ve always loved solo travel and this day seemed like one. During my ride home, I found myself thinking that there are no strangers in life, really. Only friends we haven’t met yet.