Gone forever

The newspaper story took me back a few decades. ‘The end of an era for the home of the first digital camera,’ it said, referring to the famous Eastman Kodak Company which will always be associated  with the now obsolete Brownie.

In fact, when this humble gadget arrived in our home, it was the end of another era for us. The era of Khondoji Rao and his tripod which he would balance precariously in front of him, while his head disappeared into reams of heavy black cloth. He had a studio in Champion Reef, and would oblige us with his presence on an important occasion. This was a very special occasion. The eldest son-in-law of the house was going to a foreign land by ship across the seas. What could be more awesome than that? It called for a group photograph of course.

We all trooped into the garden. KR was a very meticulous photographer. He first counted us. We were ten subjects ranging from age five to fifty. My father was dressed in his best suit. The hero of the day appeared in white shirt and shorts since he was going to Canada where they dressed informally. Everyone remained silent about this, and the photographer quickly got down to business.

Our long settee came out,  and  he arranged my mother and her three daughters on it. While father perched on one arm, the son-in-law was made to perch on the other, next to his wife. It was perfectly symmetrical and KR looked pleased at his own artistry. My three brothers stood in various positions and that completed the family picture. He then arranged his tripod and disappeared behind the black cloth. We all stared intently at it.

‘Do not move!’ he ordered, and we froze. Minutes passed until he lifted the cloth and emerged out of its depths. Without a word, he came and looked at each one of us intently. He rearranged us a little here, a little there with great precision – all the time making sure the son-in-law of the house was not disturbed.

KR was a man of the world and did not let his professionalism come in the way of certain niceties. Suddenly, with an artist’s touch, he plucked two white roses from a bush nearby and gave it to the two youngest girls to hold like the mughal queens did in the history books. He ordered the two older boys to look slightly away from the camera. This pleased my eldest brother who was proud of his Gregory Peck profile.

Having satisfied himself about the perfect setting, the photographer vanished behind his black cloth again. ‘Do not move!’ he called out in muffled tones. We dutifully froze again. ‘One-two-three- Right!” he yelled. The camera had clicked and captured us, and there stands the old sepia print in front of me as I write this – a gentle reminder of an era that is gone forever.

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