Kulasekarapattinam, October 2013.
You want it to stop but it won’t stop. You fall under its spell and suddenly you can hear everything; so total, all at once; the wrinkles of your skin like accordion bellows, a note for every spasm, a stab with every inward breath. I was standing, as were a hundred thousand other people, and I was falling, as were at least what I thought was all of them. Who is to know and who is to care. I was falling and I thought I was going to be crushed under the feet of the hundred thousand impatient mad men until there is neither thought nor wonder left in the jellied remains of what could be then, anybody. Nothing prepares you for death; and nothing prepares you for almost death.
What's hardest is the helplessness. When the mob takes you over. When you feel like you've lost control of yourself, when you are now everybody. When you’re neither falling nor standing, when you’re without balance and without physics, when you’re waiting to fall expecting to be trampled upon, when a thousand strange elbows pierce your neck, spine, shoulders and every other square inch of your flesh. Sweaty bodies, slimy, slippery, writhing and wriggling, unable to move, defeatist but fighting, grabbing and shoving in anguish and hopeless failure. When you’re a pincushion for the desperate and you drown in helplessness. That’s the hardest. A certain helplessness that only laughter can understand. There is no pain, just anguish. And there is no relief, just wonder.
No air felt as cool, and if i did feel relief, I know of no other feeling as absolute, as when I found myself standing alone bare moments later, still alive, still breathing, albeit with a shortness of breath.
They were dressed as gods but they're not gods. Fires. Scorching flames mere inches from tortured faces. Forcing themselves to experience pain, as if penance absolves; suffering now to be saved later. Trances and temporary insanity. Death felt so close, yet so far. Somehow, I don’t fear death so much as I fear how it will happen. Religious fervor is a mad rush. The energy can rattle your bones. You don't love God so much as you sentence yourself to feel like his slave, and it feels good, like you deserve it. For the love of god. Hah.
It was too hot to even stand near the cinders. The sun had already burned the earth to a crisp. But, sometimes, when I have my camera in my hands, I lose a sense of primal humanness. I dissipate into energies, I stop thinking, I stop being. The mob forces your hand, feeding you with energy you know is not your own. Totality is everything I look for in experience. The trance is scary and addictive.
I ran into the strangest people dressed in masks stranger still. To me, masks have always been a metaphor for disguise. A veneer of pretense, should it be thought about it in ways it shouldn’t be thought about. But I ran into people who became their masks, people who let their souls shine through, people who were transformed by what they were wearing. I remain unsure if they became their masks or if their masks let them become themselves. I remember a mother who pointed at her kid and told me, "take his picture, he's my son, he is mad”. “Paithiyam-pullai”, she kept repeating. His mother laughed and he smiled. I looked at his face and I searched for sadness but I couldn't find it, so I provided my own and I felt sorry. He just smiled. I took his photograph. It makes me sad when I look at it. But he looks so happy. It tears me up.