(Book 1: Lights, Captura, Action)
In the early hours of the next morning, well before their work-shifts began, Ravi and Subro executed the plan. Both of them were sleep-deprived after the previous day’s events, but Subro had insisted that it would be best to take the Captura out in the light of day. That way, they could do without the umbrella-like accessory’s artificial light, which would otherwise have guaranteed heads turning their way.
Ravi trudged through the street, pushing the ice-cream cart in front of him, while Subro hid inside, armed with the Captura.
Ravi imagined that his partner must be a little cramped in the confines of the cart. But Subro had assured him that there was sufficient cushioning for himself, and enough room to shift his legs about, so it wouldn’t get painfully uncomfortable.
An opening at the front, just the right size for the Captura’s lens to fit through, allowed Subro the only view of the outside. The artist had done a careful paint-job on the exterior of the cart to camouflage the lens within a funky design aesthetic. It looked pretty inconspicuous. Meanwhile, the actual ice-cream was kept in a small compartment at the top that took up only a tenth of the cart’s space.
As they neared their destination, Ravi’s pulse quickened. They had decided to head for a park in the heart of the city, where, given the time of day, Subro had said they would find nice subjects for the InstaCopies. But as they approached, Ravi noticed guards at the entrance and began to wonder if they would even be allowed in.
Do we need permits to take the cart in for commercial use? Ravi tried peeking inside to see if there were any other vendors, but the perimeter was fenced and obscured with greenery. Then he saw the guards turn to look at him, and he decided that it would be best to maintain his composure and act like he knew what he was doing.
As he walked past the guards, one of them waved at him. Ravi almost panicked. Will they ask for a license? What if they check the cart?
‘Good morning,’ the guard greeted him politely.
‘Good morning!’ Ravi smiled back. And that was all as he took the cart in through the park’s entrance.
They spent a good hour there, Ravi having not much to do other than to push the cart around. From time to time, Subro directed him by knocking from the inside.
Knocks on the left and right panels indicated turning in those respective directions; on the top meant pushing forward; and on the back meant pulling away. Rapid light knocks signalled finer movements, while four knocks on the top was for heading to a safe place, where Subro could climb out unseen.
Other than following those signals, though, Ravi had plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.
The path that they were following, snaked through lush stretches of grass, and the bushes on either side were decorated by a stunning variety of flowers. Colourful butterflies fluttered about everywhere, overly energetic in the brightening sunlight. Trees stood in neat arrays near the perimeter, the birds perched among their leaves whistling soft melodies into the air.
All manner of playground structures were to be found in the park — here a slide; there a couple of swings; a little further, some see-saws; and monkey-bars, of course. An outdoor gym was also present for those who wanted to work out some muscles.
In a small section, there were interesting seating arrangements, shaped to resemble wild animals. At places, the walkway even arched up in the form of wooden bridges to go over small ponds full of fishes swimming about.
Needless to say, Ravi found the place extremely soothing, especially after the terrible time he’d had the day before. Even the air felt pleasantly cool and fresh to breathe.
These conditions seemed to attract a lot of people too. Although kids were few — perhaps time for most to get ready for school — adults of all ages were out on jogs and more. Many of them appeared to have formed groups, probably having associated through their everyday routines. While one group did yoga on the grass, another was busy with stretching exercises, and yet another was working out in the outdoor gym. In one section of the grass, a group of aged people stood around in a ring, laughing their hearts out at nothing in particular; a laughing club.
Other individuals were also to be seen: some jogging; some cycling; some skipping; some walking their dogs or playing fetch with them; some riding the swings; and others merely relaxing on the grass after an intense workout.
Ravi realised that although an ice-cream cart had seemed very appropriate to have at a park, given the time of day, most people here would prefer healthier options over what they were selling. This served their purpose, in fact, since they could carry out the mission without too many distractions.
Ravi was really impressed with Subro’s ice-cream cart plan and with the choice of location as well. He was confident that they would be leaving here with a collection of very interesting moments, all captured in InstaCopies. He now felt almost impatient to check the results but contained himself, allowing Subro to take his time and get the perfect shots. Ravi imagined how much more excited the painter must have been feeling, getting to use a device he’d been dying to find for years.
When finally the four knocks sounded, Ravi almost hurried to a spot he’d picked out. It was behind a wide tree in one corner of the park, where the ground was a little too wet for the joggers’ liking. Once there, Ravi made sure no one could see, then opened the cart’s top-section. Subro’s head popped out almost immediately.
‘Ravi, my man,’ the painter said, sounding elated. ‘People are going to pay crazy money for these! They’ve come out so good! I would’ve taken more, if we had the time!’
‘Show me,’ Ravi begged, even as he reached for the InstaCopies in Subro’s hand.
Ravi’s first impression on seeing them was a feeling of sudden excitement.
The first image was the back-shot of a woman wearing short tights who was bending down to touch her toes. Her backside was in clear focus. The second was of a a girl riding a swing in her red frock, the wind having pulled her dress up enough to allow a glimpse of striped underpants. The third showed another woman doing push-ups from the front, an ample cleavage and the hint of a polka-dotted bra in view. The rest of the InstaCopies similarly depicted women from all kinds of perverted angles.
Ravi’s excitement was far from the sort he had been expecting. Clearly, the mysterious ghosts hovering about in those InstaCopies weren’t his number one worry now.
‘WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN DOING?!’ Ravi yelled through his teeth, almost forgetting to keep his voice down.
‘Hmm?’ Subro genuinely looked surprised at the reaction. ‘We need to give the company something profitable, right? This will sell, trust me!’
‘Like hell, it will! This will not sell! Not while I am alive! Don’t you have any shame? You call yourself an artist? How can you stoop to such dirty tricks?’
‘Shame? Nope. Why would I be ashamed? As an artist, I know this will sell. And it suits our purpose! It takes focus away from the ghosts. Isn’t that what we want? Also, what dirty tricks? If you’re going to talk of tricks, using the Captura itself is one! A shortcut to capturing moments; no physical sketching or painting required; it is a trick, indeed!’
‘But I say, when a shortcut exists, why not use it? It’s why I have been wanting the Captura in the first place. Manual art is too much effort!’
‘Wow! I should’ve known better than to expect anything more from the likes of you. I’m warning you, we won’t be using these! They are a violation of people’s privacy, for god’s sake! Either you come up with a better plan, or I click the InstaCopies myself!’
‘Haha! Do that then! You click. We’ll see which one of us gets the better shots!’
And thus, their second day was wasted; there were only five days left to go.
The next morning, Ravi and Subro exchanged their roles. Subro pushed the cart through the park, while Ravi sat inside, ready to click some decent InstaCopies.
The interior of the cart wasn’t very cramped, especially for Ravi’s shorter frame, but it did feel a little claustrophobic in the dark. The young litterateur focused on the job to keep his mind occupied. He had come prepared with a mental list of the things he wanted to shoot.
For his first InstaCopy, Ravi directed the cart to the laughing club. He clicked a shot of all the aged people guffawing away together. The second shot he took was of a girl with a skipping rope, just as she jumped. The third was of a man, lunging forward as he hung from the monkey-bars.
And so on, he clicked InstaCopies of subjects that he believed would be interesting to view as still images. Ravi was confident that his InstaCopies would be more appreciated for their substance, compared to the eye-candy stuff that Subro had clicked just for the sake of selling. All that they needed to figure out then would be how to get rid of the ghosts.
When he climbed out of the cart and shared the results of his effort with Subro, though, the painter didn’t seem convinced. Ravi had expected this, of course, but he was not in any mood to listen to Subro’s argument.
‘Your subjects are good,’ Subro admitted, quietly.
‘Now look here! Umm, what?’ Ravi raised an eyebrow.
‘Your subjects are good,’ the painter repeated. ‘You have a nice sense of what to capture, Ravi. I still think my subjects are way better, but what you’ve gone for isn’t bad.’
The appreciation felt strange coming from Subro.
‘What’s missing, though,’ the painter said at last, ‘is a lack of skill on your part. Umm, sorry for being so blunt. Like I said, your subjects are nice, but I think you’ve not done justice to them, if you get my meaning.’
‘I… don’t.’ Ravi shrugged slightly. To him it sounded like Subro knew Ravi’s work was good but didn’t want to admit it entirely. ‘What do you mean the subjects are good but I messed up? What have I got to do with anything? I only press the button.’
‘See, there’s your problem. Your role in this art is more than just to click a button! A good subject is only half the work done; getting your subject to show up in the InstaCopy, in the best way possible, is your job. Compare your shots with mine, do you see a difference?’
Subro laid out some of his InstaCopies on one side of the cart, and some of Ravi’s on the other.
‘Of course I see a difference!’ Ravi started to rant. ‘Your shots are full of obscenity!’
‘No, ignore that.’
‘Just do it! Hear me out. Look at this one; you’ve got the sun glaring at the lens in this shot. The poor members of the laughing club have come out darker than they ought to. If you’d taken it from the other side, the lighting would have been a lot better.
‘Then this one, where you’ve got the whole of the girl in the frame, but her skipping rope is cut off at the top. Wouldn’t it look more pleasing had you gotten the entire thing?
‘And this one, of the monkey bars? Sure, you’ve got the man in the centre-of-frame, but imagine if you’d taken it with him at about the top-right. The negative space on the left, then, would have given a greater sense of the guy’s challenge.’
As much as Ravi had made up his mind to disregard Subro’s criticism, the painter was putting forth some valid points. The suggestions did seem to make sense.
Difficult though it was, Ravi allowed himself to look past the vulgarity in the painter’s InstaCopies, and he realised that Subro’s images actually did a better job of capturing the moments. It pained him to acknowledge that his work wasn’t any good.
But his determination was far from over.
‘Teach me to take better shots!’ Ravi said, as loud as he could without attracting attention.
‘What?’ Subro asked, though not because he hadn’t heard.
‘I’m still not letting you take the shots. You said that my choice of subjects is good. All I need is to capture them better, correct? Teach me what you can. Help me improve. I will take fresh bunch of InstaCopies tomorrow.’
‘Fine,’ Subro merely sighed.
That night, Ravi studied concepts of art from Subro, hoping to remember as much as he could to do a better job the next time around. Subro wasn’t a very good teacher, of course. He often got bored with the finer details. Multiple times in the session, Ravi had to literally threaten the painter to continue explaining.
But on some subjects, Subro spoke quite passionately.
‘People have a habit of placing their subject in the centre of an art,’ Subro said excitedly, at one point. ‘But did you know; it is more pleasing to the eyes to place it a little off-centre? Imagine your frame divided in nine equal parts.’ He drew a rectangle on a paper and cut it with two horizontal and two verticals lines, all equally spaced. ‘Now try to place your subjects where these lines intersect.’
Then, another time, he preached, ‘Don’t just concentrate on your subject. Look at how much space the absence of them is taking up in your frame too. This is called the negative space, and there should ideally be a purpose or meaning behind having one in your work.’
Ravi learnt a lot from Subro; about lighting, shadows, colour-balancing, focusing, and a lot, lot more. The two of them were at it till very late in the night, but in the morning they regretted it:
Neither of them woke up early enough to make a visit to the park, wasting an additional day just like that. They had only three days left now.