One click from high up in the skies saw the light of day 12 years later when a photograph of snake boats rowing to victory was spread across the front page of Malayala Manorama to herald the beginning of a season of water sports. Rinkuraj Mattancheriyil, the photographer, tells the story of that photograph which is mixed with the memory of a Doordarshan tower. Sounds crazy, but true. Here’s the story.
It was a balmy day in August 12 years ago, and the place, the picturesque Alappuzha, home to the famed snake boat races. The season was on with snake boats and oarsmen striking the waters in synchronized harmony to make a dash for the finishing line.
I wanted the finest pictures of the boat race. But how? The mass drill and the final dash were the best photo opportunities. Pictures taken from land seldom offered the best viewing angles. Jostling with the crowd for a good shot was the last answer. Perhaps a ride in a motorized boat across the waters would be better. But what if I got stuck on the other bank with no chance of returning for a long, long time? So that option too was out.
I knew that the best views of Alappuzha could be had only from up there in the skies. The silver waters of the lakes and the green of the coconut trees are visual treats. And when the snake boats line up for the race, it’s a sight to feast on. This was a time when drones and OB vans were not heard off. But then there were the sinewy coconut trees snaking up the skies. With no climbing expertise, scaling a tree was out of the question. But the bulb refused to blow out. It was burning as brightly as ever which was when I spotted it … that tall structure.
But how to scale up? I prowled around the place; saw that it was fenced with barbed wires all around. But taking “no” for an answer was just out of question. That was my first and last tryst with a Doordarshan tower. I made a mental sketch of the tower and came back the next day much before the races began. Up I went by around 10 am in the morning. The cops who spotted a nut climbing the tower came baying for my blood. “Get down”, they yelled. But I went up and up, unmindful of what lay in store for me at the top or down below.
It was only when I reached the summit that I realized my folly. The DD tower which looked as strong as the Eiffel Tower was wafer thin and started swaying under my weight. The strong winds too were not quite comforting. Yet I hung on with only a bottle of water for moral support. One misstep and down I would plunge into the depths. And the irony, there I was, a native of Alappuzha, living in the midst of water, but not knowing how to swim.
The race would start only by 2 pm. So there I sat, clicking away to glory. By the time I got down, the skies were turning dark. Besides, I had to dodge the watchful eye of the cops. When I got down and dashed to my office, all who had come from Kottayam in speedboats had already reached their destinations. None of my pictures were picked for the next day’s edition because of a deluge of boat-race pictures. But the feel of watching a thrilling show from high up in the skies for a good eight hours was an experience not many would even aspire to dream of.
The picture, however, surfaced a decade and two years later, when coordinating editor R.Rajiv sought a picture with a difference to be displayed on page one, the day the boat races were set to go. Then, I saw it, my masterpiece, shot from the skies on the splendor below, spread out across eight columns on page one.
The tower which made it possible had disappeared, not its memories. A whole lot of people wondered from where I was to get that aerial shot. And I just smile.