On July 8, author Amitav Ghosh announced the news of his stint as the writer-in-residence at the Rashtrapati Bhavan with the sparseness and economy that he is celebrated for.
The announcement elicited a cascade of congratulatory messages on Twitter. There was an expectation that Ghosh would write about the stay at the sprawling Presidential Estate upon its conclusion. But the documentation began earlier – and in another form.
The award-winning writer of noted works such as The Shadow Lines and The Ibis Trilogy has been wandering around the estate, photographing its features, and sharing the images on Twitter since July 10.
In an email, Ghosh said that he always took pictures of things that interested him. So instead of Edward Lutyens’s famous architecture, his camera focuses on the insides of rooms, sculptures and the sewage treatment system. “There is no special agenda to it,” he said. “Besides, I am not a good photographer, certainly not good enough to do justice to intricate architectural details.”
The In-Residence programme at the Rashtrapati Bhavan was launched by President Pranab Mukherjee in 2013 to give writers and artists a chance to be a part of the estate’s life. Since then 140 individuals have been invited under the programme, including painter and Member of Parliament Jogen Choudhury, sculptor Subodh Gupta and artist Paresh Maity.
The five-day stay of Ghosh and his wife Deborah Baker differs from his predecessor’s: He is the first to be put up in Rashtrapati Bhavan’s guest wing, the section normally opened up only for heads of states.
The rooms provided to Ghosh and his wife overlook the Mughal Gardens and he said they have spent a good deal of time walking around them. The monsoons, he added, are not a good time for the garden that is most famous for its roses. “I’m told the garden is at its best in February-March. This has made me wonder about how an interesting monsoon garden might be created. After all, the monsoons are when the soil of India comes alive; so much of our art and music is about the monsoons.”
The Padma Shri recipient said he didn’t have any immediate plans to write about his experience. “But it may well find its way into my work indirectly.”
Here are some other images tweeted by Ghosh to his nearly lakh followers.
He joined President Mukherjee and his daughter Sharmistha Mukherjee for meals. “It was a real pleasure and privilege to have lunch with the president and his daughter,” he said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this before.”
He also spent some time with the President's Guards.
It’s not every day that a writer tweets from inside the Rashtrapati Bhavan, so people on social media grabbed the chance to ask Ghosh questions and thank him for the images.