PAN INDIA, a shared habitat

The exhibition, and book, curated by Sanjeev Saith, was presented in India by TASVEER and was shown in Delhi, Bangalore. Kolkata, Mumbai & Ahmedabad through 2009 - 2010. The exhibition also travelled to Hong Kong and Switzerland.

I am that by Sanjeev Saith

We know that the camera captures moments in time. When we look at a photograph, we share a slice of someone’s life. Sometimes, though not very often, we get a bit more of the loaf. If the camera is in the hands of a photographer who has shed the desire to create the single magical picture, we are given the opportunity to mull over a body of work, more real, more substantial. When this maker of images draws on decades of compassionate observation as a resource, we gain the added good fortune of being offered a way of seeing.

In Pan India, Prashant Panjiar takes us on a site-seeing tour of construction and demolition, of homes stable and fickle, of shared habitats public and private, of secure foundations and worrisome roofs.

Behind walls, within boxes, under tin, among wires, inside pipes, above air, Panjiar’s dwellers place their belongings. Some take shelter to stay a while, some hang their life’s memories on the walls and make a home. In the plainness, in the adornment, we sense what they may feel – the fragility, the safekeeping, the stacking, the packing, of objects, of people, living out a daily wage, living off old money.

We find that transience and durability are neighbours. A concrete staircase hangs beyond reach from a first-floor home, its base demolished to make way for the promise of metro rail – a bamboo ladder bridges the gap. A wire holds a worker’s washing up to the breeze above bricks that hold his tin roof down. A new imposing apartment complex rises high above dry bramble – from their windows in the sky, the owners can view snagged tatters of used plastic. The decapitated torso of a tree stands like a used candle on the edge of a highway, its mutilated beauty an inspiration for new urban design. Billboards sell tranquility. Nature exists in advertisements, it is etched on artifacts. A sculpted saint looks up to the heavens. Ragpickers stoop to harvest fields of garbage. A door leans, unhinged.

We make. We break. We consume. We survive. We pray. As we have come to expect of this master photographer, his eye remains still in the whirl of ‘development’. Faced by the doing and undoing of man’s idea of ‘progress’, he uses a wider, panoramic format, showing you more, blunting the sharp impulse to grab the quick image, choosing instead to simply stand still and stare back. He wields not his wit, but his wisdom.

His photographs are calm, meditative. They teach. I contemplate. This is how we live. This is who we are. This is who I am. I carved the earth, I made that fence, I marked the land. I am the gate, I am the lock, I am the wire. I raised those walls, I built those flats, I sold those dreams. I am the brick, I am cement, I am the ladder. I painted that house, I bought that TV, I lit that lamp. That’s my Shergill, that’s my cycle, that’s my cow. I mutilated that tree, I widened that road, I demolished that shanty. That’s my hammer, that’s my greed, that’s my future. That’s me. I am that.

There are tongues in trees, books in bricks, sermons in steel.

Bond of sand and cement, a handshake between humans for better or for worse, to these do we belong.

Panjiar reminds us that we share a life.

We learn that men live together, whether they live together or apart.

Sanjeev Saith is a photographer, writer and curator