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Not the best of photographs – terribly overexposed. But this kid ran into my picture (which was meant to be of the barbershop in the background) and it ended up like this. I edited what I could (darkening mostly and cropping a bit), but this was the best I could manage. And though it breaks all kinds of textbook rules, I still feel there is something that works here. Maybe it’s just the charm of this kid, his big smile and cheekiness of jumping in front of my lens.
Anyhow, I thought I would share a few more photographs from my trip to India. These are all from a poor area within Vasant Vihar in New Delhi. If you have been to New Delhi, you might know that Vasant Vihar in itself is not a poor neighbourhood, but more of an exclusive one. You are likely to run into foreigners of the non-tourist kind there and will come across quite a few embassies too. Not the super-major ones (those are pretty much all in the diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri), but those that didn’t immediately set up residence in the 1950s and that perhaps aren’t rolling in quite as much money. The Thai embassy and the Peruvian one are seconds away from my Dad’s flat and I remember also seeing commissions for Senegal, Uganda and Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to Wikipedia, Vasant Vihar is one of the “most expensive residential areas in the world” (quote), which, I have to say, I find rather dubious. I’m sure there are some very costly buildings there and especially some of newly build ones might sell at exorbitantly high per-square-meter prices, but there is middle-range stuff too. Plus, turn a corner and you’ll find really poor parts – like you will see in these photos.
All these images are from a sort of slum. ‘Sort of’ because that’s what my Dad called it first but then after inspecting it more closely during a couple of strolls for photographs, he thought it wasn’t really the best word to describe the place, rather we suspect it is an older settlement within the neighbourhood. It’s actually a quite well-developed area, like a little village island of its own with all the most basic social and economic networks present: butchers, greengrocers (mostly mobile), lots of hairdressers, bike repair and corner shops. Houses are generally made from brick and there is running water and electricity too, although most people seem to sit in dark rooms during the day, with only the TV on. What they haven’t got however are toilets (more about that later).
Entering the area we came across a man sleeping out on in the open – not an uncommon sight. It’s intriguing how something like this has largely disappeared in the ‘West’, where it would probably even feel unsafe to do something of the sort. These kind of behaviours are deeply ingrained cultural habits of course, things that we don’t even think twice about in our own little world, but that suddenly become rather striking when you travel half-way around the globe.
I thought all the scribblings on the wall were interesting too. No idea what they say, but it seems to be something about healthcare.
A school and some residences – these don’t really belong to the settlement, but are just at the edge. Note the washing (this was on the weekend).
Laundry street. There is really laundry everywhere. I guess no one is in the habit of snatching anyone’s trousers here.
This photograph is from our first visit, when it was getting dark and quite difficult to take pictures (one of the reasons why we went back for a second visit). Obviously, silhouettes against the sky were the one easy-peasy thing to do in this kind of half-light (although I still want photoshop out those tree tops in the corner).
As I mentioned previously, barbershops are common in the settlement – this was one. They were watching TV inside I think. The interior is a bit dark, but I kind of like the mystery of whatever they were crowding into the room for.
Two precious little girls. They got some candy from us. Note the colour of the wall in the background – it was an incredibly popular colour combination throughout the settlement. Not sure why. Also note the earrings on one girl, the nose stud on the other. More cultural differences.
The same colours you can also see here (plus washing again). This is the first shot of three or four that I took of the same scene. Yes, normally I take a few shots to get the one that is just right. It was fortunate that the first one worked out fine in this case as after I had taken the photograph the women noticed me and started posing, which made for much less interesting compositions.
More of the same wall colours. Again I took three or four shots, in this case it was the last one that sealed the deal. These children did not pose, but they moved around a bit, so I needed one where everything was aligned just the right way, at the right angle. In this shot it is the little boy that makes the decisive difference: his direct gaze at the camera while the girls play without paying attention to me at all.
As I said, there are no toilets or outhouses in the settlement. Instead, residents go do their business at this waterhole. My Dad said the fact that the girl is carrying a water bottle is an indication that she is going for a pee. The area may be a terrible and often stinky mess with all the trash, but clearly personal hygiene does matter.
And to conclude, a bunch of cheerful boys. They were totally playing it up for the camera, indeed, that was something I noticed frequently during the walk through the settlement: the children were keen on being photographed, much more so than others I had encountered elsewhere in New Delhi. They were posing, but I still love this image for the sheer raw energy and happy smiles that radiate from these children’s faces. Although they are not the poorest of the poor – they don’t live on the streets, they aren’t orphans and, even if they would probably be considered underweight by Western standards, they aren’t starving – they do live in poverty, in shabby homes and with probably no more than a change or two of clothes. And yet, the delight in their faces leaves me with a feeling of hope. I mean, if children aren’t happy like this, where would we be in this world?
- The previous photo post from my trip to India: Back from Kashmir: A Bit of Travelogue with Photographs.