The thrill of photography.

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Omkar temple, Bangalore, India. One of my favorite images.

Today, Aug 19th, is World Photography Day.  Why Aug 19th, you ask?

On Monday, August 19th, 1839, the Daguerreotype photographic process was released to the public as an open-source technology. Read about it in Wikipedia, if you want.

Thanks to this great gesture by the French, you and I can enjoy photography without paying hefty royalties to anyone. Vive la France!

Photography is my primary stress-buster. Keeps me sane, makes me really happy. Almost as good as sex. Almost. (I have been an involuntary celibate since many years, fyi).

In the days of celluloid film, photography was a demanding hobby. Composing a good photo required considerable skill, a great deal of patience, a lot of good luck and a competent studio that could develop film correctly. A professional photographer or a serious hobbyist who wanted to develop his own photos had to have skills in chemistry as well, and a dark room, and plenty of money for film and chemicals.

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Scarlet darter at dusk.

Film photography was a time-consuming and expensive hobby, but it was fun nevertheless.

Things changed with the birth of the digital camera. Nikon introduced the first commercial digital SLR camera in 1986. And Canon, Minolta, Sony et al quickly followed. Those early digital cameras cost a fortune. Most of us photographers in India could merely dream of buying one.

Today, we have cameraphones, point-and-click digcams, gopro’s, webcams, god-knows-what-else, for any budget, any skill level.

Some questions about photography:

Is photography very expensive?

Of course not. If you have a decent smartphone, that’s enough to get started. Some of my best images have been made with my phone. If you have about Rs.20K to spare, you can get yourself a very good bridge camera that’s almost as good as a DSLR camera.

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Made with my cellphone.

If you don’t have Rs 20K to spare, there are hundreds of affordable point-and-click digital cameras out there.  As your skills improve, you can spend as much as you want, depending on how far you want to go. For most people, a bridge camera will be all they need.

Should I buy Photoshop or something?

Not necessarily. Most camera manufacturers offer free imaging software with their cameras. And there are many photo apps on the net, all free. Gimp, Snapseed, VSCO, the list is endless.

Do I need a computer?

Perhaps. For cameraphone photography, you don’t need a PC. Just click, process, share. For a bridge or DSLR camera, you do. Any unbranded PC is enough.

Where do I save my photos?

As you take more pictures, you will find yourself running out of space on your PC or phone. Not to worry. There are many cloud-based sites like Google Drive, Flickr and 500px that allow you to store and share hundreds of images. If you have the money, buy an external or internal hard disk.

What is the best time for photography?

In principle, any time is good. For outdoor photography, daytime is best. I do most of my photography in the hours between 3pm and 6pm, depending on the season. Dawn is also a good time. Avoid afternoons, in general.

What kind of photography do I get into?

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Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata).

Anything you like. Nature, wildlife, food, people, travel, street, candids – anything at all. There are on-line resources for every taste, every skill level, every person.

Does photography pay?  No.

Don’t even think of quitting your job. At the professional level, photography is really expensive and very risky. Save your money and time. Enjoy photography as a hobby, take great photos that you can share with your friends and family, spend as much as you can afford, and not a penny more.

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Butterflies are difficult to shoot!

Which camera do I buy?

Buy only the camera you can comfortably afford, without the need to pay in instalments. Buying a camera ( or any other electronic device costing less than Rs. 20K) on instalments is just foolish. Cameras have negligible resale value. Remember that.

As I said, all you need is a good smartphone and a free app. Nowadays, you get all kinds of affordable lenses and accessories for smartphone photography, if you think your phone is not good enough on its own.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive and immensely satisfying hobby, that will last for a lifetime, and that may or may not get you laid, I’d say modern photography is one of the best options you have. I’ve yet to get laid, but one lives in hope.

Go ahead. Put your hand into your pants. Take out your cellphone. Make your day.

Cheers … Srini.

Independence? From what exactly?

As I sit here typing this blogpost on the eve of my country’s seventieth Independence Day, my brain is being raped by the deafening traffic outside. It has been many years since I have had a full night’s sleep. The traffic is relentless. The pack of stray dogs in my street barks all night long. The students next door have drunken parties every night. Night after night, the noise of construction gets worse and worse. The administration, as always, doesn’t give a shit.

In my country, stray dogs roam free, to bite, maim and kill tax-paying citizens like myself. If I protest, I get intimidated and beaten up by animal activists. That’s because rabid dogs are protected by law. Their human victims are not.

In my country, a husband commits suicide every nine minutes. I’m one of those rare husbands who didn’t. If I protest, I get thrashed and then thrown into jail by Feminazis. That’s because women have laws to protect them. Men have none. None whatsoever.

In my country, I cannot decide what to eat. Someone else does that. In my country,  I cannot decide which God to worship, or which God I do not want to worship. Someone else does that. I cannot decide what I want to see on my TV. Someone else does that.

In my country, I cannot speak my own mother tongue. Because someone else wants to shove his language down my throat.

I cannot provide the education I think fit for my children. Because that education is reserved for someone else. I cannot get the jobs I want for my children. Those jobs are reserved for someone else.

In my country, less than 2 in 100 taxable citizens pay income tax.  I pay income tax for ninety eight other Indians who perhaps make more money than I do.

I cannot walk on the pavements. Because thugs on two-wheelers drive on them, in full view of the police. I cannot visit the few parks that still survive in my city, because there are too many garbage dumps in the way. And because crossing the street outside my home might get me killed.

In my country, more people are killed by vehicles than by terrorists and natural disasters put together.

We have the fastest growing economy in the world, boast our politicians. We also have the fastest growing population in the world. We also have the highest number of stray dogs per capita. And consequently, we have the highest number of deaths due to dog-bites. We also have the highest number of pedestrian deaths in the world. If I question those who drive on pavements and those who fling their garbage on the streets, I get beaten up and told that this is an independent country.

This, to most of my fellow Indians, is what Independence means. The right to abuse. The right to ogle. The right to throw refuse on the streets. The right to urinate in public.

Godmen in saffron robes sing praises about our ancient country’s hoary past, our glorious culture, our “sprirituality”. Their ashrams are dens of debauchery, their coffers are filled with black money, their beds are warmed by highly paid whores.

Seventy years after foreign rulers left our soil, we still go back to them for money to fund our development. Seven decades after independence, emigrating to the West is still considered the greatest achievement. Seventy years since we became a free country, owning the passport of another land is still the ultimate symbol of success.

Seventy years of self-rule, and I am still called a “Madrasi”.  Still abused as a “bomman”.

I am a loser you see. I chose to own an Indian passport. My former daughter dumped me for a rich old fart, because I refused to leave my parents and my motherland. What a fucking loser you are, her mother said to me in the divorce court – before joining her elderly lover in Canada.

We do have the biggest and the best Constitution in the world. I know, I read it. But yet …

As a husband I have no laws to protect me from my vicious wife. As a father, I have no rights to see my child. As a man, I have no legal defense against any woman who chooses to destroy my life. As a pedestrian, I have no legal means to protect myself from rabid dogs and drunken drivers alike. And as a Brahmin, I have no rights of any kind.

The foreign rulers have left, but we are still enslaved. By intolerance. By casteism. By religion. By over-population. By language. By the sheer weight of garbage on our streets. And worst of all, by corruption.

Ecologists across the nation have repeatedly warned that the country is racing towards ecological disaster. But the politicians continue to chop down trees, pollute our lakes and burn down our forests.

Where else in the world can one see a lake filled with stinking foam? Where else can one see a foaming lake literally on fire?

India is still one of the poorest nations on earth. One of the most corrupt nations in the world. One of the most unsafe countries for women.

In my country, a 1000 sq ft apartment costs more than a 2000 sq ft bungalow in the USA. Yet, a maid in that country earns more than I do.

Are you not proud to be an Indian, thundered my friend – who left India twenty years ago. I wonder how to respond.

The right question is not whether I love my country. Of course I do. Otherwise I would have left many years ago, when I had the opportunity.

The right question is – does my country love me?

I guess not.

City of Palaces … and rip-offs.

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Mysore Palace

Want to get royally ripped-off?

Go to Mysore.

Half my family hails from Mysore. My forefathers served under the Wodeyar rulers. One of my great grand-uncles painted some the murals that are displayed inside the Palace. Hardly a month goes by when I do not visit this city, either for work or for photography.

And I’ve come to hate the place. Mysore typifies the horrific state of tourism in our country. Rickshaws and taxis that loot commuters without fear, hotels that give you the worst possible service, grossly overcrowded tourist spots, abusive waiters, corrupt cops, the list is endless. Everyone wants his cut, everyone has his hand out, everyone has a nasty invective for you.

And garbage everywhere. Mind you, this city claims to be the “cleanest” city in India. Well, it is marginally cleaner than Bangalore. But then, Bangalore is without question, one of the filthiest cities in the world, not just in India.

Some of the “hotspots” of this formerly regal city:

Chamundi temple: Well over a thousand years old. Home of Mysore’s presiding deity. Try getting into the temple on any day of the week. Minimum waiting time is an hour, and you have to literally fight your way in. Literally. Count the number of encroaching hawkers and illegal shops around the temple. Inhale the tantalising stench from the huge pile of garbage on the hillside below. And then ask yourself, if this is how this city treats its presiding deity, how will it treat you?

Mysore Palace: For heaven’s sake leave your camera and cellphone with someone you trust. Cameras are not allowed inside the Palace. If you carry one, the cops inside will ruthlessly extort you – even if you do not take the camera out of its case. Same applies to cellphones. Photography outside the palace is permitted, without any entrance fee. Even here, you can get ripped off by touts. Be on your guard, will you?

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Chamarajendra Wodeyar, King of Mysore 1868-1894

Mysore Zoo: If you’ve seen a zoo before, then don’t bother. There’s just nothing special about this one – except for the pickpockets and petty thieves inside. Keep all your jewelry out of sight, remove your bangles and ear-rings. And keep your purse or handbag hidden, or booby-trapped. Distribute your cash and cards in various pockets. If you’re from Bombay, you know how to protect yourself from pickpockets. The same principles apply here.

Karanji lake: Next to the Zoo. If you want to observe human couples in foreplay, this is the place to visit. Once a nice waterbody for birds and birders, Karanji has become polluted with sewage, and infested with lovey-dovey couples. The lake smells foul on most days. You still can see waterbird species like the painted stork, spot-billed pelican and oriental darter, but these special residents of Karanji are constantly disturbed by boating and illegal fishing. Bird populations have been declining and will eventually disappear.

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Kukkarahalli lake.

Kukkarahalli lake: Same as above. Once attractive. Now avoidable. Not as bad as Karanji, since Kukkarahalli is not as commercialised. But it is getting there.

Brindavan Gardens: The best place to get groped. This place is definitely unsafe for women, even if they are in a large group. The much-touted musical fountain is not worth the trauma you will have to undergo to get there. Parking is a nightmare. Traffic is ghastly. Crowds are unruly, drunk and abusive. And they grope, grope, grope.

Ranganathittu bird sanctuary: For a bird-lover like me, Ranganathittu used to be the place for observation and photography. Used to be. Now, the place makes my blood boil. Far too crowded. Leaky boats. No safety measures of any kind. And the usual rip-offs. The “friendly” boatman will take you on a prolonged boatride for your photographic pleasure, if you cross his palm with a good amount of silver.

Srirangapatnam: This “historical” town on the outskirts of Mysore was once the capital of Tipu Sultan, a person for whom I have very little regard. Srirangapatnam is as bad as Mysore for tourists.

The so-called “expressway” from Bangalore to Mysore, once a great road to drive on, is choked with traffic and extremely unsafe. Without fail, I see at least two accidents on this road, each time I drive down. I wonder when it will be my turn.

My country has so much to offer to a discerning tourist. Ancient culture, spectacular temples, remarkable architecture, awe-inspiring natural beauty. And yet, India has less than 0.7% of the world’s tourism business. Tourists are ripped off everywhere they go, abused, intimidated, and frequently molested. India is generally known as one of the world’s most unsafe destinations.

Anyone who knows Mysore the way I do, will understand why.

Srini.