He was recounting their first meeting. It was indeed a rather strange one. It was at “Hair-Cuttery” where he was waiting for his usual haircut. But something unusual happened that day because his usual hair-stylist was not available. He was greeted by a radiant smile that was destined to linger in his thoughts for a long time. It was just that he didn’t know, yet!
“My name is Piyali. How would you like your hair today?” She looked very composed, yet he had a feeling that she was very new and alien to this job.
“A 5 on the sides and scissors on top”, Aakrit ordered his usual menu. And off she was, in a no-nonsense fashion, contouring his head like an expert lawnmower. The lack of pleasantries and a sweet-nothing conversation was a welcome surprise to him and he was thankful that he didn’t have to go through that nervous routine. Within 15 minutes, he had lost one-hundredth of a pound and Piyali got a generous tip for that!
“Your hands are very deft but your heart is not here”, she was surprised at both the sharpness and the accuracy of his comment.
“Wow.. are you a psychic by any chance! You are right. My heart and soul are in photography. But I can’t say that loud here, can I?”, she winked.
“Well.. it is a shame. You were great today in cutting. Anyways.. good luck with clicking!” He thought that the encounter was pretty entertaining for a haircut.
The next time they met, he had ignored her for an hour. He was busy watching a triangular love story heading towards a cinematic climax at breakneck speed. It had several twists and turns and after several bushes, trees and flowers, the good butterfly had triumphed over the evil one. With the battle for the female settled, it was time for another act which Aakrit decided to give a skip. It was then he noticed Piyali watching him with wide eyes. Of all places, she hadn’t expected to see him again in a butterfly observatory!
“Hello.. What a surprise. sorry.. I hadn’t noticed. I was busy capturing these wonderful creatures. Aren’t they gorgeous?”, he fumbled.
“Yes, they are. That is probably the only reason you are excused for ignoring me”, she winked. He gave her a sheepish smile.
“Didn’t know you loved photography. So are you an amateur..”, she stopped halfway looking at one of his photographs.
It was a serene shot of a jealous male that had sulked on top of a flower, looking lazily at its victorious competitor who was joyously lapping around his lady-love. The dejected male’s complete nonchalance towards the flower was so surreal. She had never known that butterflies’ emotions could be captured so vividly. It was as good a photo as she had ever seen.
“Well, I always consider myself an amateur!”, he said with a calming smile.
“Then I shouldn’t even say that I can take photos”, she was still reeling under the impact of that butterfly.
“Let me take a look!” He browsed through her huge array of butterfly captures.
“Well, to be honest, I liked your cutting more!” He didn’t regret what he said but he felt he could have said it better. “So, what do you do?” was his lame attempt at a change of topic.
“I study at the NYC Institute of Photography. My parents and “Hair-Cuttery” pay my tuition. I am into freelance as well but so far no one seems to be really interested. But that will change!” she said confidently.
“I am no one to advice, but I feel that photography is an art that you have to soak in. It will consume you and may not even give you anything in return. I would suggest you get a real job and make photography as your hobby.”
He expected a reply, a retort, but got nothing but a cold stare. An awkward silence followed and he decided it would be best for him to leave. He bid good bye as she stood there silently. He had walked a few steps then suddenly turned back. “Well.. I think I will take back what I said. I feel you will be much more happy taking mediocre photos for the rest of your life rather than making big bucks on an 8-5 job. Go for it! But you definitely got to do better than this!”
“I am glad you said that. Otherwise this would have been our last meeting”, she smiled.
Photography was the invisible thread that slowly bound them together. She would show him her photographs and he would opine frankly. He would give her a lot of suggestions on camera lenses, how to make better use of shades and angles and how to visualize the photo before actually taking it. Piyali became his new usual hair-stylist and his fondness towards his hair increased. So did his trips to Hair-Cuttery!
“So do you intend to continue as a free-lancer or do you have other plans?” It was his first voluntary venture into small talk.
“I want to work for the TIME magazine. I want to travel the world with a camera and back-pack. I want the world to see the world through my lenses.” She was erupting with enthusiasm.
“And if you somehow never make it, then what?” he knew he was pushing her.
“Be very careful of what you say. Your hair is still in my hands”, she clicked the scissors playfully. “Well, in that case, I would die trying!” Her conviction sent a shudder in him. He knew she was serious about it but he didn’t realize the extent she would go for her ambition. He probably fell in love with her at that very moment!
“Wish me luck! I am participating in TIME’s International Photography contest this year. I know it’s a bit too early. But what the heck?” she beamed.
“It is never too early. All the best!” He meant it more than ever this time.
She was really surprised when he asked her to accompany him on a trip. That was the first time he told her about his job. He worked with several social organizations and took pictures and wrote articles to help them raise funds from various circles. She could see his genius from the suffering he managed to capture in his photos and the impact it left in the heart of the donor. He was on his way to
to help people there who
were reeling from a deadly earthquake. She went with him! Haiti
It was a trip that she would never forget. They would spend the whole day getting food supplies to the villagers and in the evening they helped in the local hospital. He would click photos all day and would pen articles in the night. It was completely overwhelming for both of them in more than one way. She would sit all night and stare at his photos. One particular photo made her heart bleed every time. It was the photo of a small boy taking a bath outside a broken tent ignorant of a priest bringing him food and his father being carried away for his funeral. Everything about the photo was ominously magical. The afternoon sky spitting fire, the smoke which formed a halo behind the priest, the rooster which broke into a jig perched atop the dead man’s casket and the drops of water dripping from the boy’s soaked body: it was a tragic art that made her knees tremble every time. They returned home after 2 months. “Thank you for giving me the best 2 months ever”, she said.
Aakrit was fiddling the small diamond ring with his fingers. Photography had been his life. He had always been so engrossed in it that he never thought a day would ever come when he had to divide his love. What would she say? He probably knew. He remembered her beautiful eyes and the day he fell for them. He was about to leave when he suddenly remembered that the results of the International Photography competition were to be announced that day. He suddenly felt circumspect. Would this not be a good day to confess my love? What if she cannot take defeat lightly? He put the ring back on the table and sulked in his chair.
Then suddenly he sprang up and opened his laptop. He went to the TIME homepage to check out if the results were out. He checked the names of the top 3 winners were out. None of them was Piyali. A slight tremor struck his heart. Then he noticed at the bottom of the page:
“Special Mention: Piyali Ghosh. Cash award: $1000”
He jumped in the air with uncontrollable ecstasy. He was over the moon. Now nothing could stop him from getting his love today. He took his ring and put his coat on. Then his eyes fell on her award winning photo:
“It was the photo of a small boy taking a bath outside a broken tent ignorant of a priest bringing him food and his father being carried away for his funeral.”
- A SHORT STORY BY RAJ