Anecdotes from the Analogue World Ep. 3 – By Nandakumar

The last post you read was probably also the last one that would give you that fuzzy warm feeling. It might have restored your hope in humanity and also made you a bit of an optimist. The last two posts however might be a bit morbid for most of you. I did mention in the very first episode that I would write two pieces on how I made a complete fool of myself on a few of my travels when interacting with people from different parts of the world. I am sorry to have digressed from that path for these last two pieces. But upon revisiting incidents that have happened over the past two years, I felt it necessary to talk about some depressing things and using imagery to supplement the narrative.

So for the third episode of Anecdotes from the Analogue World, I’ll talk about:


I’ll be showing you images of the same bridge that I have taken over a period of 6 years from various angles. This bridge and a conversation that occurred on it affected me rather deeply.

I’ve been wanting to talk about this for quite a while but a series over the last two years created some impetus in me to finally sit and type this out. This is not a happy read so stop here if you’re expecting to leave this post with a smile.

The year was 2018 and the month, December. The photo on the left of the diptych is an epic failure on my part in attempting an O Winston Link style photo.

A Bridge that Disturbed my Mind
The photo on the left underwent a double whammy. The light leak on the Kiev/Arax and the underpowered flash gun failing to light up the locomotive made this a facepalm moment. I only found out after I processed the films in Singapore though.

The photo on the right (shot 3 hours before) is what I wanted but with the light streaks that you see on the other photo. But the event that happened before the failed photo is what made me write this post. That bridge you see in the both the photos is called Ravine Viaduct No. 2. It’s on the Patalpani – Kalakund section of the Western Railways in India. I was photographing a newly started “Heritage Service” that had commenced after several calls to preserve this last meter gauge rail route in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

The first time I photographed this bridge was probably from atop a tunnel at one end of it.

Ravine Viaduct 02 on the left of the image as I first photographed it in 2016-2017. Nothing much happened besides two woodcutters asking each other what I was up to on top of a tunnel while I was photographing the train.

The next two times too, nothing much happened besides an annoyed old lady that kept asking me to leave because she wanted to bathe in the river while I was shooting the bridge above her.

The view from the Choral river below the Ravine Viaduct 02 is quite beautiful. But the old lady that bathes in the river will ask you to get lost rather bluntly. I reasoned that she should wait for the train to pass so the passengers are not privy to her private moment. She seemed to agree. I left immediately after the train passed.

On one occasion when I had colour film in my camera I managed to get a shot of a shepherd with the train. But his flock left well before the train came so it was not the shot I wanted. But serendipitously, I caught two “roof romeos” on the train, riding “top class”.

A shepherd waves at the train that carries two passengers on the top of the coach. Unfortunately all the sheep had literally left for greener pastures and I could not get the shot I wanted.

And then in 2018 December this disaster happened:

A massive light leak accompanied by an extremely underpowered flash gun made this “one shot, one kill” a wasted effort. The flash was to have lighted the locomotive at the end of the long exposure resulting in the locomotive looking conspicuous at the front end of the light streak.

1.5 hours before this photo was taken, I stood on that very bridge and peeked down. The heritage train makes a stop just before this bridge so passengers can alight and enjoy the surrounding scenery. It was a chilly evening. As I stood and looked out, a voice beckoned “Sir, is everything okay? Do you want to talk? Any problem you have can be sorted out. Please come and sit with me in my cabin. We can talk along the way to Kalakund”.

It was the train guard who had gotten off with the railway officers. This was a special run of the heritage service for senior railway officers. I almost laughed at his tone and turned around to face him. Wondering if it was someone I had photographed before, I turned to face him.  I was wondering if he was one of many railway staff that went out of their way to make me comfortable at the railway stations I had been to before. But no bell rang. No familiarity appeared. I had never seen him before.

He took a step back once he saw my tripod hanging by the side of my bag and the huge ARAX/Kiev camera slung around my neck. With a smirky smile I told him all I wanted to do was to take a photo of the returning train. I also told him I’d love to have a chat with him but I only had that one night to take the photo of the returning train so I’ll stay on. He laughed out suddenly and said “Oh okay, so you’re just taking photos, no problems then….” He walked away. The train left. I waited for it to return.

The shot failed miserably. The two flash guns I had setup were hopelessly underpowered and could not light up the locomotive hence you see this ghostly streak of the train without the locomotive. Of course, I only realised this when I processed the film in Singapore. EPIC facepalm moment. The moon lit up the other parts of the picture you see on the left. It would have been pitch dark had there not been a moon that evening. And much like a person falling from the ladder gets hit by the falling ladder, the film back on the camera leaked light so the sky looks like it’s mid morning. The sky in this picture is way brighter than my project’s future as of now!

I walked back the couple of kilometres to a catch siding called Tantya Mama where my rickshaw driver was waiting for me. Thanked the moon mentally for lighting up the tracks as my torch’s battery was about to call it a day too. I told the rickshaw driver about the “crazy” train guard and the strange things he asked me. I said, “He probably knew better than me how badly I was squandering money and time on this project.” The rickshaw driver’s face changed. He said, “No sir, a lot of people commit suicide from that bridge. Especially after board exam results come out. The guard was just making sure you were okay. You must have looked very sad when you stood on the bridge.” It was then it hit me. I am a slow learner.

The chilling feeling was no longer due to the weather. The human mind has a way to stop us from taking our own life. When you peak down steep cliffs or tall buildings, your heart beat races, your body quivers sometimes, some people feel giddy while others just don’t even look down. The mental defence mechanism begins working in full force. In most cases it wins.

But depression hits that very mechanism when it overpowers the mind. At least that’s what I understand. But the problem is, our vocabulary, when it comes to dealing with depressed people, is limited to two words. Lazy and crazy.

We never tell a man with a broken hand that he should use his arm because everyone else is able to do so. But we definitely tell depressed people to stop being depressed. Even when that mechanism to overcome that emotion has broken down. Either the non depressed people are crazy enough to think depressed people can cure themselves by snapping out of it or they are too lazy to try and understand this issue a bit more. It’s the non depressed people that are the lazy and crazy ones perhaps.

When it hits the peak, the depressed person probably feels he or she is a burden to the world or perhaps the world itself is the burden on him or her. But the result is more or less the same……

I read an article about how people who survive the suicide attempt at the Golden Gate Bridge immediately regret their actions the moment they jump. Every problem becomes solvable. Every barrier seems surmountable. So we can probably guess that the mental defence mechanism recovers during the fall. But by then, wretched gravity is busy making that recovery futile… And all too often it wins. Only 4% of suicide attempts fail on the Golden Gate bridge. I wonder how many failed on the Ravine Viaduct No 2 that I stood on. I’ll never know.

We could all use that train guard in our lives at some point. At least a handful of people I knew could have used that train guard’s help. To just appear at that moment of despair. And ask if everything was okay or offer a chat to solve all problems like what he did to me. It’s one thing to not know what to wake up to, but it’s quite another to forcefully ensure that there is no waking up ever after. I am at least familiar with the former.

I have walked over umpteen bridges on the Indian railways and fortunately I never fancied jumping of any. And I hope I never change my mind on this. I don’t know if I am ready to hear about similar suicide stories on any of the other ridges I have photographed.

If you think money can’t buy you happiness, remember never to tell a depressed person that he or she has everything and there is nothing to be depressed about. It’s very much like telling an asthamatic person that there is nothing to gasp about because there is plenty of air around.

In my crazy and lazy state of mind, I didn’t even ask the guard’s name. I hope he’s alright.

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10 thoughts on “Anecdotes from the Analogue World Ep. 3 – By Nandakumar”

  1. Hey Nadakumar,

    when I saw your night shot of the train on the long bridge, I thought “This is fantastic!”
    For two reasons:
    1. I obviously didn’t experience the actual setting that night. The light leak to me appears as if the sky wasn’t pitch black but rather cloudy, and the clouds were lit from below by some city lights way in the back. Is there any city? I have no clue, but the atmosphere looks great to me the way it is. The brighter area just below the range of hills? A beautiful layer of mild fog.
    2. I do not think that there is any flash gun that would have revealed the outline of the train in this image. I have no idea how fast the train was but it seems like it was a very long exposure so any flash gun firing off makes little difference in the overall exposure.

    I sometimes face the same situation: An image doesn’t turn out at all how expected it to be. The challenge is to let go and look at it with fresh eyes of someone that wasn’t there at the time of capture in the first place.

    Chapeau! I love it!

    Best regards,

  2. Thanks for the comments Erik. Trust me the light leak is legit. And there is no civilisation behind that mountain. At least not one that can light up the night sky so brightly.

    But I am gonna take your reasoning on the fog and see if it works on a darkroom print.. 🙂 Thanks for the suggestion.. There isn’t much fog in this part of the India as the air is a bit dryer than the north east. But if I can make the light leak appear like fog then why not just go along with it? Thanks again!

    The train trundles at around 30km/h but O Winston Link managed to blast enough strobe to blast the train into conspicuousness 50 years ago. His steam locomotives were bigger so I thought it might work but I guess I should be blasting 500W lights or more to get this locomotive lighted up. Not gonna try it again though. No time and money to undertake this trip anymore. 🙂

  3. O Winston was so much closer which makes a huge difference, I would think.
    Let us know the print turns out! 🙂

    1. Actually his flashes were close not his camera. My flashes were decently close but likely not as close as O Winston links or as high powered (the latter more than the former) There were 2 off shoe flashes going off at full blast (combined power or about 400W). I might need a thousand watt light and place it even closer to the bridge. Not gonna do it but leaving it here in case some kind soul takes mercy on me and hands such a flash to me. 😉 Thanks again Erik. I’m a bit hesitant to print from the negative but now I might give it a shot!

  4. Interesting images, made more so by the accompanying essay. Your image may have “failed” in one way, but the experience you had makes it other worldly.

  5. Nadakumar, friend, we are all just a small part of Unity. But not all of us are fully aware of this fact. We are at different stages of realizing who or what we really are. What we need to change on our spiritual journey is our perception. It is our perception that influences our thoughts, words and actions. You, my friend, are an old and wise soul. A soul that sees. And such loving souls weep when they see the realities of this world, but also the deeds of their ignorant brothers and sisters. We cannot know which way of life is best for them. Only the Power that controls even the movement of the stars knows. But the service we can render them is to see the light in them. A light of which we are all a part. That will hopefully help them to remember who or what they really are. I am you and you are my other self. Let the light of your soul shine for all. With love, your other self.

    Translated with (free version)

    1. Thank you for the kind words Petr. I am so happy to read your comment and I hope I can live up to your praise. We are indeed trying to become better versions of ourselves and some do it through belief in an external agency while others do it through good deeds. Either ways, we try to reach pretty much the same destination. You are right. Thanks again my good man!

  6. Mr. Nandakumar, this is the first article I’ve read by you. Your images remain memorable and significant despite your obvious dissatisfaction with the outcome. Too often we become dissatisfied with the aesthetic outcome thereby dismissing that the important of the image as a document does not dissipate. This image would certainly fit into a body of work or series concerning railways. I do not understand your propensity to use a Russian made cameras which carry along a reputation of mechanical failures. Mechanical cameras even Leicas are not infallible. Even Nikon bodies which are virtually indestructible have been known to lock up. Perhaps there are sentimental attachments to the Kiev which are not obvious in the article. Though I do not intent my opinion to reflect as criticism on your choice of camera. You definitely are doing important work. Not immediately obvious now though it can only accumulate value. I do hope you don’t wander into the Hamish Gill experience. Perhaps a reliable camera body with replaced or updated light seals and CLAD done prior. We are all depressed even if we don’t admit it. Take care. Expecting more than satisfactory outcomes from tools which are known to fail more frequently than expected is a trip into purgatory. Please don’t stop writing or making images. There is so little of substance written these days.

    1. Thanks for the kind words Baladino. Apologies for the late reply as I have been all over the place after putting up this article. The Kiev with the Zeiss Jena lenses is a fantastic combination and punches way above its weight. The light leak was unfortunate but I ad similar issues with an RB 67 too so I am not expecting a camera to have 0 issues when purchased. But I should have checked it before embarking on the trip so thats definitely on me. Of course this was 3-4 years ago so I am slightly better prepared now with regards to gear (emphasis on the word slightly). Thanks again for reading and thanks even more for the encouragement.

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