The story behind the cover of my book-Samir Satam
Half an hour away from busy market streets of Leh, is a quaint village named Stok. As you step in this village, old arms of time embrace you with the scent of village life. Smoke from wood burning in hearth teasing prayer flags fluttering in the wind, monks in red robes walking across white-washed Chorten (Buddhist shrines) are molecular signatures of the simple way of life that locals lead here. There were homes made of clay plastered walls made of sun-baked mud bricks and wooden beams, the fragrance of flatbreads being cooked in those houses, the aromas of Ladakhi butter tea, and Chhaang (local barley beer).
As we strolled through raw paths and roads of Stok village trying to absorb in the essence of life here, an old woman with a wicker basket on her back walked in, as if from a different era. She had already passed by us, but feet of my thoughts couldn’t help following her, and somehow, I found myself imagining the life she must have led in these mountains, which have been a home to her happiness, sadness, ecstasies, and griefs. Currents of restlessness ran through my nerves as thoughts wandered behind this stranger, wondering about her childhood, her youth, her family. Had she lived all her life here in this beautiful yet rough place? Is that basket on her back an accessory of her working life? Does she have someone back home to take care of her?
I had little time and fewer opportunities to understand people who lived here, accompanied by a helpless and useless desire to do so. I wrongly assumed this place, and its people would soon slip out of my memory. A suffocating feeling of us being completely isolated from one another started crawling upon me, the kind of feeling that makes us feel tiny and insignificant in this vast universe, with no way for us to get to know people in little corners of the world, to understand their lives, to empathize with them. These impossibilities felt almost unbearable. I had to make a conscious effort to shake myself out of that feeling as it had started making me feel increasingly stifled.
While bearing such a storm within, I clicked this photograph of the old woman walking away, dissolving in her routine life, into the sepia tones of this village, utterly unaware of how she had left footprints on a stranger’s mind. I tried to bury this photograph later in a folder where all my pictures from the Ladakh trip stay. However, my wandering mind did randomly revisit the moment when that old woman had passed by me. When I was working on my book, the ghost of this photograph knocked on my door, reminding me of its existence. I knew I was looking at that fleeting moment, which is going to turn into the cover of my third book ‘Rhythm of Remembrance.’