BAHAK – Kolkata, India

The bengali term for carrier is bahak.  No load seems too heavy or too large to be manhandled through the narrow, crowded streets of Kolkata (Calcutta).

Whether their burdens are carried on their heads, or on a yoke over their shoulders, on two- or three-wheelers or on a hand-drawn rickshaw, all manner of goods and essentials—furniture, building materials, groceries, books and coal—are all humped, hauled or carted as they are shifted from one place to another in ways that are at times quite risky!

Precisely placed and perfectly balanced, these artfully towering loads are often extremely heavy.  Once on the way, every stop becomes a risky manoeuvre, as the carrier then needs to get his loaded vehicle going again.

“Bahak” means a life as a day labourer living at the bottom of the social pile. Exploitation and drudgery for minimum pay; dicing with danger in a daily struggle with the Kolkata streets; little or no appreciation for vigorous physical effort, which can all end in total exhaustion.

Nevertheless, in a mega-metropolis, whose streets are generally too full, too congested and too narrow to accommodate motorised vehicles to the extent required, the “bahak” play a vital role in keeping the gigantic flow of commodities moving!

I set up a makeshift studio along the edge of these streets for a few weeks and asked some of these carriers to pause for a moment so that they could be portrayed individually, detached from the constant commotion of the bustling crowd—an expression of astonished admiration at the visible artistry contained within the motion of things.

The photographic work “Bahak” also makes you aware of the burden of things—far beyond the city limits of Kolkata.

About the author:
Born in Hagen, Germany in 1974, Anja Bohnhof trained as a photographer before going on to study visual communication/photography at the Bauhaus University in Weimar. Since 2004 she has been working freelance as a photographer and visual artist. From 2006-2014 she had been a lecturer in photography/editorial practices at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences.  In the last ten years she realized several works in India and got the Gisela Bonn Award 2015 from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, New Delhi for her significant contribution towards the deepening of Indo-German relations.

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