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Photography as Social Commentary

Rahaab Allana

By D.N. Chaudhuri
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 212, 375.00


On many a bright winter day, we would see an English family sipping beer or tea in their flowering garden, with a couple of spaniels or retrievers, jumping around them, playing with a tennis ball. Something about this city, lingers… its formidable fortress looking across an imaginary river, the spirited galis, the pungent trail of an open bazaar, soft yellow light filtering through trees in the autumn, the heavy haze of a smoky winter's night before a mesmeric dawn, a crackling radio reverberating with Bollywood's vintage songs, edifices of grandeur that emerge in the distance with an overhead metro winding soundlessly on its way, carrying the millions who have flocked to the city, or leaving the city, and even those who disappear into the folds of humanity as the years drift on. Yes, Delhi was once humane, and agreeably livable. D.N. Chaudhuri's compelling soft-back volume published by Niyogi Books in 2005 stirs many contours of experience from his early childhood to crackle with life as he begins using the camera as a teenager, more specifically a box camera in 1952. The visual and literary interweave in dexterous harmony, cajoling the reader to sit down, open the book and simply, connect. However the text engages with carefree measure in complex discour-ses-social, political and cultural-to be seen as a seamless thread that ties land to people, people to place and the latter to an artistic, almost altruistic anomaly created through the lens. His self-assured, yet lucid prose captivated me, from the very start, from the moment of his first exposure to puraani dilli, after arriving in Delhi on March 31, 1942 from Kolkata aboard the coal-fired, steam-puffing, Toofan Express. Delhi emerges as a city of hope as well as transition, leaving open its vast vistas and small pockets of habitation to be consumed by ideas, by tangents of fate and friction. The publication is as much a chronicle of the city as it is a personal memoir of the author, whose life begins on Nicholson Road at the P&O Building with his family-a firm yet giving father who was a political agent of Subhash Chandra Bose, and later employed in the All India Radio. Residing in Old Delhi till his marriage in the mid-60s, his world is enmeshed with explorations through sense and sound. The evening azaan emanates from a mosque, fusing into chimes from a nearby temple and a Church in the ...

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