Kohit Selare, Distressed Kaushal and Distressed Mohit made their first appearance one September evening in Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, Delhi. All the other employees had gone home after a long day’s work, except for Mr. Amit, the network and security engineer at the facility. He is the only one to have seen the three of them together at the same time, and prefers not to talk about it.

Since then, the three of them keep surfacing in the Goethe Institut premises – usually after hours, and usually together. The only evidence of their untimely appearance is the Institut’s biometric attendance machine records, which get flushed after every three months.

Their existence is contingent upon the fleeting moment of contact and recognition with the attendance machine.

In 14th Century Delhi, Amir Khusrau is well aware of the absolute power of the fleeting glance. The simple act of just locking eyes with the charismatic mystic Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, shatters his very sense of selfhood. So he sings –
Chhaap tilak sab chheeni, tose naina milaike.
Baat agham keh deeni, tose naina milaike….
You’ve snatched away my identity, my everything from me, just by looking into my eyes. You’ve revealed secrets unfathomable, by just a glance….

Kohit Selare doesn’t know much about Amir Khusrau. But he loves listening to the Qawwali. Late night in the Goethe Institut courtyard, Kohit hums the tune and wonders whether an identity was snatched away from or was it actually bestowed, in that fleeting moment of contact with the attendance machine…

Kohit doesn’t know much about Amir Khusrau. But he finds it amusing that he shares the experience of existing within databases with Khusrau, along with other data objects – categorised by the colour of their eyes and sound of their songs and books they wrote and wars they witnessed and names they were called and the time they spent living and the time they spent dying. 

Among all the snatched identities that exist along with Kohit Selare inside the biometric attendance machine, there are some that are broken beyond repair.  Kohit finds these fingerprints exceptionally beautiful. They look like vast desolate landscapes. Imagine endlessly gliding over them, surveying their deltas, ridges and whorls….

Late night in the Goethe Institut courtyard, humming to himself, Kohit wonders – does unidentified, incomplete, misrecognized data correspond to lost, stolen,  unfathomable bodies?

The project Chhaap Tilak Sab Chheeni is realised within the framework of Five Million Incidents 2019-20, supported by Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan in collaboration with Raqs Media Collective