NS Madhavan, creative writer

Portrait of NS Madhavan / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 1996

Portrait of NS Madhavan / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 1994

N. S. Madhavan is a leading writer of contemporary Indian literature, whose short stories, novels, football columns and travel articles enjoy a wide readership especially in Malayalam speaking areas of India. Madhavan was born in the port city of Cochin where he attended the Sree Rama Varma High School. After graduating in economics from Maharajas College, Ernakulam he moved to Thiruvananthapuram to study for his masters at the Department of Economics, University of Kerala. During this period he began writing, and in 1970 won the top prize for his first published short story ‘Sisu’, in a contest organised by the Malayalam literary magazine Mathrubhumi. In 1975, Madhavan joined the Indian Administrative Service where he was seconded to the Bihar cadre. His civil service career followed the usual path of initially administering sub-districts and districts, then jobs in the state and union secretariats followed by the running departments and corporations.

I met Madhavan when he was a Joint Secretary of Food and Civil Supplies Department, India. AK Anthony was the minister during that period. One day, cartoonist EP Unni called me and said, “Madhavan needs to take for his book to be published by the DC books”. I agreed and the shooting was indeed organised in a hurry. There were several props for the photograph – black background, red shirt, chiaroscuro lighting etc.,  Madhavan explained to me this long list the publishing company demanded to make his book cover.  I and Unni rushed and organised all these props. We fixed a make-shift studio at his house in Kakkanagar, Delhi. I was working as a photo-journalist during that period and hence didn’t have any of the studio accessories. So, we collected all the table lamps and other available small lamps from his house to create the chiaroscura effect in the make shift studio and took this photograph. I made many images of Madhavan that day. I had to make him work with me for more than an hour. Amidst his busy, maverick schedule, he also enjoyed the shoot.

Madhavan, is a protean, maverick writer of my generation. And, he is continues to be an inspiration for the new generation as well.I have met him during several other occasions and I also have many photographs while he was writing his first novel Lanthan Batheriyile Luthiniyakal. He was based in Cochin and we meet very often during those days. Those memorable days of Cochin remains fresh in my memory. We used to search the details about boat making, the names of the different parts of the boat, the Portuguese names for these parts etc., We used to travel to the backwaters of the Cochin, going to different islands to look the life and lifestyle of the people. We enjoyed first hand, Madhavan’s picturesque observation and his strong sharp wits. I felt that he is searching for his roots and was driven by his childhood memories, when he was on the look out for the different fish recipes, Kaika’s Biryani etc., After this intimate moments, I lost connection with him. We were both held up with our own worlds. We do keep in touch over phone at times. Thank you NS for your help in my life.

Abul Kalam Azad

13th January 2014

(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text transcribed by Tulsi Swarna Lakshmi. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 


Nude of a lesbian

'South France - Nude of a lesbian' / 'Comrade' / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad  1994 / 4"x6" negatives / Bromide prints

‘Holding fish’ / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad 1994 / 4″x6″ negatives / Bromide prints

I received the prestigious French Govt Scholarship for Higher studies in Photography in the year 1994-95. I was working in PTI (Press Trust of India) during those times. This opportunity to go to France came during a period when I was actually re-considering photo-journalism as my preferred practice. The philosophical dichotomy of the ethics in photo-journalism practices, the dawn of the digital era with its multitude possibilities that was sidelining the traditional analogue medium and the stagnant life in the crowded capital was becoming uncomfortable for me. I was reaching a point of professional stillness. That’s why, I was happy to go to Europe. France in particular was more exciting for me. I had so many ambitious dreams and projects…  to visit museums all over Europe, to see other practicing photographers, etc. However, reality was a lot different. I didn’t get to travel that much and spent most of my time in South France.

I had connected with several photographers who were also studying in my batch. Most of them had come from nearby European countries and Africa. Julie, a French young photographer became a friend of mine. Julie was a lesbian and she was living with her girlfriend. For our projects, we model for each other, as it used to be the practice for student photographers to model for one another. When I wanted to take nude pictures of male and female for my project,  my professor suggested I ask Julie to be one of the models. The idea for this project had come to me when I was in India. However, there was very limited possibility for getting such models in India during those times. Julie agreed to be a partner in this project and be the model as well. I started working with her. We had few sessions and made some shots in public and in private. Most of these shots were made in the studio of my artist friend.  We also had made many self nudes of both of us.

I was young, newly married, and had come from a remote traditional town in South India…. Culturally, nudity in public is rare and a taboo. Even then, the Southern Indian temple art features nudes. So there is a familiarity to nudity as well…. All these had influenced the conflict of desire that I felt whilst taking this nude. There were many other men, helping with the light, etc. who witnessed this shoot. There have been several others, who had seen and commented on the light, shade and composition. There must have been many others who had seen the photograph whilst printing or during the exhibitions or from the social media and thought about the body of this person, her beauty, her gaze and so on….  the one who witnesses this image is free to have their thoughts and preoccupation.

As a photographer, I am not a mere witness… I am present with all my realities, fantasies and unnamed desires. Julie and myself had done few more projects together. After my education, we had lost touch with one another…  however, this piece of art has become a witness of a shared moment and memory. Thank you Julie Thomas!!!

Abul Kalam Azad

1st October 2014