A lazy afternoon in India

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After a bit of a hiatus I’m back! I’ve had a few distractions since being back in London, but here’s hoping that I’ll get into the rhythm of posting again, as I have a vast archive of pictures still to get through that should really see the light of day, otherwise what’s the point of taking them?

I’m honoured that people have still been visiting my blog over the past few months, in spite of the absence of new posts. According to my stats I had nearly 500 viewings yesterday alone. So I figured that if people could be bothered to visit the site even when there wasn’t anything new to see, well then I should really start re-earning this attention by posting some fresh material!

So, I’m starting with an Indian picture. There is a nice serenity to this scene, shot in Madhya Pradesh I think. I feel at peace whenever I look at it. I remember it was late-afternoon at the time and still very hot. So everyone’s pace, including the dog’s, was very relaxed. I’m not sure why it seems to work in black and white – maybe because the cow was white, but it just does, for me anyhow.

A picture tells a thousand words

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I’m not a big fan of busy pictures. I think my images are generally hallmarked by their simplicity and order. But sometimes even a complicated picture can have great composition – like this one. Every person or animal just seems to fit into its own space; nothing seems to be competing with each other. And so I like it. Maybe it also comforts me because it reminds me of a biblical scene – of the animals sitting around the baby in the manger. Except in this case, instead of something being conjured up for an audience, it is real – the animals and humans actually are together in total harmony.

The whole scene looks so perfect that it is like I have played director and staged the shot, but of course I didn’t. I did hang out at this little chai shop for many a morning, so maybe that’s why everything came together. In fact it was one of my favourite places in which to sit, because there was always so much going on. It was located on a kind of crossroads (like the Times Square or Piccadilly Circus of Varanasi) right next to a temple. Which is why the cows seemed so at home there I guess, because they would be given offerings and always treated with kindness.

I remember when the biggest bull I have ever seen came by and the local people gathered around to care for its feet. He just patiently stood there, picking up his huge hooves and soaking up their attention as gentle as a lamb. It was one of those sights that stay with you forever and makes me realise that you needn’t be scared of anything, big or small, so long as you meet it with love and compassion.

I love the scene so much because it contains so much that I remember about India: the chai stalls; the people reading newspapers; the spiritual men; the animals all around you; and that sense of peaceful harmony in spite of the cacophony all around you. It’s an essence of India that I hope I never forget.

Meetings and greetings in Madhya Pradesh

 

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Regular followers of my blog will know that I was fortunate enough to stay in a remote village in Madhya Pradesh during my time in India last year. It was one of the most peaceful times of my life – calmer even than being out at sea on a sailboat. I loved waking up early and going for strolls in the first light when the air was still blessedly fresh and cool. Fortunately everyone else had the same idea, and the local folks were happy to stop and chat (or smile when my limited Hindi ran dry) on their way back from the village pump or on their way to work in the fields. Often they would happily let me photograph them too.

The oxymoron is that I seemingly witnessed joy and poverty in equal measures each day on my walks. I’m not saying that these people are happy because they are poor, but maybe they don’t yearn for things that they have never known. When I witnessed the sense of peace and contentment all around me I felt sure that an influx of material goods would not make them any happier. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be able to move away from subsistence living – for none of the children to have swollen bellies, wear tattered rags or peer at me through infected eyes. And maybe having electricity to run a fan and keep themselves cool during the intense summer heat or light a bulb or two once the sun went down would not spoil their lovely, kind, generous natures either.

But unfortunately it often seems to be all or nothing in India. And so these folks will keep getting by – with that shrug of acceptance bordering on cheerfulness – in spite of their daily struggles, because of that inner calm within that seems to stem from their beautiful surroundings, family, and the close-knit community that they live in.

Bedfellows

 

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I’m not sure if this gentleman was aware that a cat was sleeping under his bed, and if it belonged there or had just wandered off the street to enjoy some shade. But it made a nice scene – especially as cats, unlike dogs, were not a common sight during my explorations of Varanasi.

Apart from the light which is spotlighting both figures, I think what makes the picture is the echo of grey – from the man’s mop of hair to the cat immediately below, and the fact that your eye is drawn there by his hand pointing downwards. It’s nice when things randomly come together to create a harmonious image.

The blue chai cafe

 

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This colourful cafe was spotted in the warren of streets forming the old town of Varanasi. Aside from the framing of the woman in the doorway and the nice details such as the steaming kettle, it’s the vivid red and blue colours that make this picture so appealing to me.

Of course I wish now that I could have taken it with my new Fujifilm camera that brings out the colours so well. But we can’t redo what is done; we can only strive to keep moving forward and developing our craft through new tools and honed  skills.

 

Preparing lunch

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

The Child Within

 

IMG_8703-2I received an email from my mother today telling me my numerology birth sign predictions for this month. It seems a bit late in the day to be getting your July ‘numerologyscope’ (for want of a better word), but she wanted me to see it because she felt that what had been prophesied was something that she could already see happening in my life. So this is what was written for my sign (which, in case anyone is curious, is apparently a ‘5 Tai chi star’)

“Tai Chi it’s time to find your child within. The little person you were, full of hopes and dreams, needs to come out. See the world through their eyes again. Be curious and remember your dreams. It’s a great way to remember why you are where you are now.”

Numerology is nothing I have ever delved in so I don’t know if I believe in it or not, but I have to confess to spotting a certain correlation to what was predicted and how I feel right now. I do feel a sense of personal unburdening – a subtle shedding of those insecurities and doubts; of those sensations of guilt or just that heavy weight of believing myself not to be good enough or worthy enough.

That pesky, pernickity parrot that has been squatting on my shoulder for so long and chattering on about how useless I was seems to have buggered off to pick on someone else. A delicate little butterfly has taken his place; as light as a feather and whose beauty and gentle presence reminds me that miracles can happen and people can transcend into something beyond anything they could possibly have imagined – well not since they were a child anyhow, when silly fantastical dreams were still allowed.

This little butterfly is very welcome and can stay as long as she likes if she just continues to help me conjure back those old discarded hopes and dreams. Who knows what might happen next – maybe I’ll even start to think about fulfilling some of them.

Death in Varanasi

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Death is all around you in Varanasi. You breathe in the dust of the bodies being burned along the ghats; you hear the chanting of the people racing through the streets towards the river carrying loved ones enveloped in colourful cloths and flowers. The process of burning of bodies goes on ceaselessly 24 hours like some kind of morbid factory; the elderly widows patiently wait in a nearby hostel for their turn to die. Occasionally you see a bloated body floating along the water that an enterprising bird has turned into a useful perch; a random skull rolling along the ghats or, as on this occasion, an entire skeleton washed up on the shore. 

Life goes on insensitive to death; the people seem oblivious to it. It’s no big deal because you will come back again soon in hopefully a better life. Or better still you will achieve ‘moksha’, or liberation.

 The dogs playing in this photo represent to me this strangely irreverent attitude towards the diseased. The body is insignificant; not even a curiosity. The soul has gone. What’s left is empty. Just a pile of cast off bones that have been stripped of their engine.

Incidentally, the reason why this body hasn’t been cremated is probably because it belonged to a sadhu (an Indian holy man). Along with children under two (who are not considered in need of purity from cremation because their souls are still pure); lepers or people with smallpox, they are allowed to be deposited in the Ganges with a heavy stone to weigh them down. Though as you can see, this doesn’t always achieve its purpose, resulting in a morbid curiosity for the tourists and, well, just a pile of bones for the locals.

 

Young snake charmer

Young snake charmer

It had never occurred to me that snake charmers really existed until I saw my first performer in Varanasi. On that occasion it was an elderly gentleman and I was so overwhelmed by the sight that I gave him a generous reward in return for his permission to take his photograph – which produced such delight that at one point I thought that not only him but all the other spectators were going to hug me!

It was slightly less happy occasion with this rather sorrowful looking boy who rather plaintively posed for a photograph too. The backdrop makes it a rather classic photograph and the edition of India in the description would make it popular stock photograph I guess. I like the composition and colours, but I can’t help feeling a bit sad when I see the photograph and wondering what his life was like to make him look so sad.

Weekly photo challenge: Object

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Here is another ‘diya’ picture – an offering to Ma Ganga (the goddess of the Ganges). The lady was doing her own personal puja ceremony by the river, in which a butter candle is lit in offering and then left to float on the river. I don’t know if this was a regular occurrence for her if she had come to Varanasi in pilgrimage especially for this purpose, and of course to bathe in the holy waters. She was one of thousands that would have been bathing and offering ‘puja’ that morning.

Posted for the Weekly Photo Challenge

More bold colours

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I recently posted a photo of a man in a bright red turban and said that the picture worked because of the bold colours, which are in harmony with each other. Here’s another example. This gentleman’s turban matches the orange in the painted sign and the light is even helping by giving it a tinge of red to echo the writing on the sign. The strength of presence of the man who is staring straight at the camera, combined with the simple bold colours including that vivid blue backdrop all contribute towards a strong picture. It reminds me of another one I took in Belize a few years back that had a similar blue background. You can see it again here.

Weekly photo challenge: The Window

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This photo was taken in a house Madhya Pradesh, India. The young lady and child were in the kitchen, which had this tiny barred window looking out onto the central open courtyard of the house (so don’t worry they weren’t in prison!) I’m not sure how the onion had escaped….

(Posted for The Weekly Photo Challenge)

Unusual washing lines

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Most of Varanasi’s laundry is doing in the river Ganges then laid out on the ghats by the river to dry. It’s amazing how it stays clean but somehow it does.

One day, soon after I arrived in Varanasi, I saw this laundry  hung out on a huge boat for a change. I never witnessed it  again, which is a shame as it was such a wonderful splash of colour.

The wedding party

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This was one of my earliest sights soon after settling into my apartment in Varanasi – a group of women making their way to a wedding – all dressed in incredibly colourful silk (no doubt Banaras silk) sarees. It was such a wonderful blaze of colour suddenly appearing on a perfectly ordinary day, and they were accompanied by a loud banging of drums making the atmosphere electrifying. If I had any doubts about whether I really was in India until that moment, there would be no doubts any more!