'History in the making': The visual archives of Kulwant Roy

'History in the making': The visual archives of Kulwant Roy

Remarkable pictures of Gandhi, Nehru, Lord Mountbatten and other Indian history makers are brought to light in a new book by Aditya Arya
Jawaharlal Nehru
Mahatma Gandhi
Govind Ballabh Pant
Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel
Jawaharlal Nehru
Mahatma Gandhi
Indian partition
Prime Minister Nehru
Jawaharlal Nehru with Govind Ballabh Pant at Holi, Delhi, undated.

When Aditya Arya unpacked the yellow crates given to him by family friend and photojournalist Kulwant Roy, little did he realise that he was setting Indian history free. Inside, was a visual record of his country’s past, from the time of its struggle for independence to the years thereafter. Rare photographs of Mahatma Gandhi in debate with Jinnah, a gentleman with whom he was seldom seen, Jacqueline Kennedy sharing a laugh with Nehruji, the Indian National Army Trials, Congress Party Meetings, and Gandhi’s visit to the North West Frontier Province emerged from the containers which had remained unopened for 23 years.

Click the gallery above for a look at some of these amazing pictures

Kulwant RoyKulwant Roy in Japan in 1961.Born in 1914 in a Lahore that still belonged to India, Kulwant Roy took up photography with the help of Arya's uncle. He later joined the Royal Indian Air Force where he developed his skills as an aerial photographer. However, he was soon discharged for defying the British. In the 1940s, Roy moved to New Delhi, where he became a principal member of the press corps. Eighteen years later, he embarked upon a world tour where he took hundreds of photographs in more than 30 countries. Towards the end of this journey, Roy posted many negatives and images to his home --– images that were never to be found. After falling into a depression, Roy died of cancer in 1984. 

"History in the making"

Arya says, “Being an advertising photographer myself I used to travel on work a lot. When I found these images, all that stopped. I had to catalogue and archive them, and put together what is now a book called ‘History in the Making.’ This book is for Roy, a gentleman who encouraged me to pick up the camera. Sometimes I regretted quitting my work but I now realise I have given back to my profession as well as my country.”

"History in the Making" started being put together in late 2007. The foreward has been written by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the entire book published in hardback by Harper Collins India, available for Rs 4,999. Only 5,000 copies are being made available in its first print run. The Piramal Art Gallery at the Mumbai’s NCPA recently hosted an exhibition of Roy’s works after launching the book on April 2. Arya hopes that the exhibition will provide ordinary Indians a chance to make their own interpretations of this visual history. 

Nehruji Nehruji at Raj Ghat in 1949.Interestingly enough, a limited edition of Kulwant Roy’s photographs of Gandhi -- "The Gandhi Collection" -- was recently published by the India Photo Archive Foundation, Arya's labour of love. While the first copy was bought by Manmohan Singh, the second was bought by industrialist Suresh Neotia (who donated Rs 40 lakhs to establish the India Photo Archive Foundation) and the third given as an official gift to President Obama in November 2009.

Freedom hard earned

Arya, whose book has been enriched with some eye-opening text by historian Indivar Kamtekar, says the aim of the book is to share the fact that India didn’t get freedom on a platter. Kamtekar, who is currently on sabbatical from the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, is teaching modern history at the National University of Singapore. His PhD, from the University of Cambridge, was awarded at the end of British rule in India. Together, Arya and Kamtekar have melded words and images to form a deeply moving narrative. 

According to Arya one cannot put a price on these images; furthermore, he believes the originals should never be for sale. “They aren’t meant to be split up -- they are one chunk of history,” says the photographer who shared a very close relationship with Roy.

Of all these images, my favourites are those of the Indian Constitution being signed, Gandhiji with Sardar Patel and Nehru, and Gandhiji addressing the INA soldiers because, says he, “It’s history. All of these are. How many people have seen a photograph of the Indian constitution being signed? These are for posterity.”

Visit www.harpercollins.co.in for book details or email Ratna Joshi at ratna.joshi@harpercollins-india.com

A Bombay-born writer, Alisha Patel has travelled the world in quest of all she dreams to write about - people, places, culture, food and design.
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