Somewhere amidst the altering landscape of Bastar, Chhattisgarh, lives a boy browned by the sun, barely eight or nine-years-old. His voluminous dreadlocks serve as a duvet, enveloping his bare shoulders, back and chest. He spends his time discovering the medicinal herbs of Bastar. When he comes of age, or once a certain village elder passes away, this boy will become the next shaman. Noida-based photographer Manoj Kumar Jain has documented the changing tide in Bastar through his series of black and white images.
Part of a recent exhibition which concluded last week at the India Habitat Centre, these photographs comprise the bulk of a coffee-table book titled The Forgotten Frames (Rs 2,500). A graduate of the 1992 batch of Delhi Art College, Jain remembers first seeing photographs of a “raw and untouched” Bastar while in college. The images were soon forgotten, only to resurface and stir up his memory every once in a while. “When I finally got a chance to go to Bastar in 2002, I leapt at it. The existence of a life where man was still in sync with nature was very appealing,” says Jain.
Between 2002 and 2008, he made multiple trips to Bastar, often living off on the easily available red tea and bhajji during his stay. Jain’s photo project is supported by an essay by Nandini Sundar, a professor of sociology at Delhi University who has done extensive research on Bastar.
Rightly addressing Bastar as “an El Dorado of modern times,” Sundar elaborates on the culture and practices of the people of Bastar, and “a world that is being shattered under the staccato of gunfire, the drone of helicopters, the greed of prospectors for minerals, and the avarice of
organisations and missionaries for the souls that flit above.”
Wealthy in their archival merit, the book includes close-ups of local idols, and intricately designed anklets, which even take the focus away from the loud cracks on the feet of their aged wearer. Images of people holding their pets — a rooster, a peacock and a hawk — and those of ceremonial festivities are also worth a mention. The photo project acts as a gateway to the charms of a world
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