The last post I put on was shared from my cousin’s photo-blog & it’s been more than a week since I myself wrote anything. I haven’t grown lazy over the past few days (ok, a little bit), but the main reason to be blamed for this lack of activity is the internet connection at my college. We are provided with high-speed internet connectivity & LAN inter-connectivity & I spend my entire days surfing the internet for reading material & history stuff like an addict. Hence, the dereliction of duty towards this blog. Thursday was a holiday, it was celebrated as the Hindu God Krishna’s birthday throughout the country. Had I been back in Delhi I would have gone to the temple nearest to my house & taken photographs of the proceedings & celebration. But Janmashtami (as the occasion is called in Hindi) is not celebrated with the same pomp & gaiety in Bengal. Oh! How I miss Delhi!!
My friend Kshitish (who has become a fixture in this blog’s posts, in terms of new ideas & topics for photography) suggested we visit the nearby rural/semi-urban areas of Durgapur (that’s where my college is situated, some 3 hours from Calcutta). I was baffled – to a Delhiite, the entire Durgapur is semi-urban!! So we decided for a photo walk at 6 in the morning. Sadly neither of us woke up at the decided time & 4 hour later while brushing our teeth we were still discussing where to go. The sun was up high & it was getting real hot & sticky humid & we decided to convert the photo walk to a photo motorcycle ride (if there is any such thing). We borrowed a rickety motorcycle - that stopped more than it ran - from a friend (no names – he would flay us if we say anything about his bike) & off we were. Wandering here & there through parts of the city we had already seen, still confused about where to head. For the uninitiated, Durgapur is one of the most planned cities of the country, boasting of 2 national resources – the Durgapur Steel Plant (DSP as it is called) & your truly’s college (wonders of wonders!!). There are wide roads, boulevards, public parks – but the city planners could not change the rural nature of the township & there are no large malls (except one) or markets (again except one) or for that matter, any other spot of historical or national importance. So phut-phutting our way around, Kshitish decided that we should stop at a tea-shop & have some cigarettes & then continue from there on foot. From one tea-shop to other, we wandered & talked to people. Actually, Kshitish talked to people. I somehow could not open up to strangers as he does. & while he talked, I photographed birds. & dogs. & goats. & more birds. I am posting a picture I clicked (& we all liked) – the bird is called “Lali” in Hindi. I couldn't find its English nomenclature.
At a small run-down tea-shop we met an old man selling lottery tickets. The guy used to work at DSP for more than 40 years & considers himself a “Sarkari Aadmi” (Government Official). He did indeed tell us that the lottery tickets are all sanctioned by the Sikkim Govt. & thanks to him several people had earned a lot of money. So Kshitish made him pose with a “V for Victory” sign to show his happiness over helping others rake in heaps of cash!!
|The king-maker - Lottery ticket seller|
The shop owner was a middle-aged lady with a pale face, jet-black hair & was very shy by nature. In fact Kshitish had to coax her to get a photograph clicked. & oh she was so jubilant when I showed her the photograph in my camera. Perhaps this was the first time she has been clicked. It should have been obvious to us, we are in Bengal, one of the poorest states of the country, where millions starve everyday & Calcutta boasts of Asia’s largest red-light district.
|Lady in orange - Tea shop owner|
Next we headed to a nearby temple, where I was handed dates as Prasad (offering) & allowed to click pictures of the beggars. The beggars too were very happy on being clicked, & wanted me to take more photographs of them while the priests tried to shoo me away. The beggars & truck drivers lying here & there seemed wasted with liquor & disease. It was very moving & I guess any sane person would have felt pangs of pain at the sight. Though most Indians have seen so much of poverty & deprivation that they have become numb to it & don’t even spare a second glance – leave alone some coins for the poor, or even sympathy!! The beggars did ask me for money when I was done & though several of the books & guides or even photography tutorials would tell you never to give money to beggars while in India, it is very difficult not to do so after seeing their horrible conditions & many-a-times, disfigured or amputated bodies.
|Withered & wasted - A beggar|
While I was at the temple (yes I was alone there & my poor communication skills made sure that the priest finally shouted me out of his premises – I sometimes feel like a foreigner in my own country!!) Kshitish went to a small school next door. While the entire country celebrated a vacation on Janmashtami, the kids & teachers had gathered at the Govt. funded school for the mid-day meal. It is a scheme started by the Govt. sometime back with the aim of providing nutrition to the poor & needy children & decrease the school dropout rates by providing free food to all kids who have enrolled themselves in the educational institutions. Besides this the scheme has also helped bring down the barriers of castes & religion in certain parts of the country by seating the kids together for meals without any distinction (special attention to “certain parts”). The kids were all the more eager to get themselves clicked & literally clambered all over me & Kshitish. It was so much exhilarating & at the slightest indication of a picture being clicked, they would all gather together in a tight group lest someone remained out of the photo.
|The eyes say it all..|
I could only take very few “portraits”, the rest are all more of group photos with everyone pushing everyone else to get in the frame. I was shoved & pulled & made to get down on my knees to show the photos to the kids & I actually enjoyed it (ok, one part of me was afraid that I would break the new camera!! My heart stopped pounding every time someone took the camera from my hands!!). But the kids looked so innocent & cute & their eyes sparkled to show signs of mischief, & the way they all laughed at each other’s photos (or may be at my photography) was so refreshing, & their curiosity heart-warming. Half an hour later, I had to literally shake all the little ones off myself in order to get up. We didn’t want to leave, & the kids too didn’t want us to leave, but the school was in progress & though the teachers had been so very cooperative with us, we didn’t want to waste the class hours & left again on the phut-phut motorbike which roars when starting. The kids all ran out to the front porch of the one-room school to bid us farewell & their “byes” could be heard even though we had covered some distance between ourselves.
|Sparkling white - One of the kiddos|
It has started to drizzle softly & we were enjoying the sudden change in weather (Durgapur is like that only – one minute sunny, the next it’s raining) & the cool breeze, & decided to head back home. In one of the alleys, we saw a small structure composed of stitched cane & woven bamboo, kind of like a glorified hut. Several young men had assembled there for a friendly match of carom in the amazing weather & over shared cigarettes & discussions about college life, we took several shots of the players & their endless games.
|Let the games begin..|
Returning to the college, I began thinking that Durgapur is a much better place then I used to think it was. Kshitish made me see a new, beautiful township full of beaming people eager to share their stories, happy in the confines of their own small worlds - contented might be the word to describe them – quick to form bonds over cups of steaming tea & cigarettes, ready to leave the tasks they have at hand to welcome you to their shops & schools. Perhaps this is the real India & I am actually a tourist in my own land. I have to see a lot now & waiting for the next Durgapur tour & have a feeling that I will miss Durgapur (& Bengal as a whole) a lot when I leave for Delhi for good.
|It's not a Pokemon, you know..|