Photography, chai and creamroll
In Pune, known as the Oxford of the East, that chai tapri ( roadside tea stall) just outside every college gate and the cream roll and cutting chai (half tea) served there are an integral part of the education system. These tapris with a few broken plastic stools for seating and a tarpaulin stretched overhead are in stark contrast to the deserted lecture halls inside the college. Many times one will witnesses actual classes happening here with the teachers too enjoying the atmosphere alongside the students, several of whom have not set a foot inside the college classroom for days.
I have fond memories of time spent at PD, one such tapri during the time I was a student of photography. The sessions at PD easily outdid the scheduled sessions inside the photography department in terms of duration, attendance and many time the quality of content and the manner in which it was delivered. Where else would you find a teacher in full flow explaining a concept or a photographic technique and then swearing at a thick headed student with phrases like "tujhi aai takli" which literally translates in English to "your mother is bald!" while calmly dipping his cream roll in the tea and savoring it. But Abhijit Abde, our teacher, did that to all of us and we thoroughly enjoyed it. As far as I am concerned I learned more about photography during these conversations than what I did in the studio and the darkroom. Abhijit would spend a few hours after regular class time with a group of eight to ten of us just discussing photography. When at PD, there was no curriculum, no syllabus, no deadlines. Just photography and us. There was advice, criticism, debate and discussion in an environment which cultivated giving and sharing of knowledge just like the cream rolls and the tea. It was literally a classroom without walls. On many occasions I would miss my regular class as I had a day job that time, but I would turn up at PD on time later. Of course I was never spared from the customary welcome by Abhijit, with an extra special tadka of swear words. My excuses were met by more swearing from others as well, but by the end of it we all knew that this was the time that we all looked forward to much more than the studio class.
I must say that those delicious cream rolls and the tea have been valuable contributors to where I am in photography today. It also forged some lifelong relationships in my life. Although PD is gone today the tradition lives on. It is just that roles and locations have changed for me.
*Special thanks to my good friend Smita for providing the inspiration for writing this post.