For news photographers life is one endless “assignment”. The ticking timepiece, the pressure to capture The Moment better than the others on the beat, the boxing for space between “video” and “still” leaves little room for reflection, even less for poetry.
In staff-strapped Indian media houses, the sublime and the ridiculous—ministerial visits, seminars, crime scenes, “human interest”, celebrity photocalls, accidents, book releases, quarterly results, cricket matches—all jostle for equal attention.
Amateurs and shamateurs have discovered their ways of dealing with the pressures. The coscientious and professional keep their head above the water by organising themselves, by keeping personal emotions out, and by not getting overly sentimental.
In February 1989, K. Gopinathan (in picture, left), then as now, a world-class news photographer with his heart in the right place, received word that a baby abandoned the day after her birth, had been given shelter seven months later by a children’s home in Bangalore aptly named Ashraya.
“My first glimpse of the infant was a shock: a sweet-looking baby minus arms and legs. Suddenly I was battered by all sorts of feelings. I cried in my heart: “God, why did you punish this beautiful child?” I then pushed aside my emotions prepared for the shoot. That was when she looked at the camera directly, raising her torso as if to assert herself: “This is me! This is what I am!”
Gopi’s picture, frontpaged in the undivided Indian Express under T.J.S. George, attracted the attention of an American single-parent, Catherine Cox, who came forward to adopt her, named her Minda Cox, and took her to the United States.
19 years later, in January last year, Gopi, now the chief photographer of The Hindu in Bangalore, received word that mother and daughter were in Bangalore for the silver jubilee reunion of its adopted children.
In an article on The Hindu website to mark World Photography Day, Gopinathan describes the surreality of the experience:
“I looked around, foolishly, for a baby without limbs, not realising she was a young woman now…. Amidst much clapping and cheering, I was introduced as the first person to have taken her picture.
“She beckoned to me, grabbed my hand and held it under her chin. By now I was choking with emotion and parallely I was conscious of the fact that I had not shed a single tear when my father died.”
The search took them to Kolekebailu, 30 km from Manipal on the west coast of India, to the village of Kalavathi and Shankar Shetty.
“As we neared the village, we saw villagers lining both sides of the road…. The crowd was getting restive and I had a tough time convincing them they would get their turn to see Minda. One man repeatedly tried to sneak in and I asked him exasperatedly why he was in hurry.
“‘I am her father, Sir,’ came the reply.”
Read the full article: No more a question mark
Photographs: courtesy K. Gopinathan/ The Hindu