These photos were taken in Kolkata’s film studios during the time Pablo Bartholomew was employed for still photography on the sets of Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khiladi (The Chess Players). This was in the year 1976, when lone walks around the city, away from his hectic workspace, lent a therapeutic feeling. It took the artist back to his childhood visits to his ageing grandma, in this city, with his mum. Of course, everything looked very different from what he had remembered of Kolkata then.
First his explorations were restricted to Tollygunge and then they extended to the Tangra and Dhapa areas of South Kolkata. Fragments of the existing Chinese community in these areas caught Pablo’s empathetic lens. At the time, the Indo-Chinese population were still facing hostile repercussions from India’s disconcerting defeat to its neighbour in 1962.
Being a product of mixed races himself, his late teen years saw him slowly coming to terms with his identity – half Burmese half Indian. And so the focus of his camera – the Hakka Chinese community – is what he identified with more easily.
Many subjects in his pictures have migrated to countries that they deemed would be safer for them. It was the transition of this community from what had been their home to fleeing its now unsafe environment, was what the veteran photographer intended to capture. These resonate in touching black and white stills on display from his story-like collection.
Calcutta Diaries is on at Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai from April 5 to May 2, 2014.
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