Tuesday, May 11, 2010

HISTORY IN THE MAKING--KULWANT ROY

History in the Making : The Visual Archives of Kulwant Roy; Published by Harper Collins ; Pages 336 ; Price Rs. 4999/-

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This is a magnificent coffee-table book
containing a priceless collection of photographs by Kulwant Roy from the 1930s to 1960s. The prints and negatives of these photographs remained forgotten in boxes for over twenty-five years after his death in 1984. The world must be thankful to their inheritor Aditya Arya, a photographer himself, for making it available. Arya, while cataloguing them, stumbled upon a rare and valuable visual archive, including many unpublished pictures, of a momentous era in India’s history. Some of these unusual pictures relate to Muslim League meetings, INA trials, the signing of the Indian Constitution, as well as significant post-Independence milestones such as the building of the Bhakra Nangal Dam. Indivar Kamtekar, eminent historian provides an illuminating text. All those who wish to pierce the veil behind India’s ‘tryst with destiny’ must dip into this classic volume.

Author Adita Arya graduated in history from St.Stephen’s College, Delhi and plunged into professional photography. He has acquired expertise in the world of advertising and corporate photography.His works have been exhibited the world over and his photographs have been published by renowned global journals. He is the author of
“ The Land of the Nagas ”, a photographic documentation of the Naga people and the first-ever exhaustive visual study of the masterpieces of Buddhist art at the Aichi monastery in Ladakh. Indivar Kamtekar is a name to reckon with in the field of teaching. He teaches modern history at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and has been a faculty member of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, and a fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study at Shimla. For his doctoral thesis from Cambridge he selected the end of British rule in India.


Kulwant Roy was an Indian photographer, who was born in Lahore in 1914. As the head of the "Associated Press Photographs" he secured several iconic images of the Indian independence movement and the early years of the Republic of India. He joined the Royal Indian Air Force and specialised in aerial photography. After relinquishing his link with the RIAF, he moved to Delhi in 1940 and set up a studio, which later expanded into a full-fledged agency, in the Mori Gate district of Old Delhi. This area was to become an important centre of Press Photographs in the country. He followed Mahatma Gandhi , for a number of years, in his travels around India in a third-class train compartment; this endowed him with an insider status that meant that he was permitted to record many crucial events of and major participants in the independence movement, including Jinnah, Nehru and Patel—surely the dream of any photographer. Roy covered Jacqueline Kennedy's visit in 1962 to India and India's war with Pakistan in 1965.

To Kulwant Roy’s utter dismay, he noted that a new breed of aggressive young photojournalists acquired dominance. He heartily disliked this and hung up his camera and faded into obscurity. "No one knew him or his past," Arya said. Roy was a frequent visitor to Arya's parents' home in New Delhi, having known Arya's mother's family from Lahore. But by the time Arya was old enough to remember him, Roy was a poor and lonely man. "He never wanted me to be a photographer because of the hardships and the fact that one has to live a life a bit like a vagabond," Roy died of cancer, virtually penniless and with no children of his own and left Arya his photo collection. Arya is now dedicated to restoring Roy to what he sees as his proper place in the annals of Indian photojournalism. Roy sold many of his photographs to international news agencies during his lifetime and some of them are now found in archival collections, but they are rarely credited with his name. "For me making sure people know his name is as important as making sure they know his pictures," declared Arya. Arya believes that some of the images - for instance a picture of a loin-clothed Gandhi descending from a third-class rail car - could become as iconic as the vintage India photos taken by the celebrated Margaret Bourke-White and Cartier-Bresson. Again, Nehru's hand curled tenderly around grandson Rajiv's neck, Gandhi and Jinnah arguing in 1939, Nehru and Ghaffar Khan strolling in Shimla-these nuggets of history were captured through photographs by Kulwant Roy from 1940 to 1960.
Roy thoughtfully selected frames that attempt to capture moments of time that will make one pause, and revive hidden memory. This is an ultimate treasure trove for anyone, who loves photography. There are a wide range of rare exhibits from Roy's collection. He captured various moods, showing glimpses of political leaders in different facets of life. He, with his photographs, threw light on last years of British rule but didn't get the recognition. Moreover, he captured off-the-cuff moments of great leaders making them approachable figures. Roy's photos depict rare glimpses of pre and post -Independence era and freedom fighters who have endured many years of conflict. We have rare photographs of the visit of Gandhi to meet Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan in the North East frontier province, visit of Sir Stafford Cripps to India in 1941, Simla Conference in 1945 , Muslim League meetings, fund raising by Gandhiji , building of Bhakra dam and visits of dignitaries.

The Nationalist movement is covered by tracing mainstream politics through portraits .Wonderful images of Mahatma Gandhi collecting money from a woman for Harijan fund, Mahatma Gandhi addressing members of INA at Harijan colony Delhi have been captured by Roy .
It is a mystery when a news photographer, makes history from deadline to deadline, never really knowing when he might take a photograph that will determine how an entire era is remembered. Consider the famous photograph of Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel at a Congress meeting in 1946. Gandhi, looking into the middle distance, is, as ever, talking mainly to himself; Nehru and Patel, one on either side, straining to listen in, Nehru looking intently at his mentor’s mouth, and Patel’s face showing the effort it took for him to lean over at an uncomfortable, forty-five-degree angle. Could Roy have dreamt when he took it that it would be the most memorable representation of those strained relationships? It was chosen as the basis for a commemorative stamp after Patel died.

Turning the pages of this majestic volume holds a lesson for us and that is that great men influenced history but they did not control it. Manmohan Singh in his Foreword has rightly written “..History in the Making takes us back in time to a momentous and inspirational chapter of our past. The images captured by photojournalist Kulwant Roy bring alive the years which saw the birth of an independent India. Kulwant Roy’s photographs are sources as well as products of India. I hope that more such visual archives are brought to light and given the recognition and importance they richly deserve”.

One tragic note. Roy travelled to Japan, Hong Kong, USA, Panama, Brazil and various European countries. The negatives and prints of photographs taken there were mailed back to his address in Delhi but were never delivered. A shattered man, he spent the next few years looking for the negatives and prints in garbage dumps and open spaces around Delhi.


We welcome such breath-taking books as also the India Photo Archive Foundation, which has been established to identify, preserve and document photographic legacies like the output of Kulwant Roy. It will contribute towards creating a culture of dialogue on diverse narratives of photographic archives which are landmarks of history.


P.P.Ramachandran,
B-2-64,Snehadhara,
Dadabhai Cross Road 3,
Irla, Vile Parle (West),
Mumbai, 400056,
25-03-2010

1 comment:

N said...

Dear Mr. Ramachandran,
Read your essay that won a prize. Interesting. You have enriched in your style and thoughts too.
I had read some of your contributions to WR when I edited it for 6 yrs. as HRD CGM. Having retired in 2004, being a senior citizen I appreciate your zest and enthusiasm. Post retirement I settled in Delhi but worked for 3 yrs.in Bhubanswar as Director of a business school and currently i am in Indore as Dean of a business school. I acquired my Doctorate in 2008.
Regards N.P. Sinha(www.ileadschoolofbusiness.com)