For anyone visiting Jaipur, the main reason for doing so is to soak in the 'periodic sets' of the umpteen palaces and to saunter along the streets immersed in pink. But for us, there was one more reason - Tikam Chand and his camera from the 1850s. It all started some months back, when we came across some black and white images in Ra's wallet. He and his friends looked like they came straight out of 19th century because of the slightly faded, high contrast images. So, we all wanted one for ourselves too.
The 1860s camera
As you walk down the road from Hawa Mahal, you are bound to hear a weird whistling sound that goes "oooohooooo, ooohoooooo". Well, that is Tikam Chand calling out to his customers. He stands there on the footpath with his huge wooden camera. Tikam tries to bring in the business, the actual photography being done by another man. When we reached there, a family was already getting themselves photographed. It all happens in that crowded street. Against a background of garments strung out from a nearby shop, he made them all pose, one by one. Passersby sometimes walk right in front of the lens. Tikam keeps an eye out to avoid that too.
Tika Ram and his assistant with the camera
Even though the huge camera is right in the middle of the footpath, few give it a second look. And so, Tikam and his assistant were happy to see our interest in the camera. We proceeded to spend the next three hours there. He gave us a run down on the history of the camera and also demonstrated to us the process of taking photographs with that monster. According to him, his grandfather got the camera as a gift from the royal family, who were impressed by his photography. It was later handed down to his father, who started the photography on the street and later Chand took it up. He proudly showed us a number of articles about him and his camera that came in international newspapers, among them the LA times and the Vancouver sun.
Tika Ram in L.A. Times
Tika Ram in Vancouver sun
To adjust the camera’s focus, he makes use of a sliding lens, a much less sophisticated version of that seen in our DSLRs. The photo paper is slid behind a glass plate and if you look closely through the back of the camera, you can see the inverted image being formed on the plate. A piece of cloth is attached to the backside of the camera. The dark room is inside the box itself. The photo paper is treated with the developing and fixing chemicals inside this. And it’s all done by just feeling the plates. Then this negative is used to produce a ‘positive’ using a similar technique. While explaining all this to us, he even drew it all out on paper.
Vikram's inverted image being formed inside the camera
washing off the chemicals
Us with the camera
a collage of our group shots (courtesy niti)
a collection of our group shots
The pic that Tika Ram took of Ra during his last trip.
We went mad posing, with everyone taking more than one individual photograph. And yes, the epic group pictures! Though to be honest, the end result didn’t have the timeless quality of the photos that Ra took here last time. We decided to visit the Jantar Mantar before sunset. On the way, Sid K was particularly attracted to a man selling ‘cheap violins’. For the next few minutes, all of us became virtuosos as we played or rather ‘think we played’ our masterpieces. Sid K bought one of those from the man as a tribute for his patience with our tunes.
Sid K gleefully playing the 'cheap violin'
Will you click us?
Jantar Mantar was like a maze for me. A sundial here, another complicated dial there, a throwback to the engineering days, and all I wanted was to get out from there fast. A huge bunch of Japanese was gleefully running around and studying about the dials. As our group didn’t have any nerds, we beat a hasty retreat from the Mantar.
Nikhil eating a huge pappad
An evening walk along the busy Jaipur streets was a perfect way to end our stay in Rajasthan. It was kite flying season and the twilight sky was filled with shapes cutting across each other. There were shops exclusively for selling kites. Right from the Indian team to B-grade Bollywood posters, they have kites with pictures of just about everything. There was another aim for the aimless walk too- to buy black and white films and chemicals for developing film. But many kilometers of walk turned out to be futile. And all hopes of some inches from my belly being reduced from that long walk were vanished when we entered Akbari hotel. On the contrary, some inches were added to the belly, thanks to some of the best mutton and roti that I’ve ever had.
The Akbari hotel in Jaipur
At the Jaipur bus stand, there was this tall well built guy dressed in business attire, who behaved like someone planning to bomb the place. He had a book open on his hands but he kept on observing everyone around, the kind of observation which has ‘cruel intentions’ written all over it. Then his attention fell on us and he kept on staring at us. We decided to stare back and before long he started walking around, looking all unsettled. That was one hell of a mysterious guy! Soon we bid goodbye to Rajasthan..