Update--This article was originally published on March 18th, 2015. The event described below is now over, but the story of this village and Dhindsa’s unique way of chronicling it remains the same.
[In celebration of Puma Social Club’s #KeepItReal nights and 1 year anniversary this year, we organized #TheLegendOfTheDrawingBoard, an event to unite the comic book and graphic novel community in Bangalore, with a range of events a particularly refreshing curation of speakers, showcases and after parties, which just happened to include a talk by none other than David Lloyd, the artist behind V For Vendetta, whom we also got to speak to in great detail. Over the course of the two-day event, we also got to interact with scores of really talented comic books enthusiasts and artists, one of whom particularly caught our fancy. Nandita Dhindsa is an illustrator who started out studying engineering but, like many others, eventually found her way to her natural inclinations that lie in design and art.]
“It’s been a long detour but I’ve got to live in some interesting countries, meet some amazing people and experience all kinds of life along the way. Now I do illustration full-time and feeling pretty fortunate about it,” Nandita tells us.
You know how fond we are of finding interesting people like this and then giving them the third degree about their creative proclivities, so we caught up her about how she was drawn to sketching and The Kalap project that she was a part of.
“I used to sketch a lot as a kid,” she explains. “It came pretty easily to me and I was good at it (if I may say so myself). So of course, I didn’t take it seriously at all and decided to go do all kinds of things that I found difficult instead. Because - how could it be valuable if it was easy? It was after seven years of engineering and travel before I got back to sketching, and this time it was really difficult! So I’ve been working at improving my work for the past 3 years.
”In general, my biggest influences have been some Manga and a few webcomics I’ve been following online, with ‘Girls with Slingshots’ by Danielle Corsetto and ‘Blindsprings’ by Kadi Fedoruk being my favourites. I also really like the work of Kriti Monga, a Delhi-based artist who runs a design studio there called Turmeric Design. The work of a Spanish illustrator I met recently, Josep Rodes Jorda, is a lot on my mind these days. I consciously try to not to think about other people’s work when I work and allow whatever comes naturally, good or bad.”
A small, picturesque village tucked away in the Garhwal Himalaya called Kalap, about 200 kms from the city of Dehradun in Uttarakhand was the home of the eponymous project Nandita was a part of, which involved four photographers and one artist pioneered the documentation of one of the remotest places in India, at 8,000 ft and 11 kms from the nearest road.
Over the last two years, the non-profit, Kalap Trust, has been working in the village to help the local community gain access to essential social services and to create livelihood options to revive the local economy. One of the core aspects of the entire project has been documenting the place visually - making history for a village that had never been photographed before.
”The Kalap project pretty much just happened,” Nandita Dhindsa tells us. “A friend of mine, Yatish Vt, went there for a month to shoot pictures. That’s how I heard about the place. He told me that Anand Sankar (photojournalist and founder of the Kalap Trust) is taking artists, one or two at a time, to stay at the village and practise their art.
Whatever is created while there, is used to promote the village as an eco-tourism destination to develop the economy of the area and hence improve the standard of living of the villagers.
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”He had this artist residency type thing going for about 6 months. When Yatish came back, I picked his brain about his experience and decided to go for the month of May 2014. I have a soft spot for mountains, plus no cell phone coverage, no road, and an 11km trek from the last bus stop... it sounded brilliant. I wanted to see what I could do without the distractions and influences of city life.”
While Nandita headed there with a plan in mind, nature had other plans that cajoled her creative endeavour in a different direction altogether.
“I had planned to do whatever colour landscapes in Kalap, knowing how beautiful it was,” she relates. “But it so happened that it was raining and misty for the first three days when I got there. I couldn’t see any landscapes to sketch, so I did a few portraits of kids that were hanging around. When the weather cleared up, I started on a landscape but realised that I enjoyed watching the people of the village more than the views around. Besides each being healthy and beautiful, they were also inspirational in how hardworking, grounded and clear-headed they were. That’s how I ended up doing way more portraits than landscapes.”
While Nandita travelled there by herself, the others involved in the project included photographers Yatish Vt, Deeptangan Pant and Prathap Nair. and Prajna Rajanna, who is into organic dyeing and went to work with the wool that the village makes from the herds of sheep and goat they rear. Each travelling separately on their own during different months, they amalgamated their respective talents towards the manifestation of ‘The Kalap Project’.
”My biggest takeaway from my time in Kalap has really been the inspiration that the people of that village are,” Nandita confesses with fondness. “From the outside they might look poor and uneducated, but talking to them you see how wise they really are. They know what is important in life. They support each other. They work incredibly hard. Pretensions are hardly there. Each one, at whatever age, looks beautiful and graceful, with clear eyes and open faces. How could you not - being outdoor, growing your own food, spending time with your people?”
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Besides that, Nandita accedes that she got a lot stronger living and working with the people, walking up and down the mountainside all day and helping out in the fields and getting wood for cooking, which she’s really happy about.
The series of portraits that resulted from the trip, along with photographs from the other photographers who went there, has been exhibited in various cities for raising funds for Kalap Trust, the NGO that has been working with this village, with the whole project being spearheaded by Anand Sankar. An ebook with all the portraits, and the short stories behind each one, has been created which has already found an audience in several countries in Europe in addition to different parts of India.
Words: Aditi Dharmadhikari