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When the lens becomes guru

Out of his father's shadow for his own patch under the sun. His own guru, his own director. That's how one can sum up Amit Pasricha's works, says ANJANA RAJAN... .

Photo: R.V. Moorthy.

ART AND ARTIST: Amit Pasricha with his first solo collection at the Visual Art Gallery in New Delhi.

IMAGES OF India call laughingly out from all the walls of India Habitat Centre's Visual Art Gallery, where photographer Amit Pasricha's first solo exhibition, `Lens as Guru' is on. There is no need for Harry Potter style magic here. In wizarding world created by children's author J.K. Rowling, the people in paintings and photographs move and wave, slipping in and out of their frames in a magical counterpoint to the still photograph. But Amit Pasricha's subjects - taken during his travels across India - obviate the need for magic, so vibrant are the moments caught.

There is a whispering cow here, relating a sober story with grim face in the ear of a villager who smiles in complete understanding. There are "two old women" - one dressed in lehenga and veil, her face furrowed with lines that mark years of experience, and the other, a wizened goat with drooping ears and dangling beard. There is a little boy dressed in his Sunday best - an English style suit - perched securely in the generous hand of a giant-sized Ganesh statue, oh so pink.

And speaking of Ganesh, in the hurly burly of a householders' chores, it is not always so easy to spot Him, so merged is the Remover of Obstacles with ordinary life. He does His job, looking after devotees, while they do theirs, washing clothes and hanging them on clotheslines right across His cheerful image. No offence intended, none taken. But for the photographer with an eye for frozen moments that capture the spirit of India, this relationship provides a whole series of photographs in which sundry undergarments form colourful curtains or festive bandanvaars.

Here are women busy turning silkworm cocoons into thread, rubbing them against their exposed right legs, while the rest of the body is demurely covered from head downwards. Completely hairless, remarks Amit, pointing out their shining legs. How different are the absorbed expressions on these faces to the impish flirtation caught in the shining eyes of the young woman among the fisherfolk on Allepey beach. The turn of the head, the telling smile - it is a moment when you know that all the world has no choice but to love a lover.

Amit Pasricha's lens displays both compassion and insight, as a guru must, and part of the reason for the relaxed and multi-faceted feel of the collection on display is that it has emerged over the years alongside his commissioned work. Having shot pictures for coffee table books and tourism publications, he points out how difficult it is to spot the unusual or offbeat photograph "when you're looking for clichéd pictures from the tourism point of view".

"The British gave us a legacy of pictorialism," he says, and he too has a huge collection of pretty pictures. But as an artist he strives to go beyond the stereotype of the pretty picture. In all his varied images from Uttar Pradesh - " a haunt of mine" - to Goa and Kerala, where he has done a lot of commissioned photography, from the mountain peaks, the mountain goats, the mountain people of Uttaranchal to the flaming colours of Rajasthan, he feels the one strand running through them all is the innate spirituality of life in India - a spirituality that is neither formal nor distant, but mixed up as thoroughly as cow dung with rainwater on a meandering village track, a spirituality that cannot stop the group of Christian nuns laughing joyfully, caught in torrential rains as their habits swirl about them, that does not sap the interest of the Jain nuns as they appreciate the colourful dolls on display.

Apart from his stunning digital pictures, in which he has shot monuments and panoramic vistas using computer technology that allows a scene to be shot in several sections and creates a new image that can place up to 360 degrees within the scope of a two-dimensional picture - something impossible to take in with the naked eye - city scenes are conspicuous by their absence in Amit's work. Perhaps, he says, it is due to his "alienation to the culture which breeds on social falsitudes". However, this approach may change as he turns towards work that makes more of a forthright statement. Some of this is likely to come through in his wedding series, an ongoing project now two years old.

Hailing from a family of photographers, Amit Pasricha has never learnt the formal technique of photography. Who needs it after all, when the lens is guru?

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