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.