Thakur Rampal Singh’s expression can be likened to that of a certain Cheshire cat. His thin mustache is like a line drawn over his upper lip, his pagdi sits loftily on his head and his eyes twinkle. Standing beside him is his young bride Savita Bains. If there is a hint of coyness in her half smile, it’s overshadowed by her confident carriage. She looks straight into the camera, as if daring it to reduce her to a pose. Taken in Jaipur at around mid-1940s, this is the couple’s first picture together.
In a way, the photograph betrays an essential truth — theirs was not the perfect match by conventional standards. “She belonged to the royal family of Chhattisgarh and he was a commoner. She was hastily married off to him after her father died. I have a feeling my grandmother couldn’t get over that fact for a long time. My grandfather, however, loved her dearly and referred to her as Savitaji. It’s only after his death that my grandmother realised the true nature of their bond,” says granddaughter Ira Chauhan, a Dehradun-based content writer.
The photograph embodies a sense of innocence and “nascent camaraderie” that inspired Ira to “look at life positively”. That is why, when she realised that it was getting damaged with age, she took the photograph to The Goa Centre for Alternative Photography (Goa CAP) in Goa. “I didn’t want to lose something that’s so precious to me. The people in that photograph defined who we are,” says Ira, who found the contact on the internet.
With the aim to give a fillip to the ongoing efforts to preserve history and priceless memories and to create awareness on photo preservation, conservation and restoration, Goa CAP has initiated a unique project to promote public education and awareness on the topic. “It’s not a profit-making initiative and we give advice to people on photo preservation through workshops across India, including Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Kolkata. We tell them how to preserve old photos. Since they don’t have the technical knowhow, we don’t train them on photo restoration but they can always come to us for advice,” says P Madhavan, executive director, Goa CAP. Last month, they organised a workshop in association with the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai, which was a roaring success. “It’s easier to organise such events in association with museums, because they have the requisite infrastructure,” says Madhavan.
For cultural historian Savia Viegas, who is associated with the initiative and in 2012, undertook a three-year project (with funding from the Union ministry of culture) to source and study family photographs, each photograph is laced with important stories that talk about the socio-economic realities of those times. “I was once talking to an 80-year-old woman about her wedding photograph. She told me that her husband was a doctor and earned Rs 200 per month. This was in 1950. It continued…