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Stages in Life of a Gandhi Photograph

Photograph by great Brian Brake published in 'India, by Joe David Brown and the editors of Life', 1961 [complete book available at Hathi] as a visual aid to the text that deals with relevance of Gandhi in India, The Nation's Unsilenced Conscience. It would have you believe Gandhi was alive, in heart and spirit of Indians.

As I looked at this beautiful picture, something about it made me realize that this can be a case study about  disjointedness of images, context and text. About giant sweeps of history. Of loss of footnotes. Of lost in footnotes. Of seduction by images. About loss.

One may ask why. After all it does look like a perfect picture for an article on Gandhi. Children = innocence = unsilenced Conscience. Children in love with Gandhi = The Nations's un-silenced conscience. Simple and brilliant.

The problem is with the details. The book only tells you that it is by Brian Brake and appears courtesy of Magnum. Place where is was taken in not mentioned. No year is given. Online, the only other place where you will find this image (besides the online version of the book) is an Arabic page dedicated with love to Gandhi, his life and work. This, as often happens, after I post stuff at this blog, will not be the case for long. It will probably end up on Gandhi Love or Gandhi Hate pages on Facebook, adding a new cycle to the life of this image. And will probably be again lost in indifference of text and context.

So what is it that I know about this photograph that makes this entire setup ironic. What is it about this setup that makes me often doubt everything I read and see. Why do I want to try and rescue it from the narrative in which it is wrapped?

The little girl in green at the back is attired as an elderly traditional Kashmiri Pandit woman.

The photograph was shot in 1957 during a 'national' day, an Indian one, with cultural parade and all, organised under Prime Minsiter of Kashmir, Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammed in Srinagar. He was the man who replaced imprisoned Sheikh Abdullah.

Another photograph from the event shot by Brian brake.
Via: Museum of New Zealand
Although I couldn't find the Gandhi photograph there, but the conclusion
that both very shot as the same event is quite easy to make based on the dress that children are wearing in the background.
"The close alignment of the Conference with the politics of the Congress was particularly distasteful to Bazaz. Bazaz had been moving away from Gandhian and eventually Congress politics throughout the 1930s. He had been taken aback by Gandhi's dismissive reply to his letter asking for advice on the path Kashmiri Pandits should follow in the political movement in Kashmir: "Seeing that Kashmir is predominantly Mussalman it is bound one day to become a Mussalman State. A Hindu prince can therefore only rule by non ruling i.e., by allowing the Mussalmans to do as they like and by abdicating when they are manifestly going wrong.""

Lines about strange case of Prem Nath Bazaz From 'Languages of Belonging: Islam, Regional Identity, and the Making of Kashmir' by Chitralekha Zutshi. Prem Nath Bazaz was later exiled from Kashmir (after differences with Sheikh Abdullah) to Delhi and spent his later life advocating Kashmir's merger with Pakistan.

Looking now at the grand narratives of the national myths of India, Pakistan and Kashmir, and looking at the realities as they often dwell on hard ground where these myths crumble into incoherent bits and pieces, one does tend to agree, history is a nightmare. And that there is no waking up from it. For it is a nightmare within a nightmare. It is narratives ingesting narratives, facts ingesting fiction, fiction vomiting facts.  An on top of it, it is always a book with a beautiful cover.

A panel from an old Indian comic based on story of Rupinika, from Somadeva's Katha Sarit Sagara (The Ocean of Streams of Story)


Finally cross-posted to my Kashmir blog.


  1. I appreciate the work you have done by collecting all these classical photos. A big thank you from my side as a I got an opportunity of my life time to have these priceless pictures saved for good in my collection.
    What I don't agree with you is your attempt to show the influence of Indian polity on our freedom struggle from ruthless Maharaja's rule. Nobody knew about Gandhi or Nehru in Kaashmir in early 30's except those who were studying in Indian universities and they too were very few.It was a movement purely started from the pulpit of Masjid Jamia by Molana Yousuf Shah Kashmiri,the Mirwaiz of Kashmir.Sheikh Abdullah joined it later.So to show the struggle of Kashmiris in the limelight of Indian freedom struggle is wrong and against the documented history of Kashmir.
    It is also wrong to say that Nehru said the accession of Kashmir is unquestionable and final.It was Nehru himself who took the issue to UNO and India became the signatory of the resolution when it felt it will loose the ground in its invasion of Kashmir. At multiple occasions, Nehru repeated his pledge that the fate of Kashmir will be decided by its inhabitants.His speech in Indian Parliament, on All India Radio and other forums are part of history which can be easily accessed on youtube. My request is not to look at Kashmir issue from the religious or Indian Nationalism prism. Kashmir had its own identity from centuries and we should strive to maintain it that way without distorting the facts .Rest thank you for sharing such wonderful and unique photos of the past.

    1. Thanks for the comment! Although the original post wasn't about Gandhi or was more about how imagery of Kashmir was/is used in Indian Nationalistic narratives, still I would try to take this dialogue further.

      To look at Kashmir just from Kashmiri Nationalistic prism is also going to render a distorted image. Past is never monochromatic. There are always multiple tones to it.

      "Nobody knew about Gandhi or Nehru in Kaashmir in early 30's except those who were studying in Indian universities and they too were very few."

      To think that Kashmiris were untouched by happening in rest of the subcontinent grossly undermines the intelligence of common Kashmiri.

      Back then the universities that Kashmiri went to (including Shiekh and his first mentor, Mohammad Abdullah Vakil, a Ahmadiyya leader) were in Lahore and in Punjab. And in these universities, they were not just influenced by the happenings in India but more so by happenings also in the Muslim world. There inspirations were similar to inspirations of men like Iqbal.

      Back then, Mahjoor, the poet who went on to be the national poet of Kashmir, wrote a poem about Gandhi. Some of his poems were set to tune of popular hindi film songs of the time. (Gulam Ahmad Mahjoor by Trilokinath Raina). Back then Abdul Ahad Azad, a common man, a simple teacher in a village in Kashmir, a great poet, was an admirer of Subhas Chandra Bose. (Abdul Ahad Azad by G. N. Gauhar). Another of their contemporary, Ghulam Hassan Beg Arif Gandhi, a scientist too wrote a poem about Gandhi. (Jammu and Kashmir by Somnath Dhar)

      While it is true Mirwaiz was a force to reckon with in Kashmir (even if only among Hanifis) and Shiekh did use him to increase his own stature. It must be remembered that Mirwaiz was a religious leader. The prism of Kashmiri Nationalism also gets colored by a religious prism. Shiekh was an astute politician. He understood this and tried to add other colors to the prism. And the other religious (Pandits) and political (communists) sections of the society did respond to him. No matter what people would like to believe, there was a time when Sheikh was the unchallenged leader of Kashmiris.

      To think that happenings of 1947 didn't make people in Kashmir anxious is also
      too naive. Here's a letter a Pandit in Srinagar wrote to a film magazine in Bombay. He wanted to know why massed were loosing faith in Gandhi's doctrine of non-violence. [Here]

      Does the fact that this man probably went to a college in the plains, knew about Gandhi, followed his doctrine make him a lesser Kashmiri than a downtown Kashmiri who followed Mirwaiz.

      "India became the signatory of the resolution when it felt it will loose the ground in its invasion of Kashmir."

      Assuming for a second Indian wan't a saviour, but an invader, who would it have lost ground to. Pakstan The Pakistan Nationalism to which it in fact did lose some). And not to Kashmir or Kashmiri Nationalism. Back them Kashmiris and the architects of Kashmiri Nationalism were fighting alongside India.

      Yes, Kashmir has centuries old identity (and even that identity doesn't apply to the pan Kingdom that was erstwhile Kashmir, and mostly limited to the valley). So it must be remembered that this identity has little bearing on modern concepts of Nation States.


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