NDTV:One summer day in the early 1970s, a photographer named Baldev Kapoor snapped a shot of a young, handsome couple enjoying one of Delhi’s most common warm weather pursuits: eating ice cream near the India Gatemonument.
It was no ordinary couple, of course – it was a recently married Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi.
The photographer, who goes by his first name, has chronicled India‘s history through a camera lens for more than five decades, from the country’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the Dalai Lama’s escape to India, through the establishment of controversial “family planning” camps and the Emergency, until the present day visits of foreign leaders including United States president Barack Obama.
While some of Baldev’s images are archived with photo agency Sygma, now Corbis, many others, like the iconic ice cream shot above, are stored on slide film, tucked in envelopes he keeps in his New Delhi home.
India Ink recently sat down with Baldev to talk about the shot.
“It’s a long story how I got this picture, and it all goes back to Rajiv’s mother, Mrs. Indira Gandhi,” he said. “Somehow, I don’t know why or how, she took a fancy to me. She used to ask me periodically to take pictures of Rajiv and Sanjay when they were small children and growing up. She liked keeping a picture of them in her wallet,” he said.
Regularly, Baldev explained, “There would be a call from the prime minister’s house, saying ‘There has been a change in the children, it has been six months, please come.'” Then he would come to the prime minister’s residence, and take another shot of her two boys for her wallet.
After Rajiv Gandhi grew up and entered politics, there was a great demand for official photographs of him, from the government of India and the Congress Party. When Rajiv Gandhi would travel, Baldev would often accompany him.
“He was very sympathetic,” Baldev said. “When he would see me outside, he would say ‘Have you eaten? Do you have a place to stay?'”
Mr. Gandhi’s marriage heightened demand for pictures of him from newspapers and media outlets, Baldev said. “It was very curious when the son of the prime minister married an Italian girl,” he said. “There was a lot of media interest and some photographers acted like paparazzi. He didn’t like people sneaking pictures.”
When Baldev asked Mr. Gandhi why he had on one occasion snatched a camera from a photographer who was trying to shoot him and his wife, Mr. Gandhi replied “Why do they sneak pictures? Why don’t they ask?”
Baldev responded “I’m asking – why don’t I do a story on you? A day in the life of Rajiv Gandhi?”
Mr. Gandhi agreed.
The morning started with Baldev snapping the young couple at their home, the Prime Minister’s residence at Racecourse Road, and then taking them in his car from Chandni Chowk to the Red Fort to central Delhi. “There was no security at that time,” Baldev recalls, “just the three of us in the car. I was driving.”
When they passed India Gate, Baldev recalled, he asked Rajiv Gandhi if he’d like to stop for ice cream. “He said ‘Okay,'” Baldev said, “the vendor was there, they had ice cream and I took some pictures.”
So, Sonia Gandhi, what was she like? “She was very shy, all the time,” Baldev recalled.
And were they in love? “Oh yes,” he said with a smile, “obviously.”