Remember when film was used in cameras and « Kodak moments » were advertised on television? (Recognizing that this company doesn’t exist anymore was my first sign of aging!) The moments it celebrated will always exist. One for me involved a digital camera in India.
My colleague Robert and I were sent in 2012 to a conference in the « village » (only 2 million people per locals) of Indore near Mumbai. The conference had been recommended to us by a local authority who failed to ascertain it was in English. Turns out it was in Hindi.
Thankfully, a kind man sitting next to me at the conference volunteered to be my translator, whispering in my ears for hours. Meanwhile, Robert was amused by participants, such as panelists on stage reading newspapers while their colleague presented, attendees taking phone calls at full volume in their seats and other types of unprofessional behavior according to western standards.
At the lunch break, we were sidelined by a journalist who was curious how a tall, blonde American and pale, jet-setting Canadian ended up at a conference in Hindi in the middle of nowhere. Then my self-appointed translator offered to take me out for a meal.
Robert snickered: « How much do you want for her? The bidding starts at 1 billion rupees. »
Thankfully, his joke went unheard by the Indian man as Robert nearly fell over laughing. I politely declined the invitation as we had to fly … literally. Our driver was waiting to take us to the airport.
En route traffic was light so he suggested we stop off at Lal Bagh Palace, former home to three Maratha rulers. It is famous for a blend of Renaissance, Palladian and Baroque architecture; European-inspired interiors; a French-English-Mughal garden; and a stuffed Bengal tiger. Why not?
Robert and I were noticed immediately by locals, especially in our business suits and me with a sizeable digital camera around my neck. We quickly toured the palace and said « namaste » to the tiger. Afterwards, I was taking photos outside when a teenage Indian boy wearing an American T-shirt approached me.
« Will you take my photo? » he boldly asked.
« Sure, » I said, asking him about his village. I showed him the results in my camera viewer. He was happy.
« I have an email account and access to email at an Internet cafe here, » he proudly said. « Will you please email me these photos? »
« With pleasure, » I replied. « Is that your family over there? »
« Yes, » he said, waving about 10 people over.
« Let me take photos of all of you, » I proposed. « I will send these to you as well. »
Suddenly, a beautiful photo shoot broke out with the multi-generational family. I could not have asked for better models in their colorful saris, tunics and T-shirts. They gathered round my camera to see the results. It seemed none had ever seen a digital camera before. They were amazed.
One by one they shook my hand and touched me, thinking I was some kind of blessing. Other locals took notice and lined up to have their photos taken and hands shaken. Within 10 minutes, I had a new line of work! If only I had had a Polaroid camera to give away photos to families. I swore I would return one day to do so.
Of course, the fascination with digital photography didn’t stop with my camera. The locals wanted the tall, blonde photographer in their pictures as well. Unlike the enterprising teenager, most didn’t have emails to receive them. But they liked having their picture taken! I handed Robert my camera to meet local demand.
« What am I, chopped liver? » he sulked. « No one wants a photo with me. »
« Ha, no offense, but a black-haired man of average height can’t compete with a tall, blonde woman here, » I winked. « Besides, you don’t have a camera. »
Robert begrudgingly took my camera and clicked away as I was invited to countless homes for meals and more. After several photo shoots, our driver forced us to leave to avoid missing our flight. In the car I reviewed the best photos of people I had ever gotten in India. Now those were Kodak moments!
More importantly, they were simple joys that many of us take for granted — from a digital camera to photographic memories. For once, digital technology was a catalyst for human connection. If only Robert had collected 1 billion rupees for me to set up a local photo booth … ?