Destitution does not prevent people from having the territorial instinct. A destitute woman.

The Territorial Instinct. All Of Us Have It


What do you see when you look at this image? I am convinced that, for most people, your eyes will focus on the destitute woman in the picture. Maybe how she sits will tug at your heartstrings and make you reflect on the state of inequality in the world. All this is correct, and whenever I open this image, I don’t know how to respond. In my worldview, this is a moving image. Yet, another element I intend to draw your attention to is the way she arranged the bits of cloth around her. Despite her abject poverty, her territorial Instinct is alive and well.

The Animal Kingdom

We all like to stake our territorial claims. In this, we do not differ from our brothers and sisters in the animal kingdom. We would be rootless if we did not have a place of our own. I can imagine we’ve had this instinct since our earliest ancestors appeared on the planet.

Mera Watan. A Story

When I was in school, I read a story called “Mera Watan,” which loosely translates as “My Country, My Home.” We don’t use the word “watan” often these days. It is almost impossible to translate the strong emotional element built into the word. The story takes place just after August 1947. The leaders of the time agreed to divide India into two countries–India and Pakistan. Many people–my parents, for instance–left everything behind and came to India to start life again. However, even today, when I meet someone whose ancestors come from “Pakistan,” I feel a strong kinship with them.

The story’s hero returned to his village in the new country of Pakistan. Someone noticed he was a Hindu and alerted the rest of the village. They beat him up. Just before he died, his old neighbor recognized him. When he asked his dying friend why he returned, he replied, “This is my land.” (Yeh mera watan hain). No territorial instinct guided him, but he went back because of the strong emotional pull from his old land.

How We Express Our Territorial Instinct

People express their territorial instinct in various ways, some strange and dangerous. It is not a matter of urinating on a tree to claim a carve out your own space. We read about corporate takeovers and war. Ego and the desire to own more space, influence, and power drive us to activities that are often dangerous. The desire for power rules us.

What About Her?


But what about impoverished people like the woman in this image? There is one fort in Benares, and she sat by the riverbank next to the fort. That’s the image–a poor, hungry, powerless image next to a king’s home. Forget about kings and petty officials who may threaten or harass her. Do your eyes travel to the men in the image? Local hoodlums can threaten her security.

What do you see in the image beyond the obvious? That’s the question I hope you ask yourself. Before you go, contrast the color image with the monochrome version. The woman, in the monochrome version, blends into the background. She has become almost invisible. If I had not processed the image to highlight her, she would be hidden from sight.

I wanted to draw your attention to her, and this is why I processed the photograph the way I did.

Published by Rajiv

I have been around the block a bit. I've lived in four countries, and in many parts of my country. I have been fortunate enough to meet some really good people, and some really lousy ones, all of whom have taught me much. I am passionate about photography, writing, Indian history and continuing on this grand journey towards death.

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