How Was Your Day … Indian Street Photographer?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.
By Sanjena Sathian
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
It’s Monday and only 3 o’clock, but already we’ve made photos for Australians, a couple from Bangalore, a family from Chennai, another from Bombay, plus a few British people. There’s no need for advertising! We — me and my brother Surendar — stand here on the street and people come to us to have their pictures taken. Just one minute, please, some are coming now. See, old camera!
It’s also a darkroom — and my temple. And my money box!
Look here: This is a good time of day, the morning, when the light hits right. This is a camera from the 1860s, and I’m the third generation to use it. My grandfather used it, then my father. This lens, see? It’s German. This is called a box camera. All it takes is eight minutes to expose the image. Inside the box, we can take the picture, and it’s also a darkroom — and my temple. And my money box!
We make around 3,000 or 4,000 rupees ($45–$60) a day, but it depends. Each small photo is 200 rupees and each larger one is 300 rupees. We have to work harder during the summer, because no one wants to visit Jaipur. It’s too hot — this is the desert. Now is a good time for tourists to come because it’s winter. It even gets a little cold.
I wake up around 5:30 in the morning and come seven kilometers from Shastri Nagar on my cycle. I stand outside the Hawa Mahal, the palace from so many years ago. My wife is a private teacher — she’d like to work for the government, but what will they pay? Nothing. We have children, and they study in college. You know, it’s good. But this camera has been with us for three generations. The fourth generation, they’re just not so interested.
OK, now you sit on that chair there. You know, this chair is also 90 years old. Look off to the side. Up in the corner. Look at Surendar. One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight, OK, done.
Come see. Now we have the negative and we can put it in the water to wash it off. We’ll wait a few minutes, then we’ll put it up on the wooden stage in front of the camera lens, and that exposes it. This one is underexposed, so we have to put some chemicals on it to take care of that.
Hang on — some people are coming: See old camera! Old camera! Woo-hoo, woo-hoo, over here! Bah. OK, not today. Anyway, we are a big deal: You know who’s coming next? Bollywood! They’re coming to film. Vinod Khanna and Salman Khan, maybe. I don’t know exactly, but there will be some big stars. Some documentarians from Ukraine and Brazil are also interested in seeing this. People very much like the old ways.
As told to Sanjena Sathian and translated from Hinglish.