'Baba? why are you cleaning your camera lens?' i asked my father, who after 9 months of staying at home and being jobless, took out his camera that morning. He was the salaried still photographer for Bombay Dyeing, which was shut for the last 9 months due to a strike by the mill workers, led by Mr Datta Samant. In these 9 months, we had witnessed the increasing diameter of the hole in our savings. To begin with, even his regular salary was far from enough to make us a privileged family. But in these months of his unemployment, we were now bordering poor, the monthly budget was now next to nothing. Next to our colony, there would be these beggar children who would stand in a que during late afternoon every day, and some rich businessmen would come in their big cars, and give turn by turn each kid 1 piece of bun maska. My father came out to pick his towel one afternoon from the small veranda every chawl flat had, and saw me standing in that que alongside beggar children. He could have jumped from the veranda to catch hold of me but thank god that he was aging. He still ran, like a wounded tiger, and picked me up from my unwashed shirt's collar and aerially dragged me home. What happened after that is a common story with most children in our country.
'I have to go to work, to click pictures today, so i need to clean the lens, it has caught fungus due to no use' replied my father. I was elated, i ran to the kitchen, hugged my mother, telling her that 'baba will get money today'! She nodded, her response was undoubtedly cold, but i could imagine why. After months of no income, one day's working wage would hardly bring us out of the gutter of debt. My father left for work and we stayed home waiting for him till he came back. Usually he would come back in a few hours, since he would take pictures of an event or a minister's visit to the mills, and then his job would be done for the day. But that day we kept waiting till late evening, now my mother was getting impatient too, someone whose patience in these months was comparable to Sunil Gavaskar's against the mighty West Indian fast bowlers. My mother, now that i look back, was silent throughout this financial lull, absorbing every jolt a no income family gets. If she would have lost it, or mismanaged in the no budget times, i don't think my father would have picked up the camera ever again. But its unfair to just judge a homemaker by only her resilience, control and balance. It would be criminal to say that she had no dreams. But that's how it is, in our country, women need to stand by their husbands, in their good and bad times, live their husbands' dreams, feed them with tasty food when they come back home from work, make love to them in the night and give them pleasure.
It was 9:45 in the night when my dad appeared at our main door, which was kept open. He had red eyes. He must have cried for a long time. He had consumed alcohol too. That added to the redness of his eyes. This was not the first time he had come back home sloshed, but it certainly was the first time he looked so upset after his drinks. He sat on the floor with his head resting on the wall, and stayed like that for almost an hour. I kept looking at him and then I eventually fell asleep on my mother's lap.
The strike continued for a total of 2 years, during which all the mill workers were jobless. My father though would go to work almost once every 2-3 days. My mother told me much later, in my college years, that we were lucky because her husband was a still photographer. Everytime a mill worker committed suicide during the strike times, my father was asked to take the body's picture, after which the case was lodged. He would earn wages out of taking pictures of the suicide victims, most of them his friends, for the next year or so.