thebeautifulpeopleblog

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

Month: August, 2013

Banjara

Aware I have not paid due attention in showing more portraits taken whilst I meandered around India, and I could certainly been accused of blather as I’ve talked so much recently about my ‘interesting’ last decade.

So; here is a portrait whilst I was recovering from an ear infection in South Goa. Ok, Ok I was having a good time whilst recovering from an ear infection in Goa. Who would have thought that morphine tables could make you sleep for two weeks?
I’ve noticed a lovely little tradition in Goa; one day each year when the Banjara women collect money from foreigners on Palolem beach. These women are commonly known as India’s wondering gypsies.
I have yet to nail exactly where they come from as I’ve met with these ladies all over India.
Now this cannot be a centuries old Indian tradition can it? I’m fairly sure that tourists weren’t found in India before the 1960’s. Am I wrong?
These ladies own small shops. They make and sell cheep clothes to old hippies at Anjuna flea market. They bargain hard! On this day one day of the year they collect money spend it on alcohol and get pissed at the beach with every one else.
I’ve been told by many that India absorbs other cultures in to its own. There is a feeling of ‘well, if those foreign women can do that then so can we’. There husbands don’t seem to complain.

Banjara lady Goa 2008

Banjara lady Goa 2008

 

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The Old Gurgaon Road

‘They can make you so paranoid’. These words were whispered to me.

Mid September 2002

Back then New Delhi still slept at night, but my introduction was loud and frightening. As if the hunt had begun almost as I arrived.

In the year before I left home, warnings became more frequent and direct. Not from my inner circle of mates but from dodgy blokes I’d befriended along the way.

Life had dealt me an eclectic mixture of interesting associates. There were journalists and informers, police officers and drug dealers, publicans and private detectives. Mum once said ‘be careful who you mix with in life’. I should have listened.

My journey started from Birmingham Airport close to home in the West Midlands. I was happy and relieved a new chapter in my life was beginning. I had wanted this moment. I had dreamed of it.

Most of my fellow passengers got off in the United Arab Emirates where we’d had a short stop-over. When we eventually landed in New Delhi I was almost alone, I collected my rucksack quickly from the baggage area and passed through immigration. I felt really good.

India is different, normal rules do not apply. On arrival you do not just hail a taxi outside. After I changed Travellers’ Cheques for rupees I went to the government-controlled pre-paid taxi booth where I ‘secured my taxi’. I didn’t think much of it, but I noticed two portly officials exchange my driver three times before we were allowed to leave.

I felt relaxed. More relaxed than when I’d first arrived in Mumbai three years before with my elderly Grandfather. I was not a newcomer to India I was aware arriving here alone could prove challenging.

Though I had been offered the middle seats I chose to sit next to the driver. Slight of build and dressed in regulation khaki uniform. We said ‘hello’. My knees were jammed against the plastic dashboard.

The pungent odour of post monsoon New Delhi filled my nostrils that evening. It has a unique smell quite unlike any where else I’ve ever visited. Whilst not entirely unpleasant it permeates your soul.

‘New Delhi, sir?’ ‘Connaught place please’ I said confidently, pretending I knew my destination.

We joined the Old Gurgaon Road.

Even early in the morning all manner of traffic occupy India’s streets. Cars and taxis auto-rickshaws, Lorries, along with bullock-driven carts, jostle for space.
My young driver thrashed the engine, hogging the outside lane for the first few miles, refusing to be bullied from position.

It was then I became aware that the chase had begun. I heard the sound of distant sirens. Police?

Surely not?

If I was their prey, their intelligence must have been spot on. I saw the red and blue flashing lights grow brighter, bouncing off every surface within the white Suzuki taxi van.
I looked over my right shoulder and tried my best to peer through the small square window in the back of the van. I couldn’t see much. I leaned out of the window. I saw it was police.

I glared at the driver. He didn’t seem bothered, he gave a gentle Indian head shrug but I was panicking. I’d just arrived in the country and now I felt on edge. Were the police after me? There weren’t any drugs in my luggage. I hadn’t smoked anything for months. Had I been set up? Had the driver switch been planned?

The intermittent glow from over-head orange street lamps made visibility inconsistent, the disorientation of this only made my anxiety worse. As the police vehicle swerved menacingly behind us I pleaded with the driver to pull over.

Hotels and guest houses of all standards and sizes lined our route. Stray dogs and street dwellers lurked amongst the shadows.

Words that had first been uttered in a Midlands pub were now ringing loudly in my ears. ‘These people can find you anywhere’. I’d been told.

The police car passed us. I was safe I thought, but immediately the chase began afresh. This time they were definitely after me.

Another police car caught up with us. My driver once calm began to panic but sensibly this time he pulled across the expressway and stopped. A police officer ran from his vehicle screaming at us. At this point I raised my hands in the air. He shone his touch in our faces in anger he smashed it against our windscreen. The windscreen shattered.

A huge lorry that was travelling at terrific speed passed within inches of the police officer, our taxi shuck. It was so close it caught our breath as it passed. More police chased behind. Of cause they were not chasing after me.

There was a moment of quiet before my driver put his hands to the top pocket of his shirt and he pulled out a Beedi. He struck a match, breathed, lit it then inhaled.

Welcome to India I thought.

Never alive until you are hunted

Looking back, I guess the warning was quite clear.

‘A man never feels truly alive until he is hunted.’

At the time, it came out of context. In my local, the pub where I felt comfortable and safe. From a man I considered a friend.
I was drinking a pint of draft Guinness. The landlord was a grumpy middle age man I had known since my late teens. I remember him slender younger but over the years he had allowed his girth to spread and the misery of his life told tales across his face. He had been collecting beer glasses from the empty tables behind me and I was leaning with elbows pressed against the bar.

It was tea time and the pub was quieter than usual he turned his head in my general direction and spoke those words that still haunt me, more than a decade on. Softly, for my ears only.
I felt he knew something. That he had a vague knowledge of my past and of my future. He seemed pleased with himself. I was left trying to work it out. Only now am I starting to appreciate what he meant.