Sunday afternoon. Besant Nagar beach or Bessy as it’s know colloquially.
31 degrees. Hazy and Hot.
I have just bought a T-Shirt for less than the price of a Latte in a London Starbucks.It’s a ‘Superman’ T-shirt. Bought with irony in mind and 300 rupees from my wallet.
The exact cost of the T -shirt is 295 rupees. I still have the 5 rupees change clasped in my hand as I exit, and see Our Man.
Actually I had seen him on the way in, his hand outstretched toward me. But at that moment I was a (superman) on my way to rescue That T-shirt. So I did what I normally do in these circumstances. I ignored him.
Now I exit the shop in my new persona, and I am feeling guilty. I have just bought a T Shirt at a price that can only mean its been stitched by 1000 Bangladeshi orphans for a dollar and a stick of chewing gum. What to do?
Make amends obviously. Settle the balance with the Universe ASAP!
I thrust the 5 rupees into his still outstretched hand. And he looks at me. And mumbles something in Tamil which I don’t understand at all, but I don’t have to because his eyes say it all. THANKYOU!
I nod back and mumble make my exit, and hustle into the Puma sportswear shop (shorts to go with my T-shirt).Five shop assistants who were enjoying a languid Sunday afternoon doze just a few seconds ago jump to attention at a whistle from the security guard and start trailing me around the shop. Which is enough to drive me back out in under a minute.
And anyway I’m no longer interested in shorts. I can’t get this guys face out my head. I have to get his picture!
Fortunately he hasn’t wandered far. And I watch him for a few more minutes as he totters around the Sunday afternoon visitors to Besant Nagar beach imploring each of them to part with their Hard Earned. But people are not interested. Or at least they are more interested in enjoying the many and assorted foods ,sweets, trinkets, attractions and other assortments that Bessy has to offer to a punter on a Sunday afternoon..
And it Still HOT! But for once these bright southern Indian skies are not blue. The sun is up there alright, but its usual fierce gaze is dissolved and diffused behind the huge billowing clouds that have been growing ever higher all morning.
Bad news for a day at the beach. It looks and feels as though these same clouds are going to dump their contents downward any moment now. But the plus side of this is that the light is softened and subdued. Good for portraits.
I cross the street to our man. Phone camera at the ready (the best camera is the one you have with you) He turns and stretches his hand out again, and then recognition dawns and a slightly puzzled look crosses his face.
I say “Hello’ and ‘I gave already’ in a weak attempt at humour. But he clearly doesn’t understand and replies in a stream of Tamil which I don’t.
‘Can I take your picture? ‘ I ask. Pointing to the phone and holding it up toward him. More torrents of Tamil..A nearby couple have been watching/ laughing at our exchange, step in and intervene and translate, and apparently permission is granted. ‘He’s saying Ok you can take his photo!’
So. It’s the Decisive Moment. I step towards him, and bring the phone up to eye level. But the bright sky behind him means all I see on screen is a silhouette. ‘Hang on! Wait a sec..’ I say. More torrents of Tamil but the tone is bemused, as is the expression of the translator couple still watching and giggling off to one side. Who’s this idiot foreigner who can’t even use his camera phone? I finally find the exposure settings in the camera controls and notch it up a couple of pegs and Wwwwhoooaa! Suddenly That Face fills the screen, and I know before I have even clicked the shutter that I’ve struck gold.
I take 3 or 4 shots in quick succession, moving in a bit closer each time, and then I’m done. I give thanks and bow my appreciation to our man, and in return he smiles and makes a blessing like motion with his free hand.
And just for a moment. All is well again with The Universe.
And I really am Superman!