History in the taking: lost photos that reveal India's making

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The rediscovered life's work of a pioneering photojournalist cast new light on Gandhi, Partition and Mountbatten

Aditya Arya had every intention of opening the six tightly bound crates that his elderly uncle brought to his house in Delhi in the early 1980s, telling him they were to be gone through whenever his young nephew had the spare time.

Two-and-a-half decades later, the crates lay in Mr Arya's home, yellowing and collecting dust, as he travelled the world on assignments to cement his reputation as a photographer.

It was only in 2007 when he prised open the first crate to learn what his uncle, Kulwant Roy, who had himself been one of India's first serious photojournalists, had left him.

Inside the six boxes were neatly-stacked prints, negatives and thousands of rare and never-before-seen images featuring the key figures in Indian history from the 1930s, through to Indian independence, Partition and Jacqueline Kennedy's visit to India in the 1960s.

There were informal, intimate images of Lord Mountbatten, Britain's last viceroy, sitting with Indian and Pakistani nationalists on either side of him in 1947, with a map in front of him on which he would draw a division line that would lead directly to the Partition of India and Pakistan, as well as portraits of Mountbatten's photogenic wife, Edwina, affectionately holding onto India's first prime minister, Nehru, while he saw the couple off at the airport in the dying days of the Raj.

Another picture captured Mahatma Gandhi in a heated debate with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a man with whom he was seldom seen and who went on to found Pakistan.

Jackie Kennedy was shot in a spontaneous moment, giggling as she shared a joke with Nehru, while another intimate portrait captured Nehru as he tenderly curled his hand around his young grandson, Rajiv's neck. A never before seen picture of Gandhi was taken in the North West Frontier – now a Taliban stronghold – alongside Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a Muslim Pushtun leader and ardent Gandhi follower who was dubbed "the Frontier Gandhi" for his adherence to non-violent policies.

The treasure trove of images – 5,000 of which have so far been documented – form a visual history of India that is more comprehensive than any other national photographic archive covering this period. Its existence has excited historians who believe the archive may shed new light on key moments in India's independence movement.

Nearly 500 of Roy's monochrome photographs have been compiled in a new anthology, History In The Making: The Visual Archives of Kulwant Roy, by Mr Arya and Indivar Kamtekar.

Mr Arya said the moment he opened the first crate, he felt a sense of urgency to "rescue" these photographic works from ruin.

"When I was first given them, I was in my early 20s and I was trying to find myself as a photographer. I was really busy, travelling the world, and I didn't open the crates, although I lugged them around with me every time I moved home in Delhi.

"I kept thinking, 'One of these days I'll open these boxes.' I had a feeling that when I did, there would be no looking back, as I knew my uncle had lived through important historical moments and that he and about six or seven other photojournalists had come to know India's leaders.

"When I finally opened the first box, I was horrified at their deterioration, there was the vinegar syndrome [the deterioration of photographic chemicals], there were white ants, there were silverfish. They gave me the jitters so I immediately started emptying them and I've documented thousands, although there is still a few thousand to go," he said.

Born in 1914, Roy grew up in Lahore before joining the Royal Indian Air Force, where he specialised in aerial photography. After being discharged, he returned to Lahore, but moved to Delhi in 1940 where he set up a studio which later expanded into a fully fledged agency.

A few years previously, he had followed Gandhi in his travels around India in a third-class train compartment. Over his career, he took innumerable iconic images of the Indian independence movement and the early years of the Republic of India.

Yet during the latter years of his career, he was eclipsed by a new breed of aggressive young photojournalists. The decorous press conferences and chummy familiarity with politicians which early Indian photojournalists like Roy had enjoyed were giving way to the scrum, a feature Roy bemoaned. He eventually gave up photography in response to this change and his reputation faded into obscurity. Roy was a frequent visitor to Arya's parents' home in New Delhi and would regale the family with stories of his work over dinner.

"He lived nearby and he'd come to our home for a meal every day. He told us of his interaction with Gandhi and Nehru, and how one time, his assistant was asked to ignite the flash powder – flashes needed powder at that time – and instead of using one teaspoon of powder, the assistant used seven teaspoons. There was a big explosion and Nehru went flying. He was very upset and said, 'Are you trying to take my picture or kill me?'"

By the time he died of cancer, Roy was virtually penniless and had no wife or children, choosing to leave his immense photographic collection to the young Mr Arya, with whom he was particularly close. Only now is its magnitude being fully appreciated.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests