“Television is bound to come to every house in the course of time,” reflects Kannada writer U.R. Ananthamurthy in the foreword of Malnad Times, a coffee-table book that is a compilation of black and white images by Arjun Swaminathan.
The collection of images across 150 pages captures Karnataka’s Malnad region which, Swaminathan notes, “seems like it is in a time warp”. But one on the verge of change.
The Bangalore-based documentary photographer was on a photography project for Coffee Day Hotels and Resorts in Chikmagalur when he stumbled into Agumbe town, known mostly for being the place where Shankar Nag’s television version of Malgudi Days was shot. “It was January, it was misty, there was a milkman on a bicycle and the town looked picture perfect,” says Swaminathan, recollecting what made him fall in love with the towns and villages of the region. For the next two years, he travelled across Malnad, which is spread mostly along the Western Ghats in Karnataka. “I photographed across the seasons. The look of the houses changed with the seasons,” he says, adding that this was largely so people could protect themselves from the heavy rains that the area gets. The books has images of houses, people, forests, festivals, traditions, even weddings.
In short notes interspersed with the photographs, Ananthamurthy, who grew up in the region’s Thirthahalli district, talks about the history and culture of the village he grew up in. “When I grew up in Malnad as a child in a house surrounded by jungles, I used to hear many stories of tigers from all the visitors at our home,” he writes, referring to the thick forest cover in the area.
People in the area travel often, says Swaminathan, but they prefer to return to farming and their contented lives here. They live “simple lives, it doesn’t mean they are not aware of the progress of the world,” adds the photographer, who has tried to document the slow, but inevitable, change as towns such as Thirthahalli become increasingly commercial. The book of images consists of a few captions that are listed at the very end.
Malnad Times is available at the Bangalore corporate office of Café Coffee Day.