My experiences with Rahul Dravid, a person like no other.
It all started in 2009 during the Fanatics Fans Challenge organized by Royal Challengers Bangalore, during the second edition of the IPL. What’s so special about it? I met a superb human being that year. How? It so happened that the winner of the challenge gets to tour with the RCB team for the whole Season in South Africa. It was a big opportunity, and having been eliminated in the last two Fanatics fans challenge gave me enough lessons, I was well prepared for this season, knowing exactly what to expect.
Believe me; winning the challenge was not an easy task at all and the fact that I wasn’t such a popular name as I am today back at that time, didn’t help things further. I had by then gotten into my MBA in UK and attended this challenge as something like a ‘do or die’ situation. After several hurdles like online challenges, live photo shoot sessions, when I entered the final round, I was excited and confident, but had no idea what was in store for me in the months to come. It turned out that even after coming such a long way, memories of those cherished moments never fails to put a smile on my face. Yes, I met and got close with Rahul Dravid in that trip.
Then I still vividly remember that moment when I entered the hall before the results were announced to get a glimpse of Siddarth Mallya, Robin Uthappa and Rahul Dravid. Siddarth was interviewing the podcasters, Rahul was evaluating the bloggers and Robin Uthappa was interacting with the photographers. I entered the hall with bags stuffed with my albums, photo prints, magazines in which I was featured, travel stories and personal appreciations. In fact, I was making sure that I gave them not even an iota of chance to say ‘No’ this time. Luckily Both Siddarth and Rahul joined my session as there were no other blogger or podcaster present for the interview at that point of time. I remember giving a brief confident ‘intro’ about myself showcasing few of my best photos.
The next hour, when I was waiting for the results to be announced, I must admit that I wasn’t very tensed as I was quite confident about my selection. Finally when my name was announced, it was as if they had announced the result, I was anticipating all the while. But in spite of all the calmness and confidence, once I heard it, I sure felt very excited. And that’s when my life and carrier started on a roller coaster ride. My very first photo with Rahul got published all over the media. Suddenly I felt a pinch of ‘responsibility’. I spent the gap of one month before the tour packing and sorting my stuff slowly as I was completely aware of the expectations and duties of a sports Photographer and the way I would have to work with super heavy equipment.
The selected blogger, podcaster, myself (photographer) and the manager met the Team in the the send-off Ceremony, that concluded with a small fans meet. Rahul was also there, but I was not giving him any special attention as I started covering the event. This was the first time, I saw in reality the emotions of cricket fanatics. I was literally mobbed by the fans for photographs. Many of them rounded me and made sure I mailed them the pictures or got it somehow through a pen drive. At this time, I was like “Why are these people so crazy?” . I would later realize how wrong I was, but for now let me tell you my initial experiences of the trip.
All four of us, the selected candidates had to travel to South Africa alone as the team had left already. There, we stayed at a Sports Campus where the team was practicing for a ‘Trial’ Match. Here I must mention that ‘The Royal Challengers’ truly treated everyone like a king, including me. I was naturally overwhelmed by their hospitality from the day I arrived in SA. My duty as the sports photographer was to cover the entire activity of the team in a visual-journalistic angle with the expectations of both the team and the fans in mind. And of course the images should be shot with‘story connectivity’. The thing is that it proved to be a true challenge for me, very early in my career that would help me a lot in taking many successful strides in the future.
I covered the ‘warm-up’ ESPN Interview session in its entirety and posted it as regular updates on the Royal Challengers Bangalore Website. The team had a practise match the next day and I was shooting for the entire day after the session to study the body language of every player. Those days were real hectic as I used to shoot for more than fourteen hours each day. But that was just a part of the job. In the remaining 8 to 9 hours of the day, I had to edit, resize the pictures and upload them at the website, answer the members queries and in the midst of all these, manage to get a couple of hours of sleep. Subsequently, I realised I had very less time to interact with fans and know the way in which they wanted to see their heroes. Everyone had different expectations from me; while few wanted to see Ross Taylor, some others wanted to freeze an angle of Vinay kumar with his red boots.
But then, I realised something. Irrespective of their personal preference, one person everyone wanted to see was the man, Rahul Dravid. For the initial few days, I posted only limited pictures (photos that I thought were convincing enough) in the website. In this process, I had skipped a few photos of Dravid as I felt I could click him better. But, soon enough, queries regarding the absence of Rahul’s images started coming in and the Community manager specifically requested me to concentrate more on Dravid. Well, to be honest, there was no serious intention to hide or skip. It was just that I found other images visually more appealing. In addition, I could hardly spot Rahul dravid in the initial days. But then, I started trailing Rahul with more intent.
And then, I saw the magic unfold the moment I started uploading more of Rahuls images. Fans went berserk on each frame and angle, making me realise the amount of respect and adulation, this man commanded. Until then, photographing the cricketers was just like other genre for me. Yes, I was giving my fullest to deliver my creative best, but I wasn’t worried about people’s likes and dislikes. The way fans started celebrating Rahul Dravid and Photos of his usual activities made me squeeze my brains and think a lot before publishing the next set of images. I had begun to take audience’s feedback very seriously and that’s when I think my admiration for him started taking root, only to realize later that he was a true awesome person. How? I am coming to that.
But I have to admit that during the entire course of the trip, the entire support team and especially Sidharth were totally friendly and treated me with utmost respect and freedom. It was because of their support and encouragement that I could do my job without much of pressure and stress. The team as we see from outside, may look normal and routine, but inside, keeping the team together and in positive spirits involves loads of hard work, devotion, love, physical fitness; more than we could even dream of. Yes, I am shooting from the age of 13 and photography is something that I breathe to live. I can shoot for days together without a break. I literally turn into a maniac when my hands clutch a camera. This started reflecting in the trip as I started ending up with my cameras for social lunch and dinners.
This is when I sensed that a few started feeling bemused and some uncomfortable. Come on lets be frank; ‘Who would like it when they keep seeing a camera peeking at them 24/7’! Rahul once gave a friendly taunt quipping on my omnipresent camera. Sidharth even started sending me back to my room to be “Camera Free” and have some quality time for myself. But yes, the days of monstrous working clicked big time. I persisted with my innovative shoots daily, as I tried my best and fullest to keep the fans happy. I covered practically every site from the team bus, airports, flights, gym, lunch sessions, banquets, Merchandise signing sessions, intense practice sessions, the entire match, post match celebrations and what not! But for me, every single time, I shot Dravd was an experience, thatis tough to describe. Whatever happens, both in the face of triumph or disaster, his basic character was always the same; cool, calm, composed and charming. Never once have I seen Rahul with a bitter emotion! These were all adding to my respect towards him.As I continued shooting day by day, I graduated to making stories myself through my content pictures and it was during one of these story writings that I decided to create a Black and White photo series story for Rahul (with minimal colour photographs). Little did I know that time that the series would become a rage later!
Rahul was always a complete disciplinarian, and a punctual player. In fact we could always tell accurately his arrival time to all scheduled events and practise sessions. We also never saw him outside past 9 PM throughout the entire tour. However we did have a couple of dinners with Rahul and Anil Kumble. I utilised the opportunity and showed my existing photo collection during the dinner to both of them since Kumble is interested in photography, and is an amazing lens man himself. To my elation, both of them enjoyed the collection. I was preparing this photo story from my side, which I eventually never uploaded in the website because I knew it was special and personalised in a way.
And then, there was this session in which the fans could call Rahul and speak with him. Dravid incidentally sat at right opposite to the window for this session and I happily got busy capturing the many moods of Rahul. Of course all of them were portraits. The beauty was that the shots were composed in a minimal way portraying an array of emotions. The fans kept asking funny questions ranging from “Hello Rahul, can you give me your phone number? What’s your email ID Rahul?” To “OMG, I am speaking with Rahul … Rahul, are you on Facebook?”. One thing I noticed again that he was very well prepared for these questions and answered them with so much patience.
So are these the only things that made me look upon Rahul so much? No. There was this ‘very-close-to-heart’ incident that I feel is the second best moment of the trip. The first? Well, let me detail this first and come back to it later on. There is this massage/fitness room that players used to frequent to relax. I was there during the match break days, clicking the players when they least expect it. Rahul once entered the room and was facing the window light with the light textured background on a white towel. The moment I saw this scene, I knew it had to be fate. The setting was so perfect; something about it was ethereal – way better than what I could have set if I was supposed to artificially light for the session. Since Rahul was there to relax and he had once given me a taunt for eternally roaming with the camera, I decided to keep my distance for a while. But the creator in me couldn’t be calm. I just couldn’t resist asking him “Hi Rahul, Can I shoot this session? I would make sure there is no kind of disturbance.” The response was quick and friendly. “ Why not Dharma..go Ahead”.
And then it happened. Just like it was destined to be. I started clicking the most lovable shoot of my life which I was sure would turn out to be extra-special. And yes, it ended up in my prized accomplishments, something I hold very close to my heart. Most of the people who viewed the photos presumed that Rahul had actually posed for this professional well-lit shoot. But the joy of knowing that it was a totally candid occurrence with not even a single posed image, instantly gives me the goose bumps. But there were some heart stopping moments even in that session. As I started clicking, suddenly my camera refused to focus showing error message. What a moment for my lens to malfunction! Why should my most Trusted Canon give me this during the supposed shoot of my lifetime? But thankfully, I quickly realized that there was some problem with AF and I switched to Manual Focus and continued my shoot. The stress didn’t end there as the lens didn’t last for long time, refusing to click completely. As I was fully stocked with my complete set of equipment I literally dashed to my room, grabbed my next camera body with another wide angle lens fitted in it and continued to shoot. As the session was almost over, Virat Kohli dropped in and he happened to glance at my images. He was very impressed on first sight and immediately wanted similar photos. Believe it or not, we actually recreated the same images with him by showing the photos one by one. That day was one of the most unforgettable days of my life.
The tour almost came to an end as we lost a clincher game. The whole Team was packing for the 5AM flight the next day and we, the selected candidates, were scheduled to leave a day later. I suddenly realized that in spite of spending a month with the team, I never got autographs or memorabilia from any player. Frankly, this is the time I had some bitter experiences with few fellow players that I usually refrain from discussing. I rang up everyone in the team and met whoever was free. Few were cool enough to meet me and sign a few merchandise while a few others, upset over the loss, were not interested to meet. Actually the atmosphere was grim and there is no one is to be blamed.
But, thankfully the trip didn’t end in that mood. One man… one single man was responsible for it. As I promised to tell, this probably is the best moment for me in the entire tour, something that made me restore my faith in kindness and sportive cheer. After the final packing, I knocked on Rahul’s Door and he was like in his usual self “Hey Dharma, Welcome”. But having just had some bad experiences, I was very hesitant to even ask for his autograph and was actually in a mood to leave the moment, he signs me one. But once again, he surprised the wits out of me. He made me sit, ensured that I was comfortable with his hospitality and removed the tenseness from the atmosphere with his calm smile. I showed samples of the photograph collections that I had clicked during the season and the fitness room session and he was simply smiling. It was very tough to look deep into his smiles and understand what he was going through. But he wanted me to leave happy.
He signed for me on a Cricket ball and I was totally thrilled. As if that was not enough, he opened his kit bag, took out a Cap and signed on it. Then, out came a T-Shirt and then his Jacket… then his hat and few little but valuable stuff. I couldn’t take it any longer. I was like brutally knocked down by the way he treated me. After some not-so-happy incidents during the same hour, this gesture from him was like a fitting acknowledgement to all my efforts and hard work. Even after so many awards and recognitions, the feeling I felt that day can never be equalled. After giving away a bag full of Merchandise and a heart full of happiness, Rahul turned to me “Happy Dharma?” I was grinning from ear-to-ear as I now, almost realized the reason for his smile when he saw those photographs of mine. I finally asked him the same stupid questions which any fan would have asked while parting “Rahul ,are you in Facebook?” “No” he flashed his smile again and shared some personal details for future communication. I said bye to Rahul that day with a heart full of joy.
Those photos of Rahul went viral and got published in every facet of mainstream media. Even after 5 years, when I keep seeing them daily in some form of other in many social medias, what I feel cannot be easily put ti words. There is in fact, not a single day spent without speaking about Rahul in some indirect way. And I am proud of it.
Rahul Dravid is not kind of my personal friend. Of course, in this 5 years time there have been multitudes of changes in my professional carrier and I went ahead to be part of subsequent editions of IPL, ICC Worldcup 2011, CLT, ISL and lot more exciting commercial endeavours. But my memories with Rahul, is something that I would treasure forever. Well, obviously I would be thrilled to meet him again for a shoot. And Yes It will happen soon.
Canon Photo Mentor
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