Vicky Roy’s connection with the roads and pavementsof Delhi resonates through the pages of his first book Home, Street, Home .SWATI DAFTUARin conversationwith the well-known photographer.
Who doesn’t like a rags-to-riches story? When 11-year-old Vicky Roy left his impoverished family home in Purulia, West Bengal, he was only looking to escape from a life he couldn’t bear any longer. “I didn’t get on the Purushottam Express, Purulia’s only train to Delhi. I made my way to Bankura and then somehow got to Delhi. I’d stolen some money from my uncle’s pocket.” Today, Vicky Roy is a well-known photographer with three solo exhibitions, numerous awards and a recently published monograph, Home, Street, Home , to his credit.
When he landed in the capital, Roy became a rag-picker, working on the platforms of the New Delhi Railway Station, earning almost nothing and paying the platform goons the little that he did. “I collected water bottles that people threw away, refilled and sold them for a few rupees.” Still unable to sustain himself, he worked as a dishwasher at a street vendor’s stall, working all hours, eating leftover food and saving a little money. “Then the Salaam Balak Trust (SBT) people rescued me. I was taken to the shelter and started school.”
And Roy found his luck changing. Suddenly, he had a clean bed, enough food and an education. “I didn’t do very well in studies. In Class X, I got very low marks and my teacher suggested that I train in something. I chose photography because I wanted to travel. I thought that taking photographs would help me see the world.” He got that right. His pictures took him to New York, London, Vietnam. He spoke at TED conventions, had dinner with Prince Edward and exhibited at the famous Fotomuseum in Switzerland.
But it was a long journey. During his SBT days, he worked as an assistant to visiting British photographer Dixie Benjamin. He carried the photographer’s tripod and nodded in agreement with all that the foreigner said because he couldn’t understand English. Before Benjamin left for London, Roy managed to ask him the one question that had been troubling him. With the help of a friend who could speak English, he asked Benjamin if his shaky hold on the language would hamper his dreams of becoming a photographer. “He told me that I was Indian, and I spoke Hindi. There were many great Chinese and Japanese photographers who couldn’t speak any English, and that didn’t stop them. He told me that I’d become a good photographer. I bought my first camera with a loan I took from SBT. It was a Nikon F-80. I had enrolled in a course and, when I left the shelter at 18, I started working for photographer Anay Mann.”
This was a turning point. He started photographing the world he had known and experienced, creating snapshots of life at railway stations, slums and underpasses. “My first exhibition, in 2007, was called ‘Street Dreams’.” Roy’s attempt was to capture not just the grim, dark reality of street children but also their dreams, hopes and aspirations. There was no looking back.
When asked about how his book came to be, Roy said, “I had an exhibition, ‘ Apna Ghar ’, in Vadehra Art Gallery, Delhi. During the event, the audience asked what I’d like to do next. I told them that, on the event of SBT’s 25th anniversary, I’d like to do a book of photographs.” After the event, Prashant Panijar, co-founder of non-profit trust Nazar Foundation, told Roy that they’d been looking to publish a monograph of work that was different and new. “He called me to meet Sanjeev Saith, who would edit and curate my book if he liked the pictures. I collected all my work and visited Sanjeev sir. It took him nearly three hours to go through everything but once he was done, he told me to make prints of the pieces he’d selected so that he could decide how it would all go in the book.”
The book, Roy says, is a little like his own journey as a street kid. His connection with the roads and pavements of Delhi and his survival and rescue resonate through the pages of Home, Street, Home . The Nazar Foundation approached patrons, artists, photographers, gallery owners and friends to contribute towards funding the monograph. “We got Rs. 5000 each from around 100 patrons. The response has been awesome. The fact that it was made with the help of the public was crucial. In fact, many companies ordered over 50-100 copies each to distribute among their employees and told them to see my work and to take inspiration from it. This is very humbling.”
This is Roy’s first book, but he doesn’t intend for it to be his last. “I’m definitely going to work more, and may be produce another book someday. Right now though, after three exhibitions and working on the book, I’m trying to take a break. I will, of course, continue to do commercial work, because that’s how I earn my bread and butter.” Roy does freelance work for magazines like Better Homes and Gardens as well as wedding and interior photography.
“I keep going back to the shelter, to play and spend time with the children there. It’s like home.” As for his other home, the one he left so long ago, Roy thinks that, one day, he’ll be ready to return and work there; capturing a life he can still remember.