Alone, together (ongoing)
Kodinhi, a village in Kerala’s Malappuram district has the highest number of twins in India. Some reports put the number at over 300 pairs - there are an estimated 2000 families in Kodinhi. The reason for this high rate of twinning eludes scientists and continues to be a mystery.
After it’s ‘discovery’ in 2006, Kodinhi was catapulted into the international imagination. It was swarmed by the media, scientists, researchers and curious visitors, turning the town into a menagerie. In order to deal with the influx, a few parents (of twins) constituted the Twins and Kins association (TAKA) to connect visiting teams with the families of twins.
Matters became contentious after influential outlets with big budgets offered to pay TAKA and the families for their involvement in the projects. My anecdotal research suggests that TAKA had begun to funnel a lion share of the production budgets for themselves even as the families were incensed by the perceived slight. The dispute escalated to the point that TAKA had to be disbanded and it’s responsibilities transferred to the local Panchayat.
In 2018 when I visited Kodinhi to work on a series of portraits, I encountered a town haunted by it’s fractures. Though my preliminary research forewarned me about the town’s aversion to outsiders, I was nevertheless surprised at the indifference I was met with. Working with the Panchayat, I was eventually able to gain the trust of the community and experience their hospitality.
I was grateful to interact with a number of families during my visit, almost all of whom hoped that time would help mend fences. I interviewed and photographed 23 twin pairs during a two-week long visit. Because the interview was integral to my process, I prioritised shooting teenage and adult twin pairs. I also wanted to include fraternal twin pairs as they are under represented in twin portraiture. The images were made in the backyard of the twins homes and on their terms. We collaborated to come up with the evocative poses that highlight their intimacy.
The inspiration to work on these portraits stems from my relationship with my younger sister. We grew up together, under the same care and circumstances and attended the same schools. In college, we chose conventional fields of study – law and economics. Later, we eschewed our lucrative desk-jobs to follow our ‘calling’. We currently live together working as artists. Our personalities, however, could not be more divergent.
She is more sociable and popular while I’m a homebody keeping a small circle of friends. She tends to be short tempered but forgiving while I tend to hold grudges despite having an even temperament. She comes across as cheerful and easygoing while I can be perceived as guarded and brooding. We are often told that we don’t share even a passing resemblance. We attribute our duality to a 6 year age-gap.
This age-gap divergence theory of ours got me thinking whether such differences could exist even in twins - siblings whose prenatal intimacy precedes even the mother-child bond. I hope to explore the relationship between twins with specific emphasis on divergence in their singularity.
Images of twins are powerful enough to inspire varied interpretations of human sensibility. With this work, I am aware that I am following in the footsteps of giants like Diane Arbus, Mary Ellen Mark and Ketaki Sheth but I am committed to charting my own course and hopeful of imbibing a unique character to these portraits.