|Saibal Das | Interview
In Conversation with Naveen Kishore
|NAVEEN KISHORE. I
have been looking at your photographs—migrant
labour, Berlin, circus and a mixed bag of other
subjects. It struck me that there was a time when
we could walk out and take pictures and be met with
warmth by the people on the street who would occasionally
stand and ‘pose’! These days, however,
I find the streets more ‘suspicious’.
People look worried. Some even get aggressive when
you are shooting. Have you noticed this during your
work? Do you want to talk about this ‘new
|SAIBAL DAS. Yes
there is definitely an element of suspicion. Everywhere.
People question: why is he taking a picture? Not
so much ‘what’ but ‘why’,
certainly. I have seen this in Kerala, I have seen
it in Bengal, in Tamil Nadu. In Kerala. I was doing
a shoot for Outlook. The theme was ‘heritage’.
So I had to visit a lot of heritage sites—temples,
churches, mosques. I’d get out in the morning
to catch the right light and mood. I faced tremendous
problems. Particularly in the temples. At first
they said, no, it’s not possible to click
a picture here. Then they started to ask: why do
you want to take a picture here? I explained that
we were doing a book on the heritage places. But
they said, ‘No. We don’t need anything.’
| Let me tell you about another incident.
I was trying to shoot people in Bangalore for the
migration theme. Suddenly I spied a bunch of people;
workers, waiting. For the lorry to come and pick
them up at the end of the day. One elderly man from
among them came up to me and asked, ‘Why are
you taking our pictures? Why are you taking pictures
of the children?’ I think these people are
extremely politically and socially conscious. I
think they know that what they are doing is not
the right thing. And this could be the reason for
their nervousness and suspicion regarding photography.
Tell me a little about these migrant labourers and
your project. When did you first notice these people?
When I landed up in Bangalore from Delhi—that
was in 2001—it was a nice city. But, suddenly,
over the last two or three years, I noticed a lot
of people pouring into Bangalore. And a lot of real
estate activity. A real estate boom! It’s
as if there are constructions everywhere you look!
Every morning you see thousands and thousands of
people pouring in. Like a wave. I used to wonder
where they came from. They were not local people;
not one among them.
Then where did they come from?
They used to come from Tamil Nadu. But that is not
so now. They still come from there but there are
more people coming from Orissa, West Bengal, Bihar
and North India.
But who brings them here?
Then it can be called ‘trafficking’
Yes, it is trafficking in labour. There are agents
in almost all the villages of West Bengal from where
these people are brought. They are all village folk
and so, easy prey.
| Mostly untrained. They are basically
agricultural labourers. I wanted to find out where
they lived in the city and from where they had originally
come. So one day I followed them, asked them where
they lived. They said they lived nearby. You won’t
believe this—but they live off Airport Road!
One of the poshest areas in Bangalore. Close to
the airport, just behind it, there’s a huge
abandoned area covered with corrugated sheet shacks.
And that’s where they live. And what is still
more surprising is that there is no electricity
in the area. Today, there’s such a lot of
talk about Bangalore. But they don’t even
have electricity—the bare minimum for human.
And they accept this quite normally. They get some
basic food from the canteen— rice, dal, sometimes
a vegetable, a piece of fish on the weekends. I
asked them, ‘Where do you come from? And why
do you come?’ One person said they came from
Murshidabad, Bankura and Purulia—areas where
agriculture has not flourished that much. One lad
among the construction workers used to make terracotta
horses in Panchmura of Bankura. I heard that there
were people from Tamil Nadu too.
|Does our government know
Yes. They definitely do. They should know. And when
I told one of them that I wanted to click a photograph
when they came in, he agreed at once and asked me
to come the next day. One lot would be coming from
Murshidabad, he said. He would be bringing them.
He asked me to go to Yeshvantpura station the next
morning. ‘They will get off the trains there
and our tempo will bring them,’ he said. But
there was an air of suspicion about him. He looked
as if he wanted to say, ‘Why? Why are you
clicking us suddenly? No one is bothered about us.
Why are you?’ Yes, definitely an air of suspicion.
And I could tell that he would definitely talk to
whoever—their builder perhaps—about
me. Sure enough, the next day when I went to click
their photograph, the builder was present. He had
the same question, ‘Why are you taking pictures?’
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