It’s hard to look away from the Rajasthani woman in the centre of the frame. The light-eyed lady, dressed in a ghagra-choli and odhni, smokes a bidi, appearing ever so slightly annoyed. Wisps of smoke spiral up from her fingers, magnifying the Rajasthan heat and looking like undulations in the black and white photograph. The gaggle of giggling boys behind her remains a blur.
“The minute she noticed me she threw her bidi down and almost picked up a rock to throw at me,” recounted Sudhir Kasliwal. Kasliwal is a fifth generation royal jeweller, a photographer and artist. He has been practicing photography for almost 50 years and some of that work from Rajasthan, a state he calls home, is being shown at an exhibition titled Wander Lens at Delhi’s Bikaner House from April 10 to April 17.
The joy in Kasliwal’s photography lies in the connection he makes with his subject. “I’m tired of just the forts, palaces and maharajas showing up in pictures of Rajasthan,” said the 67-year-old. “I’m proud of my heritage, but I think it is the people of Rajasthan, the ones who live in villages, those who work at the various fairs and melas, that make for interesting subjects.”
In the foreword to the exhibition catalogue, art historian Aman Nath writes, “Looking at his work in books or in his portfolio, one walks away from his art carrying the seductive innocence of faces, faces, faces. Faces loved and left behind, faces that bring us back to his beloved Rajasthan, its landscape and its walls with the patina of history.”
Kasliwal won an award at the World Photography Contest, organised by UNESCO in 1993, and was also recognised in 1989 for his contribution to photography by the governor of Rajasthan. His photo features have figured in leading national and international magazines.
“I still use film cameras on and off,” said Kasliwal. “I love black and white, and still develop pictures in a darkroom. And I don’t feel satisfied with just having soft copies of pictures. Holding the print in my hand is what makes it real for me.”
Kasliwal’s photographs seem to be in search of the quotidian. In one delicate and strategically blurred portrait, there’s a woman bathing. “Notice how she is still wearing all her jewellery,” he said. “They always do that. They keep their jewels on no matter what.”
Kasliwal’s work is dramatic and removed from the tourist’s Rajasthan. “When foreigners think of India, they think Taj Mahal. There is so much more to this country than Taj Mahal. I want them to look at the village folk, their attire, their food, their kitchens and gain some insight into the real India.”
Wander Lens by Sudhir Kasliwal will be on at Bikaner House, Delhi, from April 10 to April 17.