History on wheels

Dec 19th, 2008 | By editor | Category: Art and crafts, City Culture, Featured Articles

Angus McDonald puts on show an impressive oeuvre of photographs of Indian hill trains.



 McDonald with two of his photographs at the backdrop.Photo: Rana Siddiqui Zaman


“No”, he laughs heartily, “…they don’t ask for Mac burgers from me”. Australian photojournalist and writer Angus McDonald here cheerfully refers to his second name made famous in this part of the world by the well-known American burger chain by the same name. Angus but doesn’t deny that people more often ask for the beautiful pictures that he had taken during his long stay in India, a set of which are now mounted at the India International Centre Annexe in New Delhi. Titled “Hill Trains of India”, the exhibition of his photographs is his “tribute to India”.
With the power of his camera, Angus here has documented the history of Indian hill trains and tries to look at the cultural ethos of the country in both its old and modern avatar. The pictures, 40 in all, are chosen from over a thousand that he clicked on five important hill tracks of India: the Kangra Valley Railways, Darjeeling Hill Railways, the Nilgiri Hill Railways, Kalka-Simla Railways and Rajasthan’s Mavli Marwar Railways. He travelled there as a part of a “personal project” undertaken between 2003 and 2007.
The pictures in which he documents the steam engines of the Nilgiri Railways are nostalgic. They show how the steam engine, which traces its roots back to 1920, still runs on the tracks. Alongside, there is a picture of the maintenance yard which represents its rundown state. “I was marvelled at the way their dedicated staff looks after this century-old train despite the lack of resources,” says Angus.
His lens also captures a colourful picture of a luxurious, sophisticated train of a foreign country hung at the Nilgiri station that truly symbolises the aspirations of those maintaining the age-old steam engine.
In yet another photograph, he has beautifully captured a train on the Dharamshala bridge, complete with its lovely arch. This extremely artistic picture has been taken from below the bridge. Angus has also profiled a young boy with a dimpled smile from inside a train at Darjeeling. “To me, he looked like today’s die-hard Bollywood fan because of his style,” smiles the photographer.
Most foreign photographers are attracted to India’s colourful dresses and accessories and Angus is no exception. He gleefully shoots two Rajasthani women, whose arms are bedecked with loads of colourful traditional bangles and they sport brightly polished nails at the Mavli Marwar railway station. A picture of some railway site inspectors out to check the Kalka-Simla track in a small, three-seater, open bogie being pushed by two sturdy staffers on the tracks, is amusing. It reminds one of the hand-pulled rickshaws that used to be a part and parcel of old Kolkata. A picture of an “Information Communication Centre” signboard hanging sideways makes you smile at the status of the Centre at the Darjeeling railway station. He has shot most of his pictures with a Nikon SLR digital camera.
Says Angus, “I lived in India as a child for a year and then (at Pune) from 1999 to 2007 during my research on India cinema. I had always admired India’s tolerance, its diversity, beauty and its ability to endure which I think Indian Railways are a metaphor for.” Angus had been shooting pictures for 20 years now as a travel photographer and has done several exhibitions in his home country. He is now looking at documenting the pictorial story of Indian Railways into a book. “Talks with a few publishers are on,” he sums up. (The exhibition at the IIC Annexe ends on December 24)

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