Painting the Perfect Family

Aprajita Sarcar, 8 September 2021

The image you see was first published in April 1968. It appeared in a newsletter published by the Department of Family Planning, India. The department no longer exists and the newsletter died shortly after 1977. The image, along with the newsletter become artifacts of a nation, which was in the second decade of its independent existence. It also showcases a unique campaign advocating family planning.

Written in Hindi, the text reads ‘Two or Three Children are Enough; Listen to (your) Doctor’s advice.’ The figures that accompany the text show a family of four: a man, a woman, a boy and a girl (denoted by her plait).

As people ride a tonga (horse pulled carrier) next to the image, the photograph holds multiple meanings. Firstly, it showcases bureaucratic innovation. The image of a nuclear family was on a wall, and not a poster in a traditional sense. The image required people to look up and marvel at the scale of the painting and also the message within it. Secondly, the image is the first of many that populate the everyday life of a person. Be it cinema halls, bus stations, or rides on a tonga, chances of the inverted red triangle will grab your attention.

It is this campaign and its accompanying symbol that I trace in the archives. The campaign fascinated me because of its ubiquity. It seemed to seep into the national popular culture in ways that remain unique to the Indian family planning advocacy.

Unscrambling this image brings into focus its global layers, transnational linkages and the world that it envisions. This particular image captures not only the grandiose vision of a national campaign, but also how people made sense of it. I find this photograph to showcase a rare moment of clarity. I understand my work in its proper context: my work here is two-fold. I read into the image and its making, but I also make legible, the differing sentiments it invoked. I make sense of the worlds built within the red triangle and the family it encapsulates.

Leave a Reply