J. Ramanan’s photographs recreate the magic of the mountains

“Do you know what would have happened had there been no Himalayas?” asks photographer J. Ramanan. “We would have lost our monsoons! We owe our rains to them. During summer, hot winds from the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea are blocked by these mountains and the Western Ghats. The winds precipitate and result in blessed rain.”

J. Ramanan’s love affair with the Himalayas began when he was eight. He was a part of the Boy Scouts and used to trek. He loved the idea of sharing his stories with friends. So, he began to click pictures. Ramanan is now 62; the same passion urges him to hit the hills, every year. He has displayed 52 photographs from his expeditions to the Himalayas and Western Ghats at Contemplate Art Gallery. The show is called: Mountains of Our Destiny.

Towering mountains shrouded in mist, snow-capped trails, a yak seemingly meditating on a slope as it enjoys the setting sun…Ramanan’s photos at once transport you to the Himalayas. The mountains then give way to the lush green forests of South India. The Western Ghats stand in all their glory. Among his subjects are the dense, dark forests of Silent Valley and Valparai, gushing waterfalls, and the roaring Periyar river.

Ramanan points to a photo of a Tibetan woman, wearing nose rings and long silver earrings. “She is from Osla village. These villagers claim they are the descendents of Duryodhana. They have even built a temple for him,” he says. A boy and a furry black dog smile at you from another frame. “This boy is special. He is revered as a reincarnation of the Lama. Before they die, Tibetan Lamas pronounce the name of a child in whose body their spirit will be reborn. This child is one of them,” says Ramanan.

There are a few black-and-white photographs too. One of them shows the Rakshas Tal. “The story goes that Ravana wanted to bring Kailas to the South and did severe penance to Lord Shiva, here. Hence, the name.” The Himalayan topography lends itself to black-and-white images; they have a charm, says Ramanan.

The captions are by his wife, Vrinda, who is also a trained trekker. A literature graduate from the University of Madras, Vrinda is also a Bharatanatyam exponent. “When amidst the mountains, I translate well my feelings into words,” she says.

“If you want to sense the sheer size and grandeur of these mountains, look here,” says Ramanan, pointing at another photo. It shows a shepherd and his yak trudging up the hills. Against the gigantic structures, the man and animal look like tiny specks. In these images, the mountains look mesmerising and threatening, at the same time. As Vrinda warns in one of her captions, “One sloppy step and there is the danger of falling.” But then, she adds: “Man, more determined than ever/Clambers his way up these mighty slopes/ Undeterred and undaunted by any frightening force.”

(The exhibition is on till May 4 from 10.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. The photographs are priced between Rs. 7,500 and Rs. 30,000)

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