Prime Edition

Confronting a ‘flawed’ past to accept a beautiful present
SHWETA SHARMA  13th Oct 2012

From Shankar Sarkar’s Facing One’s Own

red light area incites both excitement and discomfort. But for 21-year-old Shankar Sarkar, the red light area in Seth Bagan, North Kolkata, is home. Born in Malkangiri district in Odisha, Sarkar was brought up in this red light area. Sarkar was a baby when his mother, Kavita, was trafficked to Kolkata and forced to become a sex worker. Finally, it was at his grandmother's behest that he, along with his grandmother, started looking for his mother. After a two-month long frantic hunt, Sarkar finally saw his estranged mother.

"She used to send us money regularly, but she never mentioned her whereabouts, her profession, or the place she lives in. My grandma knew she was somewhere in Kolkata, and at the age of two, I set out for Kolkata with my grandma to look for my mother. And after two months, we found her at a red light area and knew that she was trafficked," says Sarkar.

While growing up in the area, "I used to blame my fate as I did not get the things and opportunities other 'normal' children did. Due to financial constraints, I had to drop out from school after Class Five. Incidentally, I disliked the school atmosphere where I was treated as an outsider and was bullied by my teachers and classmates. I left school but with a dream to do something to change my life. But I did not know what. Time passed by aimlessly, joylessly and without doing anything...," he adds.

It was finally in 2000 under the guidance of Suvendu Chatterjee, director, Drik India that Sarkar's perspective towards his mother and life changed for good, all thanks to the wonder called photography. And it was through this newly acquired interest that Sarkar indulged in a dialogue with his mother that gave birth to a beautiful, evocative and emotionally stimulating project, Facing One's Own, in 2011.

For others, red-light areas appear exciting, but as an insider and being a photographer it did not excite me the same way. The surrounding ordinariness embedded with deep emotions has its own story to tell. — Shankar Sarkar

"It is an interpersonal story, a dialogue between my mother and me, through my camera. The images carry my emotions and sentiments. I started photographing my mother when I was a kid but did not know that my photos could materialise into a project involving me, my mother and the place we live in. It was after my photos were displayed at the Delhi Photo Festival that the project developed," Sarkar explains.

Aptly titled, the project gives a monochromatic peek into the life of Sarkar's mother which he clarifies is not representative of unhappiness, but celebrates her life and also his neighbours, who are part of his much-praised pictures.

"Many people are still stigma-struck about us, but photography has really empowered me and broken my personal stigma. I've seen some photographers coming from different parts of India and abroad taking pictures in the so-called 'red light' areas. For them such areas appear exciting, but as an insider and being a photographer it did not excite me the same way. The surrounding ordinariness embedded with deep emotions has its own story to tell," he says.

Widely exhibited in India and abroad, Facing One's Own has made Shankar strong enough to accept and face hardships and move on. "I want to continue the project and want to seek funds through my organisation to publish the project in a book form," he says.

Though still in Seth Bagan, Kavita now works at a garments manufacturing factory. Sarkar is a photographer with Drik India and aspires to become a social documentary photographer.

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