"I don't take good pictures," she protested.
"That's okay," I answered. "I do."
Soon, the feast was over. She asked if I wanted to accompany her on a walk. Next, we strolled down a dusty, bustling street, past smiling people who sold watermelons and tropical fruits from a street cart, past tiny jewelry shops sporting many items of gold, and a woman who ground Indian coffee together with chicory. Soundarya began to tell me about her work as a freelance teacher, but suddenly stopped and pointed excitedly to a bird hidden in a tall tree. It was a very special bird, she exclaimed happily. She told me it's name, but I have forgotten.
We continued on. "A catty!" she suddenly squealed with delight. "Look! A beautiful catty!" In a tiny yard on the other side of gated fence, a small orange and white kitten stood at the feet of an attractive woman wearing a green and white saree. Soundarya scurried off to the fence, and, in answer to her plea, the woman lifted the kitten from the ground, hoisted it over the top of the high gate and transferred it to Sandy's eager hands.
At this moment, Sandy became my muse. I had been warned on good authority that I might not even find a cat in India and here, in just a few minutes, without having made any effort whatsoever to do so, Soundarya, this person who I felt like I had known forever, had led me straight to cat - a beautiful, adolescent, kitten - a "catty." How could she be anything but my muse?
I doubt that this catty ever had more love showered upon it then it did in the three or four minutes that Soundarya caressed and snuggled it, but the time finally came when she had to let go of it, to return it to the lady on the other side of the gate, a woman who obviously loved it. Reluctantly, Sandy raised the kitten back over the top of the fence and the woman took it back.
Even then, Sandy found it difficult to say goodbye. She reached through the gate to give the kitten a final scritch on the head. Then, sadly, we moved on. "Look! A baby monkey!" she suddenly squealed. Sure enough, there, on a ledge outside the second floor of a two story home was a baby monkey, obviously plotting how to sneak in through the window and steal something.
I try hard to learn the stories of the cats that I photograph, but I did not learn the story of this one. Through email and chat, I have since learned many things about the young woman, however. She is a person with a heart most compassionate toward animals. She is forever rescuing street puppies, giving a pat to the calves that freely roam the streets of Bangalore and she even rescues crows - a very daring thing for a young Hindu woman to do.
In the latest crow rescue incident, quite recently, she found an injured one in dire need of a vet. So, as her boyfriend drove her motorbike through the insane traffic that swarms the streets of Bangalore, she sat behind him and cradled the crow in her arms. To sooth it, she sang to it.
"What did you sing?" I asked in chat. I thought maybe a Hindu lullaby, or something else from her culture, a song that I would be completely unfamiliar with.
"Safe in the Arms of Jesus," she answered.
She found a vet, but in Hindu society, it is inauspicious to ever allow a crow inside; just like breaking a mirror, it can bring seven years of bad luck. The vet did not want to be bothered with the crow. Sandy - who told me she would rather suffer seven years of bad luck then to let a crow that she could help suffer - grew angry, and scolded the man.
Chastened, he turned his attention to the crow, and fixed whatever it was that ailed it.
Sandy and her boyfriend then released the crow in front of a crowd of people. As it flew to a tree, the crowd cheered, the people clapped.
See? How could she be anything but my muse?
As a general rule, I dread shooting weddings. I try to get out of them at all costs - unless they are for very special people, such as Vivek and Khena, Khena's sister Shaela and her husband Steve, and my own Toast Ed and his beautiful Blossom. Then I put my whole heart into the job. So Sandy and I have already agreed, when her cherished wedding day comes, I will be her photographer; I will travel back to India and I will photograph the wedding of this woman who I call Muse.
I will also return to the house behind the tall gate and if the woman and the cat are still there, I will have her tell me its story. If I need an interpreter, I will get one. I will photograph the adult cat. And once again, I will post its picture in my blog.
And for a wedding gift, I will give Sandy and her husband a kitten every bit as beautiful as this one.
That's a promise, dear Muse! Or would you prefer an Alaskan husky? I could do that, too - if I can get him across our borders. I know you would also like a Merganser duckling from Denali Park, but I could get arrested for that. You will just have to come here, to Alaska, and see those Mergansers for yourself, in the wild, where they belong.