It was an unusual sight for everyone who visited Harrington Streets Arts Centre on Sunday evening. Dhoti clad men, mostly middle aged, with gamchas neatly folded over their shoulders admiring the images put up on the wall, and speaking about what they feel about them with the other people present at the exhibition. But who were they, was the question on everyone’s mind. Until Kounteya Sinha, a journalist and photographer, introduced them as the rickshaw pullers of Kolkata, who he generously invited to his exhibition titled ‘Stone – Being and Becoming’. According to him, they are the ‘real heroes of Kolkata’ and also the ones who are most neglected, as they do not receive any sort of benefit from the government, and are becoming socially extinct day by day.
● Moments from the Event●
The event saw theatre and Hindi film thespian Om Puri, who played Hasari Pal, a rickshaw puller in Roland Joffe’s City of Joy, Bengali actress Swastika Mukherjee and Dr Rupali Basu, CEO (Eastern region) Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals, interact with the rickshaw pullers and go through the exhibits, which remained a testament to Kounteya’s journey that took him more than 410 days, passing through 25 countries, covering around 95,000 km. From Hague in Netherlands to Australia to Malta and Kolkata itself, Kounteya’s images gave the viewers a chance to see and observe the static elements and moments in our lives which we either ignore or forget. His images, which were mostly about buildings and monuments and static instances in people’s lives, spoke to the viewers. Kounteya, through his camera breathed life onto those walls and monuments that he captured. A particular image of a building with big windows would rather seem like a very mundane image until you notice the bullet holes the building is riddled with. This image embodies the stories that are associated with the static elements of our lives. “Stone is about being and becoming — it explores and captures the romance of being static… the story of a rock becoming an astounding architectural wonder, the metamorphosis of us humans into stone, the phenomenon of unfeeling”, says Kounteya about the theme.
Needless to say, this exhibition was the first of its kind, whether with regards to theme or the people who were chosen as ambassadors for the show, the rickshaw pullers. We all have seen architectural wonders or buildings as images related to beauty and what not, but we haven’t seen images which make us pause and reflect on the moments and monuments and also think for ourselves what these mean. Kounteya’s efforts to capture a hidden story in each of these images proved to be successful when these images came to speak a thousand words. Perhaps the biggest success of the exhibition was rickshaw pullers pouring over the images and trying to gather their significance. Kounteya’s exhibition took a small but a very important step in bringing people from the visibly downtrodden and ignored part of the society to a space where the rich and the learned reside, and gave them a chance to be part of something special.
● Kounteya’s Work ●
We, from Bongrong wish Kounteya all the best for his future travels and projects and we hope exhibitions like this become a regular affair in the city.