Kolkata photographer Debalina Bhatta’s greatest role model has always been her mother, retired cop Minati Bhatta. “It is impossible to put my feelings for my mother into words. She is one of the strongest women I know,” says Debalina.
As an homage to her icon, Debalina decided to let her pictures speak a thousand words, and composed a photo feature with her mom as the protagonist.
“My mom joined the first-ever lady police batch in 1966 as an assistant sub-inspector of police in the Intelligence Branch (IB) of the West Bengal Police. She was posted in Kolkata and worked there all through her 35-year career. She retired as an inspector of police of the IB department,” says Debalina, who has captured dozens of pictures of Minati going about her daily activities in the home.
The photographs are taken at different times of the day – showing how the 72-year-old tends to the needs of her family with complete gusto and dedication, even if she has to sometimes sacrifice her own health, happiness and comfort for it.
“The photos depict her everyday routine, and how she selflessly looks after my father, my brother, my sister-in-law and me with the same passion and compassion year after year,” she says, adding that her father too was in the West Bengal Police service and retired as a deputy superintendent of police of Howrah District.
Minati’s daily routine has been unaltered ever since her retirement. “She wakes up early in the morning before everyone else, and goes to sleep after she completes her daily chores. Every day, she follows the same chain of activities like cooking, cleaning, prayers, washing and so on,” says Debalina, who completed her Master’s in mass communication and journalism from Calcutta University.
“What intrigued me the most while shooting this feature over the weeks and months was how my mother went about all this gruelling labour without any complaints. I wanted to showcase her strength, dignity and her consistent drive to keep the wheels of our family rolling,” she says.
Debalina chanced upon photography in her school days, clicking with a Sony point-and-shoot camera. She also took up painting, which enhanced her inclination towards the creative arts.
After completing her Master’s, she found herself at a low point in her life. “I was searching for a gateway for my emotions and existence,” she shares, explaining why she enrolled for a two-year diploma in photography.
“After years of mental struggle, I found my true self through photography; it acts as a catalyst for my mental peace,” says Debalina, who – after years of borrowing her brother’s camera – has now got her own equipment and has turned her passion into a profession.
Her work has appeared on various platforms. But, of course, the series on her mother lies more in the realm of the personal than professional.
According to the ‘Time Use Survey in India 2019’ by the National Statistical Office, 81 percent of India’s female population above the age of six is engaged in ‘unpaid domestic services for household members’, compared with 26 percent of Indian men and boys.
The survey also found that women spent almost 20 percent of their daily hours on unpaid housework and caregiving for family members, compared with less than 3 percent for men.
“I dedicate this photo feature to all mothers around the world who are the silent performers and always remain the unsung heroes, seldom acknowledged in their everyday lives,” Debalina says.
Published in eShe’s July-August 2021 issue