This essay discusses a photography exhibition titled 'India Through the Lens' curated during the Winter 2000-Spring 2001 season by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, a division of the Smithsonian Institution complex in the United States, as being simultaneously oriental and modern. The event is significant because the museum's selection of photographs reiterated orientalist and colonial representations of India, but photography as a modern art form challenged these traditional modes of seeing India. This oppositionality makes it possible to see India dialectically. Using Walter Benjamin's analytical principles of the 'afterlife' of photographs and the potential of the 'polytechnic engineer' to generate new meanings, and by deploying the term 'alternative modernity' critically, this essay allows a glimpse of the past in the present, so as to enter into conversations of nation, art, and technology in an urbanised global setting.