I recently published my first book and lots of people have been getting back to me appreciating the cover of the book. One morning however I got a question as well, when a friend ended her email with, “Btw, that’s a lovely cover picture. Is there a story behind it?”. What a powerful question it was! When I read it, my entire body jumped up in enthusiasm and I suddenly realized that not only was there a very interesting story behind the cover, the story was actually wanting to be told! It had just been waiting for somebody to pop the question. My fingers have been itching for the last few days to type this story out – and now finally I have a chance to do it.
Mukta, this story is for you, not just because you popped the question that brought it forth but also because of an uncanny coincidence – the protagonist of this story, Seema Swami has a lovely daughter who shares your name.
This story started about a year back when I noticed a lady cycling around the IIMB Campus, stopping now and then and staring intently into the trees and bushes. I used to think I was the only weirdo around who did such things and so one day I asked her what she was doing. She said she was a nature photographer. That made sense I thought to myself, a nature photographer would need to observe nature closely. Later I was to learn that Seema’s speciality in nature photography was ‘macro-photography’, which did actually involve acute observation of nature in it’s tiniest of delights.
One day Seema asked me if she could take my pictures. I was a little stumped by her question but I also felt honoured that someone who claimed to be a ‘nature photographer’ wanted to photograph me. I felt as if she had thought of me as a ‘part of nature’ and so I said yes.
Our photoshoot was a really fun and liberating experience. Later, I was to realize that my dress could have been better put together, some makeup would have helped, etc, but on the day of the photoshoot, Seema did not make me feel self-conscious at all. She explained to me that she was training to become a portrait photographer and this was part of her learning – both she and I got into a roll of experimenting. She even handed me her camera taught me some basics of photography and let me pose her and take her pictures. We had loads of fun that day and I thought that was it! Little did I know that it would be a self-transformation experience for me and the start of what would turn into a beautiful friendship.
At the time when Seema, asked to click my photos, I was going through a lot of turmoil in my personal life. My self esteem and self confidence were both very low. This particular photo shoot turned out to be the ‘confidence-building-workshop’ that life sent my way, at a time I needed it the most. Seema had a talent for capturing and enhancing beauty in whatever she saw and clicked, and she brought that talent to life when clicking me as well. After I saw her pictures of me I could not ever see myself as anything other than beautiful (something that had not been true for me till then). I know that beauty is not skin deep, it is not about colour shades and proportions. There was something deeper that shifted within me post Seema’s photography and I found that I was open and willing to be seen in a way I had not been earlier. I think that having a person see and capture you through a genuinely appreciative and supportive lens, helps in shedding layers of negative self judgement that we tend to pile upon ourselves.
Soon after the photoshoot, I wrote a poem titled, ‘I’m Choosing Life’ which has now become the title of my book a year later. But I am going ahead of the story here. When I wrote this poem, Seema spontaneously picked it up, combined it with a photo she had clicked of me, did some artwork on it and turned it into a beautiful poster. Here is that original creation.
Fast forward now to a year later, when a collection of poems decided to gang up and become a book with the title, ‘I’m Choosing Life’. The cover photo for the book obviously had to be the same photo that once accompanied the title poem of the book. The poems would just not have it any other way!
So that is the story behind the cover of the book, and I am so glad my friend Mukta asked me the question that brought it forth. The next time I see something beautiful or intriguing I am also going to also ask, ‘Is there a Story Behind it’? Who knows which story is waiting to be told. Do pass this question around and get more stories out in the sunshine!
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Ps: Seema is now practicing portrait photography professionally in Mumbai. She is even conducting photography workshops and you can see more about her work here (www.seemaswami.com)
Here is a link to Seema’s narration of this fairytale (in Marathi) which she had posted sometime back (https://goo.gl/qZEhQf) and here is a link to the wilful book that insisted on having this photo as it’s cover (https://goo.gl/18cpBW)