An evening with Jaiprakash Chouksey

I often read his columns on Bhaskar, so it felt surreal to sit across and get to talk to him in person – that too on his birthday. As it happens, he is my mentor’s Dad (who I have thanked multiple times on my blog), so this meeting was long overdue 🙂

It is so different to know someone by face and to see him in person and talking. I got the same feeling when I talked to Kim Clijsters for a tennis blog I was writing for back in 2009. I can say I knew Mr. Chouksey by his writing – I knew at some level how he thinks and what his opinions are. He is so much more dynamic and stimulating in person, a man seasoned by experience and age. We did find some common topics to talk about – Taj being one of them. I have held some interest in photographing Taj and he has researched it in depth to write a movie script. I gifted him one of the shots I took last year and I hope he liked it.

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I got to know from his son what a great journey he has had from being a Professor to one of the best commentators, critics and writers in Indian film industry. After reading him on diverse topics – mostly films, some literary and few personal scribblings – I feel a strong connection with his school of thought and shall always remain an admirer. Be it his commentary on Tarantino’s Django Unchained or musing over Nirbhaya tragedy, his words touch a cord in me and I am sure, many other readers. I wish him many more birthdays and great years of writing.

And, I shall cherish this special return gift from him 🙂

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Viewing Taj Mahal on a full moon night

There are places to see and there are PLACES TO SEE. And, then there are moments that leave an indelible imprint on our memory. I’m fond of traveling – in fact, I could spend a lifetime traveling and seeing places. I’m the type who enjoys roaming in local markets instead of shopping malls. I like to see a place and read its history and story. History is romantic to me. I like to see things from uncommon angles and uncommon times. I get wary of tourist spots for they tend to get so crowded that I feel I’m losing the connection with what I came to see. So, it’s inevitable that I tell you the story of Taj Mahal as it stands alone on a full moon night.

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Taj Mahal on full moon night by Nistha Tripathi

I have seen Taj Mahal when I was a kid long time back. I also have the embarrassing ‘holding Taj’s top in your fingers’ snapshot. Since then, my love for traveling, sightseeing, old monuments and photography has grown by leaps and bounds. So, when a family trip to Agra was planned, I was excited to revisit this ‘most photographed site in India’ with my own SLR camera. I had done some research about how to photograph and was delighted to catch Taj’s moods at the sunset.

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Taj Mahal being photographed (photographer: Nistha Tripathi)
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Taj Mahal at sunset by Nistha Tripathi

But what I was more excited about was the chance to catch Taj on a full moon night. Taj closes down at sunset on normal days but is reopened from 8:30pm-12:30am on 5 nights every month – full moon or Poornima and +-2 days when you can view Taj lit just by the moonlight. Needless to say it is quite an exclusive experience. The tickets are sold physically only one day before the actual viewing night. Night tickets are Rs 500 as opposed to Rs 10 for day admissions and have limited seats of 50 people in each of the six half an hour slots between 8:30pm and 12:30am. Ideally you want to go when moon is going to be the brightest (Sharad Poornima, summer nights, 10pm or later slots). It’s also a high security affair and they don’t allow any bags or mobile phones inside. I was relieved to find the camera was permitted (only still and not video). So, with half an hour to play around, I excitedly entered the main gate. By the way, they don’t let you go all the way in, you are only allowed to watch it from the main gate.

We entered at 8:30pm a day before full moon, so it wasn’t the brightest but it was still magical in its own ways. Imagine the silhouette of gracious Taj standing on a dark night with white moon rays forcing it to reveal it’s identity. Imagine the violescent sky and stillness of time. Imagine as it stands piously with a lamp lighting inside its dargaah. And most importantly, imagine viewing it unpolluted by swarms of heads and bodies. It is truly a unique experience and one unparalleled for admirers of art, history, culture and beauty in general.

Now, who can resist trying to capture that scene in eternity on a camera? But it’s a photographer’s nightmare to shoot it in such darkness without a tripod (tripods are in general not allowed on Taj premises). I found a decent support in the metal railings put as a barricade. Then, I set the focus to manual since it’s too dark to auto-focus. Setting the ISO to highest, I clicked multiple pictures experimenting with the exposures. Eventually, I was able to get 1-2 decent pictures and the above is one of them. I was amused to see the desperate efforts of few fellow visitors who just didn’t understand that you can’t photograph a scene like that with flash.

Also, if you ask the locals, they might tell you that night viewing is a waste of money as you hardly get to see anything in the dark. I guess it’s a matter of perspective.

P.S. If you share these images, please do so with appropriate credits and backlinks. Click here to see my other photographs of Taj Mahal.