We had barely reached home when we heard the news. It was shocking and more so unbelievable. It was just 30 minutes or so earlier that I had completed my last shoot and decided to wrap up for the day. Till then, it was like any other Wednesday. A host of foreigners had come to The Gateway of India and I was lucky to have shot pics for them. I had also some local tourists who had obliged me for their photoshoot. Tourists were around. Business was good. We had no clue to the gruesome and bloody events that were to unfold in the next few hours.
What we saw on tv was disturbing. Our usual place of work near The Gateway of India was now looking like a battlefield. No tourists. Only gunfire. Police. And some members of the press. A few of my colleagues who had decided to work late had already been asked to vacate the area.
26/11 Mumbai Taj Attacks was one of the worst nightmares that we had ever witnessed in the city, till the pandemic struck in 2020. The whole area was cordoned off and we were out of work for 20 days then. But in the pandemic, we have been out of work for more than 6 months.
I am a native of Bihar who has been looking to move to someplace that could make my life bearable and better, by earning a decent living. I moved to Kolkata in 1980 where I worked as a housekeeping staff. Later I moved to Mumbai with my boss for a similar job. It was only in1985 that I started clicking pictures and have stuck to photography since then.
I started with the reel camera MF 2. We used to click pictures and send them via posts because back then we did not have the technology of instant prints. Some tourists trusted us with their money, and gave us the payment before actually getting the printe. Some didn’t want to give us the money in advance, so they used to send us the payment through post after getting their pictures. They used to, eagerly yet patiently, wait for the pictures to arrive. As there were no mobile phones, these pics were the only physical document of memories back then.
When I started, there were only 22 photographers in the community and now we have a union of approximately 300 photographers. You can spot us with our white Shirt and black pants. Interestingly, the cost of the pictures is quite similar from those times even today. We used to click pictures in the 90s for Rs. 20 and it has only marginally grown to Rs. 30 now.
But a lot has changed after Covid. I have clicked only 3 photos since morning (and its 6 pm already) which is way too little in comparison to what we made before Covid. The people who are visiting here are mostly locals or from Maharashtra. Most of them have already visited the place before so they don’t show any interest in getting clicked by us once again. Weekends get better for sure but people are still afraid to travel to public places.
Our profession is based on ‘luck by chance’ so we cannot control things. We don’t even have fixed working hours as this completely depends on the no of tourists visiting and in times like these, they are hardly around.
We sat at home for 6+ months in the lockdown. It was only in October that the government opened tourist places for the public and we came here again in mid-November. Nobody has the slightest idea that something like this would happen. It was also a tough time for us. I have a family of 5 with two daughters and a son. Both my daughters have completed their graduation and doing part-time jobs and my son recently took admission in college and is also looking for a part-time job. All of us earn a little something to get through the walk of life. I feel like I have spent most of my life with the camera so I cannot leave it at this stage and find some other career. I am used to this lifestyle and no matter how hard it gets, I know things will get better.
We live very nearby so we don't have to travel through locals on an everyday basis, so that is a major advantage I have.
I am praying that things will get better soon and our country will get back to normal.
I cant wait for the time when tourists will throng this place once again. Apart from the financial benefits, we will also get to meet a lot of interesting people once again.
Thank you and God bless.
- Gangaram Chaudhary