Our roving reporter on events and places in Indian America.
The Ambassador Gets Some Respect
For anyone who’s grown up in India, the topography of the squat Ambassador car is as familiar as the lap of a beloved old grandma. After all, for decades and decades, it was the way modern India got around, and was the ultimate dream of every burgeoning middle class household.
Yes, a lot of life in India has been lived in the Ambassador; it’s almost a part of the family. It was private car and taxi, pride and possession. The seats were tough, the handles hard, but oh, the places it could take you!
First manufactured by Hindustan Motors in 1957, the boxy exterior of the Ambassador still echoes the shape of the 1950’s British Morris sedan. As family car and political vehicle, air-conditioned limousine and rattling taxi, it’s been a silent (sometimes noisy) part of contemporary India, a ubiquitous presence at weddings and funerals, on city streets and in the bazaar. And it got its share of ridicule.
And who better to document the Ambassador for posterity than the late great photographer Raghubir Singh?
“Throughout this series of photographs,” says curator Debra Diamond, “Singh used the Ambassador car to see, scale and order the world around him. The car plays a role in everyday narratives – an altercation in traffic, the transporting of chickens, a visit to the Red Fort in Delhi, a family outing, a driver’s nap – Singh not only uses the car as subject, but also uses the car as a camera, a box with windows and mirrors that offer opportunities for framing and hreflecting and transforming the landscape.”
Indeed, Singh’s images capture the frenetic rhythms of Indian life through the Ambassador, and his affection for his subject comes through in every frame. Perhaps his own words, in the book, describe the Ambassador best: “It is an organic part of bird shit-and cow dung-coated India. It is the good and bad of India. It is a solid part of that India that moves on, even as it falls apart, or lags behind. In its imperfection it is truly an Indian automobile.”
Mr and Mrs Iyer
You don’t need ten songs, dozens of costume changes and scores of foreign locales to tell a beautiful love story. From noted actress and director Aparna Sen comes Mr. and Mrs. Iyer – a poignant, lyrical film about romance amongst the ruins, in the middle of riots.
The story is about how ordinary lives intersect and how even a chance encounter can transform a life. Meenakshi Iyer, born and brought up in an orthodox Brahmin family, is traveling alone with her infant son, returning to her husband after a visit to her parents. On the bus, she encounters Raja Chowdhary, a wildlife photographer.
The calm and tedium of the journey is broken by an angry mob of Hindu extremists, seeking to avenge the burning of a Hindu village, are out on a rampage, looking for Muslims.
Raja is a Muslim. Hardly knowing him, Meenakshi impulsively saves him from the mob by pretending that they are a married Hindu couple, Mr. and Mrs. Iyer. The film follows their slow transformation, as they have to rethink and re-evaluate their prejudices and their entrenched beliefs. And somewhere along the way, as they complete the journey, love blooms.
Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, which won two awards at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, was shown at the South Asia Human Rights Film Festival at the Asia Society in New York. The film has remarkable, nuanced performances from Rahul Bose and Konkona Sensharma, who is Sen’s daughter, in the lead roles. And the wonderful music by Zakir Hussain makes every frame come alive, etched in the memory.
“And I wanted to celebrate that love.”