In the lanes of Kolkata
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