A Poignant Photo Story Capturing The Struggles of Healthcare In Rural Bengal

A Poignant Photo Story Capturing The Struggles of Healthcare In Rural Bengal
Soumyabrata Roy

Commuting on the local trains of Bengal familiarises you with a lot of inconspicuous moments in people’s lives which you would otherwise not have noticed. As you step into the train, the sights and sounds of Bengal are brought alive to you through transient moments of joy and misery, love and hate. Passengers looking forward to reaching the capital city with hope in their eyes is also a familiar sight.

Soumyabrata Roy, hailing from the town of Tehatta in the Nadia district of West Bengal, takes us through his own personal journey in documenting the sights and sounds of the lives of people travelling in local trains. He prefers to use his phone camera rather than a professional one, so that he can catch people unawares at their most spontaneous moments. In this particular photo story, he explores the theme of temporary migration undertaken by the rural people of Bengal, in search for better medical facilities in the urban centre of Kolkata.

Tell us how you travel from your hometown to Sealdah. What is the purpose of your journey?

Krishnanagar city junction (KNJ) is one of the busiest railway stations under Eastern railways, situated in Krishnanagar, the main town of the Nadia district of West Bengal. I travel from Tehatta (my hometown) to Krishnanagar on a bus and then board a train from KNJ to Sealdah station. It is the cheapest and fastest mode of transport. The travel fare from Krishnanagar to Sealdah is only 25 INR (Indian Rupee) which is equivalent to 0.36 US dollars. If one is prudent enough, one might even dodge that expenditure by avoiding the ticket-checker. No matter how fastidious the ticket-checker is, it is impossible that he is able to bestow equal attention to checking each and every commuter for tickets. Thousands of people of different ages, gender, religions and castes travel together huddled against one another, sweating, eating, chatting together and dozing off peacefully on the shoulders of complete strangers in jam-packed compartments.

A father is comforting his suffering son. The eyes of the father are closed as if in prayer.

Your photo story seems like it is about a search for hope. Can you tell me something more about it?

In a train compartment everyone has a different purpose for travelling. Some families go to visit their relatives. Many go to the city to earn their daily bread. But, in this particular project, I have narrowed down my theme to a more specific one. The sick people from the villages and suburbs go to the capital city of Kolkata to gain access to proper treatment and medicinal facilities. For them, the train is like a cheap and accessible ambulance which ensures faster transportation to a place where one would be cared for. My work captures the human spirit in its joy and misery through a depiction of their journeys to Kolkata in search of answers for their maladies.

Taking candid photographs in a congested train compartment full of people swearing and sweating in the heat is, however, a risky and complicated task. I therefore used my camera phone to minimize the risk of making my subjects too self-conscious. The photographs have been taken over the time period of July 2018 and June 2019. Language is not my forte and so instead of elaborating further I sincerely hope that my photographs speak for themselves.

A father is showing his son something interesting outside the window and they are sharing a laugh.
A patient with a head injury is waiting for his train on a bridge.

What has been your inspiration for creating this photo story?

Documentation is very important to me, no matter through which medium. I believe that if I am able to make anyone feel connected to my work, I have succeeded as an artist. I always try taking photos under natural light and circumstances.

What is the first piece of art that impacted you deeply?

A Bengali movie named “Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne” by the legendary film maker Satyajit Ray.

There has been many artistic initiatives that have been undertaken by the Indian government. What would you do differently if you were a part of such an initiative?

Even though the kind of amateur mobile photography I am associated with might not always allow me to capture aesthetically-sound photos, it brings to life the everyday realities of an underprivileged section of society.I would want the Indian government to be able to gauge the impoverished lives of the people in rural India through my photos, and extend them a helping hand.

Which is your favourite piece of work of your own & why?

‘The Cheap Ambulance’ itself is my favourite piece of work. I had to be alert at all times and be reprimanded for clumsily fidgeting among the train seats, as I tried to document the photo story.

One track you’re currently listening to?

‘Fast car’ by Tracy Chapman

A project you wish you were a part of?

Josef Koudelka’s ‘Gypsies’. Apart from his legendary photos, I was inspired by the kind of bohemian lifestyle he led, and the way in which he mingled with the gypsies. I had read about these from various sources.

Your favourite midnight munchies?

Rosogolla (Bengali Rasgulla)

Any pet peeve that you have?

Sounds a bit stupid, but I don’t like the smell of pineapples.

Check out the entire photo story here.

If you enjoyed reading this article, we suggest you also read: