Saibal Das

Tales of Chitpore
 
I started off to photograph Chitpore in the spirit of a flâneur as Charles Baudelaire saw it — “a person who walks the city in order to experience it”. Sontag in her 1977 essay, On Photography, describes how, since the development of hand-held cameras in the early 20th century, the camera has become the tool of the flâneur:
 
The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world ‘picturesque.’ (pg. 55)
 
One rainy morning, walking through the maze of Kolkata’s by lanes as part of my journalistic assignments, I came upon a baby struggling to wriggle out of a shack but tumbling over and over again. However, his futile struggle and the glint in the eye trying to see the rain washed world outside somehow entranced me and I immediately thought of capturing the pulse of a place that nestles so much of diversity under its sky. Kolkata is my birthplace and I regard myself fortunate to be part of a city whose spirit is unique. Chitpore within Kolkata is a more than a mere urban space – it is a like a labyrinthine courtyard where past overlaps with the present and tradition jostles with modernity. Here migrant workers in the bastis and prostitutes rub shoulders with the decaying aristocracy and the rich marwari trader. This diversity is also there culturally – Tagore’s abode at Jorasankho stand testimony to a lost world while the lurid posters of a shrinking jatrapara shows a different underbelly. Here Chinese New Year is celebrated with equal enthusiasm along with Idd or Annakut festival. I wanted to capture the essence of this difference that makes Chitpore so vibrant – throbbing with a heartbeat of its own. Meandering through narrow streets of Chitpore I have learnt a lot about life itself – its sheer unpredictability along with the unabashed joy and the brooding shadows. Here I have discovered chaos in every nook and corner but that has also been the flint – the friction needed to light my creativity. I fell in love with this place and somehow mere documentation always eluded my lens. Each shot frames a drama, having its own story to tell. I am like a transfixed observer of a narrative uncoiling before me which promises never to end. Chitpore is now part of my evolution as a photographer and a human being.