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Behind the Shot : The lure of the Khaju Bridge singer

Updated: May 16, 2021

I always had been a lazy photographer. It’s been my second day at the beautiful city of Isfahan, Iran. After a long & tiring journey across Iran, I managed to find a decent air conditioned room in Isfahan in the summer of 2014. Also I had been used to a siesta, after a long stay in the Middle East. And when I woke up it was way beyond six and the sun had already set… still, I gathered myself had a cup of tea… picked up the camera bag and didn’t know where to go. Across the hotel, was the Si-o-se-pol, 'bridge of thirty-three spans’ which is the largest of the eleven historical bridges on the Zayanderud river. It was mid of May, and the river had almost dried up… however, the bridge across the river had just been lit up and promised few good shots… and I continued my walk along the river. Very soon, I realized that there are a series of beautiful bridges across the river like the Firdausi bridge, Choobi bridge and finally the Khaju bridge. As I continued my stroll, along the beautiful gardens and parks along the river, I found a sense of vibrancy that envelopes the place, so much so that some even consider Isfahan, a Paris in Iran. One can’t miss its elegant Perso–Islamic structures and grand establishments. Truly, ‘Isfahan is half of the world’. The tungsten lit bridges provided a magical image against the dark backdrop. Still I never knew what I was moving into… another bridge the Khaju bridge… I suddenly felt an excitement in the air, I hastily checked my lenses & camera setting, ensured my choice of lenses to allow me to take decent close up pictures in an under lit condition, and still be honest to the mood.

The Khaju bridge (built in 1650) is a historical piece of architecture that links the Khaju quarters with the Zoroastrian quarters across the Zayanderud river. The bridges serves a place for social gatherings, chats and finally music. It’s interesting to note that the word Khaju is a distortion of the word eunuch (Khoja), as a mark of respect for the eunuchs of the Safavid era. Historians and poets had glorified the beauty and mood of the place, which I never knew at that point of time… just by chance I happened to be there.

As I walked down the bridge from one chamber to the other, trying to find lines and patterns, which I can convey in my photographs, a distant singing and clapping lured me further…. the entire stretch of the Khaju Bridge was like a concert hall, crowded with men, woman and children. At certain sections of the bridge, it was so crowded, that you wouldn’t even find an empty place to sit and many were on the steps of the bridge to watch the water and sing.

Soon I understood that this is a long tradition of the city….and does not relate to old or young, everyone who has a good voice or maybe sad or broken-hearted comes under Khaju Bridge and sings their heart out.

Well by now, I was experiencing the whole scene more clearly through my view finder, shooting and slowly moving backwards step by step, to get a fuller & wider perspective… and just when I thought, I need to watch my steps, I turn back and realized a singular step backward, would have plunged me into the mid river, from the top of the bridge.

Without realizing what the songs were all about…the alien lyrical sound of the old, young, their instruments, the burble of the river and wind created a spell on me, I was focused and lost and yet fully awake. This is where and how I find my photos, from the unknown.

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