By: Ganesh Saili

‘Pictures?’ asks rising star Neha Joshi, the happy face of generation-next politics who I had bumped into at a wedding reception. ‘Nothing else matters!’ she says, before adding:  ‘Millennials don’t hide the bridegroom’s shoes anymore! They take pictures instead!’

I look around to find she is right,  for everyone is making a beeline towards the stage for a picture.

Per chance, I happened to mention this new trend to art-historian-collector Rahul Kohli. ‘If you don’t have a picture, you weren’t there,’ he said, adding: ‘It’s like ‘Kilroy was here!’

Returning home, I stop at the iconic Inder Sweet Shop along the ramp of the Mall. I am relieved to find those pictures of the Great War still hanging on the walls. Legend has the Nehru family dropping by for a taste of their truly amazing Bengali sweets. But the craze for making pictures has followed me here too: a customer places an order for a tray of their scrumptious rasmalai.

‘To eat or just to put on Insta?’ asks the waiter.

Turn anywhere in Mussoorie and no matter where you are, you’ll find a young couple trailed by a plethora of photographers. They are out on a pre-wedding shoot. Their antics bring life to a standstill on the ridge from Company Bagh to Jhulaghar; from Jhulaghar through to Char Dukan and beyond.

‘Try to look romantic! Wrap your arm around her!’ instructs the photographer, saying: ‘Careful now, don’t you ruin her hair style!’ (Come to think of it, that elaborate hairdo must have taken the better part of the day in a beauty parlour). A quick change of clothes in the privacy of the steps below Kellogg Church, and the soon-to-be-married couple steps out to find the cameras staring at them again.

‘Please madam, one more shot?’ pleads the leader of the team, as the accompanying photographers scurry around hoping to get the best shot.

It was not always so. At the end of the 1960s, our city fathers in their combined wisdom built an ugly ropeway from the Mall Road to the edge of the town’s water reservoir on Gun Hill. The Himalayan view from here is stupendous and it became the largest congregation of photowalaas – forty shops and more –  in any hill resort in the world.

Madan Lal Khera arrived from Delhi to teach budding photographers the art of turning fantasies into reality. They took to dressing honeymooners in outlandish ‘hilly-girl’ (sic) dresses or turning them into bandits, complete with bandolier and fake gun.

Photography had well and truly moved from studio to outdoors when Library’s Doon Studio turned into the Mecca of photographers by specialising in pictures of Miss Mussoorie Contests. Further afield, near Picture Palace, in London House stood Thukral Studio which covered school events. But weekends were put aside for making pictures of the birds and bees around the Upper Mall.

Who am I to complain about the recent shift from analogue to digital? Although the advent of the mobile phone did sound the death knell of the Gun Hill photography market, and I do confess missing the good old days when one could take a companion along into the darkroom to see how things developed. Arrived in this New Age, I am in a world where everything must happen instantly, but, to give the devil his due, no matter which way you turn, at least someone or the other is taking or at least trying to make a picture.

Of course, the advent of the mobile phone has changed the way we were. With a camera in every hand, never before in human history have so many pictures been taken as in the post-2004 era. From silver crystals we turned to pixels; monopods to gorilla pods and tripods to the new gimbles.

So the next time I find myself at a wedding bash, believe you me, I shall not dither. I shall take a deep breath, and step up to the stage and get that picture with the newlyweds taken. For, grin and bear it, that seems to be the way forward.

But always remember, one doesn’t just take a picture. One makes a picture.

Ganesh Saili born and home-grown in the hills belongs to those select few whose words are illustrated by their own pictures. Author of two dozen books; some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition world-wide.