George Eastman (1854-1932) is a legend. He conceptualised, designed and marketed the first consumer film camera. The story goes that he wanted an unusual name for his new contraption. Belonging to North Dakota, he tweaked the word Nodak, and created Kodak and the rest was history. But he never thought that this would happen to his trade. I am not talking about Kodak shutting down business or the film camera changing to the digital era. I am talking of something else, I mean someone else. The persons behind the camera, the photographers. Before Eastman, the photographer was a nameless human in the background, hooded in black, never obtrusive.

I enjoy attending marriage functions; though I don’t get myself to do that often, since treating diseases takes precedence over watching marriages. Somehow, critical cardiac problems have a tendency to peak around the auspicious ‘muhurtham’ of marriage. Even when we manage to make it, we arrive late, my wife openly blaming the hospital for the delay, while I silently blame her for the time she took to dress up. After 20 years of married life, I still wonder why it takes 60 minutes to wear a six-yard sari, that makes it less than four inches a minute.

But once in the marriage hall, I enjoy the ambience — the flute, the smell of jasmine and the aroma of traditional food. But what I enjoy most is watching people. The yawning, bored kids, forcibly brought to the function, dressed in awkward suits or sherwanis. Teenagers, equally bored, playing games on mobiles. Ladies proudly displaying their jewellery, and observing if the others had worn the same sari last time, and men like me wondering when the lunch would start. Only a handful of octogenarians, with doubtful visual acuity, are actually trying to watch the function seriously.

But this time it was different. I managed to reach home well ahead of schedule, picked up my wife and reached the marriage hall on time, got an aisle seat in the first row. Aisle seats make sure that you get out first to lunge at the lunch room door, and also make sure your wife gets a decent slot in the marriage photo album. But all my calculations went wrong. Just minutes before the ceremony, the local MLA arrived with his team. The host quickly put a set of chairs in front of us, confirming once again that guardians of politics are rows ahead of the gatekeepers of hospitals.

The bejewelled bride and the bespectacled groom came in, with nicely dressed angels following them; I put on my spectacles for a sharper view. But, suddenly, I could not see anything. There seemed to be a wall in front of me. I rubbed my eyes, cleaned my spectacles and tried again. As I looked down I could see labels of Killer jeans, and Levi’s jeans. I looked up and saw strips of Canon and Nikon. Then I understood. I was viewing the backside of a dozen photographers creating a virtual wall. The photographers, employed by the bride’s side, the groom’s side and unknown sides, were in place doing their bit as sincerely as possible. In a bid to capture the solemn moment, seemingly copyrighted only to them, they made sure that the invitees saw what they were meant to see, the backside of Eastman’s tribe.

The drums beat faster, the flutes played high pitch, and then the garlands were exchanged. Petals were showered, mostly landing on the head of the men in Nikon.

After the marriage, the newly-weds were made to pose with the photo financiers, making sure that no person of sufficient social and financial standing was missed out, this doctor and his wife included. Each one set was made to stand with the newly-weds and smile. The frequency of the flash bulb duly matched the dress and jewellery they wore. Our presence recorded safely in the cameras, we went for lunch. Apart from a few minutes of sudden glare of halogen to record our private moment of eating, the ceremony passed off peacefully. Later, I was told that the photo album cost the hosts Rs. 1 lakh.

I was reading my son’s technology magazine. The new digital cameras work on a technology called Charge Coupled Device (CCD). A very apt name indeed. The new couple is charged by the device. In every sense. Move over Eastman.

(The writer is Head, Dept of Cardiology, PRS Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram. His email is tinynair@gmail.com)

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