(Book 1: Lights, Captura, Action)
On the fifth morning, Ravi was back inside the ice-cream cart, looking through the Captura’s lens at the park outside.
He first had Subro take the cart to the animal-shaped seating arrangements, where he planned to practise the techniques he’d picked up over the past two days. He mused that still objects would make excellent test subjects.
Carefully, he framed his shot of a cute tiger-shaped seat, taking the time to remember as much as he could of Subro’s tips.
He noted which way the sunlight illuminated the subject, then selected an angle that best showed off its features. He observed that rather than a front-shot, which missed out on the tiger’s size, or a side-shot, which eliminated its expression, a three-fourth shot was perfect, as it captured both aspects well.
Next, he consciously checked the negative space around the tiger, of which there was quite a bit, serving no purpose that he could think of. He corrected it by directing the cart a little nearer.
He clicked the shot.
Even as his fingers pressed the button, he realised that there was something he’d missed—focusing. He hadn’t changed the setting after moving closer to the subject. As it was currently, a rhino in the background would appear clearer than the tiger.
Ravi cursed softly, reaching for a new plate to replace the one he’d just wasted. After fitting the fresh plate in, he readjusted the Captura’s focus by folding the accordion-like pyramid at the front, bringing the lens closer to the plate.
He took a second shot.
Only then did he notice that the backside of a deer had awkwardly poked in to the frame from the right during the focus modification. Ravi cursed again and reached for yet another plate.
This time, however, his fingers touched the floor of the cart instead—no more plates were left.
Repercussions sinking in, Ravi solemnly gave Subro the four knocks to let him out. He sensed Subro’s puzzlement at hearing the signal so soon, when the cart didn’t move immediately. After a repeat of four knocks, though, Subro obeyed. The cart moved for a minute, then stood still, and finally, the top came off.
As Ravi climbed out through the opening, Subro looked on with raised eyebrows.
‘What’s the matter?’ the painter asked, concernedly.
‘We never counted the plates!’ Ravi told him. ‘We’ve run out!’
‘Shit! Now what?’
‘I don’t know. I didn’t even get one proper shot today. Can’t we buy more plates or something?’
‘No can do. These aren’t just any off-the-shelf metallic plates. They’re specially made for one purpose—a purpose that’s illegal, that too! No; I think we’ll need to ask Ms. Dixit. They might have more where these came from.’
‘Hmm. I was trying to avoid that. Our situation is delicate. I don’t want to risk anything by letting them know we messed up… But, maybe, we have no other choice.’
‘Umm, actually, we do,’ Subro said, rubbing his chin.
It wasn’t that Ravi had overlooked an option. He knew exactly what Subro was going for, an option he’d chosen to ignore.
‘We still have the InstaCopies I clicked,’ Subro suggested, just as Ravi had known he would. ‘I mean, seriously! There are quite a few of them; I’m pleased with how they turned out; and most importantly, people would throw their money at them!’ As he spoke, the artist retrieved his InstaCopies from the cart and browsed through them with a haughty smile.
‘I told you we will not be using them!’ Ravi stamped his foot.
‘I don’t care what you think, we should totally go ahead with these. It would be such a waste not to!’
‘I’d rather risk admitting our mistake!’ Ravi yelled, and then he froze, even as Subro frantically signalled him to calm down. They both looked around to see if anyone had heard. Ravi’s heart sank. A girl in her late teens or early twenties was standing some feet away, looking right at them.
‘Hey, what are you guys up to?’ the girl asked, walking towards them with a large smile. She wore a red dress that Ravi had seen before; in one of Subro’s InstaCopies, he realised, adding to his shock. ‘What have you got there?’ she asked, pointing straight at the InstaCopies in Subro’s hands.
Ravi and Subro exchanged nervous glances. This was really happening. Everything was going wrong.
With a sudden panic, Subro began to put the InstaCopies back in the cart.
‘These—these aren’t anything,’ he began, not sounding convincing in the least. ‘Just something, you know?’
She clearly didn’t, as she came nearer.
‘Yeah, just some decorations we were planning for the cart,’ Ravi tried. ‘Not really public at the moment. Can I ask you to keep back?’
‘Nuh-uh! Let me see!’ She begged like a child.
Subro dumped everything into the cart. He hurriedly tried to close the top, but she ran and pushed the him away.
The girl was stronger than Ravi had imagined; Subro was forced to take three steps back and balance himself, as he almost slipped on the wet ground.
Then, the girl retrieved some of the InstaCopies from the cart and checked them.
‘Oh,’ was her first response, in a much softer voice than before and accompanied by a look of disgust. After a long uncomfortable pause, she finally continued, ‘Okay… this isn’t what I expected. I’m afraid I can’t let you guys go on with this stuff…’
Ravi cursed under his breath. He was angry at Subro for getting them in this situation, and also at himself. Why hadn’t he burnt those obscene images by now?
He said the only thing he could think of, ‘I’m sorry, miss. I am against this sort of depiction of women, myself. I will personally see to it that these pieces are destroyed. Please don’t report us or anything?’
‘What?’ Subro let out. Ravi could murder the man.
‘Hah!’ she laughed mockingly. ‘You expect me to just trust you with that and walk away? Not a chance! I don’t trust you!’
‘I know,’ Ravi sympathised. ‘What can I do to gain your trust? I could destroy these works in front of you, if that would satisfy you.’
‘Leaving you free to make more when I’m gone?’ she countered. ‘Nope, that won’t do. I think I’ll need to join your team!’
This time both Ravi and Subro had yelled.
She continued unperturbed. ‘You guys suck at understanding the beauty of a lady. You’re too obsessed with the chest and buttocks! We ladies are more than just that. If you want to make art with women in them, you should have one in your team as well, to offer her perspective.’
Ravi and Subro looked at each other in silence, thoroughly confused. This was making zero sense to them.
‘Look,’ she continued, ‘the only reason you find those parts of a woman appealing is because that’s how women are always being represented. I believe, if people started creating thousands of art-pieces depicting cockroaches being cute, in a few years we would start to associate them as such.
‘In the same way, I’d like to change men’s perception of what makes a woman appealing. Why can’t it be the hair, or nose, or ears, or even the ankles that men find universally exciting about a lady? I’d love to prove that the current obsession is just pish-posh. I think you guys can help me. What say?’
‘Okay,’ Ravi said, at a loss for how best to put forward his argument. ‘Umm, I’m not really sure that’s going to be possible. You joining our, umm, team, I mean.’
‘No?’ she said, sounding offended. ‘Well, the other option is, I go to the authorities.’
‘Ravi,’ Subro hissed softly. ‘I think her offer makes sense to us. I know, it sounds weird, but think about it! You know we can’t risk the alternative. This would mean we can continue with the plan!’
‘Let me lay down some facts for you,’ Ravi spoke through his teeth. ‘Firstly, she’s only offering this because she doesn’t know what she’s getting into. Once she realises, what’s stopping her from going to the authorities anyway? It endangers our mission!
‘Secondly, there is no plan left to continue. We’re out of plates, remember? I say we destroy the godawful shots you took, give this girl in writing that we won’t do it again, and then go apologise to Ms. Dixit for our mess.’
While Subro processed this, the girl spoke up again, ‘Ah yes, the plates. I heard you talking about that.’
Ravi wondered how long she had been listening.
‘You mean these plates right?’ She shook one of the InstaCopies in her hand. ‘I think I can help you out.’
‘What!’ Ravi and Subro cried out again.
‘Yup,’ she smiled. ‘It’s true that you won’t get them off-the-shelf, but my uncle’s an engineer with a lifetime of experience. I’m confident he can figure out what these are made of, and create duplicates. Oh, and don’t worry about your secrets spilling out. You agree to my joining your team, and I’ll guarantee my uncle and me will keep your secrets safe.’
‘Uncle and I,’ Ravi corrected out of habit, then added, ‘That sounds convenient. Too convenient. Just who the hell are you?’
‘Ah, where are my manners? I’m Madhumeena, a stage-dancer by profession. You can call me Madhu. And you guys are?’
‘I’m Subrojit Ray, artist,’ the painter proudly answered. ‘Call me Subro. And this is Ravi Thakur, writer. So, when can we meet this uncle of yours? Actually, we need to be at work in a bit, but—’
Ravi tried to stop him. ‘Hey, I never agreed—’
‘If you have a better plan, spit it out,’ Subro cut him short. ‘Otherwise, this is our best course of action!’
‘Cool,’ Madhu beamed. ‘We’re a team then!’
‘I guess,’ was Subro’s answer. ‘Would ten at night be too late for your uncle?’
‘Hmm, should be fine. He usually works late. I’ll see you guys at night then.’
As Subro and Madhu discussed where to meet up, Ravi couldn’t help but feel uneasy. He had no arguments that would convince them otherwise, so he kept quiet.
Time will tell, he thought.