I found it tucked in between a garment store and a grocery shop. I expected a photo studio to be in a much better locality. "Focus" I told myself. All I wanted was four passport sized photos and I needed it by monday. And this studio was the only place open on a Sunday. I should thank God for that instead of criticising the ambience.
It was quite early in the morning and the orchestra of crows,sparrows,cuckooos and other indistinguishable species had given up hope of attracting attention with their singing. I stepped inside. It was a small reception with two chairs lying strewn across the tiled floor. There was a tabled across the room carrying a bundle of papers and bills. The shaky table also supported a very very old computer. The one that Emperor Akbar used to communicate with his many wives. The walls were adorned with posters of actresses in various poses costantly smiling at you and urging you to stay in forever. The rising number of women customers must have compelled the owner to add some posters of actors as well. I noticed a few actors stuck on the wall threatening to suffocate you with their six pack abs.
"Welcome sir" , a hoarse voice distracted my attention. "Sorry for the state of things here. I have just opened the shop and was not expecting anyone at this time."
The sound reminded me of someone trying to sharpen a knife by rubbing it against a rock. I looked at the source of the cacaphony. He was a short man about five foot tall with an unkempt hair. He had the widest possible grin on his face. As if someone had digitally altered his face and pasted the grin there. He had his front teeth missing and had a big brown scar covering his entire chin. He was massaging his scar constantly. His eyes were slighly squinted andhis eyeballs were dancing to the tuneof some odd bollywood song - restless and irritating. He reminded me of the henchmen of bollywood dons. Not the macho wrestling type; but the ones that planted evil ideas into their masters mind, or the one who kept the boss's account.
"I am new to this town and customers were few and far between. You are my first customer for the day. I am sure you will bring me good luck" he continued , the grin still glued to his face.
I was least bothered about the prospects of this guy. I just wanted my photos. "How long will it take?" I asked anxiously.
"Almost ready " he said " and you can collect your copies within 10 minutes" emphasising the last part." Please come in" he beckoned me in.
The room was surprisingly spacious for a studio. It had a white cardboard screen balanced on a stand hiding the blue painted walls. In front of the screen was a tall metallic chair. But what intrigued me was the wall opposite the chair. It was filled with photos. Not photos of celebrities but of ordinary looking men and women. They were neatly framed and hanged on the wall. It looked like a riot of faces all of them looking at you. I felt uncomfortable. There was something in their eyes that made me feel that way. But I could not exactly tell what.
"Here take your seat" the photographer offered me the chair." No need for make up. You look smart the way you are"
I was surprised that I felt happy hearing a praise from a person that I had started to repulse. I gave a quick a quick glance to the photo-filled wall before I took my seat.
"They are all my customers. For me they are the biggest celebrities. That is why I have created my own hall of fame for them.Soon you will also join them. I like to collect such photos of people. I like to collect something else also. "He went out of the room without enlightening me futher on his hobbies. "Good, I thought. As if I care".
He returned with a long-nosed camera - the one you watch journalist taking photos with and placed it very carefully on a stand. It was as if some hazardous chemical or a deadly virus will come out of it if disturbed. He began adjusting the camera asking me to lower my neck, straighten my spine look straight etc. He then proceeded to change the lights and adjusted the screens. He looked busy. "Good" I thought "let the work do the talking".
He returned to his apparatus. "Smile please" he shouted almost scaring me.
I tried to put up a smile on my face with great effort. "That's it. You look great.Stay right there" he said alomost dancing behind the cameraall the while giving signals with his hand. And then he pressed the button.
The flash blinded me and before I knew what was happening I fainted. I had no idea about the time. All I knew was that I had regained my consciousness. A strange sensation engulfed me. I realised that I was unable to move my limbs or even my legs. I felt like I was glued to something that left me immobile.The chair in which I sat moments ago was there in front of my eyes. But I was watching it while sitting some where high above the ground. That can't be. I had not noticed any staircase or anything opposite the chair except ... Yes the wall that where I was. A wild wave of emotions rocked me. I tried to cry. I could not. I was still smiling unable to flex even the muscles of my face.
That was when he came in. " I told you I loved collecting things. Actually , I love collecting people. You are now a prisoner within this photo frame. We will be travelling soon to some other town before people get suspcious. Meanwhile meet your neighbours and make some friends".He gave out a long evil laugh before he went out.
I was stuck in this photograph rather stuck as this photograph. God knows till when. I haven't lost hope. One day...