Monday, August 13, 2007

Indian at 60: Backward KBK is still a serious concern for the nation

Outlook, Aug 11, 2007

We Clicked. They Clicked
At the stroke of the midnight hour, as the world slept, a thousand flashbulbs popped to capture that moment which was to become the most defining one in the history of independent India...

Bishwadeep Moitra
Special Issue: India At 60

At the stroke of the midnight hour, as the world slept, a thousand flashbulbs popped to capture that moment which was to become the most defining one in the history of independent India. The next morning, August 15, 1947, India and the world woke up to pictures of Pandit Nehru taking over the reins from the Empire. An ancient civilisation was giving birth to the world's largest democracy. For photographers around the world, India was at the time the most fertile ground for news and documentary filming.
Partition had uprooted nearly 14 million people from either side of the newly created border between India and Pakistan.

[Any lensman worth his salt would have shots of Kalahandi, Dharavi and widows of Vrindavan.]

The stories of people desperately fleeing from the wrath of sectarian violence; the stories from the resettlement colonies that housed the new citizens of India; the stories of riots and wreckages; the stories of survival against the most severe odds, were captured

more vividly in stills than in words.
The independence movement had brought mega-personalities to the fore and the world press clicked away with extraordinary interest and vigour. Nehru was perhaps the most photogenic of these leaders and his portraits adorned covers of leading magazines around the world. A transforming nation was witnessing people’s movements across her landscape and the images captured on the lenses of thousands of cameras illustrated the mood of her people. As the years rolled, Nehru’s vision of a modern India moved from the drawing board to bricks and mortar; a new class of confident and self-reliant Indians came out of years of slavery and subjugation, yet the demons of poverty, hunger and caste discrimination would not go away. Disasters, man-made and natural, would thwart India’s dream repeatedly, and would give an image-hungry world a glimpse of our darkest recesses.

The world still looked at India as a mystic land crippled with poverty. Pictures from India the world saw were of starvation deaths, of famines, of floods, of violent riots, of destruction. Once in a while, a mystic man would pop up, uttering some mumbo-jumbo, or a debauched royal would pose with his wealth to seek the world’s attention. Any photographer worth his salt would have in his portfolio pictures of starving families in Kalahandi, or the miseries of Dharavi’s migrant labour or the destitute widows of Vrindavan. India was Destination Misery for the world press.

Six decades, fourteen general elections, economic liberalisation, the emergence of a confident new Indian middle class, the IT revolution...we have come a long way. And so has the way the world likes to look at us. Photographs are still clicked of the grieving families of farmers who have committed suicide by consuming pesticides in Andhra Pradesh.... But also clicked is a portfolio of an Indian tycoon with half a dozen global companies on his shopping list. Every time the camera captures a portrait of a family feeding on mango kernels in Bolangir, Orissa, it also trains its eye on the family that had created a thousand millionaires in its company in Bangalore. If the lives of the Vrindavan widows are documented on film, so also are of those members of the ‘only for women’ Salsa Dance School in neighbouring Mathura.

The two Indias trudge along. We live a pitiable existence in the slums but we also have moved to modern urban homes. There is not enough to feed all of us yet we are on the verge of a veritable boom in the hospitality industry. We still cannot guarantee the life of a newborn girl child, yet we could sneak in a woman president. India will continue to be in the most-favoured list of destinations for the lens-people of the world. Because, in India, for whatever is true, the opposite is also true.

In the following pages we have tried to essay India’s journey since her independence. Some of the pictures we have selected are iconic, others are lesser-seen photographs. They all tell our story poignantly.

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