Mr. Pillai

I am a Toast Master. Last week, I gave a small presentation about teachers. Like most people preparing a speech, I wrote several versions before writing the final draft of the speech I delivered.

Teachers play a critical role in our lives. Often, we forget them. More often, we don’t acknowledge them, or their contribution.

I started photography years ago, and I entered this field to change my lifestyle. It probably saved my life, so I owe photography that much at least!

My drawing skills then, and now, are awful. If memory serves me well, I have been kicked out of more art classes than I can remember. The only ones where I stayed the course were the ones that school offered us. The teacher had no choice but to keep me on. They passed me, only to avoid having me back the following year.

Photography seemed the only option, and my father was good enough to pay for my first camera - an Olympus OM-2n.

I was off and spent my Sunday mornings wandering the streets of Bombay, shooting probably the worst photographs the world has ever seen.

One day, I noticed a flyer for “Pillai’s School of Photography”. I enrolled and started class soon enough.

The class was a little small and seemed strange. I walked in with my little notebook, and the first thing he asked us to do was to write the words, “I See” in our notebooks.

Sitting at the back of the class - as usual - I wrote the words “I See”, with a huge “I” and smaller “see”.

It looked something like this.


I  see


Okay, the formatting does not work on the site!

There it was. I sat there feeling pretty chuffed until he walked up to see what I had written. This was the moment, I knew, when he was going to throw me out of the class.

But no. The man jumped up and down with glee, shouting this was it!

The importance of “I”, he said, cannot be under-estimated. It is the foundation of everything we do. Not the ego of an obnoxious, egotistical person, but the ego of a (nice) creative, egoistical person.

We are all driven by our ego. It’s a part of our life. Anway, what he meant was that if you don’t have a strong sense of what you want to communicate, there is no was you will create a strong visual narrative.

I am going, to be honest here: this lesson sailed over my head. It must have whizzed around, and lodged itself into my subconscious brain, because I return to it repeatedly.

Mr. Pillai taught us the fundamentals of photography. Yes, he taught us a lot of beautiful, technical shit about photography.

More than that, he brought energy and passion to the class. He was constantly flapping his arms around and jumping up and down with excitement.

He passed off something of that passion and energy to me through some weird osmotic process.

This has stayed with me. My passion for photography is alive and well, and I am sure that I owe an enourmous debt to Mr. Pillai for this.

I also owe him a debt for stressing the importance of your personal vision. This is something that has helped me in my photography, writing and business career. It’s helped me in life.

Is Mr. Pillai, or something of his spirit, living inside me? I am sure he is.

His lessons are alive and well. I am always developing my vision, exploring, and have refused to be typecast.

Mr. Pillai, wherever you are, I owe you a big one.






I Dislike Pushkar

Pushkar is a town in the Ajmer district in the state of Rajasthan in India. It is about 150 km southwest of Jaipur, the capital of the state.


There are reasons we know Pushkar well. It is famous.


For one, we know it for its camel fair, which is held every autumn. About 200,000 people come from various parts of the state to buy and sell camels, and exchange good via barter or cash deals. The fair has become popular with photographers and tourists.


It’s famous also, for its temple dedicated to Brahma, the creator god in the Hindu trinity. It may be a good place here, to talk about the various Gods we have in India, without going too deep into the analysis of the Hindu religion. That is a contentious and complicated issue.


Let’s travel back into the dim and distant past, the Aryans came into South Asia, from their home in Central Asia. They brought their Gods with them. Many of these Gods represented forces of nature. It was an animist faith. They brought their belief systems with them, codified in the Vedas.


Over time, their Gods blended with the local Gods, and the Vedic Gods gave way to the Hindu Gods. Some, like Shiva, transitioned. Shiva was known as Rudra in the Vedic pantheon and represented, to some extent, the wild aspect of nature.


The Hindu Gods soon eclipsed the Vedic Gods. The Trinity in the Hindu belief system, as it exists today, comprises Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.


Traditionally, people believe that Brahma created the world, Vishnu preserves it, and Shiva destroys it. When Shiva destroys the world, he recreates it. He has a creative aspect to him. Vishnu also creates the world while dreaming. Do his dreams represent the dream world we all create? Who knows?


Brahma created the world and then retired from it. That’s it. His role ended. You can say he sort of retired into the shadows. Therefore, you don’t find temples dedicated to Brahma. Pushkar is one of the few places with a temple dedicated to Brahma.


They say that a lotus fell from Brahma’s hand and created the lake at Pushkar.


We know Pushkar for the Brahma temple, and for the camel fair.


This does not explain why many foreigners live here for months. They blend in with the locals and seem to be more local than people like me who visit from different parts of the country.


Our driver told us they come for the drugs, largely hashish, and forms of opium.


When we went to Pushkar, the first thing that happened was that someone tried and steal my friend’s lens and camera bag. Or was it his lens cap? Either way, that’s what happened as soon as we entered the town.


Our driver went barreling after him, clobbered him, and retrieved the stolen goods. He then admonished us to be careful, saying that Pushkar was full of thieves.


This put me into a negative frame of mind. Every town has thieves, but I don’t like being robbed as soon as I enter a town. I neither like to be told that the town is famous for thieves and knaves.


The restaurants proudly display their menu in English, Hebrew, Korean. We were told rudely that if we wanted proper Indian food; we had to go to the edge of the town. Damn them.


The server—the manager—left us as soon as his foreign guests entered the restaurant. He didn’t even take our order. Bloody rat!


The waiter he sent to us spent his time trying to convince us to have pasta instead of some Indian fare that was listed on the menu. When it arrived, almost 30 minutes later, it was cold and tasted like rubber.


When we left, we saw the manager and the waiter dancing around the foreigners as though they were demigods.

I don’t like to be discriminated against in my country. It would have been understandable if the foreigners who received this fawning treatment are well-heeled and well dressed.


They were not.


They wore torn clothes, had straggly (probably lice infested) hair, and were dirty.


We contained our fury, paid the bill, and left without leaving a tip. The waiter had the gall to ask for one.

I do not understand why the bloody place had an average 5-star rating on TripAdvisor.


Therefore, I detest Pushkar!

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