Three Indian photographers – Kounteya Sinha, Paroma Mukherjee and Shome Basu – travelled through 21 European countries to chronicle the lives of the Indian diaspora.
Curry king Micky Sehgal arrived in Italy in June 1980 with $500 in his pocket. Today, Micky owns three of Rome’s most famous Indian restaurants by the name Maharajah and has an annual turnover of over 1.5 million euros. Sehgal’s first home was 65 square metres but now he lives in a 1,600 square metre villa. Maharajah’s clientele includes Anthony Hopkins, Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, Sachin Tendulkar, Shahrukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Rajnikant. Credit: Kounteya Sinha
New Delhi: ‘New Homelands: The Indian Diaspora in the European Union’, a photography exhibition organised by the EU’s delegation to India, sets out to chronicle the lives of Indians who have settled down in different parts of Europe. Three Indian photographers – Kounteya Sinha, Paroma Mukherjee and Shome Basu – travelled through 21 European countries to study the lives of the Indian diaspora.
Exhibition curator Alka Pande writes:
“The overseas Indian represents multiple regions, religions, languages, and cultures. Following the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, he began to migrate overseas. to countries of Africa, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and Fiji.
In the post-war era, Indians have journeyed forth to many different states of Europe. There are Roman Catholics as well as Punjabi farmers in Italy; Goans in Portugal; blue collar workers, and doctors in the UK, academics and artists in the Netherlands, France and Germany, bankers and jewelers in Belgium and so on. Their migration continues to this day as they are the second largest community of migrants to the European Union. Through the lens of the three selected photographers in this exhibition Paromita Mukherjee, Shome Basu and Kounteya Sinha, representatives of this diaspora in twenty-one states of the European Union have been documented.
… These sets of pictures, often staged, some candid, may have a finished beautiful quality, but the basic truth remains, the expression is true: in the choice of a camera angle, a frame, a choice of light and shadow is the photographer’s art and personal viewpoint, This is what we have tried to bring you.”
“In two months on the road through Europe I have discovered incredible stories of migration – people who took perilous chances to get to Europe just like some of the greatest explorers mankind has known.
Could it then be that they have once again come back from the dead? I think so.”
Rashmi Bhatt came to Italy 20 years ago to do his PhD at Florence University in Italian art history and could never go back. A musician since the age of 13, Bhatt is now one of Europe’s most famous percussionists who has collaborated with Sting, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Shakira and Zakir Hussain. Credit: Kounteya Sinha
Gurpreet Singh is originally from Jalandhar and, like many others, chased the European dream. He came to Athens as part of a Bhangra dance troupe and never went back. He now works in an aluminium factory. Credit: Kounteya Sinha
Kamal Parwani’s office is most interesting – every inch of the wall is pasted with family photographs, mainly of his two daughters. He says “that’s my CV, that’s my encyclopedia”. He got into business at the age of 17 as he didn’t want to waste time on education. Now, 37-year-old Kamal runs a 5,000 square metre warehouse, trading in over 7,000 items every day. Credit: Kounteya Sinha
In just a few weeks, the sun will be a scarce. But locals know exactly where to go to sweat it out – Dr Manivannan Ramaswamy’s Ayurveda centre in Ljubljana. Ramaswamy’s steam chamber – an ancient Indian object named Vashpaswedana – has a temperature of 45 degrees. Ramaswamy is also using Ayurveda to help Slovenia’s World War II veterans overcome depression and anxiety. Credit: Kounteya Sinha
Thirty-seven-year-old Vinay Venkatraman is an alumnus of NID (Ahmedabad) and runs a design company called LeapCraft in Copenhagen. He opened the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design and specialises in product design involving sensors and data. He just created an air quality sensor which measures pollution and weather conditions which is now being put on lamp posts across Denmark, Dubai, London and Norway. He has been living in Denmark for the past ten years. Credit: Kounteya Sinha
“This month in Europe has been incredible and undeniably exhausting. I was keen to meet Indians there mostly in the fields of academics, art and culture, of course with some exceptions. My idea was to make very simple portraits and keep away from a predictable, photojournalistic aesthetic of high contrast and dynamic wide-angle images. I also refrained from creating hyper-dynamic scenes around the central subjects, for I wanted the essence of the portraitist also to come through clearly in the image.”
Krishna Dutt came to Stockholm about t26 years ago with her husband and never left. A popular figure in Stockholm’s cultural circuit, she has written a book about her time in the city and even teaches Swedish. She has hosted artists such as Zakir Hussain in this very home and even though age has caught up with her, she still visits her sisters in India twice a year. Credit: Paroma Mukherjee
Lalit Vachani, a prominent documentary film maker, teaches courses on political documentary and documentary theory and production at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies at the University of Gottingen, Germany. Credit: Paroma Mukherjee
Sunil Gupta, photographer, seen with his work from India. He lives in London and apart from his own photographic practice, which has been seminal to gender studies through its portraits, Sunil teaches at the Royal College of Art, London. Credit: Paroma Mukherjee
Nita Mishra picks berries on a hill close to her home in Dublin. This is where she often comes to think and write. A PhD student at the University of Cork, Ireland, Nita has two children – Narayani (19) and Tanay (12). She’s been living in Ireland for nine years now along with her family and she’s also a respected and published poet. Credit: Paroma Mukherjee
Asker, the head chef at the India Club Bar and Restaurant came to London 20 years ago from Kerala. Along with his colleague and friend Khaled, he never thought of working anywhere else other than the historic India Club. The menu offers a range of home-cooked Indian dishes and his version of the mango lassi is a favourite with customers. Credit: Paroma Mukherjee
“Unlike many other communities around the world, Indians have not formed a ghetto. Yes, there are some pockets in the EU countries which cater to the economically deprived who settle in particular outskirts, but that is in unusual cases. The only case of a ghetto among Indians is in a place called Bobigny, an outskirt of Paris, where Sikh communities have settled in large numbers. Indians are no longer in a dire situation, in fact they benefit from the trust that Europeans place in them. A diamond merchant in Antwerp told me that if Indians could prosper in the diamond trade, it was because of this trust.”
Tanya Desai, born and brought up in Luxembourg, performs Bharatanatyam during ‘India Day’ celebrations. Credit: Shome Basu
An Indian rugby player among the Europeans in Brussels. Credit: Shome Basu
Anwar Hussain, with the sitar, came to Paris for a performance. He never left. Together with his brothers and his mother, they perform a Rajasthani folk repertoire across Europe. His mother was the first female singer in their community from Rajasthan. Credit: Shome Basu
Sajjad came to Slovakia in 1998 while he was working for the Slovak Airlines, which was operating from New Delhi. Later, he settled in Bratislava as a cook at a local restaurant. Thanks to his fluency in Arabic, he also worked as an interpreter with the Embassy of Saudi Arabia there. Sajjad speaks fluent Slovak and his signature butter chicken is famous among Slovakians in Bratislava. Credit: Shome Basu
Indians playing cricket in Sofia, Bulgaria. Prakash Mishra is heading the Asia Team and has been living in Sofia for several years. In the team, there are people from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Japan.
Credit: Shome Basu
‘New Homelands: The Indian Diaspora in the European Union’ is showing at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi from October 21 to November 7. Curated walks of the exhibition will be held daily from October 21 to 30, at 6:30 pm on weekdays and 5 pm on weekends.