Last year in April, while I was planning my solo trip to Karnataka- which was also my first ever trip to south India, I decided that it’s going to be- 'the one without wifi.'
So I chose not to carry my Laptop or my Digital Camera- the two of the essential things when it comes to my travel kit.
The reason was, I had become so obsessed with taking a million photos digitally that at one point I felt, I can’t be bothered with taking pictures anymore. Being always behind the lens, I realised that rather than enjoying the trip or those moments then and there, I was more into clicking pictures so that later I can upload them on my social media sites. So, for my trip to Karnataka, I only took along my Polaroid Camera.
The beauty of Polaroid is that it’s an instant camera, but it also slows you down and forces you to be selective. There are only ten photos available in a pack of Polaroid film, and per image, it costs approximately ₹60, so every shot is counted; therefore, one has to choose the moments carefully.
From clicking to holding a real photo in hand, and waiting for the moment when a photo comes alive in a tangible form, right before your eyes, the process is magical. Holding a picture is like holding a memory, and it feels more personal than scrolling back through weeks of Instagram or Facebook to relive that moment. Instant photography holds a nostalgic quality that you can’t get on a phone screen, and that’s what I love about it. It combines the immediacy that I’m used to while still reminding me about the magic of the past.
It was quite a struggle for getting other people to take a photo of me. Handing over the camera I thought could be risky, since most of the people there had never used one, and I just had three films- a total of 30 shots, so I refrained from getting my pictures clicked. But as decided, I clicked one photo each of every tourist spot I visited and every hotel room I stayed in.
My Instax Mini 9 camera involves some basic settings based on the source of light-Auto, Light, Cloudy or Hi-Key. So, while I was on my trip, sometimes, I would forget to change the settings or at times the sun was too bright, the picture would get overexposed, the other times it would come out too dark. But that’s the great thing about the instant film; you are rarely going to re-take a picture if it comes out wrong. Polaroids lend themselves to fleeting moments, and it’s okay if the picture isn’t perfect.
There’s another amazing thing about the instant film- that you can give the pictures as gifts. I remember, it was my first day at Mysuru, and I climbed a thousand steps of the hill to pray at the Shrine of Chamundi.
Somehow the vendors there found out that I was an outsider, so they tried to cheat me, and asked for ₹300, for prasadam (a basket of offerings comprising flowers, fruits and two coconuts).
But there was a young Kannadiga couple (people who belong to Karnataka) standing right next to me, the lady noticed and told her husband how they were asking for more money, knowing that I was an outsider.
Hence, her husband had a little word with them in their local language, and the vendor reduced it to ₹200 for me.
The couple was kind enough to ask me to join them, and I had no reason to refuse, so we went to the temple, I made my coconut offerings and prayed.
When we came out, I asked them- “May I take a photo of you?”
I pulled out my polaroid camera, clicked and handed the picture to them.
The way they looked at the little card, it was hard to tell if they had seen a Polaroid before or not. But I couldn’t think of any better way to thank them for their generosity.
So, do I regret travelling with just my Polaroid?
Absolutely Not. I think I loved the transition of tactile over digital and once I was back from the trip, I pasted all my polaroid pictures in a scrapbook. So now, whenever I feel like revisiting those memories, rather than connecting my external hard drive, and then searching for the right folder among numerous other folders from other trips taken over the past years, I just pull out my scrapbook and turn the pages, and live all those moments once again.
In terms of sharing the images on social media, I think people are more interested in the stories rather than the pictures. My mother travelled around North-East and Eastern India when she was my age, but she had no camera back then, she’d write a postcard to her family from every new city she’d visit. She still has a stash of postcards she wrote as well as a journal she kept, and it’s these stories, recounted over the years, that has given me a real sense of her experience during that time.
So, on the whole, the grandeur of the places in Bengaluru or the rustic beauty of the temples and markets of Mysuru, a photo will never be able to convey how beautiful they were in person. But ask me how many times I’ve flipped through my scrapbook- I’ll be honest: a lot.
Let me know in the comment section if you guys would ever take a big trip with just a Polaroid camera to document it?