As I pen down my thoughts the corona pandemic is very much reigning in this universe.
I believe corona has managed to become the most powerful Emperor compared to any King/Queen/a Pharaoh . Its reigning in every nook and corner of a village of every district, that of every state and of every country of every continent in all probability. The entire society is paying an unbelievable amount of tax to this Dictator Corona by sacrificing the lives of their loved ones every single day. This Dictator is the most ruthless one who has room for no mercy. He has destroyed families and livelihoods besides shattering the dreams of millions. People had to change their profession, ways of living and the definition of life itself. One had to change the ways of doing business, ways of celebration and the ways of mourning too. In short the Dictator Corona has changed our lives a 360 degree i.e. from North to South pole. It has entered our lives very discreetly like a thief and sucked out all the joys from it, like a leech sucks out blood.
A few days ago I visited a few villages for an assignment to take photos of some children and their parents. The foremost criterion was that they must smile in the photograph.
To smile for a photograph is the least one can ask for or expect. We all do it very effortlessly. Though, here ‘we’ doesn’t consist of everybody residing on this planet. Every day the situation is becoming so grim that we are losing reasons to smile.
Let's get back to the story.
I had visited some remote villages as well as some villages close to Kolkata for my story. Everywhere one thing was common, the road connectivity was poor....sorry extremely poor. If on one hand it took 5 hours to reach a particular destination on the other hand an SUV would be unable to enter a few villages. So my smile had already disappeared by the time I had started shooting.
It became worse when I had to request the children or their parents to smile for my photograph. They could hardly face the camera and forget smiling for it. Only after the hundredth request I managed to get a weak smile. I was getting really impatient under the scorching sun since at that time getting them to smile for my shoot was a mere assignment.
Everything changed when I spoke to them, heard their story, heard their struggles during this deadly pandemic.
Shebabrato, a father of two children used to work as a landless labourer in villages which he lost due to the lockdown. Now he can neither afford to pay the school fees of his son nor can recharge his mobile for his daughter’s online classes.
A father’s frustration was evident on his face, audible in his voice. When he smiled for my photograph while sitting on his earthen floored hut, it was pretty evident that smiling is not that simple.
Bright little Bipasha, is a student of class-IV and a graceful dancer from a place which is close to Kolkata . She had to give up her passion as a mere Rs.600/- as a remuneration for the same had become impossible to shell out for her father who used to drive an electric rickshaw for a living before the pandemic. Her smile proved that one can’t buy a smile but has to own it.
Let me share with you the struggles of Shonamoni Murmu a mother of two and a housewife from an adivasi village where brick houses are rare . She collects Sal leaves (shorea robusta) from the forest and stitches them to make plates. Rs200 per 1000 such plates is what she earns. Still she manages to teach her daughter. When she smiled for my photograph, I realised why a smile costs a million dollar.
Sky Mardi, a class-IX student recalls that her father used to work as a stone crusher before the pandemic. Post pandemic their world has come crashing down due to dearth of money. When Sky says that he wants to be a teacher in a village school, with a smile, I can make out it takes a lot of courage to smile. He won't let a pandemic deprive a child from getting education free of cost from a good teacher.
Protima a mother of three works in 100 days work projects while her husband is a daily wager. Though they live very close to Kolkata their struggle is no less than any of the rural accounts. Due to the pandemic their situation deteriorated so badly that she couldn't feed her children properly .She started feeding them twice daily instead of thrice to survive. Her smile taught me that one need not be rich or wealthy or even satisfied to be able to smile.
We have jobs, money, infrastructure, education but that smile is missing. Whereas in the above mentioned accounts we have understood that the basic necessity itself has become a luxury for many and yet they manage to smile.
One needs to read their smile to understand their pain which they are hiding behind it.
So if you have a reason to smile please do SMILE:)
Photo and Text : ARIJIT SEN
Edited by RAJASHREE S