Frames from a Forgotten India

Writer William Dalrymple’s fascination with India of the yore is known to spill over from novels to photographs. His latest collection opens this week in Mumbai.  
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Sleeping off Durga puja, Kumortoli, Calcutta: A sculptor sleeps among the clay frames of goddesses in Kumortuli, the potter’s quarter in Kolkata, ahead of Durga Puja. Photo by William Dalrymple/ Tasveer/ Dauble

William Dalrymple has always been a traveller. Even if one leaves alone the historian and author’s propensity to journey back and forth in time, striking up novel-length conversations with emperors and wayfarers, the Scotsman’s relationship with travel is a one of natural affinity. After all, the author of The Last Mughal and City of Djinns did manage to land himself in faraway Delhi one winter night, at the age of 18. Much of his early work is based on protracted journeys across the Middle East, Central Asia and India. Known for braiding travel trails into his books, Dalrymple is also committed to photographing the stories he chances upon.

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After the monsoon, Chamba: Monsoon washes over Chamba, Himachal Pradesh. Photo by William Dalrymple/ Tasveer/ Dauble

A selection of these photographs, taken over the last three years while researching his yet-to-be-published novel The Anarchy, will be exhibited at the Akara Art gallery in Mumbai. The collaboration between Akara Art and the Tasveer art gallery will showcase photographs retracing the steps of Mughal emperor Shah Alam, the ill-fated central character of Dalrymple’s book, who lost his eyesight to an Afghan warlord and his land to the British. In extension, it will also focus on places that used to be the stomping grounds of the East India Company during the 18th and the early 19th century—places of strategic, historical and artistic significance.

Shot in gritty black and white, the photographs underline Dalrymple’s preoccupation with battlegrounds and pleasure gardens, havelis and barrack blocks, spread across Delhi, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Calcutta and other art-rich haunts of the period.  The collection includes a small selection from modern-day Pakistan.



When: 13 April-3 May
Where: Akara Art, Churchill Chambers, Colaba (Mumbai).

  • Sohini Das Gupta travels with her headphones plugged-in and eyes open. While this doesn't stall the many accidents that tend to punctuate her journeys, it adds some meme-worthy comic relief. She is Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.

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