Driving through treacherously narrow roads, manoeuvring around cows and trudging through slush finally brought us to Ranga Gardens, a community cultivation in Pallavaram, located behind the Chennai International Airport. Who would be up at the absurd hour of 6.30 am on a Sunday morning? As it turns out: this 50-odd people assembled for a photowalk organised by Chennai Photowalkers, an online community of photography enthusiasts.
Chennai Photowalkers, commonly known as CPW is a 12-year-old organisation that conducts photo trails every alternate Sunday in different parts of the city. True to the spirit of Madras Week and with the desire to explore new landscapes, this walk was held at an expansive flower and vegetable thottam .
The garden, which shares its boundary with the airport, greeted us with the heady scent of jasmine, amidst fields of green and pools of water. Spread over 35 to 40 acres, this garden is owned by families of the Cowl Bazaar suburb and delivers to the Koyambedu market along with other local sandhais (markets). Neatly parcelled plots of jasmine lie next to mud tracks that snaked off into patches of brinjal, green chillies, bottle gourd, lady’s finger, and various varieties of spinach.
The group was diverse in terms of experience too, ranging from professionals to hobbyists, expert septuagenarians to enthusiastic 14-year-olds. Armed with heavy equipment and a tenacity to brave the whimsical forces of the Chennai monsoon, these photographers squatted, knelt and squelched through the mud to get their coveted angle.
The overcast sky soon gave way to a slight drizzle that quickly turned into a downpour. The participants whipped out waterproof backpack covers and quickly bundled up their cameras, and cradled them close to their chests. On the contrary, the workers in the garden brought out plastic sheets and umbrellas, continuing to deftly pluck the flowers and ready them for transportation. The landscape was soon dotted with colourful scarves and headdresses bobbing in and out of the plants.
The rains had drawn out slugs, snails, centipedes and other insects, which the participants captured in their lenses. The looming airport wall was juxtaposed against the mellow vegetation. Airplanes taking off every 10 minutes meant that the air rumbled as we stared in awe, tracing the parabolic path of the beastly machine which looked close enough for us to touch.
A different walk
According to R Balaji, an organiser in CPW, “The thottam is different from our usual walks, which are mainly centered around busy streets, heritage structures and places of celebration. This landscape allows us to engage in macro photography, focusing on insects, birds and nature.” The group typically identifies activities that align with festivals and gatherings, and conduct an initial recce first.
With intermittent showers, qualms about travelling back to the city and the remainder of the weekend to enjoy, the session drew to a close after two and a half hours. As the photographers began to discuss the next walk and exchange snapshots, we picked out bundles of leafy greens, namely molaga keerai , arai keerai (spinach) along with bunches of jasmine to take back home.
The next walk is a visit to Hanumanthapuram, a village between Thiruporur and Singaperumal Kovil and will take place on September 1. Registrations for all walks are free and can be done through their Instagram page - @thechennaiphotowalk.