Sanket Jain is a reporter with PARI. He has recently published the first two of a series of photo-sketch signature pairs that will go on to span 300 villages in India, capturing defining moments and memories from each. Here is an interview with him about the project.
You may see the photographs and sketches here:
What gave you the idea to undertake this … wandering? Quest?
I was always passionate about listening to the stories of everyday people, looking at their journey and crisis as a process and not mere events. Also being an artist, I wanted to give all their stories a very human touch, I wanted to express their stories in less of words and more of photos. I want people to interpret and immerse in the lives of villagers with their own understanding. Also I chose 300 as a number because it’s a fair number to give diverse and holistic view of crisis, inequality and abject poverty. For me sketching is not just an art, but a form of expression. And I wanted to use this as a tool to express everyday lives of people who are often unheard, whose struggles are very normalised these days by the mainstream media.
I’ve been listening to P Sainath for quite some time now. My journey in rural India started after I realized the importance of covering rural India. There are a lot of things which I got to know from his speeches.
Immediately after completing my last internship in the final year of college, I started visiting villages of Maharashtra to understand what was happening in the countryside. It all started from there. Once I started visiting villages, I found a lot of art forms which I had never heard about. The stories of courage and hope made me visit more villages, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 8 months – listening to the unheard voices and trying to cover rural India not just as a series of mere events, but the entire process.
If you were to describe a common thread in the places you visited, what would it be?
Every village has a story of inspiration, and courage. There exists a tremendous amount of undocumented struggle, inequality, poverty, dying art forms, and most important being how people live their lives. The common thread for me is the amount of hard work and labour which goes unnoticed.
Also, every village has traditional artists who continue to practice the art forms even today. In a few years, we will lose all of them. Imagine, losing so many art forms in a span of few years, so one of the common threads I see is the way traditional art forms are dying.
Would you like to share a memorable moment from your travels so far?
The first in this series published on PARI is a sketch of potter named Vishnu Kumbhar from Kapashi village in Kolhapur. Vishnu, now 70, has been a potter for 55 years. He works for 16 hours a day, starting at 4 a.m. That’s more than 250,000 hours of pottery over half a century. Imagine the amount of undocumented talent present in rural India. Proudly Vishnu keeps saying that he is an artist.
After spending a lot of time with Vishnu, he told me that his financial condition would have been great had he been practicing in Mumbai or any other urban area. However, Vishnu never left the village because his parents never allowed him to. He saw this as an opportunity and decided to revive the art form with his passion and charisma. Today, Kapashi is known for its potters, sculptors, and Kolhapuri chappal artists. The art forms are dying slowly as the number of artists has reduced now.
Vishnu has kept the art form alive with his passion and now he trains his daughter in law as well. It’s because of artists like Vishnu that rural India is one of the best places to find inspiration. So, his life has always been an inspiration for me.