With the onset of monsoons, when the tourists start to diminish on the hills, the corn sellers start to appear on the road sides. They harvest maize grown in their fields on the hill sides and sell the fresh corn-cobs in their roadside shacks. Traveling on a rainy day, when hunger struck me, this is where I stopped.
(Cream-white colored corn that grows on the Kumaon hills)
I was traveling the hills recently, trying to photograph the beauty of the monsoons. Due to the incessant rains, many small waterfalls had emerged on the hills. I captured forest photographs, long exposures and some snails too. While photographing them, I was also a little drenched. Trying to save my camera from rains didn’t actually help me from rains.
While driving on the snaking road, the small shack near a turn looked ideal, with a smoking log and a cover to protect from rain. The smoking log conveyed the presence of fire, something I could use to dry myself off.
(The kindling fire in the center of some smoking logs. Photographed on a phone camera, while I enjoyed the warmth and dried myself out)
The shack owner had stacked the corn on the front, easily visible from the road. They looked inviting. The maize harvested on the hill slopes is of a different variety than the planes. The kernels remain pale white in color even when they mature, in contrast to the pink-orange of the maize grown everywhere else. These kernels are soft and sweet to eat.
On a tree nearby, a small family of gray langurs, one of the few old world monkeys, were also eyeing the tasty corns. They were trying to hide in the scanty leaves on the tree. I spotted a small baby langur too.
Once, I had dried myself a little and exchanged a few pleasantries, I placed an order for a roasted corncob. Meanwhile, I took out my camera from the car. For those of you wondering, it was not wet. While photographing in the rains, I make sure that the camera doesn’t get wet. With warmth from the burning log filling me in and the smell of a corn being roasted on it, I proceeded to photograph the scene. First I stepped out of the shack. The shack itself was very dark in comparison to the surroundings. Some light fell directly on the corn stacked on the front. The shack-owner was wearing a dark red shirt which stood out, but his face was covered in shade. A very difficult scene to photograph. Exposing for the person would blow out the bright corn and the surroundings. Exposing for the surroundings, would have underexposed the person. Using a direct flash would create unsightly shadows and may even haze the picture from the occasional smoke blowing in from the burning log. I bracketed my exposure within a range of -2 to +2 EV and hoped to recover something worthwhile during post-processing.
(Corn Seller removing the leaves from a cob. Even after my trials with exposure bracketing, I ended up loosing information on the white corns kept on the lower right side. I still darkened them in post-processing to prevent them from distracting the viewer from the person’s face.)
The corn was roasted well, a little black at places, but well roasted all the same. The corn seller then applied a lavish coat of butter, the spicy sauce made up of coriander paste with chilies and garlic, sprinkled some salt and finally a few drops of lemon. It looked wonderful and smelled delicious. After tasting a few kernels, I requested him to roast a couple more.
By this time, the surrounding air was also filled with the sweet smell of the roasted corns. The langurs who were sitting on the nearby tree were getting restless. The elders seem to be discussing some matters among themselves while the little one clung tightly. Unlike the brown monkeys (macaque), gray langurs are docile and usually very calm. While I photographed the monkeys, I could see them eyeing the corns. Their fur was wet from the rain and the tree provided them almost no shelter.
(I had a 50 mm lens mounted on my camera. To capture them, I had to go real close and later heavily crop the image while post-processing. These are the times when zooms come in handy)
By the time, I walked back a couple of steps to the shack, the other two corncobs were also also ready. The shop-keeper was proceeding to dress them with spices when I stopped him. The langurs were still looking eagerly. I handed them over one of the roasted corns and the eldest one started devouring it with zest. They were indeed hungry. There were some fruits in my car. I took them out and handed those out too. The langurs were famished it seems but were scared to approach the corn seller, and so they just hung around (pun intended) on the tree. They munched on the corn and fruits while I enjoyed my super-spicy version of roasted corn.
A magpie flew close by. Maybe it had also seen the corn. I was not going to wait for it to settle down. Anyway, I did not have a telephoto lens to capture the bird. Magpies are curious but shy. They do let humans come close to them but not so close as to be photographed with a normal lens.
A word of warning for those of you planning to feed any monkeys – be aware. These are wild animals and can even bite. So be very very careful. Another point of view says that by feeding them, I made them lazy on that particular day and if this keeps on repeating, the monkeys may loose the skill of procuring their own food.
I am not a naturalist. I was hungry and wet that day and the smell of roasted corns and a warm shelter attracted me. I could associate well with the langur family. I had felt what they would have been feeling too. Maybe I am just a little too soft in my heart but I ended up making friends with the corn seller and maybe earning some amount of respect with the langurs too.
To me, photography is about gathering experiences and not just capturing images.
(Corn kernels shining like strings of pearls)