T.S. NAGARAJAN: My most unforgettable picture

T.S. NAGARAJAN writes: This is one of my most unforgettable photographs. Khushwant Singh published it when he was Editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India. It produced a hailstorm of brickbats from the readers.

There were some bouquets too by those who thought that I had not committed any crime in clicking the camera. Some called it my “worst best picture”. Others said it was a “terrific human interest shot.”

The lady in the photograph is none other than my dear wife. She has stood by me steadfastly all through my life as a photojournalist. I never imagined, one day, she would become the subject of one of my controversial photographs!

Here’s what she says on her experience:

“Sometimes, I get the impression my husband loves his camera more than his wife. Once I went with him to Banaras. While he was ‘shooting’ the monkeys in the famous Durga temple (also called the monkey temple), I stood behind watching him work. Suddenly I felt a strange sensation around my feet. I looked down and to my horror found two monkeys—one pulling my sari and the other scratching my feet. Before I could do anything, a third perched on my head and started monkeying with my plait of hair. Amidst all this agony, I could see yet another growling at me from a pillar in front. I wanted to shout for help but my voice choked. I felt helpless.

“At this point my husband turned round and found me in this plight. His first reaction was to click the camera, which he did with much dexterity and stood aghast; perhaps not knowing what else to do. Fortunately, one of the priests saw what was happening and deliberately dropped a large metal container on the floor. The loud, resounding sound unnerved the monkeys and they bolted away from the scene leaving me unharmed, but in total disarray. We breathed again.

“The priests later told us that the safest thing to do when attacked by monkeys is to distract them with a loud noise, and they will leave you alone. And if you wish to photograph them, wield a stick in addition to the camera, for while they are curious about the camera, they prefer to stay away from the stick. So, the moral of the story is: Don’t marry a photographer. All Photographers are married to their cameras!”

She is very generous for closing the case with a light-hearted comment. But I must confess that the image keeps coming back in my mind’s eye. This is because the entire experience has a moral implication. To do something because I could do nothing better does not justify the action. The camera does not give the photographer the freedom to convert an experience of pain into an image, much less to hold it as a souvenir.

I plead not guilty. The action was certainly unintentional. I was not an accomplice for what caused the suffering. It was at best an inappropriate response as witness to unfathomable pain. I should be pardoned for incompetence.

Am I guilty or not guilty?  I’m ready to hear it all from you.

Cross-posted on sans serif