Books

India Exposed: The Subcontinent A-Z by Clive Limpkin

Sarah Boslaugh

British photojournalist Clive Limpkin has a unique view of modern India in 100 illustrated essays from "Army" to "Zebu".


Indian Exposed: The Subcontinent A-Z

Price: $29.95
Author: Clive Limpkin
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 2009-10
Amazon

Clive Limpkin had his doubts about India before his first visit there in 2005: as a British photojournalist most of what he’d seen and heard about India involved poverty, begging, and garbage. But the occasion was a surprise birthday party for a friend in Mumbai and his wife was eager to go so they packed their bags and headed off for the world’s most populous democracy.

Awakening in a bungalow in Kerala after an exhausting trip by plane and car, Limpkin and spouse were greeted by music -- not from a radio but from women singing while the village fisherman set sail. Venturing outside, they found themselves stared down by a white-throated kingfisher while in the distance a boat of mussel fishermen passed through the water hyacinths while a flock of egrets took flight. Needless to say, they were hooked.

Upon return to Britain Limpkin showed some of his photographs from the trip to a publisher who responded with a commission for what became India Exposed: The Subcontinent A-Z. Limpkin's book is organized around 100 essays alphabetically from “Army” to “Zebu”, and includes some of the 80,000 photographs he took on a six-month trip spent criss-crossing the country. He covers the usual topics (Birds, Pilgrims, Temples) but throws in some unexpected entries as well (Pace, Overload, Smiling).

The pictures are stunning and beautiful but this is no coffee table book: Limpkin has gone out of his way to avoid the usual picture-postcard shots of tourist destinations. When he does include a monument, it’s often in an unexpected framing which places it in a human context. He presents the Golden Temple at Amritsar as background in two shots with guards, pilgrims, and visitors going about their business in the foreground. Captions identify the location of each photograph and maps on the front and back endpapers allow you to place each location in context.

People are at the center of Limpkin’s vision of India and the main reason he loves the country. He doesn’t gloss over India’s poverty, crumbling infrastructure, or endemic corruption and finds confirmation for his original preconceptions: despite pockets of modernization and prosperity beggars and garbage remain in ample supply.

But offsetting all that unpleasantness are the people of India, all one billion plus of them, who maintain a disarmingly cheerful outlook on life. As Limpkin puts it: “ ... nowhere else do you get so many disarming smiles or waves in warm greeting. These salutations come not from those seeking your tourist dollar but from millions upon millions with nothing to their name who act like they’ve just won life’s lottery and want you to share it.”

Limpkin has a feel for the quirky fact to bring an essay alive (on average, Delhi cows have 300 plastic bags due to their habit of scrounging in the garbage) and for offering up unusual topics which encapsulate some point about India. For instance, you may have heard of the Nano but for most Indians the Jugaad is more relevant. A Jugaad is an improvised vehicle constructed out of whatever is available and powered by a water-pump or tractor motor. Most lack refinements such as a roof or reliable brakes and can barely manage 20mph on a good day. They can’t be registered or insured and are subject to seizure under the Motor Vehicles Act. But Jugaads can carry large numbers of people (at least twenty are crammed into the vehicle whose picture accompanies the essay) and provide inexpensive transportation for many of India’s poor for whom the Nano is as distant a dream as a BMC.

However fond he may be of India and its people the fact remains that Limpkin is an outsider from a far more prosperous country which exploited India as a colony until 1947. Sometimes an oddly scolding tone enters his authorial voice, as if he were an inspector for the British Raj sent to report on how standards are being upheld in one of the Empire’s many possessions. Here’s an example from his essay on infrastructure: after noting that official corruption and bureaucracy limit progress in this area despite an influx of private and foreign capital he concludes: “Official estimates of subsequent progress barely tally with the trickle-down reality, proving that no amount you can throw at the problem will change the Indian psyche overnight.”

Without disputing the overall truth of his diagnosis (the essay is accompanied by photos of a satellite dish overgrown with vegetation and a snapped telephone pole held upright by the wires it is meant to support) this does come off as high-handed. Imagine the response if an Indian journalist published a book about the United Kingdom including pronouncements about “the British psyche” after a few visits to the country.

But I’d hate for Limpkin to censor his unique voice in the service of political correctness. Taken as a whole India Exposed offers a fascinating look at the country and communicates the author’s pleasure in the many unexpected joys India offers. Limpkin suggests that the Ministry of Tourism’s slogan “Incredible India” should be replaced with the more honest “India -- love it or loathe it”. He clearly loves it and wants you to love it, too.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.