Sitting amidst the enchantingly romantic manicured gardens that surround the majestic colonial edifice of the Victoria Memorial, I listened to celebrities talk of the Calcutta that excites the curiosity of many with its appalling squalor and dark mysteries of crime, grime and hopelessness.
A few weeks later, on a foggy winter’s Sunday morning, I found myself standing on a bridge, watching a game of cricket underway among the local boys of the Rajabazar area. Needless to say I was trying much as I could to avoid meeting the strange stares I was getting from the people going about their business, wondering at this knapsacked apparition rooted to the railing of the bridge.
And in the meantime, while the bowler paced his run up from the tube well where five men of assorted ages and shapes bathed themselves, I tried to recall that Victoria Memorial moment… and could not…
This Calcutta was all too real for that recall.
This Calcutta was a throbbing mass of people, who lived, huddled in ridiculously- impossible-to-live-and-breathe-in rooms, and measured out their days in needs that were hard to fulfil and compromises that kept multiplying in number.
So where did this post begin…
I was there at Rajabazar as the Facilitator with CRY in what had been planned as a two-day session, with eight different children from that locality, to help them capture photo-stories around them with basic point and shoot cameras provided by RICOH. And needless to say, this experience has given me memories of a lifetime.
Led into a tiny madrasah that was being swept clean of the remnants of the previous night’s wedding feast, I began ruminating on the challenges I faced in bringing another point of view to these kids who, perhaps would have had to reconcile themselves to a singular perspective of life and living.
To use photography as a medium to subtly point out another world lay within their reach, either as an escape or as an outlet, was my raison d’etre to be there.
We were looking for photo-stories I told them- ‘kahaaniya…jo duniya ke kisi bhi koney mein bina zubaan ki, samajh mein aaye…’ Stories- that do not rely on language to be understood in any part of the world…
But this post is really the ‘kahaani’ of these children… Aquib, Sidra, Abdullah, Rounak, Afrin, Ayesha, Ataullah and Wahid.
These kids are really the nano subsets of the larger section of children out there, who have very little access to the rights the rest of us take for granted. Education, health, a conducive environment to general well-being, gender equality, equal opportunity- these are fancier terms for what they do not receive at all or receive in totality. And yet, there is no denying their potential.
The age old argument between Heredity and Environment revives itself as one spends more and more time with them.
But to listen to their eyes sparkle, when they talk of photographing the moment, or why they love to photograph- what they like to photograph , is like watching their dreams played out in front of them. Make no mistake- they are not delusional about their hard realities but they have stars in their eyes, that seem to hide in the harsh summer of their existences, but they are there alright.
And I am amazed by them. How little of less can bring so much of more! They battle an entire battery of odds on a daily basis, and yet, they find beauty in the world around them. Such is the blessedness of their perspective- and it is incredible to watch them absorbed in the moment- looking for that frame matching their incomparable eye.
There are genuine spasms of worry for the future that lies ahead of them. Hope is all we have and what can help keep their dreams alive in them.
When I reflect on the truth that we had no choice in deciding where we would be born, there is an added urgency to reach out to our future that lies ensconced in these kids.
But in the meantime, travel time between the two Calcuttas- one in the books or drawing rooms and one lived out in the circumstances I spoke about now, keeps increasing. Sometimes it does seem light years away, these two Calcuttas, but these kids are as much this city’s as the kids hanging around the swanky malls. The distance needs to be traversed- and guess what, it does not take too much to make that journey. Just the desire is enough.
And yes, thank you CRY for making me a part of these memories. Thank you Proma Basu Roy, Trina Chakrabarti, Sweta Bhattacharya, Ritayan, Mampy, Agnish and Tushar.
A special Thank You to my dear friends Arpita and Nabanil… thank you for coming along out of the sheer goodness of your heart.
And to my 8 wonder bacchas- Khuda aapko mehfooz rakkhey- aapkey khwaabon ko manzil milein…
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