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The Mobile Lives Forum entrusted anthropologist Rahul Srivastava and economist Matias Echanove (of the Indian agency Urbanology) with a research project, which they worked on in collaboration with photojournalist Ishan Tankha. This project focuses on the mobility between Mumbai (Bombay), one of the planet’s most populated megacities, and the Konkan coastal region, to which it has been connected by railway for just over 25 years. Launched in 2014, the project initially aimed to understand the railway’s role in the relationship between Mumbai and the Konkan region. It then aimed to sketch a portrait of some of the families who, over the generations, have organized their lives between Mumbai, medium-sized cities and the native villages they never really left. These families have adopted lifestyles that indicate a sense of belonging to both the city and the countryside, where family members, community, income, beliefs and architectural styles all move and spread.

Based in New Delhi, Ishan Tankha (born in 1981) does regular work for numerous media sources (India Today, South China Morning Post, The Guardian, Le Soir, National Geographic, Le Monde, etc.). His personal work can be tracked on his Instagram account (@ishantankha), sometimes as an extension of the commissions he receives. It is in this way that he returned to the Red Corridor, an area in eastern India where Maoist rebels and government forces clash, after doing several feature stories. He wanted to show the fate of the adivasis (aboriginal) communities and to share their daily lives. His commitment to the project was so intense that he ended up catching the malaria that plagues the conflict region. The A Peal of Spring Thunder series (2008-2015) reflects the empathy with which he approaches his subjects, whose more or less political or humanitarian dimension always deeply focuses on the human being.

It is this sensibility entirely devoted to restoring the substance of existence that we find in the two-part series The Konkan Railway, created for the current research project. The cultural context is important for understanding the nuances of his work. India is a land of diversity, and art is one of the main expressions of this - from the often brilliant sacred art to "international" contemporary art to art by artists from the hundreds of tribal communities (what art historians often call "the other masters"), which features legends, fantastical animals and founding nature. It is important to bear in mind this rich diversity in order to understand the scope of expressiveness, abundance, the subtlety of colors, sense of community, spirituality and relationship to the environment in Tankha’s photos.

The aesthetic lines that unhesitatingly traverse the images in continuity and echo show a relationship between city and village that the train has intensified. The two spaces seem to merge within a family organization that is both at once. The gap one expects to feel disappears with cultural, religious and architectural transfers that reflect the fluidity that has blossomed.

It is impossible to isolate the individual in these images as he is always what surrounds him, where he goes and whoever he happens to be with. The poetry of the decor is never gratuitous; it speaks of the multi-faceted nature of human being’s belonging, of its identity linked to space, of beliefs and family values. It speaks of life as an indivisible weaving that allows us understand the existential depth of the mobility the train allows for.

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