Buy your ticket: cheap seats or front row. Wait in line. Find a chair. Wait and wait. The circus starts. Watch as a line of women of various ages parade into the tent, in various mismatched costumes doing an endless display of low-tech acrobatics to a soundtrack of pounding disco and Bollywood music (and the occasional Celine Dion-Titanic tribute). The crowd watches, but barely. Two clowns tell bad jokes in monotone - this is what they do everyday, three times a day. The crowd watches, but barely. The women are done their tricks and walk out the back of the tent - into smaller tents where their daughters and sons are waiting. Their make-up and their clothes are piled up. Their beds are made and their mothers, who are too old to perform, are guarding their other lives - the lives outside the big tent. The crowd whispers about the performers in the big tent and the performers whisper about the crowd behind the curtain. Back in to ride bicycles with no hands, spin from shady ropes by their teeth, jump through hula-hoops and spin plates on sticks. Welcome to the Big Top. click to see more pictures.
Holding a camera gives one the power of a new perspective: that's something that I believe personally - and something that I integrated into the work that I did as Programs Director at Kid Powered Media. Through photography courses, photo walks, and multiple other projects, our students learned how to view their communities in new and creative ways: through a camera lens. They not only learned technical control over the camera, but also how to apply that to knowing more about the communities where they live. They came to see the diversity of their communities, the rich history of the place and the people, the complexities of life there as well as the beauty that surrounds them. Kids have a voice that needs to be shared - and the camera provides a perfect tool. It gives them the distance they need to take a step back; it provides a barrier between them and their subjects; and it results in images that are engaging and easy to share. click here to see more photos of kids with cameras in action. and follow the link to watch a documentary created by the kids of one of Kid Powered Media's clubs about how media impacted their lives and how they hope it will impact others! 'Our media is able to reach much further than we can alone' by the Mannat Media Club
After driving along dirt roads, following obscure directions to find the neighborhood "under the neem tree", we would pull up in our battered Wagon R, careful to avoid any raging potholes or wandering cow, to the chorus of hundreds of kids screaming, "the TV is coming! The TV is coming!" We would set up our minimalistic equipment: a big screen, a broken stool and a basic video projector - all run by the extra battery in the trunk of the car and connected to the car stereo speakers. And then we would hit play and, for about an hour, watch as the screen reflected back in the eyes of the children (and their parents and their neighbors). We would watch as their expressions followed the characters they saw. We would watch as, for that hour, they were transformed and entertained. Between technical failures and drunk disruptions, we would laugh as the children laughed and enjoy with them the happily ever afters on screen. And the best part - we played movies made by other kids - kids we had worked with for months and months to learn acting and self-expression, story-writing and communication skills, creativity and facts about social issues. And the movies were not only educational but hilarious and dramatic and romantic and interesting. For us, these local film screenings were a double success - we got to see the conclusion of the growth of the children who made the film as well as the beginning of learning for the children who watched the film. That's the bright side of development - of the five years of work I did with Kid Powered Media. But there is a dark side too. The side that demands impact and metrics. The side that values numbers and growth and products instead of process. The side where interpersonal politics and donor demands overpower collaborative creativity. And unfortunately, it's this side that usually drives things. click to see more photos of the bright side.
It's the resilience. The determination. The creativity and jugaad spirit. The colors - of the buildings (however crumbling), the clothes and the smiles. Slums in Delhi are complex places - full of assumptions, misconceptions, struggles and joys; these photos are a quick glimpse at everyday life of some of the people who call the slums of Delhi home. Click for more photos. *Most of these photos were taken and edited with an iPhone 5 - rough and on the go - because usually I was too busy living alongside these people, even if just for the minute.
Another holiday in the making: clay diyas (candles) used to light up homes on Diwali. Made in a village within a city within a country. Tucked into a corner of Uttam Nagar, without signposts or directions or much fame, the women mix clay and cut pots off wheels and make dirt turn colors while the men spin, spin, spin giving shape to the earth surrounded by generations. There are hand-built mountains with oversized fires to bake what you don't eat and kachcha and pakka creations are piled on rooftops to dry in the sun, as the skin of their makers cracks and crusts like the clay. Rajasthan, Bihar, Haryana, UP and 2 families from Bengal, providing the city with its clay needs - simple to fancy, Diwali or otherwise. Click to see more photos.
It's becoming a growing fascination of mine: seeing the behind-the-scenes of holidays, the production of celebrations, the making of happiness. These photos are taken in Kumartuli, a neighborhood tucked into a corner of Calcutta, where artisans craft huge clay statues of the goddess Durga for Durga Puja - the most famous and lively of all Bengali holidays. Once completed, the goddess is placed, alongside other life-sized gods, in tents called pandals around the city, decorated and revered by neighborhood children and families who are indifferent to where she came from or where she will go. They listen to music, hang out with their friends, eat the best sweets of their lives, dress in their finest clothes as the goddess watches from her stage...and as the artisans who made her finally breathe deep breaths of relaxation as their work winds down for another season. The celebrations wouldn't be complete without Durga, and Durga wouldn't be complete without the artisans: they see through every detail - from collecting clay from the river to crafting her perfect frame. From layering the mud to decorating the goddess with paint, fabric, and glitter. They even collect the remains after she is immersed in the water at the end of Durga Puja - to be fixed up, pieced together, torn apart and used again. From Earth to Earth the goddess comes and goes, passing through the hands of the men and women of Kumartuli. And of course they don't stop at Durga - they can make any god required, as well as humans - living beside and amongst them in the lanes of Kumartuli. Click here for more photos. (All photos in this series taken with a Nikon FE and 35mm Fujifilm)
It was perhaps one of the most touristy things I've ever done in India: a hired taxi to take a curated tour of villages in the Kutch region of Gujarat. It seemed like a good idea at the time - assured access to places that are hard to reach by public transport, someone else organizing my schedule and time to fit many things into a single day. But I felt trapped and suffocated and distinctly disappointed: things were too beautiful, too picture-perfect, too ready and prepared. I missed the chaos and the roughness and the initiative it takes to figure it all out. And most of all, I missed the humanity. Empty shops designed with a foreign aesthetic, ready to please. Villages that were painted just so with men's faces plastered with smiles and eyes flooding with eagerness. These pictures are instead what happened when I tried to push past all that. When I went behind the shop to talk to the workers hanging out in the back or the women preparing lunch. When I chatted with the children playing in the shade as my other travelers shopped in the craft stores. When I forced the taxi to stop in order to walk through a local market buzzing on the side of the street. I found a glimpse of humanity, but I got out of my dilapidated ambassador taxi at the end of the day wanting more. Click for more photos.
A plastic mold. Plaster of Paris mix. Paint. Glitter. And a god is born - a POP god. With their community constantly under threat of demolition, these families on the road past Akshardam Temple in Samaspur Village hold few things dear: their profession and each other. Click for more pictures.
Each night, she puts on her own make-up and chooses from a selection of her own clothes, stored in steel boxes along with the family's only other possessions, precariously staked behind the make-shift stage out of sight from the crowd gathering. This is what she has done since she was young, when she watched her own parents perform and learned the secret art of deception. The Water of India - a vase that never empties no matter how much you pour out. The Sword Through the Throat trick. Cutting her assistants in half. As her 6 children play between the stage and the crowd and as her husband controls the mobs of men that pay 20 rupees per head, she doubles checks her eyeliner in the dusty mirror, takes a deep breath and walks on stage to enchant them all with a fake Chinese accent and hastily, though sincerely, performed tricks, the most impressive of which is the fine line she walks between being a strong empowered, self-employed women on a public stage and a show piece for men's entertainment controlled by the watchful eye of her husband. Click to see more photos.
Tucked into a corner of Lajpat Nagar, past the teaming market, behind the parks and Punjabi houses, is Jal Vihar - a government colony for low level employees in the water scheme. Every year since 1981, the people of the colony pool their money together to put on their own Ramlila, a 10-day reenactment of the story of Ram's rescue of Sita from the grasps of Ravan and the reason North India celebrates Dussehra. Bathed in the divine yellow light of the park lampposts, the neighborhood kids grow up watching their neighbors and peers playing gods - Ram, the hero, and his companion Hanuman, the strong monkey king. Sita, the princess, played by a man of course (no women allowed on stage). Roles are given by looks, not experience - because these aren't actors - they are accountants and sales men and teachers. In fact, they have no acting experience at all except for the 2 months leading up to Dussehra when they meet after work to go through the worn and rugged scripts that have been passed down through the years to learn their lines and practice the play. This is Prabhakar's second year as Ram, a role he has been looking forward to for the past 10 years and which he performs 'dil se'; playing a god is not meant to be taken lightly. Before the festivities start, the actors do a prayer in order to channel the gods and ask them to enter their bodies for the next 10 days - and to forgive them in advance for any mistakes they make. And when the festivities are over, they do another prayer to release the gods from their bodies and give thanks. In between, for those 10 nights, women and children and sometimes men watch the story unfold and live alongside Ram and Sita, Hanuman and Ravan, both literally and figuratively, thinking about whether next year will be their chance to be a god.
Every year on the 14th of August, 11 guilds of men in traditional costumes shoulder massive wooden candlesticks and march (or rather, synchronize their steps - it's more of a dance) down the streets of Sassari to thank the Virgin Mary for her protection from the plague that threatened the city in the 1600s. The candles are tall and heavy, the drum beats loud and rhythmic, and the sun overbearing and hot. The crowd gathers, not the least of which with their sons and daughters, neighbors and friends, to watch the dance of the candles and remember what makes Sassari so unique. Because whether these men are actually thinking about the Virgin Mary and her protective powers or about the flowing beer and upcoming party, one thing is without a doubt: they are proud, and understandably so. (click to see more photos)
“Software. Software. Software!” “Laminaaaaaaaaaatiooooooon!” come the calls from young, beady-eyed boys (yes, all boys). They’ve finally reached puberty, their voices just cracked, enough for them to yell at the top of their lungs and whisper beneath their breaths at the same time. They are equally present on the pathway and hidden in the shadows, with their Dolche and Gobbana shirts fitted to their almost-tonned bodies (in the evenings, after they’ve sold their share of illegal software, they’ll go to the gym, staring at a picture of Salman Khan with stars in their eyes). Nehru Place used to be my own personal hell-in-Delhi; I used to imagine that each and every beady-eyed boy that I made eye contact with was the one who had torn into our privacy in A-Block Dayanand Colony, invaded our memories and travels and pushed reset on all our technology, wiping them clean and reselling them without bothering about the empty hole it would leave in our lives and minds. But now, after weekly trips to the printers tucked behind the stationary shop where the employees always compliment me via the materials I get printed, after cups of coffee overhearing legitimate and friendly business conversations, after short but immediate interactions with smiley patrons of the pavement, I realize that it isn’t the stolen electronics (and the lives contained in them) that make Nehru Place what it is – it’s the lives that are there, present, sitting and selling, thinking and living, breathing and sometimes yelling, because and in spite of everything else – business suit or badly copied and branded jeans. *These photos were all taken and edited with an iPhone 5 and were originally published on my other blog: daybydayindelhi.blogspot.com
The scent of fish lingers on every surface. A fine sheen of water on the ground below. The sun barely peaks out between clouds and sleepy eyes. Men tie knots and dump crates, spilling out every shape and size of a variety of sea creatures, caught during their early morning expedition. And women! Women in bright colored saris touch and sort and throw and pile the fish by price and size. People rush past with crates and boxes balanced precariously on their heads, fins and tentacles spilling over the sides. Customers shout and bargain, holding their cash tightly in their hands until exchanged for a smile and a hastily tied plastic bag of sardines. Men might catch the fish, but women are in charge here - India's fishing harbors. Women buy and women sell. The cash flows through their hands, and they make sure they get what it’s worth. The men tie up their boats to go get their morning chai or go back to sleep, but the women forge on. Buying, selling, sorting, cleaning, with the seagulls waiting in the wake for the refuse scattered on the ground. These pictures are from Mangalore, Diu and Malpe ports. Click to see more.
Jugaad. It’s one of those untranslatable words, a Hindi term used to describe the application of necessary creativity to finding everyday solutions. It’s about making due with what you have, not in a resigned way, but in an innovative, active way and it’s one of the things I admire most about the Indian subcontinent: jugaad is a lifestyle. But it turns out I didn’t have to look on the other side of the world because jugaad exists at home (literally) too - in the form of my dad, Randy Hodges, the Manteo Blacksmith, and his ironwork creations. He takes other people's castoffs (whether in the form of old tools, used silverware, scrap iron, random flea market purchases..) whose original uses are often taken for granted and turns them into art, in a constant cycle of repurposing. The end result: pieces that show the life of things from constantly shifting angles, just like the ebb and flow of life in the subcontinent where jugaad is an art form. Read more about him at http://www.arcmagazine.pub/randy-hodges/ - and check out these other photos I took of him in action. For photos of his work, have a look at his website.
There is something soothing in the monotony, the white towels evenly draped in perfect alignment, one after the other, punctuated every so often by a dark blue hand towel or red washcloth. Big white bedsheets billow in the breeze, soaking up the smell of whatever sunshine filters through the Delhi pollution. These are the hidden dhobi ghats of Delhi. There are as many as 70 spread across the city, often tucked in the back lanes of well-known neighborhoods, sometimes along the banks of large curving sewer lines, rarely along the Yamuna river itself. Most of them were started in the 60s when the government allotted land specifically for this purpose. Families came from UP and surrounding areas, often 30-35 people per ghat with multiple families sharing the larger spaces, to live, sleep and eat with the city’s dirty laundry. Each ghat processes 40-50,000 pieces of laundry a day, in a four-step process: wash, rinse, spin, line dry - colors and whites separate. Then, after an afternoon rest, iron, fold, package and deliver all across the city to hotels, hair salons, private homes, and hospitals. The labour is intense - banging and scrubbing and hanging - and the pay is low. It’s not personal washing machines that will end their profession, but the dhobis themselves - they don’t want to see their children continue in this work. Pictured here are dhobi ghats in Nehru Nagar, Jangpura, Kalkaji, and Lodi Colony. Click to see photos.
During December 2014 and January 2015, my husband and I took a road trip around Karnataka and into bits of Kerala. We fearlessly navigated winding roads in a car borrowed from a friend, trying our hardest to balance spending time in each destination with seeing as many places as possible. In Mysore, we gave ourselves a morning - just one morning, 4 hours more or less. The only thing we did in Mysore was to have a walk through Devaraja Market as shopkeepers were setting up and having their morning chai. These photos are a piece of that quick exploration - a dip into a complicated place, a few passing smiles, and a good impression - when we allowed an iconic market to represent a whole city, for better or worse. Click here for more photos.
Ride the Blue Metro Line West and get off at Tagore Garden Station. Walk onto the crowded highway and scan left and right. Behind the hustling traffic, leaning against the roadside stalls and piled underneath the metro pillars you will see giant papier mâché creatures waiting to be born. A head here. Arms and legs there. Some have wide flaming eyes already painted on, others have their bamboo frame covered in Christmas wrapping paper. All have the distinctive mustache that is the signature of the Ravan makers of West Delhi. For 2 months a year, dozens of families who otherwise spend the year working in mechanics shops, in wedding bands, as car painters or taxi drivers, bring their usual routine to a halt to build the giant Ravan effigies that will expode across the city on Dussehra. Towering up to 50 feet tall, each of these effigies take approximately 1 week each to make, piece by piece. First, a frame is built with thin bamboo sticks. The frame is covered with second-hand saree fabric and, at strategic spots, straw is added - for example to make distinct, protruding eyebrows. Then a layer of white paper and sometimes another layer of coloured wrapping paper, for extra support and flare. Finally, with the help of women and children, the bodies are painted and hand-cut decorative paper pieces glued on them in a whirlwind of sparkly patterns. The pieces will be assembled only after being purchased by one patron or another - resident welfare associations or neighbourhood committees - and only once they reach at their final location. The head goes on the body, the arms and legs are attached, and big, box-like shoes finish it off. Each Ravan will stand for a few days in a vacant neighbourhood ground until the night of Dussehra, when stuffed with straw and hundreds of firecrackers he will explode to celebrate the victory of Good over Evil. One artist can build up to 30-35 Ravans a year (depending on their size and resources), adding up to a total of 3,000 Ravans in this market alone every Dusshera season, catering to celebrations all across North India. A 50-foot Ravan can cost 15,000 rupees ($300 USD) or more, depending on the detail and craftmanship involved, but most Ravans range from 5,000 - 8,000 rupees. (The actual cost of making a small one is about 500-1,000 rupees). The demand for Ravans has been decreasing lately, and the artists strive to innovate to maintain and increase their appeal however they can. The mustaches get progressively more elaborate, the eyelashes take the shape of flames and curls, and trending slogans against corruption or promoting equality appear on the Ravans' cheeks. But not all of them are in for innovation. For the biggest effigies and for the most spectacular Dussehra celebrations, like the ones carpeting the lawns in front of New Delhi's Lal Qila, special Ravan makers are brought into the city with their whole family from villages throughout Haryana for three months. These artists have a distinct style that they apply to crafting effigies 120-150 feet tall. These Ravanwalas consider themselves as the ‘real-deal’ as far as making demons goes, more authentic than the commercial Ravans of Titarpur market. “Real mustaches don’t come out from the face like that,” they will tell you, looking at photos of Titarpur effigies. For the Old Delhi Ravanwalas, it’s a matter of pride and tradition, not style and innovation. The lips of their Ravans are slightly parted, the mustache is flat on the face, and their noses have actual nostrils. They strive to make their Ravans as factual as possible. Whether in the form of the cartoonish Ravans of West Delhi or the monumental Ravans of Old Delhi, these are the people who give birth to demons…so that we can watch them get defeated. None of the artists partake in Dussehra as the result of their time, effort and artisanship burns and explodes. Instead, they pack up their supplies and go back to their daily routine for another 10 months in one job or another, until the time comes again for their demons to be born. Click here to see more pictures.
Women are as beautiful and glamorous as Hollywood stars; everyone who was born there dreams of living the Slumdog Millionaire rags to riches story; you’ll see women as skimpily dressed as Hollywood heroines, taking showers by the water pump...the list goes on. Hollywood Basti - officially Gulbhai Tekra - is a slum in Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujurat. It’s a place where women lounge on charpais and request photos of themselves and their husbands and their children to any foreigner who passes by. It’s a place where you will be asked by those same women to share the photos far and wide, in America preferably. Where one could start a family portrait business, as long as getting paid in chai and smiles is enough to live on. Where several theories about the origin of its nickname add to the mysterious appeal of the place. With the exception of 3 months of the year, when the demand for gods is low, Hollywood Basti makes Ganpati murtis (Ganesh statues) out of "POP". They will make any god for any occasion if you provide a photo, and they will also make giant bumblebees and “Chaina Army” men. And while doing so, their eyes will shine as bright as their nose rings. “Hum unpardai log hai lekin sapno me hero sochte hai” (We are illiterate but we dream of being stars). Click here for more photos.
It’s 10:00 PM but the night is just getting started. Yakshagana performances last at least 8 hours, and will only finish as the sun rises and their rakshasas (demons) are defeated. They are not plays, but acts of an art that brings together theatre, dance, music, dialogues, complex constumes and sophisticated stage techniques to reenact the myths and legends of the gods, not as you find them in any book, but modified and expanded to fit the audiences and culture of coastal Karnataka. A spread of plastic chairs and rugs crowded with families face the small stage where the gods and demons take turns to overcome the other with carefully choreographed steps. The actors, all men, play many characters (including women), changing into and out of elaborate costumes weighing kilos and thick layers of makeup several times throughout the night. Continuously, they pack and unpack their things in boxes that are coded by scene and by actor. They sleep and travel through the day, to play the gods once again during another night in a new place. This particular troupe arrived in Malpe, Karnataka, with a 50-people crew and a script of 32 scenes - actors read and re-read their lines between each scene, even when they perform 24 nights in a row, without a break. The backstage, like the real stage, is an ongoing production of changing, preparing, praying, relaxing, re-dressing, undressing and joking around - an intimate performance to parallel the one on stage, in front of hundreds. Click here to see more photos.
Son of a man whose job was to bring puppet shows about government programmes around rural schools, Jagdish Amara, a puppeteer himself, has travelled the world to make his art come to life. The tales might be old, from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, but his audience is ever-changing and new. His art form, and his income, will die if he doesn’t adjust, and his story is changing along with the stories he performs. He isn’t the only one. Kathputli Colony in New Delhi, where he has raised his children and grandchildren, is on the periphery by definition, a slum of migrant artists smack in the middle of developing, modern, urban Delhi. They have all lived for years with a pending eviction notice from the Delhi government to bulldoze their homes. The plan? To construct high-rise apartment buildings for middle class city-dwellers. Click here for more about Jagdish Amara.
For two weeks every fall, the backpacker paradise of Pushkar is flooded with animals of every shape and size (camels, buffaloes, horses, and any other marketable livestock) and the people who accompany the animals, often having travelled one week or more - on foot - from villages spread across North India. The desert is turned into a makeshift city: there are makers of chai, sellers of animal feed, even people to collect the (literal) shit left behind. Business happens alongside entertainment with circus performers, snake charmers, tight-rope walkers, and magicians keeping the crowds smiling. People show off their skills and people show off their animals and for two weeks Pushkar is transformed. Click to see this and other pictures.
(CHECK OUT THE NEW SHOTS FROM 2015!) There is a time of the year, just before Eid, when the distance between Jama Masjid and Red Fort in Old Delhi turns from a crowded wasteland of homeless shelters to a rare display of humans' love for animals in all its contradictions. Herders from villages across North India bring their best livestock, including goats of all ages, shapes and sizes, to the ground to sell them for ritual slaughter. Buyers come with their entire families, and often with their personal butcher in tow, to investigate the animal’s health, and specifically their teeth, before paying from 10,000 rupees ($200 roughly) to 1 lakh ($2,000 roughly) for one. Pride is everywhere: the sellers proud of their beasts, the buyers proud of their faith, and the goats proud out of ignorance that their time is limited. Click to see this and other pictures.
Under Howrah Bridge, in Kolkata, as the sun is casting its morning rays on the river, the Mallick Ghat Flower Market is opening it’s eyes. Flower blossoms compete for space with castaway flowers turned into mush. Male flower-sellers smoke defiantly their cigarettes with petals and garlands around their neck, bright colors crash over morning chai. The visitor often leaves confused - is it a place of color and life or is it a place of decomposition and aggression? Click to see this and other pictures.
God Ram’s long and arduous victory over Ravan, the mythological king demon of Sri Lanka who kidnapped his wife, Sita, is at the core of the 10-day Hindu festival of Dussehra. Predictably, the religious undertones of the victory of good over evil are the perfect excuse to indulge in the mundane joy of ferris wheels and mobile cinemas, magic shows and carnival games. The climax falls on the festival's last day, when the giant papier-mâché effigies of a ten-headed Ravan and his accomplices, stuffed with straw and fire-crackers, are set on fire in front of crowds of thousands of onlookers. Click to see this and other pictures.