John Castellas, who was recently in the city, maintains a photo collection which definitely speaks more than a thousand words. Capturing the rich history of Vizag, in both colour and black & white photographs, he takes us on a memorable trip back into time. Jaya Siva Murty brings you the story.
Vizag is special for John Castellas, for he cherishes growing up in the city and his schooling at St. Aloysius. This city is his mother’s hometown, and with five generations of his maternal family having lived in the city, the connection dates back to the colonial days. Having relocated to Melbourne in 1966, at the age of 14, John has always remained a Vizagite at heart and remembers the city back then to be scenic and idyllic. With the Old Town area often compared to the French Riviera then, he shares that today’s Lawson’s Bay and Waltair were considered picnic spots for their red earth and greenery. He treasures time spent by the clean beach, the first Kwality Icecream, sold at Mohan Joha’s shop, and going for movies to the Lighthouse Talkies.
“Located near the lighthouse, it was made out of palmyrah columns and a tin roof, earning its name of Tin Shed Talkies too. With tickets priced at 4 Annas for a front seat, and 1 Rupee for a back seat, those who couldn’t afford would stand outside and throw stones on the tin roof to disrupt the movies,” he laughingly recollects.
It was the same deep love for the city that triggered his passion to collect pictures of it. “Four years ago, I began to look for English paintings on Vizag. This search led to imagery, and finally photographs.”
Today, John has compiled a fascinating collection of 1500 pictures, which include paintings from the 17th century of the Dolphins nose, to the earliest photographs, postcards, hand coloured postcards, magic lantern slides etc. With one of his sources being the British Library, he compares collecting photos to a fishing expedition. “There are days when you get nothing of value, but when something of value comes your way, it gives immense pleasure.”
Postcards were the Instagram of yesteryears, and he recollects how tourists would quickly send a postcard home to showcase an aspect about the city. Narrating some of the stories, he talks about Scandal Point, the jutting rock-like structure on RK Beach.
“This earned its name when couples would come here for a rendezvous, and matrons would gossip about them.” He also shared the pictures of Vizag’s resident photographer, C Moonesamy Mudaliar, whose grand children still stay here and are freelance photographers.
Picture perfect moments
Truly, pictures capture fascinating stories within them, and he narrates how professional pictures were sold at the Railway Station. His treasured collection includes the Vizag photographers set, commissioned by the Maharaja of Vizianagaram in 1875, which makes the city’s first photographs. Taken by Hughes Brothers of Madras, these show how one needed the finances of a Maharaja to have photographs taken. He also tells how planning for the Vizag Harbour started in the 1800s, but it was only in 1910 that the work began. As the Visakhapatnam Port completes 85 years on December 19, it is a fascinating aspect of history to reflect about. Then there was the prized ivory engraving work of the 17th century and other fascinating facets attached to it
Giving to the city
Having shared his photographs at The Park Hotel, John also took a few Vizagites on a walk through Old Town Area. Bringing an interesting narrative to the place, he applauded the efforts of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), commending how the forum, and other platforms, allow for the history of this city to stay alive.
As he gives his entire collection of pictures to the Visakha Museum, St. Aloysius and INTACH, he hopes that more people will see the city’s rich past and learn about its legacy through them. We can only thank the tireless efforts of John, through whose efforts the legacy of this city will live on.