‘The Daily Passengers: Some Portraits & Other Reflections

On October 1, 2013 by admin
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Aritra Chakraborti

Aritraspeak: These pictures were taken on a broken mobile phone while commuting on local trains between Howrah and Chinsurah– a major station located on the Howrah-Bardhaman main line in West Bengal. Being an one-time daily passenger, and the son of two people who have been doing the same for more than three decades, I have observed these fascinating characters closely for a very long time. I have always wanted to study them in their own environment. However, having never received any formal training in conducting ethnographic studies, I felt that photography would be an easier medium for me to observe them in their most unguarded moments.

Daily passengers are fascinating people. Easily irritated, mercurial, quarrelsome and often really annoying, they are extremely conscious of the square-foot of plywood on which they sit, or the even tinier space on which they stand in overcrowded, claustrophobic train compartments. Everyday, they commute to the dilapidated metropolis of Kolkata to try to eke out a livelihood. Most of them do not have steady jobs: some of them run small businesses from tiny rooms in some rundown building in Barabazaar, some of them go to work in small or big shops in dingy markets. The lucky ones spend their days in government offices or in flashy MNCs which make them work at least ten to twelve hours, everyday.

They are not too keen to be photographed, either. So, I had to be very careful while using my camera. I also had to be extra careful to avoid taking photographs of women. Although very few women travel on general compartments during office hours, if anyone catches you taking pictures of women while standing on a train, you could get lynched. The mobile camera gave me a sort of anonymity and allowed to me to take photos while the subjects remained unaware of the camera’s existence. However, it also made sure that if I were ever confronted–and that did happen a few times-I could never prove that I was actually trying to do a photo essay. For surely, what kind of a photographer works with a mobile camera?

[Please click on each photograph to get an enlarged view.]

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You are a human bullet shot into the tunnels, hoping no one will block the light far ahead, each station one minute’s reprieveMayaKaren Greenbaum.

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Do you remember the long orphanage of the train stations We crossed cities that turn-tabled all day. And vomited at night the sunshine of the day.The VoyagerPierre Albert-Birot

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Mrs. Limaye, wherever you are/ Please come to Mulund Station/ Your husband is awaiting you thereAn Announcement for Mr & Mrs. Limaye, Manya Joshi

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Eons arrive, eons pass us by/ Aloft Mashi, aloft O Pishi—those rice filled sacks/Aloft onto the belly of that Kolkata bound Lalgola, Bongaon...–Joy Goswami

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They’d torn the couch!’ wailed the station-master. ‘Ripped the station-master’s couch in half! That is what comes of it when there’s nothing above folks any more! Neither God nor myth, neither allegory nor symbol … We’re on our own now in this world, so everything’s allowed. But not for me! For me there is a God! But for that grunting pig nothing exists but pork, dumplings and cabbage …Closely Watched Trains, Bohumil Hrabal,

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As the engine slows down, the triangle, I mean the crank, connective rod and slide: the form of the engine also changes/slow and inevitable/so, one can now say that the triangle is alive and kicking.  TriangleBenoy Majumdar

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And between the jamb-wall and the bedroom door/Our speed and distance were inestimable./First we shunted, then we whistled…A Sofa in the FortiesSeamus Heaney

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Ah, Junction, where the rail stops long/ To quench its thirst for a longer trip/ I seek my old flame there.--Junction, Alok Dhanwa

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Aritra Chakraborti is a doctoral student at the Department of English, Jadavpur University. He is working on chapbooks and street literature in Colonial Bengal. Aritra is especially interested in people who hawk chapbooks in trains and buses. He considers himself to be an amateur photographer, his principal area of interest being street photography.

4 Responses to “‘The Daily Passengers: Some Portraits & Other Reflections”

  • Amitranjan Basu

    fascinating photo-essay!

  • This is wonderful. Absolutely wonderful!

  • Joydeep Roychoudhury

    thats a good & attractive topic …. bt your photos are not too much attractive and descriptive like your introduction…. no doubt its a nice topic for experiment… best of luck dude…

  • Swati Moitra

    Lovely images, Aritra! I came here to look at your photoessay, but I find myself intrigued by the little bio underneath that mentions your work on the chapbooks and street literature of colonial Bengal. I was wondering if you would not object to a few conversations with a fellow researcher of colonial Bengal?

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