In other words, this was important only for me. That was why after promising Shah Ji and Saeed to meet them at seven o’clock at the photographer’s, I had rushed there. I was the first to arrive and had asked this dolt of a photographer to show me our group photograph. One look at the print and I knew I had been exposed to the full fury of a powerful earthquake; it had leveled everything and dashed to the ground all that was valuable and meaningful in my life. All those rosy dreams of a future were shattered: bottles of soda pop began to explode in my brain. This stupid, ugly photographer had snatched away whatever little glory I had hoped to gain. The photograph was so fuzzy that I felt like smashing his head with the heavy paperweight lying on the pile of memos on his showcase. I could only grind my teeth in anger and wait, restlessly, for the arrival of Saeed and Shah Ji. Three heads, I thought, would be better than one.
They too were just as shocked to see the photograph. Shah Ji was, perhaps, also worried that the chairman might doubt his integrity. He might think that Shah Ji had made a shady deal with some third-rate photographer in order to siphon off the Society’s funds.
“Mister, what kind of a picture is this? It’s so dim …”
“This print not for you. This only a tesht copy. Still to do re-touching on it. Then you see. It will be thousand times besht—what?”
“What are you talking about, man? Are you trying to rip us off or what? This picture … and becoming best? Not a chance!” Shah Ji said, astonished. “There’s no way in the world this picture will become any better. Come on, you must be joking!”
“Then is it my fault? Ice-factory wall was casting shadow in cafe. I told you make the photo here in studio. You disagreed. Didn’t listen. Now if there was shadow in cafe lawn, then, my friend, is not my fault.”
“What kind of a photographer are you?” I roared. “Why didn’t you tell us clearly that the photograph would come out this bad?”
“No photographer can doing that. You have to take this picture—what! What will I do with it?”
“Why will we have to take it?” I shouted. “I can’t figure this fellow out. I don’t know what he means by saying we have to take it. Listen, you! Our money wasn’t ill-gotten that we can waste it on a picture like this. You claim to be a photographer and you don’t even know whether the picture will turn out all right. How long did you say you’ve been doing photography? Thirty years? Twenty?”
Seeing my dreams shattered, I lost patience. I cannot recall how much abuse I must have heaped on the fellow. He however was not perturbed by any of that. Inching forward his pumpkin-like distended belly, he continued retouching the negative. On the other hand, I, like one who suffers a loss in indigence, had been transformed because of my grief into the living image of Schopenhauer’s philosophy.
“Listen,” I said to him, “you will have to take another picture. You know damn well we are students. Even normally we are hard up. And look at you—you own such a big studio. If one of your photographs turns out bad, surely you can afford to take another one. But we cannot afford to pay you an extra penny.”
“How you can blame me for bad picture?”
“I don’t know how we can or cannot, but I do know that if you cause us any more trouble, I am going to bring all the students from the University down here. One charge by them and your whole studio will be in shambles. What do you say to that, brother?”
But my threat had no effect on him whatsoever. It was like trying to make an etching on water. Without raising his head he said with perfect serenity, “Mishter, why you making these khali-peeli threat? I told you, not my fault. Not take another picture.”
“Why the hell not?” I thundered.
Suddenly it struck me that from his accent he seemed to be a Gujrati. Why not try to reason with him in his native tongue? It might work. So I asked him in Gujrati, “Where are you from, mister?”