Sunday, February 8, 2004

Snapshots from history
Roopinder Singh

India: The Definative Images: 1858 to the Present
by Prashant Panjiar. DK/Penguin, Delhi. Rs 1,250. Pages 160.

India: The Definative Images: 1858 to the PresentIMAGES define our perception of reality. For long, learning was a matter of ploughing through many pages made grey with numerous words. Then pictures started enlivening them and now we have photographic images where a single photograph is worth a thousand words.

Prashant Panjiar has taken a large canvas for depicting the photographic history of modern India, though such work has been dine earlier on a grander scale. Bruce Bernardís Century: One Hundred Years of Human Progress, Regression, Suffering and Hope, which had been reviewed in these pages earlier comes to mind immediately.

Often our fragmented memory picks up some images and they shape what we feel about the world around us. When professional photographers take a look at the happenings that are likely to have an impact on history, they produce wonderful photographs that convey the feeling to many others through mass media.

Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar at age five
Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar at age five

The last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II in exile in Rangoon, 1858
The last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II in exile in Rangoon, 1858.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, who seldom missed definitive moments, opens the book with his image of Kashmiri women and is also there to record Jawaharlal Nehru announcing Mahatma Gandhiís assassination, on January 30, an event that went practically unmarked this year, as well as the funeral of the father of the nation.

The cultural subtitles are there as well. We see the 1933 visual of the first on-screen kiss in an Indian movie, along with a still from the teleserial Ramayana. Raghubir Singh shows the Ganga as only he can, and the picture from an unknown photographer of the three sisters who committed suicide because their father was too poor to arrange for their dowry, is so haunting. Raghu Raiís famous picture of the child who was a victim of the Bhopal gas tragedy is also, by now, iconographic, though I also love his picture of the child leaping into water in a bauli in Delhi. A photo-montage of Roop Kanwar will remind readers of the 18-year-old Rajput bride who Ďallegedlyí committed sati in Deorala, Rajasthan. All the accused in the case have just been acquitted.

How can you look at P H Egertonís 1858 photo of Bahadur Shah Zafar II in Rangoon and not feel pity for what the erstwhile emperor was reduced to? The young Sachin, on the other hand, is simply so cute! This picture is from a family album, proving, yet again, that you do not need to be a professional to "capture the moment." However, the professionals have done a magnificent job, to the photo editor who colleted the images and Khuhswant Singh for his introduction, which though brief, covers a lot. In fact, that could be said for the book, too. It whets your appetite for more.