Saturday, February 6, 2016

Rooh the enduring spirit : Exhibition of photographs


The Enduring Spirit

What is it that draws the Past into the waking world?

It is the picture. It is the voice. It is aroma.

The Past lives in us through a tapestry of the senses.

These are the fabric of Rooh, the spirit that arises and
fills your being at the most unexpected moment.

Bringing comfort and sadness at once.

In Rooh, I have brought together landscapes:

Bombay streets, Benares gulleys, Family photographs and

Family stories. There is one photograph from the dargah of

Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, in Mehrauli. On a hot summer afternoon, I shared a shady spot

in the dargah courtyard with two Kashmiri women. Struck by their beauty and poise, I asked

if I could take their picture.

Yes, they said.

As you walk in these landscapes, you may meet and feel the spirits of these worlds.

The Bombay photographs are from either side of Mohammedali Road.

My mother, Asiya, spent twenty years meticulously studying and writing about the lives of

people in Bombay who became bankrupt

in the latter part of the nineteenth century. She has written a book about them, “Bombay’s


Their ghosts and their descendants surely dwell in the neighbourhoods

I roamed in. Ayesha, the butcherman Ismael’s mother, could well be sitting at the chai shop

in Zakariya lane, watching me as I walk up and down. The descendants of tailors,

carpenters, blacksmiths, milk vendors, courtesans, dancing girls and prostitutes may

continue to live and work here.

Presence flows through worlds we hold apart in the language we speak.

It streams from photographs and from handwritten letters,

Voice conjures presence.

Where moments ago was quiet, now speaks a voice.

A voice I listened to on a morning gone by is back.

Past tumbles into Present.

My father’s narratives spanned several worlds.

His conversations covered many themes: Justice, Conflict, Ghalib and Mir, The Evolution of

Language, Photography, Silence. I recorded the Breakfast Monologues over a period of six

years: 2007 to 2013.

In Rooh there is a collection of stories, drawn from the Breakfast Monologues. The stories

are primarily from my father’s life, growing up in Eastern UP, from the early 1930’s to the

early 1950’s.

His family lived in Benares twice during this time.

The Benares photographs in Rooh are from a short trip to the Rajghat Besant School in

October 2014. They are pictures of people and spaces that are linked to the world of my

father’s childhood.

Over the past three years, I have made cyanotype prints of select family photographs.

Cyanotypes were first made by the British astronomer Sir John Herschel, in 1842. He

devised the process to make multiple copies of mathematical tables. Soon after, the British

botanist and artist, Anna Atkins, made exquisite cyanotypes of algae, ferns and flowering


Here, you will find indigo blue prints of my sister, brothers, cousins, parents, aunts and

uncles. As I made the Family in Blue prints, I listened to my father’s Breakfast Monologues.

I wove another set of stories from the existing tapestry.

The world of the living and the world of the departed came together as Rooh.

Diba Siddiqi

Bangalore January 2016

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