India`s history revealed through a journalist`s lens

Updated: Apr 28, 2010, 17:57 PM IST

New Delhi: The memories may have turned sepia with age - but the making of a free India is replete with enduring images in the form of photographs. Among them are the archives of photo-journalist Kulwant Roy, who chronicled the destiny of changing India for five decades since the late 1930s.

Nearly 500 of his photographs shot in black and white have been compiled in a new anthology, "History In The Making: The Visual Archives of Kulwant Roy" by Aditya Arya and Indevar Kamtekar.

The book, published by Harper Collins-India, was released by Gopal Gandhi here.

In one black and white image, a sombre Mahatma Gandhi spinning thread on a wooden wheel, captures the imagination for what it portends for the future.

The late evening sun filters through an invisible port, lighting up the Mahatma`s pensive profile in sharp silhouettes. The year is 1940 and Gandhi is preparing for an offensive against the colonial rulers in the heart of Delhi.

The photograph is from Roy`s archive which records almost all the key political events and personages who helped steer the struggle for independence and the formative decades post 1947 - when India built its edifices of a modern republic and laid the foundation of a new globalized order.

"Kulwant Roy`s photographs never made us feel that history was heading in the wrong direction. On the contrary, they declare that the world was progressing. In so doing, they embody the optimism of the first decades of an independent India," writes anthologist Indevar Kamtekar.

Some images like Mahatma Gandhi conferring with Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru in 1946 before the meeting to announce the June 3 plan for the Partition of India come across as watersheds, redrawing the destiny of the nation.

They also bring forth the archival and political relevance of photo-journalism in an era when television was a distant dream.

Roy was born in 1914 at Bagli Kalan in Ludhiana and was educated in Lahore.

He learnt his trade at the Gopal Chitter Kuteer photography studio managed by Raj Gopal, a photography pioneer, in Lahore.

By the late thirties, he was documenting the political changes taking place in India.

The photo-journalist also archived several other movements taking place in the neighbourhood. One of them was the Khudai-Khidmatgar movement under Khan Abdul Ghaffar in the North-West Frontier Province.

In 1938, he documented Mahatma Gandhi`s visit to the area.

Tragedy struck Roy towards the end of his life - which took a toll on his health. He was diagnosed with cancer in the late 70s and died in 1984.

In 1958, he decided to tour 30 countries for three years. Before returning to India, he mailed all the negative prints and photographs that he had clicked over the last three years to his address in Delhi.

But they were lost in transit. A distraught Roy could not recover from the shock of the loss and succumbed to fate.