Kishor Parekh was one of the first Indian photographers to be educated abroad. Having attained a Masters degree in Filmmaking and Documentary Photography from the University of Southern California, and having interned with LIFE magazine, he returned to India in 1960. He was unable to find work as a cinematographer and a chance meeting with powerful industrialist G D Birla, resulted in Parekh joining Birla’s paper, the Hindustan Times.
Using his experience from USC and LIFE, he tried to create a photo-department that respected photographers at the Hindustan Times; previously individual photographers were not credited at the newspaper. He also introduced full-page photo features and produced weekly front page photo reports for the newspaper, usually accompanied by his own text.
His famous stories include: “Floods and Tears along the Cauvery”, “Tibetan Refugees”, “Coalminers of Asansol” and “A Day with Police at Naxalbari” and the coverage of the Indian expedition to Everest, famine in Bihar, Indian and Chinese soldiers at the Sikkim border, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s funeral, and the last photo of Prime-Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.
From Life in a Delhi Slum:
Everybody likes to have a better place. People like you have come before, expressed sympathy, talked big, but nothing has happened. Our hovels continue to be what they were. Life is dismal. Our needs are simple. All that we ask is adequate shelter and water. Leave our children alone. We love them and shall look after them. Why do people talk big and do nothing? Why does the Government talk all the time and does nothing?” Will Niranjan’s face have a different story to tell in the next six months, the next two years or even the next decade? Well…like Niranjan, I was not certain!
He remembered how the last photo of Shastri, who died in mysterious circumstances after a ceasefire summit in Tashkent, was taken:
At about 10.30 pm, I knocked on he door of Mr Shaitri’s room in the villa where he was staying. Mr Shastri invited me to come in.
The late Prime Minister, who had evidently not eaten much at the banquet that evening, was having a light pudding.
Mr Shastri asked me what I wanted and told me that after he had finished the sweet dish I could do what I liked.
I requested Mr Shastri to tell the security guards to let me wail outside so that I could take a picture of him from the window. Mr Shastri acceded to my request.
Soon after he had finished eating. Mr Shastri took his customary walk. This is how this picture was taken.”
When the war for independence in Bangladesh broke out in 1971, Parekh was working in Hong Kong as a publisher. He got back to India as soon as possible to cover the war but he was not part of press nor had official accreditation. With a very limited number of Tri-X films, he reached the border near Calcutta from the Indian side, borrowing a ride in a friend’s car. Getting off and carrying on by foot, he forced his way through a restricted cordon and actually jumped into an army helicopter carrying official press
The Indian Army Major responsible for press, though aware of Parekh’s reputation, refused to let him go. “Shoot me here right now or take me,” he told the major who eventually caved, on the condition that he was no one’s responsibility once he got to the war zone.
In Dhaka, he swiftly befriended the independence fighters who allowed him to accompany them. In 5-6 days, he created a great photographic document of the war on 50 rolls of film. He rushed back to Hong Kong and spent Christmas week working day and night in the darkroom, to put together a book mock-up. “All I can smell is rotten flesh,” he recalled and lost 15 pounds from loss of appetite covering the war.
His book Bangladesh: A Brutal Birth (below) became a de facto official document of the Bangladesh’s liberation movement when the Indian Government placed an order of 20,000 copies as education material for its soldiers and officials.