Of Teachers Gone – Pillai & Photography

Pillai and teaching
Pillai and teaching

I did think of sticking this picture of Mr Pillai into the third blog that I run (http://crooked-and-black.com), but then I thought that I would do better by Mr Pillai by posting it here.

Years back, when the world was a lot more innocent than it is now, I bought a camera from the streets of Bombay. I bought my Olympus OM-2n from a street vendor at Fort, Bombay. That started me on a lifelong love affair with photography. Well, call it adult love, if you may. After bumming around and producing the most awful and atrocious pictures that ever graced this earth, I decided that, maybe I should try and learn something about this strange thing called photography. I was a lot more comfortable with corrosion, steel making, furnaces and things like that, than I was with films and cameras. However, during my days as a student and practicing engineer, I used to (and, still do) love the imaged under microscopes, and scanning electron micrographs. They opened up a new world, one that is so utterly strange and fascinating that it is almost unbelievable.

This was not my entry into photography. That happened due to sheer cussedness on my part, and because I was paid such a shitty salary, my dad decided to dig into his savings and buy me my camera. I owe my dad a big one for that gift, and I always will. It is one of the many gifts (not presents) that he gave me.

We used to work six days a week, so I only had Sundays off. Saturday nights were for getting messed with alcohol and psychedelic substances of a weedy nature. Sundays was devoted to recovery, before we started the weekly grind again on the Monday mornings. Anyhow, I was determined to decipher this strange thing called photography, and decided to discipline myself and toodle down to Mr Pillai’s School of Photography on the Sunday mornings. I signed up for a three month course.

During the first lesson, he asked us all to write the words, “I see”.

I wrote, “see”. My “I” was huge. Gigantic. And, when he came around, I thought, Holy Shit, he is gonna clip me one.

Well, he did clap me on the shoulder, and beamed. He bellowed that this was brilliant. I blinked at him, bemused. I was trying to be funny, and this man was chuffed up about it.

As he said, apart from all the technical jazz, photography is about seeing. It is about how you, as a photographer, see, how you develop your vision. Therefore, while it may sound egoistical, this is critical to developing yourself as a photographer. Nay, I would go one step further. It is critical to how you develop yourself. Period. Punkt, as the Germans would say.

Over the next months, he introduced us to photography. His passion was infectious. He lived and breathed photography, and he passed on some of that passion onto some of us.

The above picture was taken at The Hanging Gardens, in Bombay. He was talking animatedly, trying to illustrate a point. This picture has him in a more sedate moment, but look at his face. You will, even now, see the intensity, the focus; and, if you look close enough, you may even see some of his passion, despite the age of the print.

Too often, we see teachers who just go through the drill, and if we are lucky enough to come across those with passion; if we are lucky to absorb some of that, then we receive a gift from that teacher, a gift that stands in good stead for years to come.

It is not often we remember these teachers, and doff our hats to them.

I had one I spoke about earlier, a humble truck driver called Sheikh, who really taught me how to drive.

Then, I had Mr Pillai, who gifted me the passion for photography.

To Mr Pillai, I doff my hat in gratitude and respect.


I think: somewhere, someplace, I must have done something good.



    1. Thanks very much indeed! He was a very good teacher. I do think that we should acknowledge good teachers. We often don’t

  1. What a great entry! I’m no photographer, but in drawing, sewing, and even gardening – I believe one learns to “see” differently!

  2. You say “Some” of his passion? He is oozing passion! Any man who’d come this close to expressing himself so much just by his face, I’ll melt away! Amazing picture and thanks Mr.Pillai for giving us Rajiv – the Photographer! 😀

  3. Very well written piece in praise of great teachers. We all have been affected by them. I, too, love photography. I have all my adult life, it seems. Keep up the good work.

  4. Mr Pillai looks like a great man, and you can see how enthusiastic he is about his teaching. I’m so glad he managed to inspire you so much, your photographs are full of character and expression.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.