Guest Editorial: Piku Chowdhury (Special Issue, July 2021)

Piku Chowdhury

Post Graduate College Teacher, Editor, Photographer, Author, Poet, Painter, Mental Health Facilitator

SETU BILINGUAL JOURNAL [ISSN: 2475-1359]. June, 2021

Bilingual Monthly Journal published from Pittsburgh, USA



“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.”
― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

We thrive in the perceptual manifold offered by urban complexities and constantly shifting perspectives, that more often than not, reflect our own eternal journey through the meandering vistas of life. Sometimes we feel taxed and seek escapade in pristine nature, but if we pause to wonder at the perspectival plurality of the cityscapes, we discover a narrative as rich as a tapestry woven with mystery and magic. In abrupt notes created by a roadside musician amidst peak traffic hours or the reticent wizened balcony of an ancient building standing grotesque amidst modern blatant urban skyscrapers, there are silent yet eloquent threads of wonderous tales of love, estrangement, fears and hopes, that Calvino so beautifully points out, in the quote cited above. As we navigate the streets, roads or alleys, in cities of different countries, as a native or a traveller, the shifting hours of the day unravels marvels that invite us to pause and listen to a saga of myriad adventures engraved in every brick or stone of the urban aspirations for development and progress, interspersed with keen nostalgia for the fragrances of times lost and found. Glittering dreamy street lights or glaring infernos of monstrous constructions, hurrying strangers or a pensive beggar on the footpath, the cityscape relentlessly tells us a story to be heard, interpreted and enjoyed in our own way. Towns and villages too have their own hidden stories and magic to be discerned and unveiled by the inquisitive lens. Villages too have compelling tales to be heard by the perceptive mind. A photographer’s forays into nooks and corners of cities and sleepy hamlets in his native country and abroad, remains an eternal visual delight to all of us who are perennial travellers in our own ways, and who keep negotiating magic in every turn of the metalled road in the concrete jungle or sylvan shades of rural corners. 
So, here is an album from a true traveller at heart to unfold the drama and magic of our worn out, blatant and blazon cities of the world. Be it a splendid blend of overflowing soothing melody and speed of racing citizens symbolical of the “sick hurry and divided aims” of the modern urban life (to borrow a phrase from Arnold) in Berlin or a strange lazy gathering of contemplating chess players in the heart of a super busy rush-hour-stricken Singapore, the lens captures the magical contradictions that define the cities and life in general.  Another magical moment is captured in Stockholm where days are short and frost-bitten dark days succumb to the shadows pretty soon. A spot of transient elusive sunlight illuminates a flower seller braving the frost and winds to earn her living as a lone passer-by approaches towards her in search of flowers amidst such gloom. The strange circle of light amidst the pervasive shadows that magically illuminates the flowers and the two humans buying and selling flowers, denotative of life, love and hope , and not some petty mundane necessities like groceries or gas, touch our hearts with awe. The stage had been set by some greater force, the parting rays had fallen askance with such numbing grace and the strength of human hope, love and desire for life was captured silently by the photographer who remained the silent spectator of the meraki on his way back from office. Another photograph shot in Furj… portray a spontaneous flash dance where, the photographer asserts, the partners are total strangers and paired up for a spontaneous jig with faces reflecting pure joy and elan vital. Amidst the depressive gloom, inhuman self-centredness and recurrent instances of death of humanity everyday, such moments of pristine joy and spontaneity remain frozen in time as timeless instances of hope and joy. The London street-procession on RONPA too capture a ritualistic fervour exuding joy amidst a mad professional rush – in the ever busy streets of metro that thrives on cut throat competition and ruthless business. Spirituality is captured beautifully in Then we have a glimpse of a busy street of Japan where well dressed men are seen supine on the pavement, gently crawling towards a monastery in an act of penance. The Indian photographer captures this gesture of penance as he discerns a strange similarity between the ritualistic self-torment in Islam or Hinduism and Buddhism in a foreign city that is identified as a hub of technology, economic development and relentless professionalism. Hauntingly beautiful are these moments and frames that freeze revealing and profound contradictions hidden in renowned cities of the world, otherwise ignored by the busy passers-by. The dying art of Band party and an old gentleman with a twinkling smile in a photograph in Kolkata churns up childhood nostalgia. These men in gaudy attires and musical instruments are gradually going out of business and they stand like a chunk of fading old photograph with a strange flavour of bygone days, in the heart of a modernised metro that utilizes technology for music in celebrations today. Pure magic unfolds in the unadulterated glee of a tiny street urchin as she savours the drops of rain at the Hastings area under the second Hoogly Bridge in Kolkata. We really do not need lengthy spiritual notes on the meaning of joy in life as we look at the pure bliss on the face of the destitute kid revelling in the magical silver raindrops pouring from the grey Kolkata sky. The camera captures spirituality amidst dust and mud in that candid frame. Folded hands of praying old Kolkata ladies during “Bisarjon” or immersion of the idol of Goddess Durga in the twilight splendour of the ghats of the holy river Ganga, again captures a moment of spiritual tranquillity and depth in an ever busy and ever conniving Kolkata, the gasping metro of modern India. The power and depth of silent prayers reflected in the candid shot, narrates a tale of hope and seamless perseverance against daunting adversities of the modern world and the blood red sindoor or vermillion ritualistically smeared on the faces of the praying women symbolises immense strength to stand reticent but resilient against the Asura or demon slaughtered by the goddess. The goddess too is smeared in the red vermillion as the women pray and the idol is immersed, with the goddess imagined to be on her way back to her heavenly abode, giving a parting gift of strength and resolve to the women of the city. The endless humour in human aspiration amidst the urban ennui is well captured in the dumbell lifting candid moment of a local labourer, funnily flexing his biceps for a spectacular muscular physique amidst the shabbiest of shanties reeking of abject poverty. The Eid-special Handi Biryani dum cooked in massive pots in central Kolkata too captures the backstage story for the drooling biryani-loving citizens, irrespective of creed, in an essentially cosmopolitan metro like Kolkata. The festivities would touch every soul, irrespective of religion, and the pots would be emptied fast in the huge cauldron of Kolkata, that accepts, assimilates and blends with magical dexterity. 
Another eloquent photo album on struggle for survival in remote rural corners of India remains a mesmerising saga of resilience and relentless combat against nature and beasts. There are glimpses of pristine joy in frivolous children cavorting in the waters of the mighty Brahmaputra and then there is a heart-wrenching glimpse of a rustic daughter of India, clad in school uniform, bearing a heavy load of fodder for the livestock at home. Education and the struggle for subsistence go hand in hand for rustic daughters of our land. Candid shots of men braving fierce “Dakshinray” or the Royal Bengal tigers and choppy saline waters for fishing and other marine based livelihood unfolds unheard of tales of heroism, bravery and resilience against fate. 
My heartfelt gratitude to Mr. Madam Mohan Chakraborty, a renowned engineer by profession and an award-winning photographer, who has travelled around the world in professional capacity but has always carried his innate passion for capturing the moments of hidden magic and meraki in every city he has visited. I thank him personally and on behalf on Setu for sharing his priceless photos with us. His numerous prestigious international award-winning photographs and exhibitions have already mesmerized the viewers and we hope once again this lovely photo album would provide a visual treat to the readers and patrons of Setu.
 I am also deeply grateful to a young and enthusiastic photographer, Pooja Sardar for sharing with us some compelling and candid glimpses of true rural India that provides a silent yet resonant lesson in resilience in the most daunting of situations and the beauty of simple life fraught with many a responsibility and yet full of life-force, joy and dreams. It is indeed a visual feast for people around the world and a strong message on how life goes on with hope and zest despite hardships and adversities. The photos are endowed with a strong message of hope and strength and the beauty of simple living.

Piku Chowdhury

Visual Art: Flavours of Cities, Towns or Villages:
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