Little did Himalayan landscape photographer Ashok Dilwali's late father realise the creative juices he was unleashing when he presented to his son a Baby Brownie camera when he was just eight. Today, his oeuvre comprises a staggering 25 publications -- the latest came out last month -- the bulk of them on the Himalayas and half a dozen on religious and philosophical themes.
"For 25 years I trekked a lot, really a lot, and stopped trekking when my back submitted resignation papers," Dilwali, a trained chartered accountant who also ran a successful photo studio in Connaught Place but who "looked for a life with more job satisfaction", told IANS in an interview.
"Even now I do go regularly where my Innova can take me, quite regularly. During those 25 years I went to so many nooks and crannies of Himalayas and I used to write articles; many wall calendars were made and they paid for my treks and travels," he added.
He had a very simple principle then: "Who needs a hobby when you love your work. Taking pictures of mountains became an obsession and it was never a work as such but sheer enjoyment to see the eternal and grandeur of places less visited."
For Dilwali, now 72, every successful trip "was an incentive to make another one and this chain continued and never ceased as such. Another great incentive was successive books which followed so regularly. Every book is a dream come true".
What he also said with pride is that all the nearly 250 trips he has made to the Himalayas and other places in India "have been on my own steam. Not a single trip has been sponsored or financed by anybody. I have done all with my own hard earned money all my life".
What of the state of photography today?
"I personally feel that photography has two aspects to it -- art and craft. The craft part used to be very tedious and difficult before the advent of digital photography, which has become very simple and easy. Even a complete novice can take technically perfect images which used to be acquired after many years of learning and perfecting that skill. Now it is only a matter of pressing the shutter with a finger, if you have one," Dilwali explains on his website.
"But the art part remains as difficult and elusive as before, only the mechanical part has become easier. To be able to capture an image that can be admired by many is a difficult matter which still requires much dedication and sophistication," he adds.
Little wonder then, that eminent British mountaineer Chirs Bonington has this to say: "Ashok Dilwali, who has been trekking and travelling in the Himalayas for many decades, admittedly captures the spirit of these great mountains in his photographs."
There is also another side to the photographer.
For instance, in the books on the Bhagvad Gita, Upanishads and Vedas, "a new idea was explored successfully, that of combining a good visual with a good thought. Shlokas were selected by me and it had a picture of nature on one side and shlokas in Hindi, Sanskrit and English on the other facing page".
The same philosophy guides his 25th work, "So Said the Wise" (Niyogi Books/Rs 495/162) that has an ethereal snow-covered image of the Bhimakali Temple at Sarahan in Himachal Pradesh on the cover and handpicked sayings of 80 grand minds of India.
Here again, the idea was to combine a good thought along with an image of nature.
"I make so many trips and end up with thousands of images. Then this was one way of utilising the good images or else they would be just sitting in my hard disks. What is the point of taking images and not finding some avenue for it," Dilwali explained, adding it "took a long time for me to select just eighty such great people".
He and his publisher "had to arrive at a number which would keep the book as a small one, easily readable, especially for foreign audiences who can get a good idea about Indian spirituality".
This the book does eminently well, ranging across a breath of personalities that include Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Adi Sankara, Amir Khusro, Annie Besant, Baba Amte and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, to name only a few.