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Icons of an icon: one photographer’s unusual collection of Gandhi idols

Chirodeep Chaudhuri has the likeness of Mahatma as a bobblehead, on a biker ring, on a pen and on Mount Rushmore. What makes the father of the nation so fascinating?

more lifestyle Updated: Oct 03, 2017 17:12 IST
Rachel Lopez
Rachel Lopez
Hindustan Times
Gandhi,Mahatma Gandhi,Gandhi Jayanti
Chaudhuri has amassed almost 50 unusual and wonderful Gandhi figurines over half a decade.(Chirodeep Chaudhuri)

“This one is terrible, actually. Obviously, you realise that the artist has no idea what Mahatma Gandhi looks like.”

Photographer Chirodeep Chaudhuri is at home in Mumbai, holding a papier-mâché nesting doll on which is painted the image of the freedom fighter. It is terrible. Gandhi’s face is jowly, his body portly, his smirking lips fuller than they’d ever been in real life. Chaudhuri loves it.

A biker ring may seem like an odd placement for the face of non-violence, but Chaudhuri has found that Gandhi’s message transcends the medium. (Chirodeep Chaudhuri)

The set, picked up in Varanasi, holds the three See-No-Evil monkey dolls and the tricolour painted over the tiniest doll. Other items in his collection of Gandhi memorabilia – nearly 50 objects amassed over half a decade – include a 3D printed figurine of Gandhi as Yoda, robe, pointy ears and all, gifted by a friend in the US.

There’s a miniature model of Mount Rushmore featuring Indian freedom fighters, including Gandhi. A bobblehead Mahatma sports wrinkle-free skin.

Gandhi’s eyes are closed on a brass bust; but open, bespectacled and a little cross-eyed in a terracotta one from Goa. The Father of the Nation is on a pen and a key-hanger.

One in bas relief shows Gandhi standing over undivided India, with the flag of the Indian National Congress; it lay for decades in an aunt’s closet. There’s even a Gandhi head on a metal biker ring.

“Gandhi is such an iconic figure, that you can pretty much take any creative liberty with it,” Chaudhuri says. “As long as there’s a bald head, glasses and a stick, it couldn’t be anything else.” And yet, despite the varied mediums, styles and rendering, none seem trite. “It’s done without eroding his sanctity,” he points out.

Chaudhuri admits to an “acquisitive sort of nature”. He’s collected masks and unusual keychains and worked on photo series about Mumbai’s public clocks and payphones. He started collecting Gandhi memorabilia after a friend, a news editor, began building a collection of political memorabilia featuring Ambedkar, George W Bush or Osama Bin Laden.

One item in Chaudhuri’s collection is a Mount Rushmore-style set of Indian founding fathers that includes Gandhi. (Chirodeep Chaudhuri)

His first Gandhi was a plaster of Paris trinket bought en route to photographing the Sonepur Mela in Bihar. His latest: a custom-made figure woven from grain, and picked up on assignment in Orissa.

“I find him a fascinating character, more so than other heroes of the freedom struggle,” says the photographer.

Chaudhuri has sourced most of the figurines from artisans’ workshops, antique stores and generic souvenir shops in small towns.

“Once you start collecting, it’s amazing how these things make their way to you,” he says. He’s developed an uncanny knack for knowing which spot will yield gold. “It’s the same as chasing an image as a photographer. You start to know where you’ll find the next one – your body tightens up, your spider sense tingles, you’re tuned into something others aren’t.”

Chaudhuri’s collection also includes this set of nesting dolls from Varanasi. (Chirodeep Chaudhuri)

First Published: Sep 30, 2017 18:44 IST