Indian bureaucracy

Is not always a bad thing. The amount of paperwork floating around means that your friendly local banker is able to get things done with a quiet word that in the UK is no longer possible, because our systems are water-tight (i.e. inflexible). Cards can be issued within a day and cheque books too. I was wondering how they did the chequebook, and then I saw. The poor fellow took out a rubber stamp, altered its digits to match my account number, and went through a new chequebook stamping every single cheque with my account number. Can you possibly imagine anyone in London being bothered or able to do that?

Skinnier than me

Aunt SumanMy dad is from a reasonably large family, I suppose. He’s one of eleven, somewhere in the middle - two older brothers and two older sisters. My eldest aunt is almost 89 - early next month - and after she broke her hip the last time, she’s been stationed in the ashram nursing home on the seafront, a great view if only she could see it. They denied losing her dentures, which means eating is quite impossible and she’s quietly been wasting away. My other aunts visit and feed her small amounts of mashed potato, pastries and chocolate, but she can’t assimilate very much. She lies in that bed all day, poor old aunt. She’s the eldest of all the siblings, the spinster who dedicated her life to the ashram, already 54 when I was born, and I’m not sure if, after this trip, I will get to see her again. But, I wouldn’t bet on it.


[caption id=”attachment_113” align=”alignleft” width=”480” caption=”Bureaucracy”]Bureaucracy[/caption] 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. 1) Pondicherry is massive, way bigger than I thought and 2) 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.

Preparing for the major project

Preparing for the major project

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

A year on from Dharavi

A year on from Dharavi

I was 11 when I first saw the slums, looking out of my plane from Bombay, having been sent to stay with family for six weeks in Pondicherry.

I had been kept reasonably insulated from poverty in India which was harsh at the time, frightening, alien, another world. I remember being shocked and curious that there were houses right next to the runway, surely that was dangerous? Suppose a plane crashed? My dimming memory recalls that the slums were nowhere near as densely packed as they are today, but that could be a ghost, invented, filling a gap…

We ventured into the Muslim and Hindu areas, met saw the new but unfinished apartment buildings that no one wants to live in, had stones thrown at us by a bunch of kids, met some fabulous families who were clearly enthusiastic about being part of India’s economic boom and stood looking onto the airport runway back to where I’d been watching in 1984. And to 2007, Slumdog Millionaire causes a storm at the London Film Festival, I’m dying to see it and finally catch it just before New Year. Great film, great place. Captures the flavour perfectly. And pretty much everyone seems to agree. I hear there are slum tours of Dharavi now. The original story: Welcome to Dharavi coming back soon.