Have a Look-See

Saudamini Deo talks about the art of seeing without being seen, a trait worth developing in this constantly moving, fast-paced world.


Her gaze struck me, almost by mistake, as I was leaning against one of the white columns of Connaught Place. I saw her seeing others and we looked at each other, perhaps for a little more than three seconds. I lingered my look in recognition: we both belonged to a secret club of seeing, whose members often don’t know each other and yet, on busy streets and silent galleries, they instantly know they are not strangers.

I walked away hastily, knowing that I had stood in one place long enough for people to notice me, almost forgetting that an important part of seeing is not being seen, moving away before you become visible to others, before someone more invisible than you sees you, someone as invisible as Vivian Maier, who photographed Chicago without being noticed, till after her death, when a man bought an unopened carton full of undeveloped film. Always trust undeveloped film, T. had written to me when I was 21 and had just started using a camera.

I continued to walk till a window display made me pause. A woman with a bouquet instead of a face, and I wondered who had thought of this and if that person had seen Dali’s Woman With a Head of Roses or if we might share that friend who once told me about a woman who had yellow lilies painted on her mirror, so when she looked at it she saw those flowers and not herself. I also looked at the earring, which were just like the ones worn by a woman loved by the man I love. In those moments of memory, so much: red of the ruby, pink of the shop, splintered light, scent of the mint and suddenly a piece of blue chiffon before a hand without an arm picks up the emerald bracelet from the display revealing the white porcelain of my grandmother’s jewellery box in which she wanted to keep the un-bought rose-shaped watch she saw in a British shop in this same Connaught Place, years before my mother was born in the house that had five holes in place of a window through which you could see the neighbour’s white cat that had green eyes.

  An important part of seeing is not being seen, moving away before you become visible to others, before someone more invisible than you sees you

I had just turned away when my diseased heart saw you, or someone like you, standing in the abandoned part of the outer circle, with only your mouth visible in the geometries of shadow: your dark lips surrounded by shades of brown black gray, ready, as they always are, to recite the lines of Mir for one look of intimacy. You seemed almost beautiful in the scene, which you had no idea I was seeing.  I thought I should go say hello, photograph you before asking what happened to that fever you always thought you had and whether you still have that cologne I had brought you from Grasse. But the light changed, almost suddenly, fragmenting your beauty into uneven pieces.

I walked past, with my newly pierced nose, towards that bridge under which, in my dream, your car had crashed against those pistachio green and zebra-striped walls and I didn’t know what happened to you. In the same dream, or another, someone had called to tell me that you’d died. The future, I know, will return to me someday.

Years later, today, a battery toy car kept bumping against the walls of this old structure with no one around to operate it and a girl looked at it continuously, while some people smiled and walked the empty roads of an unknown city on the digital screens behind her.

A few hundred metres before that bridge whose name I always forget, I stopped to buy a cup of tea and as I got up from paying the old woman, only 77 she said, a mannequin fell inside one of the glass displays, and two young boys came out to dismantle him.

If you are still enough, this city will arrange itself for a moment before disintegrating into puzzles again.

Saudamini Deo was born in Jaipur and has spent most of her time living between cities. Currently, in Delhi. She writes, and takes photographs.

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