Sunday, January 20, 2013

Disjoint Images and Text

While we are still on subject of how images impact us. A related post of another impact of images, previously posted to my other blog. 

Stages in Life of a Gandhi Photograph


Photograph by great Brian Brake published in 'India, by Joe David Brown and the editors of Life', 1961 [complete book available at Hathi] as a visual aid to the text that deals with relevance of Gandhi in India, The Nation's Unsilenced Conscience. It would have you believe Gandhi was alive, in heart and spirit of Indians.

As I looked at this beautiful picture, something about it made me realize that this can be a case study about  disjointedness of images, context and text. About giant sweeps of history. Of loss of footnotes. Of lost in footnotes. Of seduction by images. About loss.

One may ask why. After all it does look like a perfect picture for an article on Gandhi. Children = innocence = unsilenced Conscience. Children in love with Gandhi = The Nations's un-silenced conscience. Simple and brilliant.

The problem is with the details. The book only tells you that it is by Brian Brake and appears courtesy of Magnum. Place where is was taken in not mentioned. No year is given. Online, the only other place where you will find this image (besides the online version of the book) is an Arabic page dedicated with love to Gandhi, his life and work. This, as often happens, after I post stuff at this blog, will not be the case for long. It will probably end up on Gandhi Love or Gandhi Hate pages on Facebook, adding a new cycle to the life of this image. And will probably be again lost in indifference of text and context.

So what is it that I know about this photograph that makes this entire setup ironic. What is it about this setup that makes me often doubt everything I read and see. Why do I want to try and rescue it from the narrative in which it is wrapped?

The little girl in green at the back is attired as an elderly traditional Kashmiri Pandit woman.

The photograph was shot in 1957 during a 'national' day, an Indian one, with cultural parade and all, organised under Prime Minsiter of Kashmir, Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammed in Srinagar. He was the man who replaced imprisoned Sheikh Abdullah.

Another photograph from the event shot by Brian brake.
Via: Museum of New Zealand
Although I couldn't find the Gandhi photograph there, but the conclusion
that both very shot as the same event is quite easy to make based on the dress that children are wearing in the background.
"The close alignment of the Conference with the politics of the Congress was particularly distasteful to Bazaz. Bazaz had been moving away from Gandhian and eventually Congress politics throughout the 1930s. He had been taken aback by Gandhi's dismissive reply to his letter asking for advice on the path Kashmiri Pandits should follow in the political movement in Kashmir: "Seeing that Kashmir is predominantly Mussalman it is bound one day to become a Mussalman State. A Hindu prince can therefore only rule by non ruling i.e., by allowing the Mussalmans to do as they like and by abdicating when they are manifestly going wrong.""


Lines about strange case of Prem Nath Bazaz From 'Languages of Belonging: Islam, Regional Identity, and the Making of Kashmir' by Chitralekha Zutshi. Prem Nath Bazaz was later exiled from Kashmir (after differences with Sheikh Abdullah) to Delhi and spent his later life advocating Kashmir's merger with Pakistan.

Looking now at the grand narratives of the national myths of India, Pakistan and Kashmir, and looking at the realities as they often dwell on hard ground. where these myths crumble into incoherent bits and pieces, one does tend to agree, history is a nightmare. And that there is no waking up from it. For it is a nightmare within a nightmare. It is narratives ingesting narratives, facts ingesting fiction, fiction vomiting facts. An on top of it, it is always a book with a beautiful cover.

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A panel from an old Indian comic based on story of Rupinika, from Somadeva's Katha Sarit Sagara (The Ocean of Streams of Story)

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