The last post you read was probably also the last one that would give you that fuzzy warm feeling. It might have restored your hope in humanity and also made you a bit of an optimist. The last two posts however might be a bit morbid for most of you. I did mention in the very first episode that I would write two pieces on how I made a complete fool of myself on a few of my travels when interacting with people from different parts of the world. I am sorry to have digressed from that path for these last two pieces. But upon revisiting incidents that have happened over the past two years, I felt it necessary to talk about some depressing things and using imagery to supplement the narrative.
So for the third episode of Anecdotes from the Analogue World, I’ll talk about:
I’ll be showing you images of the same bridge that I have taken over a period of 6 years from various angles. This bridge and a conversation that occurred on it affected me rather deeply.
I’ve been wanting to talk about this for quite a while but a series over the last two years created some impetus in me to finally sit and type this out. This is not a happy read so stop here if you’re expecting to leave this post with a smile.
The year was 2018 and the month, December. The photo on the left of the diptych is an epic failure on my part in attempting an O Winston Link style photo.
The photo on the right (shot 3 hours before) is what I wanted but with the light streaks that you see on the other photo. But the event that happened before the failed photo is what made me write this post. That bridge you see in the both the photos is called Ravine Viaduct No. 2. It’s on the Patalpani – Kalakund section of the Western Railways in India. I was photographing a newly started “Heritage Service” that had commenced after several calls to preserve this last meter gauge rail route in the state of Madhya Pradesh.
The first time I photographed this bridge was probably from atop a tunnel at one end of it.
The next two times too, nothing much happened besides an annoyed old lady that kept asking me to leave because she wanted to bathe in the river while I was shooting the bridge above her.
On one occasion when I had colour film in my camera I managed to get a shot of a shepherd with the train. But his flock left well before the train came so it was not the shot I wanted. But serendipitously, I caught two “roof romeos” on the train, riding “top class”.
And then in 2018 December this disaster happened:
1.5 hours before this photo was taken, I stood on that very bridge and peeked down. The heritage train makes a stop just before this bridge so passengers can alight and enjoy the surrounding scenery. It was a chilly evening. As I stood and looked out, a voice beckoned “Sir, is everything okay? Do you want to talk? Any problem you have can be sorted out. Please come and sit with me in my cabin. We can talk along the way to Kalakund”.
It was the train guard who had gotten off with the railway officers. This was a special run of the heritage service for senior railway officers. I almost laughed at his tone and turned around to face him. Wondering if it was someone I had photographed before, I turned to face him. I was wondering if he was one of many railway staff that went out of their way to make me comfortable at the railway stations I had been to before. But no bell rang. No familiarity appeared. I had never seen him before.
He took a step back once he saw my tripod hanging by the side of my bag and the huge ARAX/Kiev camera slung around my neck. With a smirky smile I told him all I wanted to do was to take a photo of the returning train. I also told him I’d love to have a chat with him but I only had that one night to take the photo of the returning train so I’ll stay on. He laughed out suddenly and said “Oh okay, so you’re just taking photos, no problems then….” He walked away. The train left. I waited for it to return.
The shot failed miserably. The two flash guns I had setup were hopelessly underpowered and could not light up the locomotive hence you see this ghostly streak of the train without the locomotive. Of course, I only realised this when I processed the film in Singapore. EPIC facepalm moment. The moon lit up the other parts of the picture you see on the left. It would have been pitch dark had there not been a moon that evening. And much like a person falling from the ladder gets hit by the falling ladder, the film back on the camera leaked light so the sky looks like it’s mid morning. The sky in this picture is way brighter than my project’s future as of now!
I walked back the couple of kilometres to a catch siding called Tantya Mama where my rickshaw driver was waiting for me. Thanked the moon mentally for lighting up the tracks as my torch’s battery was about to call it a day too. I told the rickshaw driver about the “crazy” train guard and the strange things he asked me. I said, “He probably knew better than me how badly I was squandering money and time on this project.” The rickshaw driver’s face changed. He said, “No sir, a lot of people commit suicide from that bridge. Especially after board exam results come out. The guard was just making sure you were okay. You must have looked very sad when you stood on the bridge.” It was then it hit me. I am a slow learner.
The chilling feeling was no longer due to the weather. The human mind has a way to stop us from taking our own life. When you peak down steep cliffs or tall buildings, your heart beat races, your body quivers sometimes, some people feel giddy while others just don’t even look down. The mental defence mechanism begins working in full force. In most cases it wins.
But depression hits that very mechanism when it overpowers the mind. At least that’s what I understand. But the problem is, our vocabulary, when it comes to dealing with depressed people, is limited to two words. Lazy and crazy.
We never tell a man with a broken hand that he should use his arm because everyone else is able to do so. But we definitely tell depressed people to stop being depressed. Even when that mechanism to overcome that emotion has broken down. Either the non depressed people are crazy enough to think depressed people can cure themselves by snapping out of it or they are too lazy to try and understand this issue a bit more. It’s the non depressed people that are the lazy and crazy ones perhaps.
When it hits the peak, the depressed person probably feels he or she is a burden to the world or perhaps the world itself is the burden on him or her. But the result is more or less the same……
I read an article about how people who survive the suicide attempt at the Golden Gate Bridge immediately regret their actions the moment they jump. Every problem becomes solvable. Every barrier seems surmountable. So we can probably guess that the mental defence mechanism recovers during the fall. But by then, wretched gravity is busy making that recovery futile… And all too often it wins. Only 4% of suicide attempts fail on the Golden Gate bridge. I wonder how many failed on the Ravine Viaduct No 2 that I stood on. I’ll never know.
We could all use that train guard in our lives at some point. At least a handful of people I knew could have used that train guard’s help. To just appear at that moment of despair. And ask if everything was okay or offer a chat to solve all problems like what he did to me. It’s one thing to not know what to wake up to, but it’s quite another to forcefully ensure that there is no waking up ever after. I am at least familiar with the former.
I have walked over umpteen bridges on the Indian railways and fortunately I never fancied jumping of any. And I hope I never change my mind on this. I don’t know if I am ready to hear about similar suicide stories on any of the other ridges I have photographed.
If you think money can’t buy you happiness, remember never to tell a depressed person that he or she has everything and there is nothing to be depressed about. It’s very much like telling an asthamatic person that there is nothing to gasp about because there is plenty of air around.
In my crazy and lazy state of mind, I didn’t even ask the guard’s name. I hope he’s alright.
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