CHANDRA LAYOUT:Dayananda Sirigere uses PVC pipes and discarded camera equipment to make powerful lenses for about a tenth of the market price.
His interest in the ‘practical’ aspect of science lessons stemmed in school. “My father was fascinated with cameras, but he couldn’t afford them,” he says If wanting to see what the craters of the moon and Saturn’s rings piqued his curiosity, it was astrological claims that sustained it. “People would talk about shani (Saturn) dosha, and I would wonder, isn’t that a planet too, like the Earth? What does it look like?” he recalls.
As a PU student, Dayananda decided to make a telescope and started experimenting with an optical lens and a mirror lens and put them together using a PVC pipe. After nearly two decades of trial and error, it worked.
“You have to assemble the parts based on calculations using the focal length of the lens,” he says. He found joy in watching the night skies for hours together, and wanted to share it with others too.
“I wanted to make a really good telephoto lens that would capture all I could observe with the telescope,” he says. For this, he used the same technique, adding a teleconverter, a lens which helps enlarge the image further. He has captured sun spots, craters on the moon — which are ‘best seen on the third or fourth day after the new moon’ — and even four of Jupiter’s moons through his hand-made lenses, attached to his compact Nikon camera.
“I attach an extension ring to the camera so I can screw on the lens,” he explains. A macro lens in his collection is great for insect photography and he has prints to show that it is capable of capturing the pores in the eye of a black ant.
“If you attach it to a video camera and shoot in bright sunlight, you can see the movement of water droplets through leaves,” he says.
The wide-angle lens, one of his earliest creations which he came up with in the 1990s, captures over 180 degrees, albeit distorting like the fisheye does.
“I wanted to make one that captures 360 degrees, but the most I’ve managed is 230,” he says. “The digital cameras of today give you a 360 degree vision under the panorama setting.”
Whenever he can, the 53-year-old brings back old lenses from people’s cameras at home and of old ‘xerox’ machines collecting dust in shop corners, striking the best bargain he can with their rightful owners.
“Sometimes, when I explain why I need them, people give it away for free. Others ask for Rs 4,000 or Rs 5,000 but I convince them to part with the equipment for a few hundreds,” he says.
Most lenses assembled by him cost around Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000, but many are unwilling to spend that much due to the lack of a chic finish. In fact, even till a couple of weeks ago, his wife Ratna Rao had no idea that the inventions he is so proud of were worth more than the junk they are made from.
“I would keep saying, throw this rubbish away,” she says. The lenses and telescopes occupy 18 cartons and drawers in different nooks of their house in Chandra Layout. “Then, a few days ago, a neighbour who has recently moved in across the street was passing by. He enquired what my husband was doing, came in, saw all of this and went into raptures over them,” she told City Express.
Nevertheless, she has been extremely cooperative about his passion, Dayananda says. “She speaks six languages, so we have no trouble when we travel.”
He married her eight years ago, soon after he and his two daughters moved to Bengaluru. “I had lost my wife and she her husband. She too has a daughter,” he says. “We belong to different castes, but I don’t believe in the caste system.”
Ratna cooks for a couple of senior citizen households in the neighbourhood. “I make stuff at home and supply it to them,” she says. Her husband, however, has chiefly immersed himself in his hobbies over the last 15 years.
“I used to take the equipment I created to government schools in the rural areas so that the children could observe the moon and the planets,” he says.
On many occasions, he stayed up with them all night during the years he spent at Taralabalu Ashraya, Sirigere, a village in Chitradurga district. “But my interest fizzled out after I came to Bengaluru.”
Now that his daughters are settled, he intends to go back to living in the village. “I don’t like it much here. There’s so much pollution — air, water, noise, light. You can’t see the planets too clearly,” he says.
However, before he leaves the city, he has one more wish to fulfil: to be able to click pictures during a cricket match — ODI, Test, Ranji Trophy or any other — from the media stands. “I’ve taken pictures from the gallery, but it’s not the same,” he says.
About four years ago, he and his bag full of lenses were denied entry into the stadium. “The security refused to believe it was camera equipment I had in my bag because I wasn’t carrying a flash, which according to them no photographer can work without. They said it looked more like an AK-47 than a lens,” he says, with a guffaw.
Meanwhile, he’s as happy to have schoolchildren use his equipment or teach them how to make their own and is also willing to create lenses for other shutterbugs. He collects old radio sets and plays the ghatam whenever fancy takes him. For details, call 84949 41117