Why do we travel?

Primarily I travel to add perspective. Perhaps this is why every time I repeat a destination, each experience is different from the other. The #DoorsofIndia campaign, by Tata Pravesh, multiplied my perspective to very many things.

Architecture has always been a defining subject in all my travels. But narrowing it down to doors was initially tricky. I photographed windows for sure, but how often did I explore the stories behind those windows? More often than not I framed it for my camera, interacted with the locals and moved on to the next one.

The space above the door of Royal insurance Building, Kolkata.

While researching across the eastern zone for #DoorsofIndia, I realised how doors have played an important part of our history, lifestyle and cultures. More than being just an entry point to the house or building, they also narrate the social prevalences, artistic influences and historic impacts. When we visited 1905 Edwardian structure in Kolkata, the Royal Insurance Building, I had no idea of the stories behind its doors. The double-sided sliding door, of which only one side is now operational, bears flower motifs painted with a pastel red tone. Above the building, the embossed logo on golden relief work still has designs from the Queen’s Crown and the initials of the company (Royal Insurance Company). Shading it with classism, Indians were not allowed to buy insurance from this building during the British rule. I’m glad some things around this door have changed.

As travellers I feel we tend to lose out on discovering our backyards. I’m happy that I got the opportunity with this project to explore places that I had only read about. The Toong On Church in Kolkata’s Old Chinatown or Tiretta Bazar is where India housed its first Chinese restaurant. The now defunct, Nanking Restaurant, on the ground floor of this building, were the very doors which introduced the Indo-Chinese food to us.

Joypur has been a favourite revelation on this quest. When we arrived at Duttapara’s Damodar Temple, a day before the shoot, a group of residents came to us. Each one of them contributed some information and aid. And during the shoot, they offered us water to drink while also allowing us access to their terraces for the shoot. This locality elucidated unity. In every word, from each person, there was kindness, curiosity, cooperation and openness. They all wanted to showcase their 300-year old temple in the finest possible way and because of the positive synergy, this turned out to be the most satisfying content produced across the east zone.

The team of #DoorsofIndia East Zone.

On a lighter note, the campaign also increased my knowledge of Hindu mythology. After our shoot at Joypur, I know the 10 Avatars of Vishnu like the back of my hand. And because of the wood carved door in Shantiniketan, I can recognise the various Hindu deities from a distance.

Shantiniketan also introduced me to West Bengal’s Birbhum district’s skilled artwork of wood carving. During all my previous trips to this town, I did notice the large extent of wood work produced from here, though these were only limited to miniature decorations and ornate showpieces. When I met Rabi Bhaskar, the artiste who has been carving numerous figures on furniture and as artefacts, I realised the expansive expertise required for this. He loves carving on doors and he says that people no longer order for customised doors. We walked to around his workshop in Boner Pukur Danga to explore some of his (and his son’s) latest work on doors. The rural centre here had at least 10 doors with various designs, across two floors.

What I took away from Shantiniketan continued until the end of the journey. The list of tangible things included a wooden foldable table made by Rabi Bhaskar (priced at ₹400) and a painting by Vijay Chitrakar of Amadubi (priced at ₹500).

Mahasundari Devi’s house in Ranti, Madhubani, Bihar.

A little ahead of Jamshedpur, we visited the hut of Vijay Chitrakar, who is an artist as his last name suggests. Pyatkar art is a form of tribal art in Jharkhand, which was initially commissioned by kings. These traditional scroll painters use their imagination to paint stories influenced by the folklore or village life. They use natural dyes to fill colours and work on paper and canvas. Pyatkar art is not very popular on the Indian art map. When I looked at his work, I wish more people would know about them.

We travelled further to Madhubani in Bihar to explore the breathtaking intricacies of Mithila art, also known as Madhubani painting. As a sharp contrast to Pyatkar art, Mithila painting is well known and art lovers from all over the world buy frames or textures. From murals and on paper, the painting has now diversified to a multitude of textures like cloth, tissue and ceramic. I was happy to see this progress. It motivates the locals to keep supporting their traditional artwork when such monetary compensations are received.

When I came back home after the project, I was admiring the painting from Amadubi and the wood work of Shantiniketan at home. Not only were these bought from the creators but this also encourages them to keep going. I have always propagated buying local and #DoorsofIndia allowed me to reach to the source of this and buy memorabilia (tangible and intangible) that I will cherish for life.

Vijay Chitrakar’s Pyatkar art on display, at his house.

Good to know

-Buy local: Vijay Chitrakar, Pyatkar artist in Amadubi, Jharkhand; +919204099434
-Buy local: Pranab Bhaskar, wood carving work in Shantiniketan, West Bengal; +919434636402/+919734783533
-Amitav Ghosh of Kala Mandir in Jamshedpur has spoken with me for minutes together during my research. The NGO is doing great work to promote local art and craft in Jharkhand. Do spread the word around or help them in anyway possible.
Mithila Art Institute in Madhubani town has been of exceptional help. They go to great lengths to promote the local art. Please help them to get more attention.
-The #DoorsofIndia east zone routes: Kolkata-Joypur-Shatiniketan-Amadubi-BodhgayaPatna-Madhubani. Access all content here.
-This is a five-month campaign across India. Follow #DoorsofIndia across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to travel along and/or keep yourself update at the website: http://www.tatapravesh.com/doorsofindia/
-You can also share your #DoorsofIndia stories by uploading photographs and content online.

To see more photos from this journey Like my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram

Amrita Das

I have been a travel and culture independent journalist. My bylines have appeared in many publications worldwide including National Geographic Traveller India, Lonely Planet Magazine India, The Indian Express and World Travel Magazine. A fellow of Media Ambassadors India-Germany 2019 program by Robert Bosch Stiftung and Centre for Media Competence, University of Tübingen. Currently, I am the photo editor for RoundGlass Sustain, a wildlife and conservation e-publication. I live in India.

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