Innocent Curiosity, Warsaw
Book review on Ramya

by Marcin Grabowiecki

What’s left of us after we die? Some of us try to extend their existence with offspring, others create immortal pieces of art, and some achieve things that are remembered for many years. But what with those who doesn’t have babies and didn’t do anything special in their lives? One of the saddest consequences of such situations are photos found at the flee markets or in trash, which ended up there because nobody needed them anymore. Yet still every life is special. Every one of us is a different universe that deserves attention.

This could have been Petra Stavast reasoning. Her book Ramya is a detailed documentary of life of elderly woman named Anneke, from whom the author rent a flat. (She probably acquired a nickname Ramya under the influence of Osho, buddhist guru she was interested in.) Story begins in 2001. We get to know the protagonist by the series of intimate portraits and interiors she inhabits. The sequence of similar crops makes us pay closer attention to gestures, facial expressions, moves and discreet changes in her appearance. Just

as if the author wanted us to think that the truth about Anneke is not to be found in those images but rather between them, in the space created by the flip of a page.

Ramya dies in 2012 and Petra Stavast tries to get as much information on her past as she can. This book is an evidence of this quest. Inside we can find stills documenting Ramya’s membership in the Rajneeshpuram commune (1981-1985) along with a footage from the self-improvement workshops in Amsterdam (90’s). Integral part of the book are photographs taken by Ramya herself, showing a great bound with her place of living. There are also pictures taken by her neighbour who tend to photograph people, Ramya among them, crossing a nearby bridge. All these, juxtaposed together, creates a very intriguing mosaic, showing Ramya’s extraordinary life. But it wouldn’t be complete if not for memories of Petra Stavast, a long time friend of Anneke, and her neighbours. They show us a wonderful woman living a colourful, however unfulfilled life, which led to depression and alcohol problems that became a major issue near the end of her life.

In one of the last photos, we can see a woman with grey hair, smoking a cigarette, looking peacefully at the camera. Why such sociable person had never found a partner and set up a family? Why a person for which self-improvement was so important became an alcoholic? We won’t find answers for those questions in this book. Even Petra Stavast’s thorough investigation doesn’t bring a solution, though it’s not really relevant. Thanks to her efforts we are able to get close with Ramya. We see her magnificence along with a tragedy of her faith. In the end, every human being will remain a mystery. Strong humanism mixed with multi-layered narration is what makes Petra Stavast’s book worthwhile.