In Juneau, the capital of Alaska, people were standing around, holding placards explaining how each could take us out to sea -- for a glimpse of the whales -- at rates more reasonable than the next.

I, myself, was there with the task of preparing a short documentary on Alaska on a stringent budget for a Bengali TV channel.

All they were covering were my fares between Kolkata and Anchorage, via Los Angeles, and a meagre allowance meant to cover fifteen days of food & board and transportation. And, 10 mini-DVD cassettes. That’s all! Even the camera was mine. Despite the fact that I wouldn’t be getting a fee, and that I’d be travelling completely alone except for the camera-bag, and be prepared to face the unforeseen, I had welcomed the project for its one silver lining – a trip to Alaska.

The idea of a documentary had originally been mine, and the channel had agreed when they realised that only minimal costs were involved. Even a very short documentary showing Alaska’s forests, mountains, glaciers, lakes, rivers, snows, wildlife, oceans and bays would generally require a team of four or five, and heavy, expensive cameras. Contrast that with the cost of recording stuff on a simple video camera on my own!

I’d been filming the Hubbard Glacier, above the Yaktat Bay, only the day before yesterday and had arrived at Juneau this very morning. Hubbard is the longest glacier of North America. I had captured images of avalanches tumbling down the glacier’s body, roaring like thunder. That my small camera wouldn’t be able to record the distant sound was distressing. 

Juneau’s Mendelhall Glacier was beautiful as well, beautiful enough to transfix viewers. Ice and snow accumulate over hundreds of years for glaciers to be born. The blue haze coming from cracks in the ice looked lovely. Images I had captured of the Mendelhall at dawn should come out very nicely, as well.

At Juneau’s harbour, the Alaska Grey Line buses were beckoning me on one hand, and on the other – there was the cacophony surrounding whale-watching trips. Whales splashing in and out of water – was a thing I had to record. I soon found myself haggling over the rates for a trip, then sensed a sudden commotion right behind me. Turning, I saw a group of people dragging a man away.

I asked the man, with whom I was discussing the whale-watching tour, what the matter was -- but he had no idea. But he did know that people often referred to the man being dragged away as ‘mad’. Also, that he was frequently sighted at the many harbours of Alaska.

Of what I had seen of the man, he hadn’t appeared mad in any way. In fact, he had looked quite decent, and sane. As soon as I’d expressed my views to the tour-agent, the youth replied, “I’ve seen that gentleman around here for about a month now. He gets agitated the moment a new ship arrives. I saw him yesterday as well, rambling about as usual.”

Soon, I was in a happy mood -- having filmed the whales for a considerable length of time. I had spotted three, and taken beautiful pictures of the creatures leaping into air.

A few days later, I spent almost a whole day roaming the Saturday Bazaar at Alaska’s past capital, Anchorage. It was at Anchorage that I had first landed in Alaska. On the very next day, an excellent opportunity had presented itself – that of a trip to the Hubbard Glacier – and I had gone off to Yaktat on a ship. From where I went to Juneau across water, and finally arrived back at Anchorage following further stops here and there.

It was quite a big bazaar. I find it impossible to describe the mind-boggling array of goods on sale. Anything a human might possibly need in a household, was available here. Artefacts and paintings, created by artists, were also on sale.

This bazaar at Anchorage came together only twice a week. On Saturdays and Wednesdays. From morning till evening.

An old artist had set out his paintings of reindeer, moose, red and black bears and bald eagles on stone. I photographed them all. Then, couldn’t resist recording the artist’s face, either. Or a few words about the unbearable Alaskan winter from his shrivelled and fissured face. Even a lifetime spent in painting hadn’t made life any easier for him.

I was so immersed in his words, and his paintings, that I didn’t notice the man who stood against me now, almost touching my body, and was looking me up and down with strangely intense eyes. But when he suddenly grabbed my hand, I nearly jumped out of my skin. I tried to jerk my hand free of his grasp, only to realise that he held it in an iron grip. And his eyes were so strange! As if he wanted to scour my insides with those eyes – right then and there.

 

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