This photo was taken in a small village in Madhya Pradesh. I formed a quick bond with this lovely young lady who a few minutes earlier had been having a lot of fun with my camera. In fact, although I don’t think she had ever handled one before, she took probably my all-time favourite photograph of myself, seen below. I’m looking a bit dishevelled because I’d been travelling all day along dusty roads, but I think that she captured how happy and carefree I was feeling at the time.
Of course, being a woman in India, she soon had to return to her household chores which involved helping to prepare lunch. She is actually of the Brahman (highest) caste, which Westerners often wrongly assume means that she is of a wealthy family. Actually the Brahman caste do not chase after riches – they pursue spiritual or scholarly careers and eschew things that can be considered luxuries. They eat a simple vegetarian diet and, as can be seen from this photograph, run a modest household with barely any more furniture than maybe a simple bed (without mattress or bedding), which would probably be shared with other family members.
This was still one of the luckier households in the village in that they had electricity. But that amounted to nothing during the inevitable daily power shortages, which always seemed to occur during the hottest time. Much of my time spent there involved trying to nap with the rest of the clan in the intense pre-monsoon heat; which was seemingly the only way of making it through those mettle-testing hot and humid hours.
I love the light in this image (thanks to the lack of windows in the house) and how she seems to come out of the darkness. I also love the serene expression on her face. If you look carefully you will see that she is using an intriguing slicer for chopping the vegetables, something that I have never seen outside of India but is a great invention which slices things in seconds with seemingly little effort. Everything that is being prepared will have been bought that day as fridges are still a rarity outside the very wealthiest of households. In fact what she is preparing is probably a special exception because of having guests to stay. Fresh salad ingredients such as cucumber were rarely seen in my experience beyond the tourist restaurants. I was an honoured guest, but a humbled one too, thanks to the warm hospitality that was proffered in this simple but seemingly happy home.