A gadget that fascinated me during my college days was the camera. The very sight of someone carrying a Yashica or a Canon made me yearn for a camera all the more. All that I could afford with my budget was the Agfa Isoly II. Its cost: a princely three hundred and thirty rupees then. I proudly carried it around but used it sparingly for the recurring costs on film rolls. Subsequent processing and printing costs too had to be factored in.
Photographs were a precious commodity then. For every roll loaded, you had just 12 moments to capture for posterity. One could manage a couple of additional exposures as bonus, by deftly handling the manual winding knob. My parents did not want to discourage me, but rationed their financial support. Soon I realised it was a luxurious obsession that I could ill afford at that stage in my life. Initially, I would buy a film roll that cost just `8 and could take 12 snaps. For the first few clicks my passion would dominate me and once the meter read eight or nine, I would curb my instincts and stop shooting at random.
I considered myself a Raghu Rai, capturing scenes that attracted my attention and even sending them to some newspapers for publication, only to receive them back with a comforting letter from the editor. My treasured moment was in 2016 when I met the ace photographer at a literary event in Chennai and took a ‘selfie’ with him.
The only time I was really excited and happy wielding the camera was way back in February 1982 while watching the Ranji Trophy cricket match at M.A. Chidambaram Stadium between Tamil Nadu and Delhi in which umpire P D Reporter was roughed up following a controversial decision and the match came to a standstill. Spectators ran onto the pitch and chairs were flung from the stands. I was there witnessing the whole incident. Some celebrities were present in the pavilion.
I quickly froze some of those images where the ground wore a war-torn look. Not stopping at that, I captured Cho Ramaswamy who was present there and who kept repeatedly making fervent appeals to the crowd to allow play to continue. Having contributed an article for his journal Pickwick, I submitted the photographs for publication in his magazine but they never saw the light of the day. In the process of covering the incident, I sidled up to Cho, introduced myself and took a photograph of him having coffee with a TNCA official, who requested me to share the photograph with him. That indeed was a moment of recognition more for my passion and of course for me!
M S Vaidyanathan