CHENNAI: On a sunny Sunday noon, 70-year-old Senguttuvan Subburathina is busy in the kitchen. He’s assisting his wife in frying vadams; he’s also chopping vegetables to whip up a dressing for a homemade salad. The duo is preparing a sumptuous spread for a family lunch — a weekend ritual. This is Senguttuvan’s passion post-retirement. If he is not in the kitchen, he is busy capturing photographs of butterflies and birds.
Senguttuvan was born and raised in Karur district. With an MSc in Physics from Presidency College, he joined as a sales representative for consumer products division in Godrej. Later, he went on to become a manager in the medical diagnostic session in Godrej. He was in charge of the southern and western division of India — from Gujarat to Kanyakumari. In 2008, he retired at the age of 60.
“I hardly had time to spend with family. My wife held the fort and she did an amazing job. We have three children — two sons and a daughter. My daughter sometimes wouldn’t recognise me because I was constantly travelling. After a point, in everyone’s life, money becomes immaterial,” says the resident of Perumbakkam.
When he turned 60, Senguttavan decided to get back to photography. “My father worked on sugarcane fields. He owned a camera to capture the pictures of the growth in plants. It was an Agfa box camera with 120 films. I played around with photography and learned all the tricks. We also had a Praktica camera. I used to spend most of the time in the studio developing negatives. Photography was and is an expensive hobby. The first camera I bought was 20 years back — Sony point shoot. The one I have now is a 150-600 mm DSLR — my dream camera,” he says.
Eventually, through Facebook and social media he learned about bird and insect photography. His eye for detailing reflects in the images he captures of butterflies and insects. He has documented 150 varieties of butterflies so far. “My experience at a butterfly conservatory in the US is the most memorable one. Butterfly-watching trips expose you to a riot of colours. The parks have many nectar plants for adult butterflies to feed and host plants for the larva to lay eggs.
After the larva stage comes pupa. Watching the pupa transform and come to life is a beautiful sight. There’s something satisfying about noticing the intricacies in design patterns on the wings of butterflies. I also admire the standards they maintain in their parks. Compared to that, the Tropical Butterfly Conservatory recently opened at Tiruchy — considered to be Asia’s largest — has lesser variety. Out of 100 butterflies, you get to see around 20 at a time,” he shares.
Senguttuvan also goes birdwatching regularly. Some of his usual spots are Pallikaranai, Shollinganalur,
Vedanthangal, Vadur, and Kelambakkam. “I once got trapped in the Pallikaranai marsh. Nobody was there to help me. I somehow managed to get out of it. My wife often complains that I spend more time with the camera whenever we go out,” he says. Bird sanctuaries — Vedanthangal and Vadur — especially during the migratory seasons are his favourite spots. Senguttuvan is a member of WhatsApp groups that keep him updated about bird-watching events. He picked up names of species from his fellow members who shared photos with the description on the groups.
Jack of all trades
Besides flora, food photography was another area he speacialised in till four years back. With motivation from friends, he began experimenting with cooking. He shared recipes regularly on Instagram. With more than 2,000 followers, he’s currently one of the very few male food bloggers. “It started out as helping wife in the kitchen. She is my mentor. I specialise in making salad, smoothies and 17 varieties of parathas,” he beams. Till date, he seeks suggestions from his wife while trying out new items.
Meanwhile, Senguttavan also paints images of God, tends to his garden, and takes care of his dogs — Willy and Jady. “We all have that point in life when work is worship. In later stages, when you have all the time in the world, why not use it wisely. I’m content with life and I’ve achieved whatever I could. Occasionally I go on a long drive with my wife, take my dogs for a walk and play with my grandchildren. And how can I forget Instagram? I’m presently active on Instagram. I get to meet excellent cooks from different cultures and backgrounds. When your followers find your work interesting and send encouraging messages — it feels great. I hope to explore other cuisines too,” he says.