Sorting my old negatives recently, I was lucky to find this strip of film.
This is Professor Satish Bahadur in his office in late 1980.
He and I were going to Dacca to teach a 2-week long Film Appreciation Course. Having been East Pakistan until 10 years before, Dacca was special. We had since begun to have Bangladeshi students—Zaki and Badal Rehman come to mind but there were others. Roping in a Dacca minister’s son (whom we later met; a bearded, smiling young man, he was forever rolling three steel balls in hand, both outside as well as in the pocket), these boys had liaised with Indian High Commission to have us over. Moving about in an Indian embassy black Ambassador in Dacca felt distinguished. “We are the Americans here,” Prof Bahadur whispered to me. Posters of a Bangladeshi remake of Sholay were plastered all over the town. Having experienced liberal Institute culture and seen greatest examples of political cinema in Pune, the boys joked about their fledgling government and told us we were going to be security-tailed wherever we went. Indeed a blue Toyota did us the honors. We always found it parked a ‘discreet’ 100 yards away. Innocent times, memorable experience.
These pictures were taken to send to Dacca by way of introduction. That day I issued one of our Minolta SLRs from the Camera store, loaded a film cassette—practice was to go to the dark room and fill up a blank cassette from a 400’ roll of NP 5 or 7 raw film as needed—and shot as Bahadur sahib was speaking to someone. The laboratory then stapled it with their regular processing job and sent back the negative. I remember nothing about my own photographs.
Bahadur sahib was a chain smoker in his first phase of life. He always carried a Wills tobacco pouch, a paper-pack and matchbox in his kurta pocket. (Mrs Bahadur, bhabiji to all of us, got him those supplies from the famous Dorabjee’s in Main Street. She also bought material and stitched all his khadi kurtas at home.) Talking with him you never realized when he took out the pouch, rolled a puff and began to smoke. “Catching him do it is as difficult as catching the start of camera track in a Ray film,” went the popular chant. So at times we would simply switch off in his class in order to look for when his hand reached for the pouch, when he took out a knot of tobacco threads, softened it between thumb and forefinger; how then a paper was pulled out from the packet, tobacco pressed on it and rolled. Finally it would be brought to the lips, licked and pressed. A matchstick would then pack it tight at both ends and fold the edges inside. And then the light, and the drag.
With 3-4 successive frames showing him do it, these photographs must be the closest to a visual record of that famous act of Professor Bahadur’s. Vinay Shukla and I would would often reach out for that pouch across the table and roll ourselves cigarettes. It took us a good many of them wasted before learning not to lick them wet.
Professor Bahadur was unlucky with formal recognitions and awards. As far as I am concerned, he was already Padam Shri material in 1980.
Here is my portrait done by a Bangladeshi student during that FA course in Dacca.
Goes to show that we were not the only ones not listening in the class!