Meets 88-year-old Chander P. Dhawan, whose fascination for still photography has added a new meaning to his retired life

He lives his hobby. Spread across his ample house is its evidence. Considering he is 88 years old and has been pursing still photography since the early '40s, Palam Vihar resident Chander P. Dhawan has a sizeable number of frames to call his own. In his house, wall after wall displays his camera work shot across the world, over a span of 50 years. Some colour, some in black and white, all far exceeding the flair of an amateur photographer.

A huge frame that cages a shot of shimmering seawater in Brighton (U.K.) shot about five years ago and another of a little girl carrying a baby through lines of eucalyptus trees on a dirt road (“Can you believe it, it was shot in Old Delhi.”) that adorn the living room walls welcome you to the Dhawan household.

Then there is an impressive shot of horses (“No, there is only one, the other is his shadow!”); of fishermen gliding on the sea waves in Puri at the crack of dawn; an artistic picture of his family in blur, the camera focusing only on his shoe; a number of black and photos that he took of his wife for 60 years; the trunk of an elephant hanging next to a tree trunk (“I call it the union of trunks”) shot during a safari in Corbett National Park; are some of the other pictures that you discover flitting from one room to another in his attempt to initiate you to his decades-long pictorial journey. Some striking shots, in black and white, of old Jamshedpur city and the Old Delhi Railway Station, catch your eye too — pieces of sheer art draped in history.

Dhawan describes each shot. “In other art forms, they go on adding. In photography, we go on deducting elements; nature gives us a wide canvas, we take only those things that we want in a particular frame,” he explains.

When we finally sit down to talk, Dhawan is candid, “I call my hobby the secret of a happy, long life.” A self-satisfied smile sits on his face as he rewinds to the time when the bug bit him. “As a child, I used to like doing sketches; as I grew up I began to do watercolours. I got pulled to photography because a friend of mine who was already into it. He influenced me a lot; I call him my guru.”

Initial days

A native of Peshawar, a young Dhawan soon parted ways with his friend to come all the way to Jamshedpur to work in TISCO. “Yet I kept in touch with him. I used to send him prints of my photos taken with a box camera and he would write his comments at the back and return them. That helped a lot,” he says. In 1949 he remembers entering a photo contest for the first time. “It was a national contest held by Photographic Society of Bombay. I sent four shots and one of them got a certificate of merit. It was a real boost.” Much later, Dhawan founded Bihar Photographic Society in Jamshedpur. “I remained its president for 15 years. My protégées are still in touch with me,” he says.

Awarded twice by Helpage India for his photographic skills besides sponsoring his photo exhibition held some time ago at the India Habitat Centre, Dhawan's skills go much beyond just clicking photos. He is also adept at processing them.

“I still use my analogue camera and processed my photos on my own for a long time. Now I don't,” he says. His children have just gifted him a 60 D Canon digital on his wedding anniversary. With a laugh, he adds, “I don't know what to do with it.”

With pride looking large on him, he leafs through many magazines that have published his photographs. Shots of high rises in Dubai and the heaving snow-topped mountains of Leh-Ladakh abound the pages.

“I love mountains,” he says. In the peak of winter this year, he visited Dhanoulti. “It was one degree there, freezing. My family was worried but I told them this is what I really want to do,” he says, and then adds, almost to himself, “Really, there is nothing nightmarish about retirement.”