Totally dependent on monsoon precipitation for its agriculture, Bengal used to have periodic famines. In the last century, some of the hardest famines were said to be more due to problems in the distribution of food and essential commodities than to actual drops in production (as first popularized as a policy guidance by Dr. B. R. Sen, Secretary General of the UN's FAO in the 1960s, and cogently argued by developmental economists noted among whom is the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen). In 1961, after a severe drought in West Bengal, Prafullya Sen, then chief minister of the state, initiated a massive food distribution program in which every person in each household in certain vulnerable districts of W. Bengal would have a ration card, against which certified grocers would sell at a subsidized rate a certain quantity of rice, cooking oil, sugar, fuel oil and a few other essential items. Selling of these items outside of the rationing system was prohibited in these areas. When it was instituted, there was a huge opposition, the business community was antagonized, and a black market system started a parallel economy. Prafullya Sen lost his seat, though he remained respected and active in politics even decades later. However, the policy, though somewhat modified, continued through succeeding administrations and is still in force, though with reforms and better control and enforcement; since 1965 W. Bengal has not had a disastrous famine.
The social impact of the rationing system was immediate and interesting. It guaranteed the availability of food to low income households, especially in villages and subarban areas. But it also meant long lines of folks at certain 'ration shops'. Families were divided into two classes: those whose children would stand in the line, and those who would send a hired help to stand in the line. The cultural proletariats and the cultural elites.
Here is one such line in a village, during a monsoon rain.
[I note that much remains to be done. Since writing the above, this article has come to my notice, which draws attention to disturbing regressive trends in W. Bengal since the mid 1990s]
Critiques | Translate
bombilla (3406) 2007-09-14 9:34
The depth, the silvery tones, the eyes that seems to emerge from the darkness as you peer through the photo. Simply amazing. And that this dreamy, silky portrait illustrates a government social welfare program is fantastic. The legacy of Walker Evans for sure, but I have to say, there is more poetry to your work than his, so, in a way, it's even richer. -Hugh
ninaL (21348) 2007-09-14 9:42
I have recognize your style directly from the galery ;).
Something of very special in your photographs...something of unique what I can recognize, now...
Good scene, and I like this backround with people looking at you...
This backround is very intersting, here, and complete very well the scene with too kids.
Best regards. Grazyna.
michiels (4170) 2007-09-14 11:00
A great b&w photo. I like the dof with the people in the back in blur and the boys sharp. It gives a good feeling of depth. the soft image is very good here, it has a special atmosphere.
KevRyan (22952) 2007-09-14 12:37
The sense of being in the midst of such moment and the fantastic note which sets it's documentary credentials is a wonderful photojournalistic work Animesh but as Hugh points out there is also such poetry here in this image - I may quibble a little with the need for a little dodge work on some of the faces beneath the brollies - some small play - but I agree with all he says.
best wishes kev
prezntime (3946) 2007-09-14 17:52
Damn Animesh...somthing clicked.
I don't mean to downplay any of your shots, but you understand what I'm talking about. We have times where we don't see...it happens. Yet, your photos, especially as of late, are amaing in their depth. What stories unfold...The downturned eyes of the young man infront give particular weight to this shot. Excellent.
SamB (1948) 2007-09-14 21:08
Whenever i read critiques of your work somebody else seems to be talking about the poetry... and it is so much a part of your work. You really blur the lines between photojournalism and fine art, sacrificing neither for the other, with great notes to boot. This shot seems to tell a very wide story of the life of West Bengalis in the ration system... the weariness and discouragement of life in a famine-frequented area in the foreground boy, the strength, confidence, and determination of the next boy, the shyness, humor, and friendship of farther children, and then the strength and pride of the distant bokehed adults, they all tell a story of the lives of the people here. Great work.
keribar (43841) 2007-09-14 21:59
This picture wouldn't be so strong if taken in color: The subject and the description about food distribution really asks for a BW picture. The children have such a sharp look, and I also like the way the umbrellas seem to embrace them.
Warm regards and happy week-end Izzet
Angshu (55375) 2007-09-15 22:04
Your note and the link is a stark reminder of the situation that exists in my state. The ration system which exists, which was implemented earlier & then refined so as to enable only the needy & poor to use it has not been particularly successful. Complacency & corrupt elements in the administration is, I might believe, the reason.
Superb tones in the picture, a type of silvery sheen. The kid in the FG who decided not to look at you is in my humble opinion the main attraction. This picture transcends the boundary of a documentary, yet it tells a strong 'tale'.
yanseiler (20) 2007-09-16 13:53
Hi Animesh, so cool again... this double layer of crowd is great (a people's cake), the first one with the umbrellas gives the kick and especially the first kid... superb...
prantik (1136) 2007-09-17 7:21
Poignant reminder that "India shining" mantra of Davos may need some re-adjustment I remember waiting for hours in those lines with my mother in the mid-70s when I was growing up in a lane in Garpar. We then moved up the social ladder and forgot the existence of ration cards and lines. The well to do young generation probably never even heard of this system, let alone physically experience it.
Did you Neat-Image it?(yes, it's a verb now).
Looks much softer and smoother than your usual pictures.
- Copyright: Animesh Ray (AnimeshRay) (9087)
- Genre: People
- Medium: Black & White
- Date Taken: 2007-07-26
- Categories: Daily Life
- Camera: Leica M6, Summicron 50mm/f2.0, Kodak TRI-X 400
- Exposure: f/2
- Photo Version: Original Version
- Theme(s): Favourite portraits, My Stylesheet, Kids from the World [view contributor(s)]
- Date Submitted: 2007-09-14 9:04
- Favorites: 1 [view]