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Glimpses of Chhath & terrain through vintage lens

- Photographer reminisces 34-year career at art gallery, takes aficionados through experiences on field

Vibrant Chhath celebrations and a day in a Birhor woman’s life, captured through the lens of professional photographer Shailendra Kumar over the years, have been thrown open to the people.

Shailendra has been taking pictures for 34 years and his journey can be accessed at Bharatiya Nritya Kala Mandir’s art gallery till Tuesday. A six-day exhibition has been organised from February 13 in which 37 photographs and 10 camera installations are on display for lovers of still pictures.

Among the equipment — used by Shailendra over the years — displayed at the exhibition are a plate camera from the 1980s (without a shutter), a box camera and a photo enlarger brought from Japan. What makes the exhibition different from many others of the kind in the city though are the stories and the experiences behind the photographs.

On Monday, The Telegraph found the 54-year-old photographer taking every visitor through the stories. The experiences featured drinking countrymade liquor with members of the Birhor tribe in Chaibasa (now in Jharkhand) and getting lost in the hills of Kaimur.

Shailendra said: “I have worked with different tribes of Bihar and Jharkhand and I love capturing them through my lens. Working with the Birhor tribe was a completely different experience. I still remember how hard it was to convince the people to a photo shoot in 1981. To do so, I had to drink their countrymade liquor — ‘hadiya’. One of the members set a condition that if I bought countrymade liquor for him, he would allow me to take photographs of the region. Once I got it for him, I decided to taste it as well. We drank it together and found the man getting friendly with me. Finally, he gave me permission to take every kind of pictures I wanted to.”

Pointing at the photograph of a Birhor woman, he said: “They (the women) tie their newborn babies on their backs with the help of a cloth. I found this very interesting and captured the moment.”

Another memorable experience of Shailendra had been capturing the Gupta Dham in the Kaimur hills.

“When I went on the tour, I did not realise the difficulties I would have to face during the journey. First, two of my friends and I had to reach a very interior village of Kaimur district from where we covered 17km on foot. In the middle of the journey, we lost our way and had to take shelter in the hilly terrain. It was God’s grace that some residents were also on their way to the dham and they gave us food to eat and water to drink. By then, we had not eaten for many hours. Whenever I see the picture, the whole journey comes alive before my eyes,” he added.

The changing course of the Ganga and the signs it has left behind also made for a captivating subject for the professional photographer.

Referring to a photograph of the Patna ghats, he said: “On a visit to the riverbanks in Patna, you would find many little shops have come up in the area through which the river used to pass. You would be able to see from where the river has changed its course. The Ganga changed its course but left a very beautiful landscape behind.”

The exhibition also has photographs of Gaya with people performing pinddaan rituals, Chhath celebrations on the ghats of Hajipur and Malmas Mela in Rajgir.

Tanuja Bothra, who runs a spoken English institute in Patna, said: “This is the first time I have visited any art photography exhibition and was very impressed with what I saw. Every work at this exhibition is a masterpiece.”

Her daughter Urja, a Class XI student of Notre Dame Academy, said: “I liked the photograph of Chhath puja celebrations. It is very vibrant.”