Unknown Memories of India

Pallavi Chattopadhyay
Indian soldiers during World War II, Indian soldiers during british rule, photographer Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, photo exhibition, indian express talk, indian express news

From Cathy Lane’s Re-soundings Prelude- The Ayahs Home

As photographer Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, professor of art at the University of Rhode Island, showed photographs of Indian soldiers who served for the British during World War II, a sepia-tinted photograph of Lieutenant General DS Kalha stood out. Kalha is seen dressed in his khaki uniform, standing beside his newly wed wife in Dehradun. Barely weeks into his marriage, he was asked to serve for the British, only to be captured at the Siege of Tobruk in 1941, and sent as a prisoner of war to Italy. He managed to escape, only to be helped by local Italian farmers, who hid and protected him. Matthew was showing these photographs during her talk at Delhi’s India International Centre on Friday evening.

The exhibition ‘The Sundry Effect: The stories we are...’, comprising works of 15 artists including Veer Munshi and Gigi Scaria, is on display at Bikaner House. The exhibition chronicles many similar stories emerging from Matthew’s body of work titled The Unremembered: Indian Soldiers of the Second World War (work in progress). It documents some of the lives from 25 lakh Indians, who by 1945 had taken up arms for the British rulers during World War II, and fought in Burma, Italy and North Africa. Nearly 87,000 of them had died while serving. Curator of the exhibition, Meena Vari, says, “The show is about stories, especially those that have been unheard and unknown. These stories were considered irrelevant. It’s about bringing these out.”

Indian soldiers during World War II, Indian soldiers during british rule, photographer Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, photo exhibition, indian express talk, indian express news

A work by Annu Palakunnathu Matthew

Speaking about her vast body of work, Matthew says, “My attempt has been to make people realise that there is another history within India that needs to be acknowledged. It’s like a hidden history. The question is that why is this history not remembered. There are so many people who participated, and one would think that it would be a part of the collective memory here, but it’s not. The tale of the prisoner of war, who had to cut his hair to fit in as an Italian, and had this Italian family looking after him and hiding him, has happened in case of more than one prisoner of war. What was touching for me was the kindness of people even though these Indians were considered enemies. They looked at them as people and not as the other side, and hid and looked after them,” says Vari.

Sound artist Cathy Lane has created her single video installation Re-soundings Prelude- The Ayahs Home, which has a photograph showing 15 Indian women sewing and reading in a 20th century Victorian drawing room. It is a peek into the life of house helps, many of whom served British families in the country and were taken to Britain between 1900 to 1947, only to be left on the streets once their job was over. It led her to discover the Ayahs’ Home in Hackney, East London, which was created later especially for these women. “Run by missionaries, the home was a sort of refuge and safety,” says the London-based artist.

Munshi’s ‘Memoirs of a Desiccated Land’ has 100 frames comprising portraits of people the artist knew in his hometown, Kashmir, before being forced to migrate out of the state in 1990. One can spot the teacher who taught him, the shopkeeper he’d meet, among others. City– Fifth Investigation is a work by Vivek Vilasini, who makes a powerful commentary on the environment by chronicling the atmospheric pollution of New Delhi on Tibetan rice paper.

The exhibition is on at Bikaner House till February 5

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