IN A CONTINUUM: The wheel comes full circle, with rickety animal-drawn carts sharing road space with modern machines. The bullock cart anchors in the Pettah market to load sacks of flour

It is frequently said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Yet some images go beyond words and stab the heart. As a photographer, my most enduring interest has always been human life on the edge of the society.

The wheel is one of the oldest human inventions which virtually changed our civilizations. A journey that took 20 days on foot could be cut down to 10 thanks to the wheel. Goods could be more easily transported. In fact, when someone invents a product so revolutionary that it fundamentally changes the way we live, we say he or she has “reinvented the wheel”. Such is the prominence given to the wheel as an invention.

I thought of writing this piece after viewing a recent Facebook post by former Features Editor of the Sunday Observer, Aditha Dissanayake. It had a beautiful picture of a bicycle and many viewers commented on it and I also commented on it because the bicycle (two wheeler) was an integral part of my childhood days in the village.

Riding the bicycle was a refreshing experience in our childhood days in the village and we helped our mothers to transport goods to the town on the bicycle as well.

Even today, the human-powered two wheeler is perhaps the main option of transport in the rural community, though the powered two-wheeler and three-wheeler have made some inroads. I always travel with my Nikon camera in remote corners of the country, as well as urban areas to photograph the ancient sites and day to day life people which is central to my work as a photographer and writer. During my visits to those places in the recent past, I have captured many moods of rural folks with wheels.

For those on the margins, life is inseparable from the wheel, which not just adds to their mobility but also sustains their figurative and metaphorical journeys. Here, I attempt to capture the idea of the ‘wheel’ in its various shapes, sizes, uses and contrasts in different places in the country. On the other hand, technology has taken the idea of the wheel to greater heights, even taken it literally to the skies and beyond.

However, the wheel of fortune has not turned for large sections of the society in the country. Their wheel is where their cradles hang. It is their feet and strollers, livelihood and shelter, and source of entertainment. It is under the shade of the wheel that they grapple with the shadows of the past.

Apparently, the wheel has taken the shutterbugs in different directions over the years. Forgotten in the commonplace, but omnipotent here on the margins. Didn’t the wheel in the ‘Dhammachakra’ envisage an equal society? The Buddha was the one who ‘turned the wheel of the Dhamma’ and thus the wheel symbol is the Dhmmachakra, or the ‘Wheel of the Dhamma’.

The wheel also represents the endless cycle of Samsara, or rebirth and the path to Nirvana, which can only be escaped by means of the Buddha’s teachings. But for the less fortunate, did the wheel turn in the direction of their destination? Will it ever turn?

(Sunday Observer)

back to top