AFTER HOURS

TUESDAY, MAR. 14, 1989

The Akbar, an attack helicopter, dropped 4 x 250 kg bombs in suspected LTTE camp locations. The LTTE attacked the TELO office at Mullaitivu and also fired at the 11 RAJ RIF post there. Intense firing from 19:45 HRS to 20:30 HRS.

WEDNESDAY, MAR. 15, 1989

9 PARA (CDO) ambushed 7 – 8 militants, killed one and probably wounded four. Recovered one G 3 A3 rifle, one grenade with POK marks and one diary. Later intercepts indicate one more militant was killed.

At first glance, the above lines look like they could have emerged from the pages of a wartime thriller or a script for an action packed Hollywood film. But neither is the case. These are diary entries made by Brigadier (retired) Xerxes P. Adrianwalla who served for 30 years in the armoured corps of the Indian Army and saw action with the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka.

“I carried my camera with me everywhere, on my battle tank, in my Mahindra Jeep and in my rucksack. I was so intent on photographing the action as it unfolded that my men ultimately became fed up of me. In fact, one of them even exclaimed, “sahib, agar ammunition khatam ho gaya to aap dushman par camera phekonge kya? (Sir, if you run out of ammunition will you throw your camera at the enemy?),” he laughs as he recounts his time as the Brigade Major of a Brigade with the IPKF in Sri Lanka. Even in the midst of combat, Xerxes found time to indulge his passion for photography, capturing moments of beauty amidst the carnage.

“Wherever there is light, one can take photographs and the battlefield is no exception,” says Mahindra’s Chief of CI & S and Group Security, his passion for the art clearly shining through. “In fact, the word ‘photography’ itself originated from the Greek photos which means light and graphy which means painting. Hence, photography is essentially ‘painting with light’ and so to be a good photographer, one has to be an artist first,” he says

But Xerxes’ love for photography had taken root much earlier. “My passion for photography began in school but my father could only afford to give me a simple Brownie Box camera which was a hand-me-down from my older sister. It had very basic controls but took great photos. Back then – unlike the digital era of today we had to buy film, develop it and print the pictures which proved to be an expensive proposition. My father would give me two rolls for six months which meant I could shoot only 24 photos in all.

This instilled a great sense of discipline in me as I had to wait for the perfect moment when light, exposure and subject were all in alignment, ensuring the best possible composition. This discipline continues even today and is quite unlike the ‘spray and pray’ fad which has become popular with the emergence of smart phones. That’s when people ‘spray’ a scene with a whole lot of pictures and ‘pray’ that one develops well! Photography actually requires a great deal of patience.”

It was during his time with the army that Xerxes began experimenting with his camera, shooting from a moving vehicle, taking high speed photographs of tanks firing at night and patterns formed by tracer ammunition. This fueled his already strong love for the art form, encouraging him to hone his technical skills further.

The budding shutterbug bought his first ‘serious’ camera in Dubai when he was en route to his deputation with the UN Observer Force on the Iran – Iraq front. “It was a Nikon FM 2 which is a classic and it really added a new dimension to my photography. This was actually when my passion for black and white sketches and photography began to converge. Abstract patterns that were really a play between dark and light began to catch my eye.”

He bought his first digital camera in 2004 which, in his own words, would be considered ‘fairly primitive’ today but it opened his eyes to a whole new world. “For the first time, I could actually see the result of what I had shot and since the cost of film was eliminated, I could experiment as well. I have been through almost six or seven cameras since then and now use a mirrorless Fuji SLR which is lightweight and portable,” he says.

So what interests this fan of the legendary war photographer Robert Capa? “In one word? Everything,” he shoots back. “I enjoy trekking and usually take photos of landscapes and rural folk. It’s really the off-beat aspects of a place that interest me and I constantly try to see things from a different perspective. For instance, in Delhi’s famous Chandni Chowk area, I did a whole series showcasing the hands of the man on the street as he went about his work; it featured rickshaw drivers, hand cart pullers, chai wallas, etc. It was titled ‘‘haath ki safaai’. The temples of Khajuraho inspired a series called ‘Poetry in Stone’.

It consisted of very tight captures of the stone sculptures and was an attempt to bring to the fore their beautiful proportions. Similarly, at the Konark Dance Festival I concentrated on getting shots of only the dancers’ ghungroos, while at the Mahindra Blues Festival I tried to capture the intensity of the performers on stage.”

Nature also interests Xerxes, specifically the symmetry and patterns found in flowers & leaves. “The eyes of amphibians such as frogs, lizards and snakes really fascinates me and I did an entire series around this called ‘The Eyes of Nature’. Once, while trekking in Amboli, a hill station in Maharashtra, I was very fortunate to capture a cat snake slowly pumping venom into a lizard whose eyes open in horror as it approaches death. Instances like this constantly inspire me to push the envelope further.”

If he had to hone his skills and evolve as a photographer, Xerxes realised that he would have to move out of his comfort zone. “I constantly try to choose unusual themes that might present a challenge. I’ve also attended a few workshops where I was forced to move away from using my favourite lens and usual subjects. During one such workshop I was tasked with photographing old Goan homes in Bandra, a Mumbai suburb. At first, I was apprehensive but once I overcame my hesitation, I began to enjoy the unusual nature of the assignment. During a night photography workshop, I had to take photos while travelling on the last local from Churchgate to Virar and the first one back. I got some great shots of people on the night shift going to and fro work. It’s opportunities like these that have added another dimension to my photos.”

Xerxes also aims to encourage the next generation of photographers and he regularly conducts workshops where he imparts the fundamentals of this art form. “The secret of a perfect photo lies in accurate technique. There is just no shying away from this fact because if you are not technically sound as a photographer, your pictures will invariably lack appeal. The most important thing is to be brutal with yourself,” says the intrepid soldier-photographer as he signs off.

"The eyes of amphibians such as frogs, lizards and snakes really fascinates me and I did an entire series around this called ‘The Eyes of Nature’."

Explore Xerxes's Marvelous Captures