Sunday, February 11, 2024

Too much talent


लोभमूलानि पापानि संकटानि तथैव च।
लोभात्प्रवर्तते वैरं अतिलोभात्विनश्यति ॥


अर्थात् , लोभ और पाप सभी संकटों का मूल कारण है, लोभ शत्रुता में वृद्धि करता है, अधिक लोभ करने वाला विनाश को प्राप्त होता है ।


Year 2018.

The weather was moody. Chemistry was being put into practice. As the yeast converted sugar syrup was getting into the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors of our brains, the discussions wandered into college days. Someone blabbered, ‘Have you heard about Iftikhar?’ I said, ‘No’. My friend replied, ‘He is now a fugitive wanted by FBI‘.  What??


Image courtesy : Department of Chemistry FB page

Year 1987. 

Old Student Gallery, Department of Chemistry, Cotton College, Guwahati, Assam

First trimester exam of class XI batch of 1987-1989. It was thrust upon us even before we could understand that we had come to college to study, and not to enjoy the new found freedom of classes without boundary walls, with choice of attending or lurk around hotspots. Passing mark was 20 out of 30. While handing over the papers of Shivashish, who was a rank holder in Xth board, the professor sermon him a piece of his mind. He scored just above the passing mark 20 but was expected to perform better. As we waited with bated breath, my roll no 311 was announced. I went down the gallery to collect my paper. The professor nonchalantly handed over the paper without a word and simply dismissed my presence. Wow. While going up the gallery to my seat, I saw my mark as 17. Failed circled in red. Excitement evaporated as quickly as they had surfaced. To the professor, we were just run of the mill students who by mistake got into Cotton College that are destined to spoil the reputation of the nearly 100 year old institute. Little did he knew that coming from a vernacular medium school of state board without hearing about Chemistry hitherto, we were struggling to get in terms with Carbon Monoxides and Dioxides in English. The pride of getting into the premier institution of Assam / North East was just put to dust. 

Later in the day, over a smoking session, we came to know that one Iftikhar Ali Ahmed, who was the 2nd rank holder in Xth board, had scored 27 out of 30. That trend continued. While we continued to struggle, Iftikhar kept scoring above 80%, and eventually went onto top our XII board in 1989. But one thing was certain - we enjoyed the freedom of college life more - from learning to smoke to bunking classes to first crush to those morning English movies at Apsara. Life was carefree for us without any burden to top the class. Iftikhar and his clan stayed away from us not to get spoiled. 

Eventually the two years in college passed in a jiffy. Iftikhar was the only one who qualified for both Roorkee Engg College and IIT-JEE. Those days, qualifying for Roorkee was considered tougher than IIT. He eventually went to IIT- Mumbai. Meanwhile, we lesser mortals managed to make it to regular Engineering Colleges. Without any coaching, the IIT-JEE exam was a big conundrum for us to crack. Iftikhar was actually a brilliant student, way above the hoi polloi. We all parted ways in 1989. Life went on - both for Iftikhar and our clan.


Year 2018. Party continues…

Chemistery is no more that esoteric. Instead, Chemistry was being put into practice.

The blurt got registered deep even in that subliminally intoxicated mind. Iftikhar is now a fugitive wanted by FBI.  What??

Back home, as the effects of dopamine subsided, I started Googling. Soon I found that Iftikhar, now described as a Greenwich conman, has been indicted by a Boston Court for $54 million embezzlement from a private equity firm where he worked. He used that money to buy a $9.6 million house in Greenwich and another $8.6 million condominium in New York. The swindling story was a la fiction material. Jeffry Archer could have written a sequel to Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less.


Year 2024. 

Just completed watching season II of Scam - the Telgi Story. It was uncontrolled greed and arrogance that led to downfall of Telgi. In the process he lost his family, friends and all ill-gotten wealth. His wife even applied to government to take back ill-gotten wealth. Abdul Kareem Telgi was talented. So was Iftikhar Ali Ahmed. 

We lesser mortals not endowed with such extraordinary brilliance are living a peaceful life. God almighty has endowed most of us enough wealth and success to enjoy life. At 50+, we keep bonding and reliving those moments of 90s in get together. 

Meanwhile, Iftikhar, with all those God gifted brilliance, is on the run, with FBI on his trail, and may be living a nondescript life in some corner of the world. 

हुनर तो सब में होता है, बस फर्क इतना है, कोई चमक जाता है, कोई बर्बाद हो जाता हैं !

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Lothal - the ancient town from Indus Valley Civilisation

I was out on 550 km drive to Somnath, a long drive after many years. While travelling by SH1 in Gujarat, around 12 noon, I suddenly saw a board indicating Lothal - 4Km, pointing to a narrow road alongside through farm land. I read and went ahead. Had read about Lothal and Dholavira as ancient sites dating back to Harappan times of Indus Valley Civilization. Google map was showing still about 7 hours to destination. Few things were going through my mind. Tough call to invest additional 30-40 minutes. Stopped after about a kilometer of driving, and discussed about it with my travel partner, my wife. Eventually decided that we should see this. Never seen a Harappan site, and in possibility we will not come back to this remote place just to see Lothal. Took a U turn, and hit the narrow single road through cultivation. 

The site is a bit inside from main road, without a proper road sign to guide visitors. After driving for about 4KM, we found only a Thank You for visit board of Gujarat Tourism. At that point, Goggle was pointing to a near non-existent dirt track covered with kikkar bushes. No one was there to ask for direction. The site has to be there somewhere. As I waited, I saw another guy driving a KA registered car coming back from the opposite direction. He also got confused, and drove ahead only to be reminded by Google to come back. Both of us talked and decided to go by the dirt track as Goggle was pointing dots to it. Few meters into the track, there we found a sign board, which is not visible from main road. After about 100 meters we actually had reached the place with a board indicating as Lothal. The lone private security guard at gate told us not to get onto walls or structures. No entry ticket. I found around 4 cars of visitors while I was there. It shows that only a fistful of people visits this place.

There is a roadsign few meters into the dirt track

First thing that stuck me – how come some one (Prof S R Rao) found this site in such a barren and remote area, and excavated it between 1955-62. This Harappan town from Indus Valley Civilisation dated back to 2500-1900 BC. If you read the descriptions at site, the brick structures are actually of that time. Bricks, yes real bricks were used to build this Harappan town. The structures are so well planned and laid out that you will be forced to think if is it really an ancient site. It is an entire small-town setup complete with a water pond. I ended up giving more than planned 40 minutes visiting various parts of the site. The museum is closed permanently. The artefacts from the site are probably too precious to be kept at such a remote place. You can use the toilet there though. I found few more security guard and safai worker there.

It was an overwhelming experience being there. And definitely, one of the most unforgettable chance visits.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Capturing the spirit of street-life

Wildlife photography is my preferred genre and will continue to be so in near future. However, like many of my fellow photographers, the visual storytelling side of street photography also has a special appeal to me. This appeal is powerful enough to push me into venturing out 4-5 times during last one year to explore the streets of Delhi, specially the older Delhi. Called the Purani Dilli (Old Delhi), its streets are special. There is a treasure lying to be captured in the busy, over corroded, packed and often dimly lit alleys of Old Delhi. I wish I could go out often.
Staged or As Is:
Street photography is a large term. It actually has many sub-genre. The most common and popular on the social media is the staged street photography. They at time s look awesome. You find the perfect setting, find some actors who will gel with the scene, often pay them in cash or kind, and shoot. You get a near perfect shot for social media. But the form that appeals to me is the shoot as is format. You go out on the street and shoot a scene as it is with real people garnishing it with your creative framing and technical skills, and then present it to your audience with your editing skills. This way you capture moments. While the staged genre will continue to flourish, the moments genre will also hold its special place.


It is always good to have a concept in mind to shoot before you step out. If you do not have a concept, then you may find the scene too chaotic. I have seen participants in these walks often trying to shoot what others are shooting. If someone is shooting an old man puffin a bidi, let me shoot that too. And when you see the shots shared later in walk group, you find majority of them crap as they were shoot without any plan or concept. Even if it is not staged, you need a plan and concept to shoot. You will have to find beauty and interest in clutter. You make or create an Image by seeing and capturing differently. Technicalities often takes back seat as you have to shoot fast. Given the general lighting, and your understanding of light and your camera requirement, you set out with a set of basic setting. If a scene appeals to you, aim and shoot framing it the best possible way.
I had tried to create a series of images with a concept of ‘Life In Between’. The images of this series do not require me to connect with the subject. I will come to the topic of connecting to the subject later.

Some bread earned
A Fistful of colours
Poles apart....Life of two child


A mirrorless is the best equipment for street photography. This is true for India, at least Old Delhi.
So why a mirrorless for street? I currently own two full frame Canon bodies. For the street outings, I have used the smaller Canon 6D Mark II body with Canon 17-40 F4 lens. Smaller is a relative term. Even the 6D2+17-40 combination looks fairly large as compared to the mirrorless combos. I had found that Canon 6D2 fails you when the light is low and scene has predominantly darker tones. You will come across many such scene once you are inside the labyrinth of narrow alleys of Chandni Chowk like the Kinari Bazar where only natural light you find are wafting through narrow openings. Either you need a F2.8 or better lens and definitely a better body in such places. A cropped body with 18-55 kind of lens is a disaster for those narrow alleys. The other option therefore is the mid-level mirrorless targeted at the prosumer photographers. As they are targeted at prosumer segment, the output is tweaked to be quite good. They boast of an exciting array of lenses. In the last walk, I found that Fuji 18-55 kit lens is a 2.8 at wide angle. This comes a s kit with XT-20 body. The combined size and weight of a cropped body mirrorless is much lesser than my Canon 6D2+17-40. You can easily put them into your bag and carry everywhere. These cameras being small in size, the average people on street will ignore you as a novice, amateur or tourist having fun. The bigger SLR often attracts unwanted attention. These makes you a bigger photographer trying to make money of images of poor people on street.
As I am currently exploring Sony and Fujifilm series for making my next acquisition, I will come back and update this space soon.


Once out on the street, the technical aspect of camera setting will be least on your mind. Your eyes will be scanning for interesting scene. Rarely you get a second chance. Therefore you have to set your parameters before you start walking. Read the lighting scene and set your Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. Reading the available light scene will come from experience. As you will be shooting handheld, you need a minimum shutter speed of 1/60 to get decent frames. Once you have basic settings right, review first couple of shots. Change settings if required. Of course, you will fiddle with settings later as you shoot, but no point changing it after losing a moment. So, get it your initial setting as right as possible. This is true for wildlife also. You need to read the lighting scene and get your first setting as correct as possible.
One important aspect of street photography is to connect with subject. If you are shooting people close up, then you must talk and connect to get the best result. If the subject refuse then simply walk away. But more often than not, the subject is likely to cooperate. Keep in mind that do not try to create a scene of trying to make money of someone’s misery. Sometimes they may ask you for money or help after posing. These are poor people trying to make a living on street. The call is yours. Listen to your conscience. If you ask me, I had done it couple of times by buying a cup of tea or biscuit. I am presenting here few images where we had connected with the subject. Compare these with earlier series of ‘Life In Between’.
When you connect with your subject
Special mentions:
This exploration of city had made me venture out to different old Delhi with various people during last one year. These are Nizamuddin West with Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah and walled city from Turqman Gate to Chawri Bazaar with Asif Khan Dehlvi of Delhi Karavan. These were story telling non-photo walks. As Asif hold the group together with his story telling, I kept exploring with my camera. This continued with exploring the famed Chandni Chowk area from Parantha wali Galli to Dariba Kalan, and Khari Baoli to Sadar Bazar with Sundeep Bali and Fujifilm team. Sundeep is a brand ambassador of Fujifilm who had done a lot of work in old Delhi areas. It was a great experience learning with him.
And finally, this series of images were viewtifully edited on the ViewSonic VP2468 monitor specially designed for photographers.
Note: The author is ColorPro partner for ViewSonic. His and other ColorPro professionals' work can be seen at ColorPro Partners of ViewSonic. The latest series of ViewSonic monitors for Photographers can found at ViewSonic

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Jungfraujoch Switzerland

First video log of Europr trip 2018. Presenting the piciuresque journey to mountain top at Jungfraujoch. A train journey throug snow and tunnel takes you to 11333 feet. The train route itself is an engineering marvel. We experienced snowfall and even blizzard at top.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Getting true color in editing images

It has been three months since I received my ViewSonic VP2468 monitor designed especially for photographers like me. It has now become permanent part of my editing process. I used to edit a lot on my laptops which provides the flexibility of editing during spare time on my travels. These editing were mostly for social media posting, and hence used to be in small resolutions, typically around 1200px on longer side at 100dpi. Small sizes allow you to get away with many flaws. But whenever the images were to be sent for printing, or to some competition in large sizes, then the flaws of laptop editing became obvious. Believe me, when you blow up, the colours that looked OK in your FB or Instagram post, may look terrible. Colour is one of the factors that can make or kill your image.

A typical LED monitor we use in desktop generally produces about 60-70% of sRGB colour space. Laptops fares worse. This means, despite shooting in Adobe RGB, we were losing 30-40% of colours in editing, which is substantial for quality print. As a nature photographer, the variations in shades of green and greys are very important in my images. If you are not able to see the grade variations, then at time you lose on impact the image could have made. In my next upgrade, I wanted a monitor that can match my output requirement, preferably one made for photographer.

On exploring market, most of the monitors targeted at photographers were found to be exorbitantly priced. Often as a photographer you feel like spending that kind of money on things like upgrading your on accessories or save for your next lens. The monitor, despite being of such importance is forced to take a back seat. We tend to forget that monitor is that key link that is going to reproduce what one had seen and captured in camera. Once you understand the gravity of this, you are bound to go for a photographer’s monitor. And there sits the ViewSonic VP2468. A very affordable monitor meant for photographers that produces nearly 100% of sRGB colour space, and comes factory colour calibrated along with test reports.

When I got the opportunity to work on the ViewSonic VP2468 monitor, my first reaction was wow. Images were just popping up. Colours are so vibrant as if it enthuses a new life into images. My immediate reaction was to reopen some of my earlier edited images. I started hating some of them as colours were way off. I started re-editing them on the VP2468. Here is an example.

Difference in colours editing in ViewSonic VP2468 vs Laptop

The VP2468 has many functionalities which I am yet to explore. The basic controls are enough for me as a photographer. Let the monitor take away many of my worries and concentrate on getting that perfect moment. VP2468 comes with a host of ports on its back. I have connected it to my Dell workstation with a HDMI cable. Another outstanding feature is the Auto Pivot where you can rotate the monitor to view vertical frames in full screen. There is an auto pilot software to facilitate this rotation. Despite some great feature, few ergonomics are missing in the design. You can expect small flaws at this price point. If I am missing something as of now is an inbuilt speaker. But it does what it is meant to deliver – true colour. The VP2468 is going to stay put in my table for a long time.