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Framed on the waterfront
- Pollution, poverty, pleasure and pain wash life along the Ganga

Immersion of Goddess Durga. A morning bathing session, to cleanse the body and soul. Boatsmen and fishermen earning their livelihood. Two young paramours sharing a quiet laugh at sunset. The second Hooghly bridge, towering above the waters. These are just some of the images the amateur photographers have captured on camera. The aim is to portray life along the banks of the mighty Ganga, from Kidderpore to Calcutta.

Ganga Tirer Tilottama, the photography exhibition on at Academy of Fine Arts till February 18, is a product of two years’ work, and is an image of the often-forgotten and dying rituals of the city by the holy river. The nine participating students — all in their 20s and 30s — of the Photographic Technique School, run by veteran photographer Tarapada Banerjee, have tried to freeze moments in time to show through the lens how the Ganga has its very own way of life, which hasn’t changed much over time.

“It was a real eye-opener,” smiles Rimi Majumdar, who was “fascinated” by the religious ceremonies on the waterfront. “There are so many untold stories that emerged during my forays there. I had no idea that the riverbank has so much going on, that most people don’t even know about. Like the para bous of a north Calcutta puja committee performing kola bou puja on Saptami morning.”

Shuvro Roychowdhury, on the other hand, wanted to capture the pain and suffering of the people. “Those who stay there have a very hard life,” he says. And that is what he wants to show, the poverty, filth and degradation, unfortunately one of the striking faces of the Ganga here.

Boats and bridges, cityscapes and sunrises, gods and goddesses, a weeping widow and a walk down Millennium Park… Scenes of tranquillity and passion, pleasure and pain, pollution, poverty and hope. But above all, Ganga Tirer Tilottoma is about how the river has woven its way into the lives of the people who live by it, in the same way that they have placed their lives in the hands of the capricious yet affectionate mother.

For Biswarup Datta, it was a question of illustrating just that. “The theme was meant to portray this part of the Ganga. It is a famous river, with places like Varanasi known around the world. But Calcutta as a city on this river is not so well known. That is something we want to change. From a group of sadhus praying to a bunch of boys playing football, it’s all part and parcel of this place.”

Bringing that back to the notice of the nation is what the exhibition hopes to do. “It’s a parallel world here, be it Kalighat or Strand Road, Savitri puja or Chhat puja. And no matter how dirty it is, there are those who still cleanse themselves of their sins with a dip in the Ganga. This is all a part of our culture, and we wanted to drive home that point.”

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