Photographs of Calcutta by Che Guevara, 1959

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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19 thoughts on “Photographs of Calcutta by Che Guevara, 1959”

  1. 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. 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’.



    1. Hi..I have got the ‘closer to truth’ version from my grandmother who was an employee at ISI then. Che had gone to the ‘machine tabulation centre’ of NSSO department of ISI. There were punch card machines and no computer. The only computer at ISI was used for research purpose and che had not visited that wing. He had come as a part of Cuban government delegation (probably as commerce minister) and did not have an elaborate interaction with mahalanobis.

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

    1. Thanks for pointing that out..and the other thing about orientalism is that it appears in various guises and does not also spare the ones who think of themselves as more open-minded or progressive than the so called “progressives” particularly the non-party leftists….

  7. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 says:

    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.

    1. Later I enquired from many veteran TU Leaders and senior worker leaders around Kamarhati Jute Mill who confirmed that “ek dariwala sahab to mil me aya tha lekin unka nam to pata nehi hain”. One said Che came At Kamarhato on invitation of his friend who was a senior Executive of the mill. Ganashakti was also enquiring and I remember it published a news ….date I can not remember .

      1. Che Guevara and Bernard David, on Che’s visit to the Agarpara Jute Mill David Mordecai
        Che visited Agarpara jute mill at Kamarhati , and not Kamarhati jute mill . The link above has a photograph .

  14. Pretty much got the essence of post independence Calcutta. The textures are somberly fresh, cows and men roaming past streets of a newly born city. Thanks for the showcase.

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