On the day I arrived at Vishwamitra Ganesh Secondary School, I met up with Dhiraj to take his portrait. To call Dhiraj shy is a serious understatement. If the principal wasn’t standing there prompting him to say hello, I doubt he would have uttered a word. His shoulders were hunched over and he chose to be laser-focused on his shoes, rather than make eye contact with me.
Last year, the Santi School Project held an art contest for students in Nepal. The winners’ work was displayed at Santi School events and featured in a calendar that was distributed all over the world. As I travelled from school to school, I got a chance to meet a handful of the winners, including Dhiraj.
I asked him some questions about himself and his drawings. He replied, but was so uncomfortable you would have thought I had asked him to give me a vital organ.
So I tried a different approach; I handed him a copy of the calendar and explained that the winning drawings were a big deal. The art was going to be a part of our exhibit in New York City and we wanted to display his photo along side of it, so people could see who the artist is.
Still, no reaction from Dhiraj.
I figured we had better just get down to business. We spent a little time making portraits and they ended up looking just as uncomfortable as Dhiraj was feeling. The outing was kind of a flop.
I returned to the school the next day and as I was hoofing it up the steep path, I turned the corner into the school courtyard. Within 10 seconds, Dhiraj spotted me.
“Hello!” he shouted. I did a double take, and before I was even able to reply, Dhiraj, wearing a jaunty scarf and a giant smile, greeted me near the front gate. And then he magically turned into a motormouth.
He told me that he took the calendar home and his mother was very, very proud of him. And without even pausing to take a breath, he went on to ask me a bunch of questions about school, the exhibit, America, just about everything he could think of.
The difference between the shy kid I met the day before and this confident one standing in front of me was like night and day. With the sunlight breaking through the clouds just enough to brush the side of his face, I snapped his photo where he stood.