World of India!: Travellerr : Strange things have happened to me at Airports - Schipol e

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Travellerr : Strange things have happened to me at Airports - Schipol

Yes, strange things have happened to me at airports. Given the fact that I am prone to be (slightly) forgetful, these strange occurrences sometimes have had the potential to turn more into a tragedy, than a comedy. But my skill in being Aware and of One Mind has often come to my rescue ;)

But today, I shall leave readers with one of life's amazing co-incidences. This one happened to me when I was waiting to catch a flight back to Mumbai at Schipol (Amsterdam). Me and my ex-boss ( a hefty Dane named Casper Bahnson), reached in time to catch the flight, but for some reason KLM postponed the flight by a few hours. Both of us slipped in the Business Lounge and helped ourselves to a drink (or two). Those days I used to smoke and walked upto the smoking section. But of course, I did not have the darned light, since I knew it would be confiscated at the airport. I went up to an oldish Indian guy and asked him for the light. Something made me sit next to him and start talking to him (usually you won't catch me talking to a strangers, by myself). He introduced himself as Jay Ullal. Nothing clicked. We yapped on about airports and how it sucked waiting for a flight. I asked him what he did for a living. He said he was a photographer. My heart skipped a beat. "Are you THE Jay Ullal"? I asked. He laughed, Pipe smoke sputtering out..." Yes, I am".

Now, I am not a great photography fan. It had so happened that when I was barely in my secondary school, I happened to read a 'Marathi' magazine which comes out only in Diwali. That magazine had a feature article on Ullal and his work. The article made a lasting impression on me, both in terms of the photographs and the man's life. Ullal is a celebrated photographer who at one time worked as Photo Editor of the famous German Magazine 'Stern'. He had left India in the 60's for Germany and joined Stern. The stint at the magazine ensured that Ullal traveled the nook and cranny of the world covering all the major socio-political stories of the day (Bosnia,Iraq,Zaire,Cambodia- he was the first to capture POL Pot's genocide,Bangladesh,Philippines,N.Korea etc. to name a few).Ullal is the only guy whom Yasser Arafat allowed to click his picture, without his 'Keffiyeh' (Arab Headgear) and who Osho Rajneesh allowed to click pictures of the controversial Osho Ashram, in Pune, from inside. His photographs from his assignments in the various strife torn hot spots, helped create a new awareness in the world, about the human suffering and destruction there.

For his extra-ordinary achievement to the world of reporting and photography, Ullal was awarded the highest civilian award for humanity and culture in Germany (Van Verdienstkreuz)

When I had read that article on Ullal and had seen the pictures he had taken, one picture had especially remained with me, for all these years. The picture of a couple, who had just married, walking amongst the bombed out ruins of Beirut, during the Civil War in Lebanon. The couple was Christian and Muslim and it was a powerful image of how love had decisively conquered destruction and killing, amidst the ruins of war torn Beirut. I told Ullal that, that picture was still fresh in my mind, like I had seen it yesterday and it was from that picture, mainly, that I remembered his name and work, after so many years. I said it was so strange that of all the photographers and photographs, I so vividly remembered him and his work alone, and that I should have needed a light and walked only upto him, to fetch for it. A retired from work Ullal, who had lived through some pretty tumultous and dangerous moments himself and clearly knew about life's strange twists and turns, took a drag on his pipe and smiled contentedly.

We talked about his retired life, his home in Mumbai and his Mercedes cars, smoking in the lounge. Ever the photographer, Ullal asked me if I could get him permission to shoot in my office, since the outsourcing story with jobs being farmed in India was just breaking out on the world scene, in 2002.

Finally, they announced that the flight was ready. We exchanged cards and said 'Au Revoir'-perhaps at another airport...

Don't miss reading Rediff.Com's story on Ullal here and, most important, view some of Ullal's memorable photographs here:

You can buy Ullal's work on Amazon here :

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