A peek into tribal life

Anjali Jhangiani
Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Shrikrishna Paranjpe talks about photographing tribal communities, life lessons he has learnt from them and how the rural scene has changed in the last decade

Over a decade ago, when Shrikrishna Paranjpe was a photo-journalist for a newspaper in the city, he went to the Pune Tribal Museum near Old Circuit House. After clicking a few pictures, he had an epiphany that brought him to where he is now. “The museum has a wonderful collection of artefacts. But the only thing missing were photographs. It was then that I thought I should start something of this sort —  tribal photography,” says Paranjpe.

Taking this as a project, he visited Dahanu, a coastal town and home to the Warli tribe. “I stayed with a family from the Warli tribe so that I could get an insider’s perspective regarding their culture and life. The people of Warli tribe were welcoming. While most of them are artists and practise the famous Warli style of painting, others are engaged in animal husbandry to earn a living. They start their routine early in the morning, around five, and call it a day by five in the evening,” says Paranjpe, who will be showcasing the photographs he has clicked of 125 communities in 15 states in the country at Raja Ravi Verma Art Gallery, Jawaharlal Nehru Auditorium, Ghole Road. The exhibition kicks off today (August 9), which is observed as The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, or World Tribal Day.

Take as much as you need
Ask Paranjpe what he takes away from the experience of meeting tribal people, staying and eating with them and he says, “Simplicity”. He claims that the simple lives that the tribals lead is the secret to a fulfilling one. “They don’t live the way we do, always in fear of the future. We live our lives collecting for the future — our old age, our children. We strive to build as many houses as we can, save as much money as we can. We spend all our lives collecting and saving in the fear that it might fall short of our needs. But the tribals don’t live like that. To explain to you how I was taught this lesson, I will tell you a story,” he says.

“I was in a village near Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh and I wanted to photograph the ‘jhad phuk wala’. A lady came to meet him and complained about stomach ache. After listing all her symptoms, he figured out what her ailment was and asked her to come and see him the next morning. Next day, he woke up before sunrise, and trekked up a hill to bring some medicinal jadi booti (herbs) for her. It was known that the kind of ailment she had was spreading and about 10 people already had it in the village. But he brought enough only for her. When I asked him why he didn’t bring enough for more patients in one go, he told me something that will always stay with me. He said, ‘Nature always provides us with enough and will continue to do so. Today, I will give her the medicine, tomorrow if someone else comes who needs these herbs, I will go back up the hill to get enough for them,” says Paranjpe.

How things have changed
“You don’t find teenagers in villages nowadays. “They have left their homes in order to come to the cities to study or work. Even in the villages in the interiors, you will find village girls in jeans and t-shirts. Everyone is on Facebook, and some of them are even using Twitter and other social media platforms. They know everything, they are not as naive as urbaners think they are,” says Paranjpe.

Talking about an incident that happened during one of his shoots in Gadchiroli two years ago, he says, “I was taking a few shots and didn’t have a lot of time on my hands. I took my shots and was about to leave when the youngsters asked me to show them what I have clicked. When I resisted, they told me that they won’t delete it if I show it to them. I was surprised that they knew how to delete photographs on a complicated camera.”

Paranjpe says that the tattoo culture is fading in villages. “Mostly, old ladies used to make the traditional tribal tattoos, and most of them are deceased. Nobody has taken up this vocation. Nowadays, people in villages get their tattoos from the machine walas who sit at melas (fun fair),” says Paranjpe.

ST Reader Service
An exhibition of tribal photography, paintings and artefacts made by different tribal communities will be held at Raja Ravi Verma Art Gallery, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Auditorium, Ghole Road, from August 9-15, 11 am to 7.15 pm

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