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Remembering Marcus Leatherdale, Who Made McCluskieganj His Second Home

Famous photographer Marcus Leatherdale died in McCluskieganj on April 22, 2022. The people of the town have moved on, but they still tell his stories.

Marcus Leatherdale. Photographs: Chinki Sinha in McCluskieganj 2022 & 2023
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He never wished to outlive his lover. That’s what he wrote in his last letter. Short notes with phone numbers of the relevant people scribbled underneath with instructions regarding his photographs and money. Does someone who has decided to kill oneself become so precise and poetic in letters that are meant for final goodbyes?

Marcus Leatherdale, a famous photographer, had hid these letters in the apartment of his former partner Claudia Summers in New York before he came to McCluskieganj. It is strange to think he had been planning to die all this while as he continued to rebuild and renovate the bungalow in McCluskieganj that he had bought many years ago.

But on April 22, 2022, the 69-year-old ended his life, according to his caretaker Kailash Yadav and the police. His body lay in the morgue for 12 days and almost rotted before they cremated him. His ashes were thrown in the Ganges. Everyone in the Gunj knew him. They have moved on but they still tell his stories.

Leatherdale came to India in the 1970s and kept coming here for years and bought a bungalow in the Gunj. He had met Kailash who used to be a tea seller in Varanasi and had taken him along on his assignments. It is a death that people in the Gunj haven’t reconciled with. Some say it is a murder and others feel the place got to him along with the other losses he suffered.

The film A Death in The Gunj also tells the story of a young man who kills himself while on holiday here. Death of the Gunj is now coming. They all know it. That’s the loss they have been preparing for. But they also know they are never prepared enough. Mines have come up and the Gunj is no longer what it was. More deaths will happen. Natural ones. And then who will tell the stories?

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