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Photographs of Calcutta by Che Guevara, 1959

March 9, 2013

These three photographs were taken by CHE GUEVARA in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1959. The photos are taken from the book Self Portrait by Che Guevara, published by the Centre for Che Studies, Havana, in collaboration with Ocean Books, Australia. They were obtained by Jansatta editor Om Thanvi from the Centre for Che Studies in 2007, and come to us courtesy Thanvi.




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13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 9, 2013 5:04 AM

    Unfortunately, quite unremarkable considering the provenance of the photographs! I gues, I expected something of more character. (Disclaimer: I am a non-Bengali one-time Kolkata visitor with relatively poor insight into Bengali culture, but still)

  2. Shuddhabrata Sengupta permalink
    March 9, 2013 6:49 AM

    Dear Shivam,

    Many thanks for these photographs. I wonder if we could ask Om Thanvi if he knows anything about this apocryphal story about Che in Calcutta. Che Guevara went to the Indian Statistical Institute during his visit and met P.C. Mahalanobis. At that time, the ISI was equipped with the magical thing called a computer, remember that at that time, there were very few computers in the world, and the ISI in Calcutta was one place where you could see what a computer looked like. Che Guevara was very interested, and apparently asked Mahalanobis whether India could assist Cuba in computer technology. Mahalanobis is said to have replied – “the computer is of no use, we are better with pencil and paper”. I have head this being said, but cannot have it authenticated, would any one know if there is any accurate citation for this encounter, or must it always remain a tantalizing ‘might have been’.



  3. Sharmishtha permalink
    March 9, 2013 6:56 AM

    Agree with @prashanthns. Quite disappointing. The usual touristy thing about cows in the streets. But it’s the stuff Che didn’t focus on that is so interesting – so little traffic on the street that you can actually glimpse the other side.

  4. Ammu Abraham permalink
    March 9, 2013 7:20 AM

    Che was obviously fascinated by the sharing of public space by Man and Cow. Where are the Women? I thought the pics are composed well.

  5. Clearly Confused permalink
    March 9, 2013 9:30 AM

    Well, had the identity of the person behind the camera not been revealed, these photographs would have been deemed to be of the generic Orientalist representational mill by most progressives, no?

  6. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    March 9, 2013 10:06 AM

    Well, the thing about Orientalism is that it does not spare revolutionaries (or “progressives”)…

  7. Om Thanvi permalink
    March 9, 2013 12:37 PM

    I think we should read these pictures along with Che’s India Report where he writes in length about presence of cows in Hindu religion and Indian society.

  8. March 9, 2013 3:19 PM

    It’s not that Che was looking for character in his photographs. Like any other tourist he also came to India which was just out of the chains and was trying to take a stand. Keeping his political agenda in India apart, he must be trying to get on the streets to have a depth look at it. And by that time other photographers had also used their lenses in Kolkata.

  9. Debraj Bhattacharya permalink
    March 9, 2013 8:32 PM

    Che was obviously not a photographer. But it is interesting to see that he came to Calcutta and got clicking like any other tourist. I don’t think he was trying to do anything profound. Rather it reveals the ordinary human being in him, something different from the iconic Che or the angry revolutionary Che. Almost like a young student who had come on his first field trip.

  10. bong permalink
    March 9, 2013 11:00 PM

    The great revolutionary couldnt stop photographing cows.

    Did anyone notice the amazing cars ? This was before the licence raj imposed the awful Fiat and Ambassador.

  11. Radhika Chandiramani permalink
    March 11, 2013 7:22 PM

    Of course, as an Argentinean, he would be fascinated by cows on the road. The father of one of my friends in Buenos Aires told me that in rural parts of Argentina, if a cow were to be found on the road, in 10 minutes it would be on someone’s kitchen table!

  12. March 13, 2013 11:18 AM

    Suddhabrata, Che did visit the ISI and indeed was fascinated by the computer… that part remains documented… but the dialogue that you have mentioned is unknown… it will be indeed interesting to know if the great PC had said so..

  13. Debasish Dutta, President, West Bengal Committe, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), 5O/1, Nirmal Chandra Street, Kolkata permalink
    July 22, 2015 1:13 PM

    Rupsa of the Ei Samy daily Bengali Newspaper published from Kolkata (TOI Hkouse) enquired me of Che’s visit at Kamarhati Jute Mill of 24 Parganas with his friend David in 1959. I said I have no such information. I told her that i will get it checked from Bhanudev Dutta, Editor of Banglar Communist Andoloner Itihas Anusondhan, publised from Manisha in 15 Volumes. I enquired from Dutta who could not confirm such visit in kolkata. After that I enquired the matter from Gour Goswami, a very senior Tade Unionist who was involved actively in jute workers movement during that period. He also could not confirm Che’s visit in Kolkata any time in 1959.

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