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Photographer's Note

I continue with the mainly Indian part of my Asian journey 45 years ago.

This is not a beautiful photo and it will not please many of you. But it is not intended to please anyone. This was the grim reality of life for thousands of people in Calcutta when I first arrived in that great city in late 1972.

One year earlier Bangladesh had become an independent state through a war with Pakistan. Tens of thousands of Bangladeshis had taken refuge in Calcutta, just across the border, a city that for decades had already been flooded with migrants from rural West Bengal and other impoverished states such as Bihar. The economy was strained, there was a great shortage of adequate housing and much of the infrastructure had hardly been improved since colonial days.

At this time people were living in extremely primitive huts like these everywhere in Calcutta, or just sleeping on the pavements with no roof at all for protection. This was the case even in relatively affluent central parts of the city. This particular photo was taken from Howrah Bridge, a huge bridge across the Hooghly River from central Calcutta to Howrah Station, one of the largest railway stations in India. The shadows, which I was eager to capture, show the construction of the bridge, which you can see in a workshop.

In 1968 the French director Louis Malle made a documentary film simply called Calcutta. I had seen it, and like most other Westerners I had been shocked by the miserable poverty and ghastly class differences shown in the movie. So when I arrived in Calcutta by train from northern India I was rather nervous, even though I had already spent more than a month in India without any problems. I had handled the poverty of Delhi and the crowds and religious fervour of Varanasi, but would I manage the horrors of this city?

I saw all the misery that Malle had shown, but I soon realized that it didn't pose any danger to me. I actually found Calcutta a very nice and extremely interesting city, even amazingly safe, and I also realized there was a great "fighting spirit" in the city, so many people looking forward, trying to make the city better, keeping their dignity even when lacking any kind of resources.

Even to this day Calcutta remains my favourite Indian mega city. It has been a pleasure to see that it has improved a lot in the decades since 1972. There is still poverty and slums, but sights like in this photo are gone. Development projects in the countryside have largely stopped the migration into the city.

One more workshop will show a typical street view from Calcutta in 1972.

Here is a larger version of the main photo. All photos were scanned from Kodachrome slides.

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Additional Photos by Gert Holmertz (holmertz) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 9405 W: 507 N: 18371] (81514)
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