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“August, 1943. Night is …

“August, 1943. Night is falling on Calcutta,
silencing its flocks of ravens, but wakening another kind of life – a
feverish, hidden one : in the Maidan, that open space at the city’s
heart, there are shadows waiting.”

My uncle, Thaï Doan na Champassak, published Ancestral Voices by
Collins – London in 1956 and began his autobiography with this sentence.
Mobilised in Algiers during the Second World War, he was sent to China
as a trained parachutist in charge of a secret mission destined for
clandestine entry into Indochina, then occupied by the Japanese. This
extraordinary story has its beginnings in Calcutta, the starting point
for his mission to Chungking. In the first chapter he gives a vivid
description of the ex-capital of British India just four years before
independence. Having travelled frequently to India since 1996 it never
occurred to me that Kolkata (formerly the anglicised name Calcutta)
would inspire me to produce a body of work focused on its street life
and I owe it to my uncle for giving me that desire. In fact it is in the
streets of Kolkata that I find the most absolute representation of
Indian reality. It is also the only city which holds such an intense
concentration of extremes; quiet and loud, rich and poor, clean and
dirty, modern and old, beautiful and ugly, past and present. This
continuous duality has become my leitmotiv and is the reason I
deliberately chose to focus on its street life in order to best
represent the chaos of this huge megalopolis of over fifteen million
inhabitants.  – Tiane Doan na Champassak

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