It was 15th of February, mere 5 days to hear the Photography association’s verdict about herself and her father. Ira switched on her PC, she had received a few mails, and she was expecting an important mail about the status of her photographs and books. So with lots of excitement, she clicked opened the mails, the first one was from her favorite brand announcing a mega sale from the next day. She put it away as just now she didn’t had any time for shopping, it was a crucial period for her and needed to pay attention towards her work. Ira looked at her work as elixir of her life. She had avowed to reach her father’s spot in a mere 10 year span. Her father was a celebrated photographer of India; he was the director of the World Photography Institute, situated at Pune. But Dr. Anirudh Pandit, PhD in travel Photography, acclaimed Photographer, author of numerous books on various genres of photography, didn’t stay at one place for long. He was always in quest of new places to take photographs of the unique flora and fauna, landscape and people.
As a child Ira saw her father, always surrounded by his students, admirers and beautiful women. She saw his pictures in magazines and journals, read about him in newspapers. Ira remembered Dr. Anirudh Pandit as a handsome man. He had maintained himself well, he had tall athletic body, the salt pepper hair peeping above the ears gave an elegant look, and he wore gold rimmed glasses for reading that was enough for women; young or old to go weak in their knees.
Ira’s mother was a very different personality; she was beautiful but complex in all respects. Maya and Anirudh Pandit had come close because of their fondness towards nature. Maya use to spend hours walking, exploring the woods. Since childhood she had this immense liking for animals and nature. They had met during a camp and had become best friends in no time. They both and their group of friends had become thick as thieves and always hanged together. When they announced their engagement, nobody except one; Gautam Karnik was surprised. Karnik was Anirudh’s best friend and rival. He had secretly proposed Maya but Maya had not reciprocated him positively. She had been already in love with the dynamic Anirudh.
As Anirudh became an ace photographer and a celebrity, Gautam Karnik became a business tycoon. He had a chain of Photography equipment and accessory malls and other big and small businesses in the field of photography in India and abroad. Even after such great success, deep inside he was never satisfied, as he was not Anirudh Pandit nor he had what Anirudh Pandit had: Maya
But Anirudh’s fame, his remaining busy, extensive travelling, took a toll on Maya. She tried to be with him, she tried to take interest in his work, but as she was reclusive by nature, she started becoming irritable, they started fighting. Then Ira was also growing up, so Maya decided to stop travelling with Anirudh so much. When Maya stopped travelling with Anirudh, she soon started hearing stories of Anirudh’s flings with his women admirers. Initially Maya ignored such gossips, but soon realized that they were indeed true. So, one fine day, she picked up Ira and walked out of Anirudh Pandit’s life to never come back again. Anirudh tried to persuade Maya to come back, but could not.
One spring day, Ira was taking pictures of their garden with the new camera that her dad had gifted her. When Anirudh Pandit came to meet Ira; nobody knew that he would be coming. He had a beautiful smile on his face, he looked happy to see Ira taking pictures. Seeing Anirudh coming, Maya went inside. Ira started taking her Dad’s snaps. He was looking so handsome. He came and hugged Ira. At that very moment, they heard Maya’s loud scream calling Anirudh. Ira and Anirudh rushed inside fearing some accident to Maya. Instead, saw Maya standing frozen in front of the television set. Anirudh and Ira turned their attention towards the Television. The news reader was showing Anirudh’s award winning photographs from his bestselling book, ‘Snap shots of a traveller’ again and again, explaining how unreal the pictures actually are. How Anirudh had photo-shopped them to achieve fame and popularity. The photographers association was removing Anirudh; they were branding Anirudh’s books as work of plagiarism. An old man claiming to be Anirudh’s assistant, when Anirudh had written this book was to be the witness of all the corrupt practices, plagiarism he had done. Ira clearly remembered that day, how Anirudh sat down numbly, then the head of the photography dept. at Bombay University was on screen, a crowd of college students was demanding to take back Anirudh Pandit’s Ph.D. Things had gone beyond Anirudh’s comprehension. First time in so many years Ira saw her mother being gentle with him. Maya tried to rouse Anirudh out of the stupor, but there was no response from him, he had become as numb and cold as stone. Whoever was behind Anirudh wanted to finish him nice and fine. That person had decided to finish Anirudh Pandit and not just finish but destroy his personality from people’s memory and form a new picture as a cheap thief.
One day, when Ira came back from school, she was surprised to find her mother very tense. Maya made Ira sit beside her and told her the shattering news of her father’s demise as softly as possible. But the words felt like daggers to her, she felt as if a part of her body is lost. She was not able to breath and collapsed. Anirudh had committed suicide when he failed to clear his name from the muck in which he had been dragged by the unknown shadows.
After finishing her college Ira took admission in her father’s Institute to do her post-graduation. She started living in her father’s house along with her mother. While going through his stuff; Ira accidentally came across a small diary tucked away in a secret drawer of his study table. She took it as her destiny, that the diary didn’t fall in the police’s or any other person’s hand. In the diary he had mentioned his childhood friend Karnik’s name as a likely conspirator. But he had no idea as to why would Karnik behave in this fashion and had drawn a big question mark in front of the name.
Hunger, sleep, peace evaded Ira. She wanted a way to clear her father’s name and for that, she was ready to go all the way. She picked her father’s book ones again and absent mindedly started flipping pages and was lovingly gazing at the pictures, when all of a sudden like a gust of wind, a thought grazed her mind.
Ira decided to visit 7 toughest places where her father had taken those breathtaking photographs and about which the controversy had erupted, saying that it was not possible to take such pictures. She would take exactly the same photographs and many more. As proof she asked the Photography association to send somebody along with her with a video camera, so that while she is taking the pictures the person could video shoot that moment as evidence.
Ira went to Canada in severe winters. The Boreal forest looked as if it is also sleeping with a white blanket. It looked ethereal, painfully beautiful and scarily vast. The local people showed her some places in the forest where the snow fox could be spotted. Milind (the representative send by the Photography association) and Ira for about 15 days roamed, waited patiently for the white fox. But the white fox was completely elusive. Ira couldn’t even find its foot prints. Then there came the news about an approaching storm in a couple of days. Milind suggested Ira that they should try this photo-shoot some other time as now it is just not possible to do out door shoot in bad weather. On which Ira requested,” Just, give me one day, no more. Tomorrow or ……..”
So early in the morning they left for the forest, where there had been a sighting of a female fox by a local. Ira must have wandered a kilometer or so in the woods when she saw pugmarks of the female fox. With great enthusiasm she went forth. At that very time it started snowing and a wind started blowing. Milind warned Ira of the changing weather, but Ira purposely paid no heed to Milind’s warnings and kept on walking ahead. Ira came into a clearing, the woods finished and a knoll stood in front of her, here the wind blew with full force, it became quite dark and there in front of her on the top of the knoll stood she, gracefully, staring into Ira’s eyes, as if saying, ”You wanted to meet me?”. Ira was so lost in the moment that she forgot for what she has come so far, Milind called Ira softly from behind. With his call, Ira came out of her trance and took the elusive animals many pictures. The photograph was not the same as her father but had come out to be even better than the best and had been taken in far too difficult circumstances.
Similarly Ira went to Norway to shoot the blue nights which gave her immense peace and time to reflect about her. Ira felt as if the blue light is seeping inside her and giving her a celestial glow. The first rising sun reminded her of a beautiful Marathi song sung by Dr. Vasantrao Deshpande ’Tejonidhi loh gol, Bhaskar he gagan raj’. She clicked the almighty to her fullest and bid Norway adieu.
Ira started on her next project to take the pictures of some of the most beautiful and expensive flowers of the world in their natural habitat. For this project she had to shuttle from country to country and from continent to continent. It was proving her to be very expensive. Ira took long breaks in between and took some photography projects to earn money. During this time, Milind didn’t return to India and helped Ira in every possible way like a true friend.
Finally, after one whole year Ira had a plethora of pictures of Orchids, lilies, coral roses, African violets, David Austen roses, chocolate cosmos and many more such exquisite flowers. While travelling for flowers Ira went through an experience which shook her. She came across a British doctor friend who had dedicated her life for the children of Somalia. Seeing such tragedy Ira decided to stay on and help her friend to establish a medical unit in a remote village of Somalia. Ira clicked hundreds of pictures of the innocent but war ravaged children of Somalia. She uploaded those pictures on net and asked for donations, decided to exhibit these pictures with write-ups once back in India to raise money.
In India Ira first visited the Sunder bans and with the locals help, she located a tigress with her three cubs and literally shot the tigress every minute, from morning and also the whole night. She followed the tigress and her cubs like their own shadow. The tigress was extremely protective of her cubs but at the same time Ira noticed that she allowed the young cubs to roam around freely till a certain distance and take some experiences on their own. Seeing that trait of the tigress Ira decided to give her Photo shoot the caption, ’Snap shots of a smart mother’. Once while following them, the tigress got irritated and tried to scare her away, but Ira being Ira didn’t get scared and said so to the Tigress, “ I am going to virtually capture you in my camera madam Tigress and people are going to love you, cherish you for a long long time. So do not disturb me in my work and I swear I will not disturb you.”
Ira’s next stop was to Rajasthan. Instead of going to the main cities of Rajasthan, Ira shot the unexplored forts, Havelis, unique villages and of course the people of Rajasthan. Ira fell in love with the all-encompassing sand. From the sand dunes Ira learned the literal meaning of the phrase, sands of time. The high speed wind was uncontrollable in Rajasthan. Ira realized that though one cannot see the change every time the wind blew, still it did bring some change in the landscape: Ira felt, Life is same, uncontrollable and ever changing. She took thousands of pictures of the landscape, the people, the many moods and shades of yellow of the Registan. While moving back from Rajasthan, Ira froze in time; In front of her was a young girl pouring water from her terracotta matka for a stranger. The stranger was holding the reins of the camel in his arm pit and at the same time was drinking water which the girl was offering. This was picture perfect, a similar picture her father had taken and it was considered a master piece.
Ira’s last stop was of course Mt Kailash and Mansarowar. Ira was mesmerized by the beauty of the landscape and for the first time she understood what it felt to be close to God. Here the feeling was completely different. She was smiling to herself, she felt as if all her burdens have vanished. Ira pitched a tent near Mt. Kailash and completed 7 parikramas. Day and night she sat beside the lake utterly thoughtless. After bagful of experiences, Ira had realized that the nature had indeed taught her so many things. She had found out that she also loved travelling and the camera, just like her father.
After coming back to Pune, Ira went to the Photography association’s office along with Milind. To her great surprise sitting on the seat was Gautam Karnik. Blood rushed to her brain, but Milind cautioned Ira and explained the President of the Photography Association everything. He gave the audio recordings, the video recordings to him. The President told Ira to present her case in front of the committee on 20th of February that is after 05 days. She went and gave the pictures for printing, as she had decided to do the exhibition on 22nd of February.
Ira came out of her flash back spell and opened the next mail. She stared at the email message on her computer, her mind racing so fast that the words blurred together and no longer made any sense. Just three lines, but enough to make her life–the life she’d worked so hard and sacrificed so much to build–begin to crumble around her. Ira blinked hard to stop the tears from rolling down her cheeks. It was an anonymous message. The screen stared back at her with glaring eyes. In these last three years and also as a child, she had thought only of her father and how to clear his name. This was going to be her one great chance and it was now crumbling before her eyes. She read it again and again: Ira your photographs are in danger like your fathers. Karnik destroyed your father’s photographs. Karnik and mother are married. Ira panicked and called Milind. She told everything to Milind. Milind asked Ira to prepone her exhibition and not give her enemy a chance to assault. Milind told her,” Let the people take a decision this time and that will be the real decision. Let’s play our enemies game, but faster than them.” Saying so, Milind took Ira to his friend’s house; he helped them ready the prints. He also printed Ira’s hastily put together book of memoirs on Somalia and the flowers. The quality was not good, but now time was more important. Meanwhile Ira and Milind went to the old man’s house who claimed to be her father’s assistant. The old man was no more but his wife was there. With some persuasion and a mithai box, the old woman told the truth that her husband had been made to lie by giving a handsome amount. Ira recorded everything and uploaded the video along with her father’s pictures and in the same video told her story and the challenge which she had undertaken with an invitation to see the Exhibition.
Due to lack of time Ira had not been able to procure any art gallery, so during a brain storming night, someone came up with a fantastic idea. In the night with the help of Milind and his friends they hung the pictures in the world photography Institute; her father’s institute. This was going to be a perfect venue. By morning the institute had become a circus. Each and every corridor was covered with Ira’s photographs. There was a sea of people to observe, admire, to check out Ira’s photographs. Ira had hung her father’s photographs as well, for people to judge how real or photo shopped they are? People crashed the gates. Police had to be called. Reporters from various channels arrived. Ira and Milind were arrested. But there was a lot of talk about Maya and Karnik. Due to people’s pressure on Government, Anirudh’s case was re-opened. Karnik had to give resignation from his post. There was just one riddle. Who had sent the mail?
In time Ira and Milind were released from jail. Anirudh and Ira’s photographs were admired by one and all. They were put up in the WPI’S exhibition gallery. Ira came to know the intention behind destroying her father were the age old poisons, jealousy and vengefulness. Her father’s childhood friend and once whole and soul of his life: his wife had been infected with that very poison. The poison destroyed her beloved father. But she knew her father will be always cherished by her through the lens.
By Anuradha Singh