Photograpy, India, Portraits, Anglo Indians, Family and me

Month: December, 2011

Benares and Boom Shankar Baba

Click bellow and listen to the voice of Boom Shankar baba as he sings from the banks of the Ganga

Benares 2003

The ancient city of Benares hugs the silted banks of the river Ganges and for the last decade it has been one of my favourite places in India to visit. Benares is a morning and an evening city, the sun seems to rise and fall more slowly than anywhere else I have ever lived in India. The reality is that because Benares is a south-facing city, a single day can seem a long and drawn out heated affair.  Like most foreigners who visit Benares  I always get demonstrably ill when I visit, though this never stops me from returning.

On the steps that lead down to the river, people from all walks of life bath in the holy water and it was whilst sitting at Assi Ghat that I first met Boom Shankar Baba.

On that day in November 2003 I was sitting alone eating Chick pea and Potato out of a plate that was shaped into a bowl made out of  dried leaves. An old man, who only had one leg, who I  had  just seen precariosly leaning on to his bamboo pole that was slowley sinking into the mud whilst he tried to wash him self in the river, sat down next to me. He grabbed my arm, his grip was very firm and he said “No leg. No problem.” He spoke in a rich  mellow growl. His voice was barely audible to me but I immediately knew what he meant. He meant I have no leg, but I am still working. He meant, that he was not a beggar.

He showed me a few of his post cards. I asked him how much they were to buy and he replied, “up to you”. I chose some post cards and I gave him some money, buying a few from him, he seemed happy with the amount of money that I had given him. I asked if I could take his portrait, he said yes and he stood next to the wall behind us.

 Boom Shankar 2005

Assi Ghat is one of my favourite places in India to ‘be’ and I do mean to just ‘BE’. In the true ‘Hippy Buddhist’ sense of the word. Assi Ghat is the first and one of the most auspicious Ghats in Benares to bathe. Assi Ghat  is always quieter than the two burning Ghats where Hindu’s are cremated, day in and  day out. Assi Ghat  is also a much quieter place to sit, think and  relax than the main Ghat where the busy evening ceremonies are held.

I have  met Boom Shanker  Baba many times over  seven years and we always sit and eat our lunch together. Both of us liked the same food of ‘spicey potato with chick pea’ with none of the horrible sweet source.

Boom Shankar 2006

I have sat and watched Boom Shankar Baba many times as he tries to sell his post cards to both Indian tourists and to foreigners a like. Most of the time he is fobbed off, but some times he manages to make a small amount of money. Who ever he is talking to his opening line is always. “No Leg. No problem”.

Boom Shankar 2009

I can’t imagine being in Benaris and not meeting up for lunch with Boom Shanker. Along with watching the  sun slowley rise in Benares, Boom Shankar Baba is the other good reason for me continuing to return  to this holy city. If the day comes when I do not meet up with Boom Shanker, then maybe I will never go back to Benares.

 Jason Scott Tilley.

My nan’s side of the family

My grandmother Dolly Scott or  ‘Nan’ as we still call her was born in 1924 in the town  (now a large city) of Dehra Dun in the north Indian state of Uttaranchal. Her fathers name was Mr Gerald Miles, my Nan never knew the first name of her mother and our family has sadly never been able to that out for her. We do know that Nan’s  mother’s second name was O’Neil so we presume she was from Irish decent. Her father was definitely Anglo India as you can see from the photograph above and I have since learned that Dehra Dun had a huge ‘Anglo’ community.

My Nan had four brothers but sadly her mother died whilst she was still very young and the family moved from Dehra Dun to New Delhi  and my Nan was sent to live with her grandmother who she called granny Miles. They lived at Eastern Court which these days is still quite a posh address in central New Delhi, just off the Janpath road.

My Nan’s memories of her youth are mainly of the happy days she spent at Mayo school in the famous hill station of Simla. The children of the Raj were sent away for months at a time from the unbearable summer heat of the capital, to the much cooler climate in the hills. My Nan told me stories of how much she looked forward to returning to the hills and of the beautiful journey on the ‘Toy train’ that slowly meandered upwards precariously clinging to the side of the mountains. I journey I am pleased to say that I did in 2002.

 Jason Scott Tilley

The dancing man in Mumbai

I believe that some of my portraits were given to me as gifts. They were given to me by the people in them and some of these portraits came from bizarre fleeting encounters and they came when they were least expected.

I was approaching Mumbai’s old Victoria Terminus train station where I was on my way to purchase a ticket . I ran across the road avoiding the cars and a man who was standing in the middle of the crossing started dancing in front of me, not to appear rude and half having a laugh, I danced back at him. This man was really voguing. We must have looked complete idiots,  it was a wonderful moment of unexpected interaction between two people who had never met and I guess will never meet again. I took his portrait as an after thought, he smiled at me and he continued voguing as I walked away.

Portrait Jason Scott Tilley

Abdul Hannan Kolkata 2002

It was in December 2002 whilst I was walking through ‘The Maiden’ when I first saw Abdul. The Maiden is the huge Park in central Kolkata where hundreds of people meet to either watch or play cricket. I didn’t know his name then but Abdul was sitting close to the press pavilion and he was counting his coins. Abdul was begging by the side of the curb and as I walked passed him he smiled at me and I smiled back.

Over the course of the next few days I saw Abdul sitting in the same place and each time I passed him we acknowledged each other. One morning before I was about to leave Kolkata I went to find Abdul and I asked him of I could take his portrait. He said yes.

 Kolkata 2005

Three years later, I was walking along the busy road that leads to Park Street cemetery and I came across a figure that I recognised asleep on the pavement. It was Abdul. I took one photograph of Abdul and woke him from his sleep, when he recognised me he wrapped his arms around me. After this meeting I kept bumping in to Abdul from time to time and we would go and have a drink, him a cup of Tea and me a glass of beer. He told me his full name was Abdul Hannan and he was married with five children but as he had no work he begged on the street and he sent the money back to his family.

He told me that the police had eventually moved him from his spot in The Maiden and he was now sleeping rough, he told me that he really didn’t get on to well with his wife, so he preferred not to go home, though if he wished to go home, he could.

The very last time I saw Abdul was in 2008, I bought him a pair of shoes which he was very grateful for and in return he bought me a beer. I always look for Abdul when ever I am in Kolkata.

 Portrait Jason Scott Tilley

The laughing fishermans wife

The woman laughing is the wife of a Keralan fisherman from the small village of Vizhinjam just two kilometres south of Kovalam. Kovalam is famous for being the first Indian beach tourist destination for travelling hippys in the early 1960’s. One of the jobs of the fishermen’s wives is to set the price of the days catch before the fish are sent off to market. One of the other and more unpleasant jobs for these women after a mornings fishing is to collect the live jelly-fish that get caught up in nets and bury them in deep pits in the sand so that the many western tourists who still flock to  this coastal Keralan resort don’t get their precious feet stung. Not to worry too much about the pain and the itching from the stings of the jelly-fish to these womens hands!

Portrait by Jason Scott Tilley

An Anglo India anthology. “The way we were”

Recommended reading    “The way we were”

When a species becomes extinct, the world suffers an irreparable loss. The same holds true for a culture. Archeologists and anthropologists attempt to reconstruct the values, language, and lifestyle of a lost people through artifacts and documents, but nothing can capture the vitality of a society, as can those who have experienced it first hand.

The presence of the British in India gave rise to a sub-culture that flourished for the better part of three centuries. The Anglo-Indians, a hybrid people of Indian and European descent, carved a unique niche for themselves in British India. While their language, religion, and educational background were European, they developed a style of life that borrowed from both their British and Indian progenitors but jelled into something that was essentially their own. After India gained Independence in 1947, the majority of the Anglo-Indian community emigrated to the UK, Australia, and Canada. Today their children and grandchildren no longer have any psychological or emotional ties with India. In addition, most of these early Anglo-Indian emigrants are now elderly, and there is little doubt that their cultural heritage will, within a generation or two, be extinguished forever.

By Blair williams  Publisher CTR Inc Publishing