As spectators to India’s surge ahead towards becoming a global nation we some times tend to forget the centuries old traditions that have often defined India across time. And even today’s generation thinks of India of yore it’s all the seemingly good things that come mind.
But along the superpower that India is, exists a rather rudimentary nation that still exists in the past. Mention the secluded lives of widows and many of us won’t even acknowledge that there are people who still think that the death of a spouse can alter the course of lives.
Lonely Images, a photo exhibition offered one such insight into the world of Indian widows. Often condemned to a life of loneliness and subjected to taunts, physical and mental torture at the hands of the deceased husband’s relatives, widows in India have no one else to turn to except gods.
Featuring the works of Ying Leong, Erik Boker, Brain Harmon and Vanessa Tang, Lonely Images highlights the women forced by centuries old traditions to renounce all of life’s luxuries.
Vanessa Tang shows the life of such women in the holy city of Benares. Tang’s lens captures the ‘slowness’ of a widows’ life along the banks of Ganga. The images are unlike anything that Incredible India would ever show you as they depict a world that is as old as time itself and yet survives parallel to the present.
Put together by the Guild For Service, an organisation dedicated to empowering women for more than forty years, the exhibition also highlights the work done by the Guild. Started in 1972 by the Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr Mohini Giri, the organisation spearheads the movement for giving status to widows and bringing back dignity and joy to their lives.
Ying Leong’s photos feature the widows at Amar Bari, Guild For Service’s shelter home for widows in Vrindavan. The death of a husband changes everything for millions of women in India and more often than not this also means a journey to Vrindavan, one of India’s holiest town.
According to estimates Vrindavan has over 4,000 temples and the city is home to more than 20,000 widows. Forced to live according to the ancient scriptures such as The Dharmashatra, which covers the moral, ethical and social laws of ancient India, Amar Bari has women whom tradition expects to devote the remainder of their lives to the memory of the departed husband.
The last section of Lonely Images is made up by the joint works of Erik Boker and Brain Harmon. Large canvases featuring classical studio portraits of widowed women form a better part of the duo’s work. The images might be staged, the set-ups might be planned but the photographers nevertheless capture rare glimpses of happiness in their subjects.
Visually stunning and strong images, some of them break away from traditional portraits and focus on cutaways and close ups of hands and eyes. It might be very easy for many of us to shun the rules of yore by spinning yarns of progress but we need to understand that no matter how far we come some part of the past just refuse to die.
NOTE: This photography exhibition in Delhi depicts clearly the lonely images of an Indian widow’s life.