My Tryst With The Photographer
My Tryst With The Photographer
The task should have been really simple enough but…… Okay let me start from the beginning…
My childhood was spent in a remote village in Kerala. Punnaveli, about 20 kilometers from Kottayam, the spice & rubber capital of Kerala stands on the side of a steep hill, a disarray of huddled conservative houses, their tiled roofs washed pale by the suns of a million years. It was here I grew up as a child, in the farm of my grandfather. I was here because when I was a few months old my parents had left me in the care of my maternal grandparents to go to the US for higher studies.
If I were asked to remember one person above any others from my childhood days it would be our family photographer. My grandfather was a sort of landlord, so we had family photographer, family barber, family butcher etc etc in addition to the family cat, family dog, family bull and scores of other family BS. I can still remember our family bull. It was a fine specimen of a bull, the curved horns attacking all and sundry except my grandfather, whom it held in high esteem. Contrary to the general practice in those days of taking the bull by its horns I used to take the bull by its tail, so I could let go when the bull was about to fail its anger management test. Needless to say, the bull never held me in any esteem.
Well, back to the photographer…..My grandparents were expected to send my periodic snaps to the US, so the photographer was a frequent visitor to our house. To the young me, the lowest depth of humiliation was having my photograph taken. Before each sitting with the photographer I would be rinsed, scrubbed, combed and manicured till my morale sank below zero. To me, total cleanliness was utterly incompatible with bliss. Mary, a distant, fourteen year old cousin was commissioned with the task of keeping me away from bliss.
That day it wasn't the regular family photographer. He was indisposed, so his assistant was assigned the duty. I watched as he unloaded the camera from the bullock cart. In this era of ultra modern, high speed mobile cameras and selfies, I don't know how many of you remember the old fashioned camera, a portable medium sized box with a tiny pinhole that allowed light to enter the device. A black cloth was used to cover its head.
He looked at me with half closed eyes. I returned his smile of appreciation with a scowl.
"So, this is our little friend!" He said. 'And what is his name?"
I grew purple.
Mary, who was standing nearby seemed to enjoy it. "Evankutty." She said.
Now, there were many insults I had learned to endure with outward calmness, but this was not one. Mary knew perfectly well my feelings with regard to the suffix 'kutty'. ('kutty is a common Malayalam suffix added to children's names…a rough Hindi translation would be 'Baba')
It would be years before a truth-seeking and idealistic lady would tell me that Evan is not a sexy name, certainly not the name she wanted to scream out during climax.
But let me go back to that day…
I howled. This is the only word that describes the sound that emitted from my throat.
"Pretty name for a pretty boy" The photographer commented.
Mary burbled. I looked unspeakable things at her.
The photo-man looked up and down my shining, immaculate personality.
"Now, my boy…", He waved me to a wooden table at the far end of the lawn. "Now, stand just here…that's right…No, not quite so stiff….and…no, not quite so hunched up Evankutty……the hands should rest carelessly…one on the hip…just easy and natural…that's right….now, relax the brow a little….Ug!, no, not a grimace…."
Let it stand to my eternal credit that I successfully resisted the temptation to bite his hand as it strayed among my short locks.
At last I was posed and he returned to the camera, but during his return I moved my feet, hands, and of course head to an easier position.
The photographer sighed, "Ah, Evankutty has moved. We'll have to begin all over again."
I bit my lips hard.
He returned to me, and very patiently arranged my feet and hands and head.
Mary had retired hysterically behind the huge pomelo tree.
The photographer returned to his camera. I promptly composed my limbs and hands more comfortably.
"Ah! What a pity…Evankutty has moved again. We shall have to commence afresh…."
As the great poet said, ''Miles and miles to go before….'