The magic of instant photographs

The magic of instant photographs

Col DS Cheema (retd)

In 1961, ours was the pioneer batch of IIT Kanpur and though we were just 100 students in the institute, the director decided that we should participate in inter-IIT sports meet at IIT-Bombay, knowing well that our participation was going to be only symbolic. One of our professors from the US who accompanied us, volunteered to act as the official photographer for the meet.

I represented my institute in hockey and 200-yard race. The moment the race was over, the professor took out a coarse-grained, pale sheet of paper and showed me a photograph he had clicked with a flash-gun. The photograph had captured me touching the finishing tape second in the race. I could not believe my eyes. It was a cultural shock for a 19-year-old boy from a small town to instantly see a ‘developed’ photograph without the need for processing the negative.

My home town Qadian in Gurdaspur had only one photo studio tucked in the farthest corner from where we lived. Ali, the owner, a handsome Ahmadiya Muslim, had the monopoly since the nearest competitor was in the historical town of Batala, a good 17 km away. Many a time, I had to cycle down to Ali’s shop to collect the ‘rough-proof’ of the photographs of my elder siblings, for them to see the quality of the picture before an order was placed for the final print. I vividly recollect the cluttered shop with a display of huge black-and-white photographs of newlyweds. Ali would take a week’s time to develop them and one had to go again to collect the thick brown envelope containing the pictures.

When the professor noticed my bewildered look, he smiled and asked me to pose for another photograph. After coming back to Kanpur, I shared the experience with a classmate from Delhi whose father was then the chairman of the IOC. He laughed and told me that his father often took family photographs with such a Polaroid camera. I started looking up to that friend during my stay in the institute.

At the end of the first year, a function was held in which John Kenneth Galbraith, then US ambassador, was the chief guest. He was to give away the prizes. All the members of the hockey team, including me, were invited one by one to receive the prize. He was standing on the stage along with the director, Dr PK Kelkar, and the sports incharge, and the student whose name was called stood below, before them. When my turn came, I went and occupied the specified place, as directed and rehearsed. Since Galbraith was very tall, and I was short, he had to move closer to the end of the stage and bend over to reach my extended hands. It invited much laughter among the audience and I was embarrassed. My friends continued ridiculing me long after the event was over.

Thank God that scene was not captured by a Polaroid.

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