Exhibition in Dubai mall records the lives of India's aged, reports Sonali Raha

Samar S. Jodha stood in front of celebrated Indian writer Amrita Pritam's portrait in black and white. That, he explained, was one of his favourite photographs. "I do environment portraits, trying to capture the space a person likes to occupy. This photograph says it all. There are her books, her flowers, her portraits sketched by someone who loves her, her writing table where she has done incredible work. She is so comfortable in her own space. That is what the photograph is about," he said.

We were standing at the first floor of Mercato Mall in Jumeirah, Dubai. Jodha, 36, a professional photographer based in Dubai, is exhibiting 40 striking black and white photographs in his show Ageless Mind and Spirit: Faces and Voices from the World of India's Elderly. Every photograph is matched by a quote from the subject. Pritam, for instance, says, "Someone once asked an old woman, 'what is old age?' and she replied, 'The years are like sugar in your cup of tea. The last sip is the sweetest'."

Amrita Pritam, writer ©Gulf News
Clearly age has not withered Pritam's mind, spirit or wit.

That is equally true of the other people whose portraits Jodha is showing in Dubai until February 15.
His subjects span the entire rainbow of Indian class, caste and religion, from a Hindu zamindar of Calcutta to a Parsi pallbearer. Jodha has cleverly and clearly documented their lifestyle, almost turning them into symbols while maintaining their individuality.

The exhibition, sponsored by Fed Ex, showcases the work of eight years. It is accompanied by a book of the same name. Samar's brother Vijay S. Jodha, has done the research and the editing (the exhibition and book can be seen in www.agelessmindandspirit.com ).

Four hundred images and eight years have gone into the exhibition (40), the book (100) and two documentaries waiting to be released. "A major part of the exercise is to sensitise the young generation living in nuclear families to the old," Jodha said. The exhibition will be travelling to the UK and U.S. in the next few months, and he has specifically planned school rounds for these two countries.

"In the Western world, getting old has a negative image. In the East, as in the UAE and India, the old are still able to command respect. Through this project I learnt that being old is not really such a dead end," he added.

The project focusses on productive ageing, Jodha explained. "We based research in three areas. First, on people who have been in the limelight and are still going strong (Amrita Pritam, theatre guru and adman Alyque Padamsee, journalist and writer Khushwant Singh).

Alyque Padamsee, theatre guru and adman ©Gulf News
"Second, on people who have always been doing something in their own way (an editor of a Chinese newspaper based in Kolkata, India; a doctor who continues to treat patients well into his old age). Third, on people who have to keep working until they die (a pallbearer, a scavenger). These are people who really live on the edge, who represent larger issues."

Every person, he agreed, had a story to tell. "They've all lived long, productive lives, so they all have stories to tell. I found younger people are far more rigid than the old. I also found the old have very active minds, very sharp minds. They are very aware of their surroundings."

That is very clear through what the subjects have said themselves. Perhaps even clearer through their expressions and postures. Jodha said he deliberately chose black and white photography. "I don't trust colour. I think there's too much manipulation of colour and I wanted to maintain the purity of these images. I also felt they come from a generation that relates to black and white," he said.

The Jodhas have also worked on a similar project focussing on the UAE. The book (in Arabic and English), Agelesss Mind and Spirit: Faces and Voices from the UAE's Elderly, is in its final stages. "Here we have focussed on pearl divers, boat makers, farmers and pioneers in business," Jodha said.

Again, as he did with India, recording the growth of a modern nation.

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