Witness to Life & Freedom: Margret Bourke-White in India and Pakistan (hardbound)
by: Pramod Kapoor
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The photographs of Margaret Bourke-White, who spent time in India in the closing years of British rule, provide a graphic documentation of some of the more momentous events between the years, 1946 and 1948. She was thus able to capture on camera not only some of the leading figures associated with the transfer of power but also the violence generated during Partition.
One of the telling images in WITNESS TO LIFE AND FREEDOM: MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE IN INDIA & PAKISTAN is that of an old Sikh carrying a woman (his wife or daughter) on his shoulders as he walks across the countryside in search of a new home. There were millions like him who trekked miles to look for safety and shelter. There were others who did the same journey by train; many of them, on both sides of the artificial border created by the colonial masters, did not live to complete the journey. Trains were objects of attack and Bourke-White’s camera captured corpses lying beside train tracks. Her photographs, horrible as they are, are evidence of the madness that Partition produced.
Margaret clicked pictures of a woman breastfeeding her baby even as she crosses the border sitting on a donkey, of a torso being nibbled at by a stray dog next to the railway track, of an old man carrying a woman on his shoulders, of a body, nude waist downwards for obvious reasons, being lifted to a truck, and those of scores of swollen bodies, caught in the fury of the Beas floods. The immensely disturbing photographs would have remained just that, but for Pramod Kapoor, now in serious danger of being identified as a collector of historical records and photographs.