It was a year before Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan briefly quit the Congress party over its war policy. The Pashtun leader accompanied Mahatma Gandhi through his trip to the North West Frontier Province in 1938. While the tour was of political significance and meant to exhort Hindu-Muslim unity, for Kulwant Roy, it was also a personal moment. The photographer was one among thousands who had gathered to see the Mahatma. With a camera in hand, he was not just attending the trip, but also documenting it. Though some of the images are lost in time, a few broken negatives have now been restored by Aditya Arya who inherited the archive from his photojournalist uncle after his demise in 1984. “Restoration and archiving is like archaeological excavation. While some negatives are completely lost, the cracked ones are being reassembled,” says Arya, who is now sharing over 300 photographs of Roy in the exhibition “Visual Archives of Kulwant Roy” at National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA).
The collection takes forward the 2008 exhibition where Arya had first unveiled Roy’s collection. “It’s important to make these images public and get the leaders we read about in front of the people,” says Arya, looking at an image of Captain Ram Charan Singh, composer of Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja, playing the violin for Mahatma Gandhi during his visit to Harijan Colony in 1945. “He was living on a meagre pension and died in a small village in Uttar Pradesh some years ago,” says Arya, adding that he is one of the several unsung heroes of the Independence movement.
There are more recognised faces as well. In a rare image, one sees Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Gandhi in a heated conversation as Shaukat Ali looks on. “The image was with Getty all this while, now they’ve credited it to Roy,” says Arya, glancing through the corridor filled with images that project the making of modern India. Roy chronicles the Indian National Army trials and signing of the Constitution of India in 1950. Numerous dignitaries who visited the young nation are also seen — Dalai Lama in 1956, Jackie Kennedy in 1962 and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at the Shimla Summit in 1972.
The leaders are seen not just in office, but also in more candid moments. Lord Mountbatten fixes his shoelace during his last visit to Rajghat in 1956, just before he left India; and Gandhi is seen wearing a Burmese hat. Jawaharlal Nehru appears in several images, engaged in discussions and in personal moments — such as bidding goodbye to Rajiv Gandhi before leaving for a tour of Europe in the ’50s, playing Holi, and waiting for his innings during a cricket match between teams led by the PM and the President in the ’50s. “A small community of photographers had access to important leaders,” states Arya, who started working on the archive more than 25 years after inheriting the boxes of negatives. “He did not want me to become a photographer as it did not provide financial stability,” says Arya.
The man behind the camera also comes in front on a few occasions. We see Roy with other photographers waiting for a dignitary to arrive, at the last press conference held by Mountbatten, with a young Japanese girl called Sushi — who Arya believes was his love — and in New York during his world tour in the ’50s. The tour ended on a sour note, as Roy lost all the photographs he had mailed to his studio in Delhi at the end of the trip. “He was devastated,” says Arya, who has found Roy’s last photograph of the Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Delhi in his camera. “I haven’t found the negative yet,” he adds, pointing out that several more historical moments are yet to be shared.
The exhibition at NGMA is on till December 12. Contact: 23384640.