Monochrome Images
Satyabrat Pal
Redeeming Calcutta by Steve Raymer Oxford University Press, 2013, 208 pp., 3650
May 2013, volume 37, No 5

Steve Raymer, a National Geographic photographer for many years who now teaches journalism at an American university, made six trips to India to, as he writes, ‘follow my dream to do a book about Calcutta.’ That immediately wakes the reader up, because ‘dream’ and ‘Calcutta’ are rarely found in the same sentence: nightmare, incubus, succubus, yes, but not dream. This is not, however, a dreamy book, or your average coffee-table book on India, packed to its shiny gills with snapshots of temples, palaces and wildlife, of spectacular mountains, rivers and beaches, dreamscapes of exotic grandeur. Those books nest in every fashionable living-room in India, gazing up at the Hussain and the chandelier, like immigration stamps on a passport, proof that the owner has arrived. In the salons of Indian diplomatic residences, they are props in the marketing of India. I doubt, though, that the Ministry of External Affairs will be rushing to place bulk orders for Raymer’s book, because it is more coffee grounds than coffee-table—dark and gritty, the future told in the dregs of what has been drained.

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