The Karuna Vihar calendar, now an institution in the field of disability in India, began in 1996 when my husband said in passing that he wanted to bring out a calendar the next year in honor of the 50th anniversary of India’s Independence. Ravi didn’t get around to it for eight years, but I stole his idea and went straight to work. 1997 marked the first in an unbroken stream of unique KV calendars, each one exploring a different theme, each one “the best ever!”.
The concept informing the calendar is simple: to look at the world through different prisms, keeping in mind that disability is a factor, but not necessarily the most important or interesting one. And so when we consider Joy, Inclusion, Slowing Down, Friendship, Teaching, Growth or Imagination, some of the people we photograph have disabilities and some do not. The funny thing is that it’s not always possible to tell which is which.
Over the years, many people have helped us with the calendar. Avinash Pasricha, a world-renowned photographer and one of our dearest friends, has been involved since our inaugural edition. Starting with his first visit to Karuna Vihar in 1996, he has come every year, always ready to devote as much time as we need to the shoot and developing close ties with the children and staff in the process. It was he who introduced us to the Thomson Press, where the calendar has been printed for the past nine years and because of him, I began to get a better understanding of the rigors of photography.
Avinash is now well over sixty, retired and often plagued by back problems. But whenever I worry that another shoot might be asking too much, he surprises me by turning up with more energy than I – nearly 20 years his junior – could dream of. No matter how early I suggest we start, he wants it a little earlier. And long after I am ready to call it a day, he comes up with one more idea for how we could orchestrate a difficult shoot. He believes that taking pictures is a form of meditation, and that as long as he can remain fully present in the moment, the experience – far from tiring him – actually rejuvenates and refreshes.
Recently, we have been lucky to have other volunteer photographers come to shoot with us – Edmund Cluett, took pictures which became stock photos for every presentation in the last five years and is also a designer, poet and artist; and the wonderful Momenta team. Ken Carl, Muir Adams and Erin Steigerwalt each spent weeks “embedded” in our projects and left us with an astonishing library of images.
Shalini SinhaBorn in 1976, Kanpur - India Masters in Drawing & Paintings, Double Art Specialized. Some of my Certificates/Credits: Participated in “Freedom of Expression Movement - Rang Rasia” | Group exhibition orgamised Aditya Art Gallery, New Delhi | Solo exhibition in “The Press Club of India” | Group Exhibition at Travencore Art Gallery, New Delhi | Participated in Kala Dham workshop Ghaziabad | Been awarded First Position in All India Drawing Competition | Participated in Kala Vithika | Participated in Chikitushi's Presentation Half Century Kala Majma | Exhibition at ANZ Grindlays Bank, Kanpur | Participated in Chikitushi's Kala Mela has been the main designer of the calendar over the years, beginning in 1999 when she contributed some hand-drawn borders as illustrations and then doing the full design from 2000 onwards (assisted for several years by Prashant Upadhyaya – an old friend, a former pediatric surgeon, now a graphic designer). Shalini, a designer and illustrator who trained at Parsons School of Design and Cooper Union, has been a consultant to the Foundation for many years, creating our brochures, posters, letterheads and wall paintings to great effect. She is the mother of two artistic daughters (Tanisha and Amaya), with whom she often collaborates on projects.
Others who have contributed to the calendar include Neha Agrawal, Beth Shirrell, Noorie Agrawal, Aileen Aquino and Nick Lacke were all design interns at the Foundation – each one brought a unique blend of creativity, skill and cutting edge talent to the calendar.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the calendar is the opportunity it gives to bring poetry and images together. Since 1998, each calendar has had a specific theme – it is a task indeed to collect relevant quotations from the eclectic array of poets, writers and religious and philosophical traditions which people have come to expect every year. The moment one calendar goes to press, we start searching for quotes for the next one. But never alone. Emails go out to a devoted club of fellow word lovers and slowly, over a month or two, suggestions flow in. The process of sifting through the astonishing collection of thoughts – all so lyrically phrased – is peaceful and contemplative. And the next phase – matching the poetry to the photographs – is even better. Somehow, both words and images grow deeper, more suggestive and mysterious, by being paired. If only we could add music as well!
Finally, every January, we wait eagerly for the responses. Thousands are sent out around the world and we watch the post and the email for many weeks, waiting for proof that others love receiving it as much as we love creating it. That is probably not possible, but we do get enough letters to make us believe it is worth continuing. (A word to our fans: letters on paper are better than emails! We love to put all the notes up on the calendar bulletin board, and the more diverse the cards and note-papers are, the more exciting the display becomes. . . but we’ll take whatever we can get!)