Of the burdens people carry.

BY ANJA BOHNHOF

The Bengali term for carrier is bahak. No load seems too heavy or too large to be manhandled through the narrow, crowded streets of Kolkata. Whether their burdens are carried on their heads, or on a yoke over their shoulders, on two- or three-wheelers or on a hand-drawn rickshaw, all manner of goods and essentials—furniture, building materials, groceries, books and coal—are all humped, hauled or carted as they are shifted from one place to another in ways that are at times quite risky.

Precisely placed and perfectly balanced, these artfully towering loads are often extremely heavy. Once on the way, every stop becomes a risky manoeuvre.

Bahak means a life as a day labourer living at the bottom of the social pile. Exploitation and drudgery for minimum pay; dicing with danger in a daily struggle with the Kolkata streets; little or no appreciation for vigorous physical effort, which can all end in total exhaustion.

Nevertheless, in a mega-metropolis, whose streets are too full, too congested and too narrow to accommodate motorised vehicles to the extent required, the bahak play a vital role in keeping the gigantic flow of commodities moving!

I set up a makeshift studio along the edge of these streets for a few weeks and asked some of these carriers to pause for a moment so that they could be portrayed individually, detached from the constant commotion of the bustling crowd—an expression of astonished admiration at the visible artistry contained within the motion of things.

The photographic work Bahak also makes you aware of the burden of things—far beyond the city limits of Kolkata.

(Anja Bohnhof has been working as a freelance photographer and visual artist since 2004. Since 2006, she has been a lecturer in photography and editorial practices at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences. Her work has been exhibited internationally and she has been the recipient of numerous grants and awards. She has also published a number of books documenting her photography.)

Noor Alam, 40 years old

Sitaram Chowdhury, 37 years old


MD Ramjan, 18 years old

SK Safi Jamander, 50 years old

MD Iqbal, 50 years old


Sajahan Mullik, 52 years old


MD Saikat Gaji, 40 years


Ali Iman, 42 years old


MD Alam, 40 years old


MD Zahir, 25 years old


Sanjit Surdar, 12 years old


MD Ishahar, 45 years old

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