Lalit Verma trains his lens on the architecture and culture conveyed by the structures of diplomatic missions dotting the plush Chanakyapuri in New Delhi.
It so happens that at a time when Narendra Damodardas Modi, our new Prime Minister takes over command, Alliance Francaise de Delhi, is hosting a photo-exhibition showing images of around 45 embassies located in the coveted diplomatic enclave in a lush green Chanakyapuri. Since Modi’s approach and his take on foreign policy remains the least known aspect of his politics, the exhibition somehow becomes interesting. But there actually exists no connection between the new government taking charge and the exhibition by Lalit Verma. The Pondicherry-based photographer had made these photographs for the book “Delhi’s Diplomatic Domains: Chanceries and Residences of Imperial New Delhi” by Gladys Abankwa-Meier-Klodt — the wife of a senior German Diplomat — released last year.
Lalit simply decided to showcase the images, he shot extensively, last year, independently of the book and he has taken care to include several images which are not part of the book. “You don’t get permissions to enter these spaces so easily but we did because of Gladys and I wanted to share it with more and more people. India was probably one of the first countries to dedicate an entire area to diplomatic missions and it is beautiful,” says Lalit who also runs an art gallery in Pondicherry. Although there are hundreds of diplomatic missions in the Capital, Lalit has concentrated on 47 of them located in Chanakyapuri as a result of which the likes of Japan, Luxembourg, etc. are missing. “And then there are those which didn’t give us permission like the U.S., China and a few more. We could shoot Thailand only from outside as the embassy was being renovated. Israel only wanted us to shoot the art objects and nothing else but the most welcoming of them all was Pakistan,” reveals Lalit as he shows us the photographs printed on canvas making some of them look like paintings.
Even as they stand as the representative of their respective countries’, Lalit says, it is interesting how they also end up borrowing from the surroundings and become an interesting blend. “But to show them as a representative of a particular country or a culture was never the overarching concern. The idea was to show the building just like it is,” he explains. While the chic structure of High Commission of Singapore represents the country’s modern moorings, Polish embassy, the artist says, falls in the category of art deco.
“I had to look for those spots in these places and I thought the chandelier shot from below was just the perfect spot to show the essence of this building,” says Lalit, adding that how he discovered little known things about these spaces while shooting. “Slovakia embassy has a cinema hall and Sudanese embassy has a proper mosque but I haven’t included those images because of the paucity of space. While some really opened their residences and embassies to us like Brazil, etc., some were not so keen.”
Through the shot of The Netherlands embassy, Lalit gives us a glimpse of history. “By the fire place is where Jinnah sat and signed the Partition agreement,” recalls the lensman, adding that the shots depended on the opportunities the building afforded. “In the Venezuelan embassy, the outdoors were lovely and also in the Swedish embassy.
(The exhibition “Delhi’s Diplomatic Domains” is on at Alliance Francaise de Delhi, 72 Lodi Estate, till June 4)