As the sun shifted above the white-washed church and the cemetery at Puducherry, Pascal Bernard rotated his Polaroid lens and focused on Mathew, the tourism secretary. He stood next to a grave with a solemn expression on his face as the camera went click-click, while Anupama Raju sat beneath a giant tree, opened her notebook and scribbled a few lines. This was a typical day during the process of putting together an Indo-French poetry-photography project titled ‘Une Ville, Un Lieu, Une Personne’ (One city, one place, one person) organised by Alliance Francaise and Le Centre Intermondes.
“The people of the city, make up its character and culture. The exhibition is centered around this theme. We chose 28 people and clicked three snaps each at their favourite spots in the city. Later she penned few lines for each tryptique,” Pascal says in French accented English as he points at Anupama, a poet cum corporate professional.
We pull out three red plastic chairs and sit at the terrace. Pascal wears his shades on his head and has a tiny braided pony tail. He starts tapping his fingers with childlike restlessness and waits for Anupama to answer the question, as to how they chose these 28 people. “Alliance had given us a list of people but when we tried contacting them, nothing worked out and we had to start from scratch. Pascal contacted his old friend Raj De Condappa and it was through him we got a few contacts like the dancer, Anurekha. The rest were random interesting people we bumped into. While we were strolling through the lanes we saw Muthu on his bike and clicked him. So was the case with the tender coconut seller with her daughter on her hip,” she says.
Anupama has spent a large part of her life in Chennai and has been to Puducherry a couple of times, but this time was sure different. “Usually I always notice the monuments, the architecture, but this time I went to see people and listened to their stories,” says Anupama, who herself translated the poems to French with a little help from Veronique, Pascal’s wife.
Ask Pascal what was the biggest challenge he faced putting this up and he scratches his head as he stares into oblivion before saying that he employed a Polaroid camera. “I could use a digital camera because Polaroid means a lot of effort and risk. I keep digital aside for professional work. This was more personal for me hence I used the Polaroid camera and gave a gold sepia touch.”
After spending days on a stretch at Puducherry and unearthing other’s favourite places, which is their favourite place in Puducherry? The answer to this question lies on the wall as photographs. Pascal posed in front of the Public Works Department and Anupama stood at the entrance of a house with teal gate and red bougainvilleas showering blossoms. The door has been an oft-repeated symbol in her poems and even in this snapshot of her favourite place, there is the door.
A few lines from her poem rush to the mind at this point. “Last night had no eyes, no ears, no warmth, no cold, no pain, no lust, no gain. But last night there was a dream, a denouement, a door. In the morning you were outside.”
As the wind gushes with increased ferocity, the wavy asbestos sheet above flutters with difficulty. We shake hands and part. The pictures, poems, wind and the hope of rain create a hypnotic mood. Make sure to walk into Alliance Francaise de Trivandrum any day before August 4 to experience the same.