The Time Warped Artist
It was a brilliant day for driving. About 7 pm on a Sunday, the typical slow moving traffic in suburban Bombay had given way to almost empty streets. Not desolated though. I have never seen the roads completely deserted here. Probably just once, somewhere around this time last year when an important political figure had died, of old age.
After the obligatory checking of our car’s boot for explosives, we swerved in front of the entrance of ITC Grand Maratha Hotel. Once in, the familiar aroma and décor made me feel completely at home. It was only during early childhood days, when my senses were learning to see, feel and comprehend my surroundings, that the contrasting nature of this city would hit me. Potholed roads, urchins feeding on unpalatable looking gooey stuff cooked right on the pavements, and then suddenly entering barricaded edifices to be entertained by the most hospitable bunch of people. This stark difference does not register in my 20 something brain anymore.
Once in the restaurant and seated on our designated table for the evening, the usual drill commenced- sifting through the menu, ordering drinks and appetizers and making small talk. I was now well into my comfort zone and oblivious to the world I had left behind those armored gates, when I noticed him. He was wearing a black suit, a dark striped tie and a Canon film camera strap around his neck. His palms were facing upwards, holding the photographic contraption as a baby.
His appearance hadn’t changed much through the years. His curled hair still black on his dark, mustached face and stout frame. I had noticed him on most of my visits to the hotel, always looking the same, carrying his camera and watching with those deep eyes. The eyes were not questioning, they simply analyzed if the subject in front of him is a suitable candidate to be offered a printed memorabilia of the evening. After all, the pricey dinner is an event in itself for many, worth capturing in the stillness of a frame, albeit for even more money being shelled out from one’s pocket.
But then we know what happened. Cameras inside our phones. No more film. No more shelling out money to see every picture we take. #dinnerWithPals #Party #YOLO. This is what happened.
Those eyes, those prodding eyes which I suppose are good at what they’ve been trained to do through the years- identify prospective posers on dinner tables, do those eyes know what conspired through the years? That selfies and Instagram changed the dynamics of the photography industry? Maybe they do. But it does not seem to have an effect on this man’s life.
Why is he still here, doing what he started off doing somewhere in the 80’s? Why doesn’t he train his eyes now to look for other business opportunities? Could it be possible that within these beautifully designed walls, lit by auburn chandeliers, this man never became a slave to time like the rest of us? That he would never grow old, that he would do exactly what he decided to do decades back for as long as he pleases, simply because change with time does not affect him?
But is such a thing even possible? It is the city of dreams, so technically yes, it could be. But then…
I wonder what his house would be like. Would it be a small room with a gramophone, negatives of the innumerable pictures he must have taken – pretty starlets, soggy old businessmen, unknown faces who somehow found his fancy and were clicked without their knowledge?
No. I do not want to imagine him stepping out of this hotel, through those potholed streets, past the appalling sights of the urchins. Artists do not react too well to poverty. His home is this hotel, where time has no effect on him.