A solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail helps the author come face to face with nature and find herself
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A Village in Bengal is a collection of about 100 uncaptioned photographs preceded by an essay, in which Chirodeep Chaudhuri portrays his ancestral village during the annual Durga Puja festivities. Chaudhuri made these photographs over several years, timing his visits with his extended family’s annual gathering at their ancestral mansion for their family Puja.
In his essay, Chaudhuri recounts this arrival: “... children would run to the doors and women would turn away from their chores... ‘The babus have come’, they would whisper.” This work appears to be about the ripples thrown into the rural stillness by the annual arrival of the babus. If he sees layers in this event, Chaudhuri doesn’t show. His gaze is that of a hnaa-kora chhele, a gaping boy.
So we get page after anodyne page of rural scapes, of livestock, fish and fowl, and of the Chaudhuri family going about their Puja. Then there is the occasional gem that transcends this family album: a bevy of aunts lounge on a bed in an intimate heap, one holds up a gold bangle for inspection; a set of serious adult faces surround a table laden with rural breakfast fare and a cherubic child.
The non-Chaudhuris are a fleeting presence and bring Chaudhuri’s disconnect with his subject to the fore. A rural boy bathes in a pond. Eyes lowered as if in protest, he casts not a ripple. The collection’s one clearly visible rural face is of a woman carrying a child as she matches the camera’s arrogant gaze. This is inexplicably juxtaposed with piglets suckling a reclining sow. There are other such baffling pairs. In one, two wispy boys walk down a shady trail, immersed in camaraderie. Here Chaudhuri comes closest to his aspirational “deep silence of rural Bengal”. Then we see the facing page — a banal shot of a gaggle of ducks crossing the street.
The book has a telling tailpiece — a close-up of a spider on an old lime-washed wall. Not unlike “those large spiders behind the doors in the dimly lit toilets” that would unnerve a teenage Chaudhuri on his village visits. Perhaps it is such a spidery fear of a behind-the-door other that came between Chaudhuri and his village in Bengal.
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