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Know Your City: This Chennai man has been collecting rare photographs for over four decades

One can find a cardboard lined with two rows of black and white photos near his shop. These photos are part of his over 30,000 photo collections.

Know your city chennai, tamil naduAnand’s mind works like a computer. While talking about his collections, he points to a photograph of Mahatma Gandhi getting down from a ship and mentions that Gandhi never travelled by air to any country.

In the narrow lanes of Sowcarpet, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Chennai known for shops selling a variety of sweet and chaat products, shopping items and also considered as the hub of the north Indian community in the city, we met Anand Kumar Bhowmick, 56, at Kasi Chetty Street while he was busy selling plastic items to customers. One may find it hard to believe if someone says this man has a huge collection of rare photographs.

One can find a cardboard lined with two rows of black and white photos near his shop. These photos are part of his over 30,000 photo collections. To commemorate birth and death anniversaries of famous personalities, and historically significant events, Anand exhibits these photos in front of his shop.

When one looks closely at his collections, they can find a lot of materials related to wars.

On other daysthe cardboard bears the pictures of MG Ramachandran, the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, whom Anand hails as his ‘God’. Anand says he was unconscious for two days after he learnt about the demise of MGR on December 24, 1987.

“I consider him as my god. I was first introduced to MGR by my father who took me to a screening of his movie, ‘Ulagam Sutrum Valiban’… I got attracted to him from that day. His charisma, the way he wore his black sunglasses, and carefully accepted garlands from fans and cadres without disturbing his hat, all this made him seem like a superhuman. I started collecting his photographs from that day. I never start any work without worshiping him. Every day, I first offer my prayers to him and then start my work. I get a different energy when I think about him. Puratchi Thalaivar is my life, his films are not just films but are life lessons, he always preached good things on screen. There was no one like him and there will never be one even in the future,” he says.

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Anand’s mind works like a computer. While talking about his collections, he points to a photograph of Mahatma Gandhi getting down from a ship and mentions that Gandhi never travelled by air to any country.

The cardboard bears the pictures of MG Ramachandran, the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, whom Anand hails as his ‘God

From World War I and II to Dandi March, Jallianwala Bagh massacre to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s meeting with Adolf Hitler to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Anand remembers the exact dates and personalities involved, apart from other unknown facts.

When one looks closely at his collections, they can find a lot of materials related to wars. When asked about them, Anand says he wants future generations to understand the impact of those wars and how people suffered owing to the decisions of their leaders.

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“There should never be a war in the future, the countries should co-exist with each other and seek an amicable solution whatever may be the difference between them. If you want to see the impact of war, come visit my shop,” he says.

He also has a huge photo collection of actors from Charlie Chaplin to Dilip Kumar in their early years. In his own words, Anand has a photo collection of everything – right from Niagara Falls to actress Nayanthara.

From World War I and II to Dandi March, Jallianwala Bagh massacre to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s meeting with Adolf Hitler to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Anand remembers the exact dates and personalities involved

Anand started collecting photographs from the age of 10 with whatever money he could save. He says he had a bigger collection of photos, negative prints, CDs, hard disks and books gifted by his friends from other countries but everything got washed away in the 2015 Chennai floods.

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“I just clung onto the Periyar (Dravidian ideologue EV Periyar) statue at T Nagar for two days. I even thought of going to my home to get those pictures but my friends and family stopped me. I would have been happier if I had died and the photographs were saved, because they were everything to me. All the things that were kept on the ground floor of my house got washed away. All the rare books that were gifted by some of the foreigners… got washed away. If I search them online now, a single item costs between Rs 6,000 to Rs 10,000 and some of them are not even available,” he claims.

Anand doesn’t necessarily use his phone or any other gadget, he notes down even the names and numbers of people he meets in a diary. He says the satisfaction he gets when he reads the notes cannot be obtained in any other way.

When asked how he collects his photographs, Anand says he depends on book fairs, journals and newspapers.

When asked how he collects his photographs, Anand says he depends on book fairs, journals and newspapers.

“Book fairs have been my backbone… I have travelled across the country to collect photographs. I have done this with my own money. A part of my income goes to the family but the rest is spent on collecting the photos alone,” he says.

Most of Anand’s collections are vintage in nature. He says black and white photos are magical and have an artistic flair that can never be experienced in colour pictures.

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“In black and white photographs, our whole concentration is on the subject alone… It leaves us with things to ponder, we start to imagine how this or that might have happened in that period, whereas it’s not the case in colour photographs. More than the subject, our concentration moves towards the background, the dresses and other things captured in the photo,” he says.

Every year during Madras Day celebrations, Anand exhibits some rare photographs of the city in front of his shop. He is often invited as a guest to several institutions to display his photographs and speak about their significance.

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“I have many photographs of old Madras of the 18th and 19th century. I have pictures of the Central Railway Station during its construction,” he notes.

He says he got the opportunity to display his work to late Tamil Nadu chief ministers MGR, Kalaignar Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa and has earned their praise.

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Vishaka Bhowmick, Anand’s wife, says despite the resistance from their family, she never discouraged her husband from doing what he likes.

Vishaka Bhowmick, Anand’s wife

“He (Anand) had been collecting these photographs from a very young age. After I got married, I initially didn’t understand why he was collecting photographs, and even told him to stop this as it was affecting us economically. But I, slowly, understood how passionate he is about this activity. He used to cut photographs from books, magazines and laminate them. Even now, family members advise me to ask him to stop and do something better to earn more but I tell them that my husband does what he likes and I have no qualms about it,” she says.

Anand’s next photo exhibition would be held at the 44th International Chess Olympiad, which is scheduled to take place at Mamallapuram near Chennai from July 28 to August 10. He says he would collect photographs of the event and top chess players who are set to participate in it.

When asked about his future plans, Anand says collecting pictures has become a part of his life and he would continue to do this till his last breath.

First published on: 26-07-2022 at 10:26 IST
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