Purple Travel

[March 30 2015]

Absent presence in Kolkata

Many years ago I visited Sri Lanka and it left me wanting to see India. It’s like a big sister and the hub of the world. For two weeks I decided to see Kolkata. It doesn’t seem to be the most charming city in all of India but at the time of my stay was a festival called Durga Puja which caught my attention. There, Hindus celebrated the female god Durga which resulted into a long-term celebration all around West Bengali.

My hotel was an old British colonial building with lots of character and many lobby boys. Straightaway I connected with them which resulted in many days spent photographing them and listening to their life-stories. The rest of my time I was drifted through the streets, people watched, indulged in a variety of food and drank probably hundred chai teas.

For so many Indians the streets are their life, work, and home. Sometimes walking through the streets of Kolkata felt like walking through people’s living room. Still, I’m fascinated of their self organization – there is an art of survival that’s impressive and horrifying at the same time. Although their living circumstances seem to be dirty, people have a strong order and structure in their way of living.

Kolkata is that kind of city which seems to be frozen in time, arrested in a moment and unable to move forward. There, romance meets drama. For me, Kolkata is somewhere in between. A hurting shimmer, frozen.

When I think about Kolkata, I think about an absent presence. Women in Kolkata were absent, they were almost not existing, like ghosts. Walking around in the streets of Kolkata means walking with 90% of men around you. Which resulted in photos of 90% of men. Therefore, when I think about Kolkata, I think mostly about men. And me somewhere in between.

Text and photo Stefanie Moshammer


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