We are a nation of believers. No matter how much progress we make in science and technology, India cannot survive without faith. Even in this era, we can see the proliferation of religious channels on television. This picture was taken at the Akshardham temple in New Delhi in 2007. It is almost after 10 centuries that a temple of this grandeur has come up in the country. When these sadhus belonging to the Swaminarayan sect entered the temple, the intensity of surprise and human expression that came across through their body language was magnificent. That is what I think makes this picture come alive. I shot this with a Nikon D200 camera using an 18-35mm zoom lens.
For me, the picture was an attempt to understand how our cities are changing rapidly. Here, you witness the Citywalk Mall, probably the biggest such structure in New Delhi, under construction. I used to pass through this locality every day and saw the sights change, and the structure appear from just a hole in the ground. Of course, we all like to watch a movie at PVR and drink coffee at Barista, but it’s frightening to think who’s going to pay the price for these changes. For people like the man in the foreground, who stands isolated and alienated from this development, it is just an arbitrarily imposed decision. At the same time, you see a hoarding promising a utopian structure. The picture was shot using a Fuji rangefinder camera.
I visit the Mahalaxmi Racecourse in Mumbai every year during the Derby races in February. In the picture, you can see the members of Royal Western India Turf Club Ltd. For me, the picture is a representation of the India we are heading towards. The young couple standing among all the veterans signifies the new blood taking over. And the slogan in the background aptly proclaims: “The new sign of success”. Without the words, the picture would hardly be worth anything. The railing on which the old men are leaning is for me a dividing line that separates the two generations. I must have shot this picture with a Nikon D1X camera using a 50mm normal lens. None of the expressions are posed, as I quickly took a frame and moved on.
This image is a part of my larger work on old cars. I encountered this one in New Delhi in 2004. I do not want to talk about a picture which emphasizes modernity and contemporary India in the literal sense of the term. This image is a satirical take on what modernity really implies. These cars, some 50 years ago, were owned by the very people who stood for modernity, who were thought to be way ahead of others in class, and now they are just mere reminders of an old era.
This diptych is from my ongoing project, Pan India, about the changing landscape of India, with particular emphasis on documenting the way that we live. I used a panoramic camera. The picture on the left is of a home in the village of Pattadakkal, Karnataka, in 2003, and the one on the right is of temporary housing for construction labour in Gurgaon, Haryana, in 2005. The images reflect contrasts—the movement from rural to urban, migration, and changing architecture—and there are similarities in how the two figures occupy the doorways and the way the shadows fall.
I shot this picture as part of a series of portraits in Geeta Nagar, a slum in Navy Nagar, Colaba, Mumbai. The slum was in the eye of a storm in the mid 1990s when the navy wanted to clear the area on the premise that it was strategically important land. Several attempts were made to demolish the slum and oust its residents but these were successfully resisted by Nivara Hakk, an organization of slum dwellers with whom architect-activist P.K. Das, actor-activist Shabana Azmi and others were associated. They succeeded in getting the slum regularized. Geeta Nagar remains a very clean, harmonious model basti and a nursery school run by the slum dwellers. Among its residents was the grandmother in the picture, Salet Masih, who worked at Bombay Hospital as a nursing attendant. She is a Christian but her wall is decorated with a multiplicity of religious icons besides Jesus; this speaks volumes for the pluralistic tradition she intuitively came from, a tradition that she was truly at home with. To me, she represents India at its best, where diverse ideas coexist in the same house, even in the same head. I worked with a Nikon F4 with several lenses; this was most likely an 85mm lens, with a dash of fill-in flash; the film was Ektachrome ISO 200 for its true colours.
This image of Nitin puts a face on contemporary India without the obvious views of extreme wealth, poverty or Bollywood. Perhaps ordinary but heroic in its own way. This picture tells the story of a new, broader scope of opportunities in urban India today. But it also looks at the growth of Western corporations (this picture is at a McDonald’s, where he works) and at how the scripted American service culture relates to India. It is these small cultural collisions that are shaping our world, and clearly India has a big voice in this. I use a Canham 4x5 camera.
I shot this picture in Jaipur a couple of weeks ago. This group of street children posed for me and suddenly one of them unbuttoned his shirt and posed in a Bollywoodesque fashion, flashing his abs at the camera. Later, he yelled, “Look, I’m Shah Rukh Khan.” It tells me how information has percolated down to just about everyone. At the same time, in spite of possessing the right energy, vitality and the right spirit, we don’t know where this kid is likely to end up in the absence of enough resources. Somehow, over the years, we have accentuated the divide between the haves and the have-nots. This picture has been shot on a Canon 5D camera with a 24-105mm lens, high ISO and absolutely no flash.
Here is an essential space that we all visit, at least once a day, if not more. This very basic WC known as the Orissa Pan is damaged, yet it manages, or is made, to function. There are so many parallels here that represent, in more ways than one, the state of the nation. Especially the way we are in denial of so many basic issues that need to be fixed. We still choose to believe that all is well and we shine! This photograph is from an exhibition of my teenage work titled Outside In—A Tale of 3 Cities, which opens at the National Museum, New Delhi, from 27 January to 29 February. I don’t remember the camera I used.