2008 The Blog that was
2008 was a year of mixed wandering – a year of learning and some growing. In what has become a sort of annual tradition where I sit myself down at a desk and try to put a finger on the reason I take pictures. But unlike earlier years where I gave you an art writer’s spiel, this year I’ll save it. I take picture, I tell stories probably because I can’t do anything else. In the end the photographs take me and not the other way around.
Noted down some Varanasi vignettes.
A dark grey smoke bellows from the burning Ghats â€“ heavy and suffocating it paints fluid shadows over sleeping dogs and soot. If you sit here long enough youâ€™d find as I have, bits of ash and earth tarnish your white paper. Bits that where once living and others not.
Chants of â€œRam ram satya haiâ€ penetrate the never ending wood smoke as tourists watch from their viewing galleries and boat. In a city where people come to die, death itself becomes the spectacle
In search of chai in Bandra, Ek Kali Ek Ghori.
The ceiling fan rattles, clicks and sways as it cools the chai in the chipped porcelain cups that lie below. A boy, a torn banyan walks up to our table and slides two glasses of water across the marble top. Smoke from an entire barrage of cigarettes spirals up to the ceiling as people drink their chai an accompanying glass of cold water, reading newspapers while eating kheema (mince) samosas and buttering their bun muskas. The Cafe permeates much Bombay talk, a bright hum insulated by its vaulted ceilings from the noise of the street outside.
Ukranian 18 year olds are Bollywood’s Eastern Promises.
The day starts with hair and make-up. Several cans of hairspray and too much blue eye shadow later, the cameras were ready to roll. The girls take their places as we were shepherded over to the lounge to watch and wait. An expressionless Indian actress took her place in the center of this sprawling set. They where shooting a tea commercial and the star Saif Ali Khan was running late.
At the mouth of this stone quarry in Pune Maharashtra, diminutive women in saris toil 14 hour shifts breaking boulders into cricket-ball sized chunks of stone. Sledgehammers cut through to the air to the sound of splintering stone. Just behind them roared large machines that chewed up stone only to spit out construction gravel. Almost everybodies face was smeared with a white dust. A dust, heavy and suffocating, floating in the air like mist covering everything.
A case of the Bangalore hÃ¼zÃ¼n
He talks about the concept of Hazun – it is a melancholy, but not in the personal sense, not the selfish melancholy of the egoist but the depthless kind, the kind inspired by the soul. May be you misunderstand your vulnerability for Hazun. For the poet, hÃ¼zÃ¼n is the smoky window between him and the world. A spiritual anguish we feel because we can’t be close enough. I feel it often
A day at the Races in Hong Kong, Happy Turn of Fortune in Hong Kong
On race days, Hong Kong’s pulse is marked by the crack of the starter’s pistol. Over five million bets are laid on each meeting, and all over Hong Kong you can see anxious punters pause in their daily chores to turn up the radio. Racing’s hold on this city can hardly be exaggerated.
In Canton in the old days it was said that Chinese housewives could hardly buy a cabbage without offering to shoot craps with the greengrocer, double or quits.
A visit to The Last India Coffee House
Balding men in untucked white collared shirts with ink-stained pockets shuffle about around a line of parked ambassadors. Their crooked noses lead them past unkempt asoka trees into a large labyrinth of corridors, following wafts of roasting coffee beans they walk, their shoulders slouching slightly to the right under the weight of a stack of yellow soiled files. Here they sit on low creme coloured sofa and wait for their uplifting elixir, caffeine, leaving their pens, stamps, files and papers behind at their desks to converse about matters not quiet as riddled with red-tapism.
The coffee arrives, the atmosphere relaxes to the charms of the smouldering liquid.
A movie screening at the century old cinema in Bangalore, Monday Matinee at Elgin Talkies
The last of the film reel sputters to an end to the buzzing of the projector, spilling out one last bit of light on to the screen in the words ‘THE END’. The mammoth american 1930s projecter fittingly named the ‘Strong Mogul’ hums and then blanks leaving the 112 year old cinema in darkness. The crowd slowly trudges out of the hall, the sounds of whistles and adoration, as another crowd settles itself outside with their faces to gate in the wait for the box office to open for their monday matinee. As soon as Munna, rounds up the drunks out of the theater.
There is only one movie house in Bangalore, in Shivajnagar before there was any other and it been around since as long as anyone could remember and it was Elgin Talkies. Of course, that was before television antennas completely replaced church domes and temple spires as the dominant feature of India’s urban skyline and it was certainly before multi-screen cineplexes at your neighbourhood mall. It was certainly before video clubs and satellite dishes.
Wodeyars and wrestling are synonymous with the city of Mysore. Hence we wemt looking for the famous centers of Nada Kusti in Mysore and we found them at six in the morning as Ashoka Road is rubbing sleep off its eyes. The chaiwala handing out tea and newspaper from his little ‘hole-in-the-wall’ shop to first shift autowallas, the scrap dealer weighing junk on rusty weighing scales, the milkman having set up his makeshift retail point where the narrow inside gullies meet; uneven gullies lined with antiquated houses and curious onlookers. We are there to meet Pehalwan Chhota Rafiq at his hundred-year-old kushti akhara, called a guaradi in Mysore.
For its ambience, this is perhaps the most authentic reminder of old Hong Kong. In a clear break with Cantonese fashion, the Luk Yu is neither flooded with cold neon light nor dressed up in gratuitous 1930s decor. Hong Kong business tycoons and gangsters alike can be spotted sealing deals or relaxing with their newspapers in the discreet wooden booths.
Staff used to pride themselves on their aloofness, particularly to foreigners, but in recent years company policy has changed. Now, you will be greeted with a smile, a menu in English (if you need it) and friendly, fast service. Head upstairs, where the regulars eat. Come early if you can: before 10am, wrinkly-faced Cantonese waitresses make the rounds with trays of sundry dumplings.
A boy, aged 15, swaggers past the curtain, whipping his knuckles clean of elbow grease. His face burned red with a teenage defiance that only burned brighter in his straddling walk. The two hundred and twenty five square foot room on the ground floor of the C Block in Lalubhai compound is filled with 7 cupboard sized video game machines each laminated in now worn out red plywood. He jostled through the crowd of mostly other teenage boys, pushing and pulling in a show of assertiveness. For those who didn’t move he shouted out crude sentences in Marathi that ended with profanities chewed up and spat out just like the red gutka, which stained the walls that lined the stifling room. The only light in the windowless room was the flickering neon reflections of video games screens put to motion the jumbled sound of rap music, car crashes, gun shots, shouting and more profanity. The boy toggled at the joystick taking control of his character in the video game and watched on with glee. The 3D figure on the screen then took out what looked like an Uzi and shot at a bunch of people and then proceeded to steal a car and drive away only to be chased by cops. One rupee got you 60 seconds of game play and many coins were exchanged for more violence on screen.
Saigon wakes up early to take advantage of the cool morning breeze before the sun breaks through the haze and invades the country with sweltering heat. Already 6 A.M and the people of Phnom Penh are rushing and bumping into each other on dusty, narrow side streets. Waiters and waitresses in the black-and-white uniforms swing open shop doors as the aroma of noodle soup greets waiting customers.Street vendors push food carts piled with steamed dumplings, smoked beek teriyaki sticks, and roasted peanuts along the sidewalk as they begin to set up for another day of business.Children in colourful t-shirts and shorts kick soccer balls barefoot ignoring the angry grunts of food cart owners. The wide French boulevards sing with the he buzz of motorcycle engines, squeaky bicycles, and small cars for those wealthy enough to afford them.
Discovering Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon as its popularly called in Saigon’s Sweaty Embrace
Saigon wakes you up early, usually to sounds of scooter horns and roasting coffee beans. It is 6am and you walk enjoying the last wafts of cool breeze before the sun breaks you down into beads of sweat, only to be wiped away by an ice cold perfumed towel. In reminds me of home in Bombay – a chaotic mess of traffic-clogged streets and urban bustle, with a nary a green space in sight. It’s a migrants city just like Bombay it pulls them in sweat filled embrace as they slowly fall prey to the hiddens charms of one of South East Asia’s liveliest cities.
And that was my 2008.