Anand Kumar Bhowmick's collection of photographs captures significant times and people from around the world

On the narrow Kasi Chetty Street, lined with tiny shops that sell plastic goods, Anand Kumar Bhowmick's store can't be missed. A 6 ft. x 4 ft. poster with history-freezing black and white photographs displayed at the entrance, imparts this shop a unique look. Inside the shop, two other posters take the visitor on a pictorial tour of Subhash Chandra Bose's life and his interactions with various leaders, including Adolf Hitler.

Many such posters are regularly dressed up with different themes such as the Indian Independence movement, Stalinist Russia, World War II, the Holocaust, significant moments in the political history of the world, and the lives of cricketers and film stars. “It'll take you two months to go through all my photos,” says Bhowmick in a discouraging tone. “I have not done a careful count, but my photos must easily number over 25,000. Half of my collection — a source of heartburn for my wife — is kept at my house. My target is 1,00,000 photographs. Holding an exhibition of these photos is another goal.”

Owner of a small scale plastic goods manufacturing unit in Kondithope, Bhowmick admits to having frittered away a fortune on this hobby. He has built this collection by either buying photographs at historic places, flea markets or by scanning images from books and developing them into photos. To keep a tight rein on the costs, he has gone in for only maxi-size (6 inch by 4 inch) prints — but thousands of small prints still add up to quite a lot.

Asked if the collection is aimed at making monetary gains, Bhowmick shakes his head. “It's just a hobby!” He has no great educational qualifications to flaunt, but has a heart for history. As he talks about photos capturing Stalin's private moments — such as a candid shot of the iron-fisted ruler gently wiping his car clean — and the extremely gory images from WWII, his words are animated by wildly gesticulating hands, raised eyebrows and wide eyes.

For 46-year-old Bhowmick, the hobby began around 35 years ago, when he saw leader and film star M.G. Ramachandran for the first time. “Following that lucky encounter, I began to collect photos of MGR,” says Bhowmick, who has not outgrown his awe for the leader.

Part of his love for the past derives from the fact that his family was caught in the cross-currents of history. Says Bhowmick, “My father comes from what is now Bangladesh — his family migrated to Calcutta in the late 1930s.” And then he goes on to speculate about the possible reasons for the move. A natural historian, indeed!