‘The storyboard of India Shining hit me rudely in that click’

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Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh
Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh

Moments that I capture become a part of me. I have never been able to detach myself from my frames. It becomes difficult, at times, to ‘eye out’ a frame and can it for eternity. Things are so very fluid at weddings. Emotions flow like the mountain spring; people shift around in their Brownian motion. I wonder how many get to really see these moments captured. How many actually get to witness themselves.

It was the first in this year’s calendar. A hint of chill in the air, more than a hint of the past week’s Diwali crackers laced the evening atmosphere. The bride’s father had been benevolent in sending a cab for my transport.

He seemed particularly proud. The mother was sad. Her jewellery and make-up did not quite hide those play of emotions. Thankfully, the wedding ceremony had started off by 9 and by 1 am, I found myself taking the last of my snaps: the mandap after the couple have taken their vows, the flames of the holy fire almost licking the peripheral bricks as if hurt at the neglect and disarray around the place where a new life story had just begun.

I got into the cab, rolled down the window and began taking pictures. Empty streets and jaded street light pattern; some strange neon signs; families cooling off after a hard day’s work; beggars smoking up.

I noticed a lorry just about 200 metres ahead. We were on an overbridge and had crossed the top when it suddenly came into view. The camera was ready for a shot, and I knew that such a frame could hardly be composed. I took my shot. The flash lit bright for that nano-second. And it was then that I realised the folly of it all.

A traffic sergeant stopped the cab. Without a word, I got down, a hundred frames, random, flashing in my mind. “You took a photograph, is it?” I did not know whether it was a rhetorical question. “It is just a hobby, sir. The whole frame looked dangerously beautiful and I could not resist. I mean no harm, sir, it’s just a hobby…” How could I explain to him my romanticism with the camera? That there was nothing sinister to me taking that photo, only the beauty of the frame? Why would that traffic sergeant ever get the point?

He hardly spoke. We hardly spoke after that. He reached out, asking for the camera. I knew I had no option.

He fired his Enfield and rode away. The photographic reel, now exposed and useless, lay on the neon-lit cement. It was just me and the cab, the only object on that street, that night: a frame of reference that I would never forget.

The traffic sergeant was riding his Enfield alongside the eight-wheel truck. His hand extending to the driver’s window. A hand extending out with some crumpled currency notes. I clicked almost impulsively. All in one motion! The scene had hit me for just that second and triggered me to take the shot. In the dead of night, on a neon-lit bridge, the storyboard of India Shining hit me rudely. It told me how the darkest realities came alive in the dark of the night.

The flash of my camera gave me away. In the darkness of the night, the darkness of corruption was momentarily overpowered by that click. The negative was spoilt. Don’t ask me how I lived up to my contract and handed the wedding photographs (the same reel had the wedding photos; yes, it is not a DSLR)!

That frame has stayed with me, more real, more beautiful than any I have ever printed. Is it the senses? The power of our minds? Or is it the rush that drives us towards things that we fall for? I don’t know. The camera does not talk back. It only aids my thoughts and at times it just joins me, without much ado, in my pursuit of happiness.

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