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Story of India and US in vintage frames

Lindsay Amini, director of cultural programmes, Meridian International Center, and Cory Wilcox in front of a photograph of Rabindranath Tagore and Helen Keller on display at the exhibition in the Indian Museum. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Swami Vivekananda at the World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893.

Rabindranath Tagore and Helen Keller in New York in 1921.

An exhibition at the Indian Museum, capturing India-US relations from 1783 to 1947 pictorially, that will be on display till December 31 was inaugurated last week.

Sixty images have been selected from thousands for the exhibition titled, "Kindred Nations: The United States and India: 1783-1947". It has been curated by Meridian International Center in Washington DC and supported by the US Department of State.

"Sitting beside Rabindranath Tagore and sharing his thoughts is like spending one's days beside the Sacred River, drinking deep of honeyed wisdom," Keller had written about the 1921 visit.

The exhibition that presents "historical images that recall tales of remarkable people - some well known, others awaiting rediscovery" has reached Calcutta after touring Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai.

Sharing space with Vivekananda and Tagore is an 1880 image of Anandibai Joshee, "the first Indian woman to earn a medical degree in the US".

She graduated from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1886 and returned to India to be appointed as the physician-in-charge of Albert Edward Hospital's female ward in Kolhapur.

Calcutta's been represented in the exhibition not only by its stalwarts who had travelled to the US but also by pictures of the city taken in the 19th and the 20th century.

One such picture is of the Atkinson House in 1860 - the home of an American businessman, originally from Newburyport, Massachusetts, who spent nearly 20 years in Calcutta. Another is of US soldiers taking off their shoes before entering a Jain temple in the city in 1943.

Cory Wilcox, who was standing in for US consul-general Craig L. Hall, said "people to people engagement is the anchor of the US-India relationship.... Through the medium of art, we begin a dialogue about our perspectives and values, and learn about our shared human experiences".

Another person with whom the city finds a connect is Oscar nominee Merle Oberon who had acted in films such as The Dark Angel (1935) and Wuthering Heights (1939). She had studied at La Martiniere for Girls. The exhibittion has a photo of her in Bengal in 1928.

"We tracked large institutions in the US that included the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and asked what ties you have with India... we were working closely with archivists and through many different images and that was really the story that spoke to us," said Lindsay Amini, director of cultural programmes, Meridian International Center, about the Merle Oberon frame.

Besides the pictures, there are some oil on canvas of ships that completed voyages to India. A caption reads: "Jacob Crowninshield, an East India merchant, provided president Thomas Jefferson's administration with information about the India trade, including exports from its two main ports, Bombay and Calcutta."

Some of the recent pictures include a banquet in honour of Lala Lajpat Rai in Berkeley, California, in 1916 and former US president Herbert Hoover with Mahatma Gandhi in Delhi in 1946.

The exhibition ends with the official raising of the Indian national flag at the United Nations headquarters in New York in 1947.

"The exhibition celebrates two-and-a-half centuries of interconnections and interactions between the two largest democracies of the world. This will be a great opportunity for people to see the exhibition and marvel at the closeness and richness of the historical ties between these two civilisations," said Jayanta Sengupta, the director of Indian Museum.


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