“Kotsa draakh ye camera khend heth darbedari karni” (Where are you going, to waste your time with this Camera?) My mother and Grandmother would say. At times father would join them too and those words still reverberates in my ears.
But God willingly, I never paid attention to them and did – which I now think sometimes – what I was born for. It took me three odd years to convince them that Photography was not a ‘darbedari’ (wastage of time) and now one afternoon my father finally said, “Why don’t you do something in Photography?”
Doesn’t it resemble the words of Farhan Qureshi’s dad in 3 Idiots movie?
I started photography while I was studying Civil Engineering at National Institute of Technology Srinagar. This hobby developed over a long period of time and the actual date of its inception is still a mystery which eludes me. After beginning with a Nokia Camera phone, I purchased my first Digital camera in 2010 from the scholarship money. I started clicking everything that came in my way and I remember my hands moving themselves, as though they had a will of their own! The next step was to share it on facebook and get the expert feedback from my friends, none of whom, were remotely related to photography. Soon I was declared a talented photographer among the lot and I took this title seriously. Now in retrospect, I realize that I wasted a lot of time with my camera clicking almost everything and every day. For encouragement, with time, I started looking at other people’s work on internet. But the effect was opposite as I would get upset since my pictures were mere snapshots when compared to them.
I found a magical solution to the problem; to buy a new and a costly Camera. I would often promise myself that once I get a job after completing my studies, I will make my pictures look good and make myself a better photographer. I got a job in L&T immediately after finishing my college and fulfilled my promise when I bought a new camera Canon 550D from my first two salaries. And then I was absolute that no one was going to stop me as I had both the talent and the camera. But truth is different when lived! Little did I know that it’s not an easy task to use an SLR camera in manual mode and in the end, I struggled in taking even a single good picture! I continued to shoot in only Auto mode, taking some selfies with the new camera. Barely one month later, I participated in a photo exhibition at Nigeen Club Hazratbal for the first time where I saw many other budding photographers and some professionals too.
That’s when the bombshell hit; People appreciated everyone’s work except mine.
I was disheartened and thoughts about leaving photography started enveloping me until I met Abrar Ali, a young man who used to teach photography at some institute. He taught me the camera basics and for the first time I came to know about the light meter in the camera. I was thrilled as now I could easily take the pictures in Manual Mode too. I started clicking again taking help from internet and other online resources learned more about photography, its rules, basics and the famous photographers.
Gradually I started getting confident and better of course in my own perspective, I kept my old work as benchmark to proceed for the next day which helped in self improvement. Once again, I used facebook to connect to different photographers and share my work across the world. After sometime my work got published locally as well as internationally and people began to know me as a photographer. Meanwhile I sent my portfolio to the National Geographic Channel (NGC) as they were looking for photographers for their Reality Based photography Show popularly known as “Nat Geo Covershot” the winner of which will have his photo as the cover page of National Geographic Traveller (NGT) Magazine.
I work as a Junior Engineer at Baglihar dam Chanderkote Ramban, located some 150 kms from my hometown Pampore. On the morning of August 25 2014, I got a phone call from NGC congratulating me for being selected as one of the contestant along with 15 others for the Nat Geo Covershot. The venue was Mumbai and I had to reach there by or before September 8 2014. Just before I decided to leave from Chanderkote to Pampore on September 4 to collect my camera and pack my bag, news flashed on the TV that risk of floods had increased which would hit across many districts of JandK caused by torrential rainfall. And the news turned out to be true. It was raining heavily and the access road to the highway was blocked due to landslides but ignoring it all I walked 14 kms and reached the highway from where I took a bus straight to Pampore. I was 60 kms away from my home – which on a normal day would have been roughly an hour’s drive – but due to heavy rains that part of the valley was under floods and the roads were submerged in water. I had to stay at Qazigund for the night. The nights seemed endless. I drifted in and out of sleep, listening to the plaintive call of night birds, watching the moon drag itself across the rain carrying clouds. I was cold, tired, anxious and disillusioned. For two days the downpour continued without stopping for a single moment and as a result, drowning the whole valley. Finally on the evening of September 6, the rain stopped but I was already running short of time. I decided to go home by walking through the railway tracks as the roads were still underwater. I started the journey on September 7 by taking a lift in a tractor to reach the railway tracks at Anantnag. Many people were walking along as this was the only Route unaffected by the floods. There were families living on the Railway platforms along with the cattle and it all seemed like a refugee camp. The overhead bridge was turned into an entire town with each family sharing small spaces. I received some food packets on the way and saved half of it for the rest of the day.
After walking 20 kms along the track, I reached close to Panzgam from where I took a road and reached Pulwama. With the dawn breaking in the eastern skies, we commenced on a journey of steep paths and narrow passes with the cold wind howling around the hills. These paths and passes rising or falling sharply; almost perpendicular, within no time had drained my energy but I walked on. I was now 18 kms away from home now but all the access roads were blocked further and I took an alternate way through Budgam and by the grace of Almighty I reached Chanapora. I was very close but I was late. I reached at around 8 pm till then the whole Srinagar city was completely submerged, killing all my hopes of going home. The Network was down, I had no whereabouts of my family but the last time I heard from them was when they were preparing to move to some safer place. I decided to stay at the Mosque for the night as many people had taken shelter there.
I have heard of Miracles but I witnessed one myself. I decided to enter the mosque and pray but there was no water for ablution, so I used a mineral water bottle which I had received earlier. As soon as I entered the mosque, a voice said “Arrey Sajad Bhai aap?” (Oh Sajad brother, you?)
I was shocked as well as surprised to see a boy who was serving the people there, whom I’d never seen before. I asked him how he knew me and he replied “I am Basit and you were my college Senior. We are friends on Facebook too.” I smiled and he offered me to stay at his place. My heart burst out of happiness and I prayed and thanked Allah. Happiness had tightened its grips around me until I couldn’t breathe and tears escaped from the corner of my eyes.
Since the entire mobile networks were dead only Aircel was working, that too with chance. I made two phone calls that night; one to a friend in Delhi to book the tickets and sms me the PNR and the other to NGC that I was alive and would be coming to Mumbai the next day.
With my wish to reach home and take the blessings of my family unfulfilled, I woke up next day and readied myself to leave. Since I was staying very close to the airport and it was on higher elevation so the area was not much affected by the floods. I reached the airport in the morning on September 8. I took the first flight and reached Delhi around 12 at noon. Then with the help of a friend in Delhi I hired a Camera and some lenses – as I’d come empty handed from Kashmir – and finally took the flight to Mumbai. I reached at 12 in midnight and the next day was my first task. I tried my best but was eliminated in the first round. The shock was crippling but they say desire is a powerful magnet and they say it right as through a wild card entry I bounced back and finally with the grace of Allah I won the competition.
While the show was being telecasted, all the family members were so excited to see me and the concept of darbedari changed into being an inspiration to others. The journey of Mumbai came to an end but the memories and experiences of this fascinating show will remain there in my mind till eternity. But I know, deep inside, that this is just the beginning.
P.S. In the backdrop of all this, there was a person who always kept me encouraging, criticizing and she stood by me all the time and once upon a time I had promised her that whenever I become a renowned photographer, I will mention you with due credits. Thank you for being there.
Thank you Naman Mukesh Chaudhary for helping me to write.