THE CHAIR­MAN & THE MA­HATMA

India Today - - INSIDE -

Gandhi and Mao are not names of­ten spo­ken to­gether. So dis­sim­i­lar do these gi­ants of Asia seem, as men and lead­ers, that even think­ing of them as con­tem­po­raries de­mands an imag­i­na­tive leap. Luck­ily, Wal­ter Bosshard met them both, and his pic­tures live to tell the tale. Peter Pfrun­der, cocu­ra­tor of ‘En­vi­sion­ing Asia’, the first-ever In­dian show­ing of Bosshard’s pho­to­jour­nal­ism, cheek­ily sug­gests in his brochure es­say that “Bosshard him­self could be seen as the link be­tween Gandhi and Mao”. Cer­tainly, the 51 pho­tographs and one silent film on show at Delhi’s Ki­ran Nadar Mu­seum of Art (KNMA) make clear that both men “wel­comed this for­eign pho­to­jour­nal­ist with open arms”, at shap­ing mo­ments of their ca­reers. Bosshard met Gandhi in 1930 at Dandi, af­ter the Salt March. In a piece of his­tor­i­cal serendip­ity, he

also met Mao af­ter a march: in 1938, when he jour­neyed six days from the pro­vi­sional cap­i­tal of Hankou to Yan’an, the closely-guarded ‘Red Cap­i­tal’ where Mao had with­drawn af­ter the Long March.

Un­like his leg­endary sub­jects, Bosshard never marched the length and breadth of a coun­try to mo­bilise his peo­ple. But if we set aside for a mo­ment his po­si­tion as a white man in an im­pe­ri­al­ist world, Bosshard’s own trav­els are quite im­pres­sive. A Swiss pri­mary school teacher from 1908 to 1912, he stud­ied art his­tory in Zurich and Flo­rence and did mil­i­tary ser­vice in Italy dur­ing World War I. Bosshard’s life af­ter 1919 would be the envy of any ex­pe­ri­ence-hunt­ing mil­len­nial: he worked on a plan­ta­tion in Su­ma­tra, as a gem dealer in East Asia, and as a mer­chant in In­dia and Thai­land. In 1927-28, he was a pho­tog­ra­pher on a Ger­man ex­pe­di­tion to Cen­tral Asia. By 1930, he had so es­tab­lished him­self that the Mu­nich Il­lus­trated Press sent him to In­dia on a ‘study trip’. Be­tween Fe­bru­ary and Oc­to­ber, Bosshard trav­elled over 20,000 km, gath­er­ing enough ma­te­rial for his 1931 book, In­dien Kämpft (In­dia Fights)!.

The high­light of Bosshard’s In­dia trip, though, was reach­ing Dandi in time to shoot the com­ing of Gandhi. With 78 vol­un­teers, Gandhi had walked for 24 days along the coast, crowds join­ing him to protest the Bri­tish mo­nop­oly on salt. The power of these pic­tures is still un­de­ni­able: hun­dreds wad­ing into the water to pick up salt; a child walk­ing jaun­tily off with a cloth bun­dle of drip­ping, salty mud. The pres­ence of women is strik­ing. In one great im­age, Bosshard cap­tures ru­ral women marchers mid­stride, one end of their white saris wound over their heads, the other end hoisted up to re­veal their calves. Here is the fe­male In­dian form cast for once as a labour­ing body in po­lit­i­cal ac­tion, un­self­con­scious and thus, un­fetishis­able. There are also women lead­ers: a stoic Mithuben Petit at an anti-al­co­hol protest in Navsari; Saro­jini Naidu, the poet and Congress leader, who had urged Bosshard to visit Gandhi at Dandi, say­ing “he will have time”.

It ap­pears Gandhi did. In Bosshard’s im­ages, the 60-year-old fight­ing the world’s most pow­er­ful em­pire ap­pears ut­terly re­laxed: grin­ning at a satir­i­cal The Times of In­dia ed­i­to­rial, spin­ning, eat­ing onion soup, cack­ling with un­in­hib­ited laugh­ter, shav­ing. “At this stage of his ca­reer in 1930, he is the only world leader who treated the cam­era like a con­fi­dant of his in­ner cir­cle, to be trusted, silently,” co-cu­ra­tor Sinha said in an email in­ter­view. “There is a heart­warm­ing nat­u­ral­ness and spon­tane­ity in these pic­tures. By the time Mar­garet Bourke-White or Kanu Gandhi were to shoot Gandhi at the charkha or in pub­lic meet­ings, he was much older, much more stud­ied be­fore the cam­era.” In the KNMA brochure es­say, Sinha ar­gues that these im­ages also high­light Gandhi’s “most pro­nounced ar­eas of re­flec­tion and en­gage­ment”: his as­tute grasp of the me­dia, his ob­ses­sion with diet and the body, spin­ning the khadi as in­te­gral to his idea of swara­jya (self-rule). Whether it was the pho­tog­ra­pher or the Ma­hatma who de­ter­mined its el­e­ments, Bosshard’s pic­tures es­tab­lished a Gandhi iconog­ra­phy that still holds sway.

The Yan’an im­ages are a stark con­trast to the In­dian ones. Whether it’s a young, se­ri­ous Mao Ze­dong stand­ing scrupu­lously straight be­fore the cam­era, the cold moun­tain­ous ex­panses through which the Eighth Route Army marches, or

Bosshard’s pic­tures es­tab­lished a Gandhi iconog­ra­phy that still holds sway

sim­ply the short hair, trousers and jack­ets both men and women wear, Bosshard’s 1938 vi­su­als re­veal how China and In­dia’s paths di­verged. “China broke from an older civil­i­sa­tion in a way In­dia did not,” says Shilpa Sharma, a PhD scholar in Delhi Univer­sity’s depart­ment of Chi­nese Stud­ies. “Also, Gandhi was re­spond­ing to a bu­reau­cratic state, where there was law and or­der. China’s many bloody wars meant ahimsa (non-vi­o­lence) could not have emerged there. Mao stand­ing strong phys­i­cally in pic­tures was part of a show of strength needed to win,” she adds.

De­spite dif­fer­ences, “these were mass lead­ers who led their il­lit­er­ate, poor so­ci­eties out of feu­dal and colo­nial op­pres­sion,” says He­mant Ad­lakha, who teaches Chi­nese Stud­ies at the Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity. “There is com­pa­ra­ble poverty, a shared ide­al­ism, the in­struc­tion of fol­low­ers,” says Sinha. “[Both had] a vi­sion for change for their coun­tries.”

Nearly 90 years later, both In­dia and China have di­verged greatly from these men’s vi­sions.

—Trisha Gupta

April 7, 1930: Ar­rival of vol­un­teers at the river

1930: Congress head­quar­ters, Mum­bai

1938: Soldiers of the Eighth Route Army

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.