AsiaLens: India Through Kulwant Roy's Lens

Aditya Arya (L) and Indivar Kamtekar (R) in Mumbai on August 12, 2014. (Asia Society India Centre)

MUMBAI, 12 August 2014 — On Tuesday, Asia Society India Centre and the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai welcomed professor of modern history at Jawaharlal Nehru University Indivar Kamtekar, renowned photographer Aditya Arya and Chief Executive of Nehru Centre Satish Sahney for a discussion on the photographs of Kulwant Roy and their social, cultural and historical significance.

The programme commenced with remarks from Satish Sahney, who said that he can “find a movement in these photographs, as if they are talking to you”. To him, the photographs reveal the kind of relationships that existed between different independence movement leaders as well as some of their lesser known qualities. They show, for example, how at meetings Sardar Patel would not speak much but was a keen listener. Mr. Sahney also spoke of the rarity of some of the photographs, such as one of Mirabehn and Nehru, and how their rarity and depth contributes to their immense value.

As the audience looked at the black-and-white photographs showing key people and events in the Indian independence movement, Aditya Arya, himself the nephew of the late Kulwant Roy, spoke about the man’s personal life and career, particularly his travels through 40 countries, during which he gathered thousands of pictures that would, sadly, get lost on his return to India.

Indivar Kamtekar, while agreeing with Mr. Sahney that the photographs give viewers a valuable insight into the relationships and social statuses of different leaders, stressed that they give us a very narrow and short-sighted view of this period in Indian history. Such photographs can be misleading, for in focusing on leaders with their optimism and high spirits they represent history “as being in the control of great men and wise men”, leaving out the viewpoint of the common man and leading our thoughts away from the horrors of Partition and the Bengal famine, among other events.

Mr. Kamtekar and Mr. Arya then further discussed Kulwant Roy’s life and career as well as the importance of preserving his surviving yet crumbling photographs, to which end great efforts have been made over the years. All of the evening’s speakers urged the audience, particularly youth, to visit the exhibition, commenting on the importance of knowing the events and leaders that shaped modern history. Mr. Kamtekar, for his part, encouraged viewers to think not only about what the photographs show but also what they do not show and “connect the dots”.

Reported by Adhiraaj Anand, Intern, Asia Society India Centre

This programme falls under our AsiaLens series, which presents an array of perspectives on the visual and performing arts of modern Asia, offering a vibrant and nuanced view across the continent.

Video: Watch the complete programme (1 hr., 35 min.)

In partnership with: