In the lanes of Kolkata

Sakal Times
Sunday, 23 July 2017

Writer, photographer, instructional designer Mohona Bhattacharjee reminisces her experience of capturing people and objects in her photo walk titled Walk Pe Chale

Walk Pe Chale is a dialogue between my city and my lens. A dialogue that has a personal touch but is not awkwardly intimate. I started the series in quest of a break! A breather from the stifling drudgery of cubicle life. 

Well, honestly, I just needed to walk away… only to realise there is no ‘away’ to walk to. Every salary ‘credited’ will forever be stalked by an army of ‘debits’ — EMI’s, SIPs, you name it. So, trudging back to my indifferent cubicle I had an idea!

What started out as a one-time adventure has now become my weekly breather. With Walk Pe Chale I just take off to explore my beautiful Kolkata mostly on foot or local buses. I try to capture the character of the city when no one is watching it. From the toothless smile of a flower man threading hibiscus, to a middle-aged couple stealing a moment in their new car, I am humbled by the enormity of human experience. On these photo walks I discover little surprises that touch me deeply.   

Once outside Basanta Cabin (the iconic mutton ‘Kabiraji’ joint, with 100 years of delectable history) I was waiting to board a bus to College Street.  It was a sultry September afternoon, with sweltering heat. The streets were mostly abandoned in the bargain of an afternoon nap. As I turned to my right, I saw this young girl with a bouquet waiting for someone. There was a monochrome calmness about her anxious eyes that I wanted to click. Every few seconds, she bit the corner of her lips in anticipation. ‘First love? Meeting a long distance boyfriend?’ I wondered. Five whole minutes later a yellow cab stopped and a middle-aged lady stepped out.  She was thin and bald — cancer survivor perhaps. The young girl rushed to greet her, happily stretching out the bouquet she said — ‘Happy Teacher’s Day Ma’am’.

With jaw-dropping  amazement, there I was… smiling stupidly at what had just happened — Life! Her portrait is now a keepsake of her ‘terribly tiny tale’ that I shall forever cherish.

Robert Frank once said:  “There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.” Through my photo walks, I strive to celebrate this and the 3 Gs — Goodness, Gratitude and Grace.
This brings to mind another fond memory. Hand-pulled rickshaw pullers are a common sight in some parts of Kolkata. With only a handful of them left to testify the bygone sepia era, these rickshaws are a solemn reminder of the tough manual labour they entail. Despite their backbreaking hardships, it’s heartening to know that there are a few local sweet joints, especially on the winding lanes of  North Kolkata that serves free breakfast and lunch to these rickshaw pullers daily. Did I visit these joints? Not yet but on my way to Shovabazar Metro Station, Yadav ji — a good humoured rickshaw puller in his sixties  — promised to take me there next time only if I gift him a print of a certain portrait that I had clicked of him. Human connections!

Laden with countless such stories and a memory card threatening to be full, Walk Pe Chale sometimes gets me lucky to capture dramatic sunset silhouettes of my city.  Beautiful. Aren’t they?

As I head back to resume the cubicle life of usual Monday mornings with deadlines, Excels and overtimes, my DSLR makes a tempting offer — Walk Pe Chale?  I smile in reply: ‘If Monday is here, can weekend be far behind?’

— As told to Amrita Prasad

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