Finally uploaded the Vijapur story about a tribe whose homes were demolished at 4am. I arrived a day or two after the event to document the damage and speak to the tribals. While this story has been on Facebook since Day one, I held off publishing it until I had some more recent information, as the wheels were beginning to turn for them just as I left India in the summer. Unfortunately, I’ve no more information at this time, but I feel the story should go up, late, but better than never. (Story returning soon.)
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Rather than lugging tons of gear and equipment around with me, I decided to go in the other direction this time, and started thinking about footwear yesterday. I’m wearing these incredibly thin-soled shoes from Terra Firma, effectively plimsoles, which are very light, water-un-resistant and unsupportive in the extreme, unlike my big walking boots which I’d normally bring. But, they are like the footwear the tribals wear, slightly more expensive of course, but nothing particularly comfortable in the western sense. But it does mean I experience the same sensations they do as they walk. And it might inspire me to look at things differently to how I normally would, as I’m not detaching myself from their world as much as I did last time. So what else is there that I could shed or minimalize. There’s a limit to how much empathy I can offer, but I can at least observe their world better.
I’ve an Indian bank account which my father prefers me to use while in India, but he has a habit of making things more complicated and then blaming the bankers. I’m all for the mindless and merciless victimization of finance workers, but my father is able to make me feel sympathy for just about anyone he deals with - shouted complaints interspersed with sketches from his life story are embarrassing at best.
In order to access my cash, I need a card, which is easy enough to do, but my account had been registered dormant after two years of inactivity, and paperwork was insisted upon, followed by a delay, too long, since I would be out of town by then. Dad shouted at them and kept on at me hassle them, which I ignored and took an auto-rickshaw to the main branch where I was assured the matter would be dealt with by a specialist.
I learnt two things.
Pondicherry is massive, way bigger than I thought and
The specialist simply told me I was officially stuffed, and this was why.
Hopefully my cash card will be here in a few days, and in the meantime, I’ll try not to burn through the cash pile I have. Well, I’ll start trying after I find myself some wheels. Two, in fact, with a motor in-between. I chose a Honda Hero XTREME or something, largely because it was the shiniest and had a fuel gauge - don’t laugh, they’re quite rare on motorbikes, I’ve had one bike out of four that had one - and was gobsmacked to find that this 100-ish CC little toy was quick, smooth and chuckable. Indeed, all bikes are chuckable, in a down-the-road way, but when traffic comes from every which way but the direction you’re looking in, a bit of agility helps.
On that note, I should add that I caught up with my buddy Mischa out here a few days ago, having sent him to South India back in March, and found that he’d bought a brand new Royal Enfield, a fat donkey of a bike which corners like a shopping trolley. In his imperialistic, instant gratification, must have it now-now-now way, he’d insisted to poor Prakash, the driver who was ferrying him around the South, that he wanted a bike now-now-now, in Madurai, hundreds of kilometres from where the bike would eventually be living. Since Mischa has no address, speaks no Tamil, knows nothing about bikes and doesn’t hold a licence in any known country, it fell to poor poor Prakesh to register and get the bike sorted, and consequently, the bike has a temporary registration and needs to be taken back to Madurai (by poor poor poor Prakash) to get it registered. By temporary registration, I mean it has no number plate. Mischa managed to chuck the bike and himself onto the road a few weeks back, and he got away with it, but he and poor poor poor poor Prakash really do not need the cops sniffing around.
Anyway, back to the wheels. I rode over to Horrorville, which Mischa is experiencing all that India has to offer by largely staying away from it in the confines of Pony Farm, where he has a hut, a kitchen, a cat and frequent power cuts, which made riding in pitch black through Auroville trying to find him impossible, so I gave up, parked, and waited for him to find me on the donkey. Cool place, would have been cooler with more than two candles to light it up, but I got the picture. At least he’s away from most of the Horrorvillians. Riding around in the dark is no fun at all and lethal to boot - everyone drives or rides with full beams, cars and trucks cut you up, there’s no respecting the safety of others (as Mischa found out) and many road users don’t have lights or reflectors, dogs run out at you, the surface might be covered in gravel or dirt and and and and it’s generally crap, all right? I left it overnight outside the A2B restaurant and calmed my nerves with a Ghee Masala Dosa, the high-fat masterpiece of South Indian snack food. And back before curfew - yes, the International Guest House has a 10.30pm curfew, fercrissakes, and it’s onto picture editing. I managed to nab a few hours in an internet café on Mission Street and managed to get a stack of pictures uploaded of my trainer’s new gym, and Korin & Oliver’s wedding last weekend. Hopefully they’ll like some of pics. That was a great day - feels very far away now. Oh, and I uploaded the quick story I shot on the family house yesterday. It’s on Facebook now.
I spent quite a bit of time at the main house yesterday, just sitting around for the most part, but quite enjoying the spectacle of several workmen replacing the front door. The whole place is in a state of disrepair, since the ashram’s power-crazed wallahs won’t sort it out, but the door was particularly knackered after a break-in some time ago. My aunt decided to pay for the new door, and having accepted the job, it only two about five weeks of hassle to get them to start the job. NOTE: Indian workmen rarely do the job they’re supposed to unless watched, constantly, while they do it. If you were to have a house built, you or a member of your family would have to supervise the workplace and the workers every single day to make sure it was done, and done properly. A door is no different. Highlights of the job included the carpenter asking my father to borrow a saw, for he had none, the drill power cable’s bare ends inserted into the power socket, and the chief worker asking whether the house would be ok without the door on overnight. And these were the quality guys. In between watching, I shuffled around the house, quietly taking pictures of it all, taking a really good look at things for the first time ever, noting how it differed from my memories and perhaps seeing things in a new way. In a way, the house is a trap - my eldest aunt has been an unmarried ashramite all her life and even now is being looked after in the ashram nursing home. My other two aunts who now live there don’t often leave the house, have great difficulty walking, and hence the upstairs is now closed up. The pictures reflect that side of the house… perhaps.
Apparently, there’s a lot I don’t know about preparing a major body of work. Over the next few weeks, I’ll have to soak up a lot of guidance from my tutors about how this is different from a simple photo story.
Rather than dig something exciting from my ideas book, I’ve decided to go for something familiar that I know, and pursue more exciting ideas once I graduate.
The subjects are the Denotified Nomadic Tribes of Gujarat, whom I spent some time meeting and photographing last February. I went through the local NGO who briefed me on the history of all the groups, the issues and adversity the tribes face, and how things have begun to change.
This time, I have the luxury of time, and intend to cover more areas in much more depth. I’ve got two months in Gujarat, I speak their language, I have family backup in the state and injustice is a subject I and many others feel strongly about. The original story from 2008: The Usual Suspects