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To Indira, With Love: An exhibition of the former Prime Minister’s intimate, unseen photographs

A photographic exhibition brings to the public for the first time, rare photographs of Indira Gandhi

art and culture Updated: Nov 24, 2017 18:55 IST
Paroma Mukherjee
Paroma Mukherjee
Hindustan Times

Sonia Gandhi (left) with Indira Gandhi, while on holiday in Shimla. (Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum Archives)

To think of it, I haven’t seen a bad photograph of Indira Gandhi,” said Pramod Kumar KG, curator of the photography exhibition, “Indira: A Life of Courage,” celebrating the former Prime Minister’s birth centenary at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum (IGMM) in New Delhi. Working with a gargantuan 90,000 photographs housed in the collection of the IGMM Trust, Kumar and co-curator Deepthi Sasidharan spent four years sifting through archives to put together the exhibition, comprising over 300 photographs and 44 objects.

The sari Gandhi wore during her last public appearance in Bhubaneswar in October 1984 as well as handwritten correspondence and some diaries are on display indoors, while the photography exhibit is spread out on the lawns of her erstwhile residence (now museum) at 1, Safdarjung Road in the heart of the capital. Designed as a chronological exhibit, most photographs on view have never been displayed before and this in itself is a unique insight into the trajectory of Gandhi’s personal and political life.

Ten radials from the centre of the outdoor garden lead the viewer to different decades of her life. The undeniable charm of her early years is the most striking part of the show. During her growing years in Allahabad, photographs from the Nehru albums chronicle a clear transition from European opulence to homespun khadi. A shy Indira Nehru, photographed by Julian Rust in Mussoorie (c. 1926) is unimaginable as India’s future Prime Minister.

Right from the beginning, one notices something unusual about young Indira. There’s a hesitation in her engagement with the camera, though she never shies away from being photographed. The introversion starts to fade slowly, especially in the photographs with Jawaharlal Nehru during their South-East Asia tour to garner support for India’s freedom struggle. She’s at the forefront with her father, walking together in Penang, Malaysia, his arms locked into hers – a sure sign of her induction into the family’s rich political legacy.

Indira Nehru was close to Mahatma Gandhi, even as a child. She was by his side when he was recovering from his fast in Delhi in 1924 and in a photograph by DG Tendulkar from 1948, she’s seen sitting on the steps of the train that was carrying his ashes. What is remarkable about the show is the lucidity with which it presents Indira Gandhi’s personal life, while never straying from her political career and the travels she undertook.

A photograph of young Indira by her husband Feroze Gandhi during their honeymoon in Jammu & Kashmir, 1942, is placed next to a portrait of him against the mountains, photographed by Indira. The intimacy of these photographs is rare for seldom does the public have access to the personal lives of their political leadership in this manner.

Managing and editing the mammoth archive was no mean feat and Pramod Kumar KG applauds Sonia Gandhi for filling the gaps in information. “She is the family archivist – a huge repository of knowledge, and it would’ve been impossible to map Mrs Gandhi’s life in photographs without her,” he said.

As the photos move along the decades, Gandhi’s relationship with the people of India comes to the fore. From visiting Arunachal Pradesh’s reclusive Apatani tribe to attending an Urs celebration at the Nizamuddin dargah in Delhi, the photographs show a leader in rare proximity with public. And yes, there were the dark years of the Emergency, but even in villages today, it is her painted portrait that hangs on the walls of most tea stalls.

WHAT: Exhibition - Indira: A Life of Courage

WHEN: 9.30am – 4.30pm, till January 31, 2018 (Monday closed)

WHERE: Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum, Safdarjung Road

NEAREST METRO: Lok Kalyan Marg

First Published: Nov 24, 2017 18:16 IST