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SHARPLY IN THE TWILIGHT

THE ANGLO-INDIANS (Photoink, price not mentioned) by Dileep Prakash is a distinguished collection of photographs made between 2004-06, when Prakash travelled to 41 Indian cities and photographed more than a thousand Anglo-Indians. These are carefully posed portraits of individuals, pairs and groups, minimally identified by name (and not relationship) and place. Some are placed in rooms, some in front of their homes, workplace or club, and some out in the green or in a public space of personal significance.

The colours are resonant but nuanced, the details and textures preternaturally sharp, inviting intimate as well as theatrically distanced viewing. Who is looking, or not looking, at whom within a frame is also rich with unanswered questions: to what extent, for instance, has Prakash choreographed the gazes among the pairs and groups? There is history, and mystery, in the names too — on the left are Stella and Trevor Hale in Bilaspur; top right is Milrid Liebenhals in Calcutta; and bottom right are Dominic and Dexter McGuinness in Visakhapatnam. Prakash often uses the door as a frame within the frame, subtly setting apart one individual from another or from the rest of the pictorial space. Framed apart, yet linked by blue, do Stella and Trevor inhabit the same ‘world’ in the picture? And isn’t the photograph of Milrid as much about her frigidaire door as about the evocativeness of her Toulouse-Lautrec face?

The two boys on their beds, presumably brothers, could be characters in a short story in which the hair-clasp used as curtain-ring, the decorative piece on the almirah in the mirror, and the light and the breeze coming in through the windows would be as important as the boys themselves. And that story, like the many silent ones suggested in Prakash’s best photographs, would gesture beyond questions of racial or cultural identity towards different ways of being arranged as people in their everyday lives.

Prakash’s work, now spanning a couple of decades, has been preoccupied by “memory and the passage of time”, engaging with “both human neglect and attachment”. His other collection of photographs, made in the mid-Nineties, has documented the steam locomotives, which, together with the people associated with them, have “almost been wiped out from the railway map of India”. In this book, too, it is tempting to see the Anglo-Indians as forming a “community in twilight”. Yet the quality of their presence in each photograph resists such elegiac stereotyping. As Irwin Allan Sealy puts it in his fine essay at the end of the book, “Every person here has made his or her bed and sleeps in it without complaint. He looks out at you with a steady gaze; she meets your inquisition with a calm you cannot disturb. It took the patience, skill, and tact of an accomplished photographer to grasp this dignity.”

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