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The Picture is the Story

Uma Chakravarti

Edited by Malavika Karlekar
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp.121 xxx, Rs. 1500.00


Archiving of photographs, as well as the importance of the photo archive in the writing of social history has had a late start in India. For feminist scholars of history, the difficulties of finding sources that will enable them to reconstruct aspects of history in a gender sensitive rewriting of the past have been acute, as surviving sources have margina-lized women. Since the written archive, especially as officially compiled, has been so obsessed with the powerful among the men—of what they did, as individuals, or as constituting institutions and structures that organized the workings of power, feminist scholars have tried to put together an alternative archive and this has been an exciting and fascinating process of recovery. However, in the main, this venture has been concentrated on putting together the written archive. Fortunately for us the sensitivity to women’s history has also led to redefining what an archive could contain and how the fragments of women’s lives can work themselves into telling a story based on what women have kept in their tin trunks—scraps of paper, letters, hand written notes, diaries, account books, newspaper cuttings, laboriously copied verses of poetry or film songs and of course the deeply cherished photographs. The history that can be written on the basis of these fragments has been marvellously demonstrated in a recent work1 , and the importance of archiving such fragments has led to the effort C.S. Lakshmi has put in to create SPARROW as an archive in Mumbai.   Nevertheless, feminist archiving is yet to gain the momentum that it deserves and therefore the creation of a visual archive to support and embellish the written archive is of critical importance. Visualising Indian Women brings the visual archive into focus and provides us with a series of photographs that tell their own stories, both as individual pictures and as a collective opening up of the past to us, as graphic images of their times. Many of these, and other photographs, act as a natural corollary to the biographies and autobiographies that feminist scholars have produced in the last decade or so; consequently all of us have experienced the excitement of opening a book and going straight to the pictures to get a feel of the dramatis personae who are going to emerge in the written word. On my part I have held on to the pleasure of seeing the irascible ...

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