The photographer without camera

Rains and trains are the best accessories for a trip to Western Ghats

We had reached the station almost an hour in advance but it wasn’t till the last announcement of the arrival of the train when I realized, with my heart sinking to the depths of Mariana Trench, that I had left my camera bag resting on the sofa at home!

We were on a three day monsoon trip to Mahabaleshwar, that favorite haunt of Mumbaikars and Punekars, taking Mumbai Express from Hyderabad to Pune and then cab to the hill station. I had charged both batteries of my Nikon D 7000 and had bought an extra memory card as well.

For a fleeting moment, I thought of abandoning the vacation and returning back to home but certainly that was not an option. For next few solitary minutes my brain did a multi-tasking juggling thoughts of self-loathing, wondering what-awesome-sights-I am-going-to-miss-capturing-on-camera, self-loathing, may-be-this-isn’t-such-a-bad-thing, self-loathing, I-will-try-iPhone-photography and yes, self-loathing.

As the train’s headlights started showing up, gradually becoming clearer, I convinced myself that this is going to be an experiment: how a compulsive clicker stayed away from a camera on a scenic hill station at its most beautiful time of the year. I will document my experiences and it will be one for the man-kind. (OK I made that last one up!)

The train had now entered the platform and as I told Shweta, her first response didn’t help at all.

“So now your mood will be off throughout the trip!”

God, woman! Don’t you understand this is what I myself am afraid of and need you to cheer me up not vocalize my worst fear. I gave a curt reply and it could have snowballed but by now we had to get aboard the train so this conversation was thankfully left back at the platform.

On the train, I tried to keep my thoughts away from this debacle and focus on other things. It was very pleasant atmosphere with rains having lashed Hyderabad earlier that day. We were traveling sleeper class after quite a while and I wasn’t missing the air-conditioning of the 3rd AC, which as we all like to remind whoever is listening, ‘is the new sleeper’ of Indian Railways.

Shweta meanwhile was in her elements, ready to throw money at every problem on which it can be thrown.

“We will buy a new camera in Pune and sell it once we are back”

One up!

“Let’s buy you a new camera and you can retire your existing one”

And somethings that made sense as well.

“Google camera rentals in Pune. There must be something.”

And perched on upper berth for next couple of hours, struggling with here-a-moment-gone-the-next data connection, I found some companies which rented out cameras (High zooms to high end DSLRs with lenses) in Pune. I managed to get phone number and talked to one of them. By the time I slept, though disappointed that my carelessness is going to set us back by few thousands, I had hope in the heart that may be the trip can still be salvaged. (All thoughts about ‘experiment’ were forgotten!)

Next morning I learned two things.

First, that Indian trains can be punctual. On the dot to be precise. Anticipating at least half an hour delay in reaching and I had booked the cab accordingly but due to this (unwelcome!) punctuality of the train we had an hour to kill at the Pune Railway Station before the cab came.

Second, it’s not easy to rent photography equipment. You had to be registered with the company, which would need address proofs (electricity or phone bill etc.), identity proofs and post-dated cheques. And couple of guarantors! Needless to say rental plans flew out and I was back in ‘experiment’ mode.

You can take a camera away from a photographer but you can’t take it away from his eyes. For next three days, for countless times, I saw things around and visualized how I would have shot them (and how good the results would be!). The landscapes, the flowers, the rain, the people on streets. Everything.

But then there were times when I felt not having a camera was a blessing as I was spending lot more time experiencing things and making mental notes and memories. As a photographer it is always good to step away from the subject and take an all-round look to ensure that you can see its multiple aspects. As a photographer it is always very difficult to do, when you have a camera in your hand with virtually no limits to the photos you can take. Not having a camera taught me this lesson.

In the end it wasn’t a complete abstinence from photography (the iPhone and Nokia Lumia 730 did quite a bit of work) but I wasn’t missing the camera so much.

But I won’t repeat the experiment. At least I won’t want to.

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