Elevate Difference

India Exposed: The Subcontinent A-Z

The dust jacket of the enigmatic picture book India Exposed displays row upon row of bright blue Kali figures prepared for a festival. Nude goddesses sticking out their intense pink tongues, each statue garlanded with human heads (all male, as far as I can tell), dwarf the lone craftsman at work among them. The powerful image summons up the mystique of India: outsized, crowded, frenetic, sensual, and yet somehow austere.

Throughout the colorful pictures and text, photojournalist Limpkin stresses the paradoxes of what he calls an "anarchistic madhouse" of a country rich and poor, scholarly and illiterate, traditional and modern. He offers us fascinating glimpses of a civilization that poses more questions than answers. In photo essays of one or two pages—though occasionally more—he traverses the alphabet from Army to Zebu. This approach leads to surprising juxtapositions; we learn on one page that anger at high prices for onions spurred Indira Ghandi's rise to political power, and on the next we find out that the Central Narcotics Bureau licenses farmers to grow opium poppies.

Larger topics tend to overflow these essays and recur under different headings. Feminist readers interested in the status of women, for example, will find insights clustered under themes such as Corruption & Crime—human trafficking and prostitution; Families—a sister tenderly feeds a small sibling and a grandmother combs her grandson's hair; Sex Discrimination—"sex-selective infanticide," education, employment, and domestic treatment; and Weddings—elaborate ceremonies that contrast horribly with "the grotesque practice of bride burnings" that still occur, despite its being illegal. Despite the bitter taste of such customs, don't overlook, the photos under the rubric of Color, such as "a female work gang" carrying loads of mud on their heads—each one clad in pink, orange, green, blue, or yellow—in a "glorious, impulsive addiction to color...that lightens their lives and ours." _India Exposed_ is a gold mine of images and information, not to be missed.

Written by: Kittye Delle Robbins-Herring, December 12th 2009