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

Category: The beautiful people portraits

A Poem by David Hurt; be as spirited and fun loving as me

You look at me,
You pretend not to look at me,
You wonder how I am the way I am.

You never stop to ask,
You never stop to know.
You just walk
As if walking away is a duty
And a moral principle right
And stopping in a sin.

I am disabled,
But I am not invisible,
I am an inquisitive being,
I am a thinker,
I am an inventor,
A musician,
A singer,
A composer,
A poet,
A dancer,
An artist.

I have strength,
And a sense of humour
Which makes my children proud
That I am alive.

They never complain,
They hug and kiss me
And thank me for their food,
Their beds
And home.

I have a smile
That melts my mother’s heart.

I am never alone.

So please stop,
Talk to me,
Ask me,
Know me,
I might be able to help.
So you can smile,
So you can be yourself,
So you can be determined,
So you can be strong,
So you will never be alone…

So you can be content with life,
So you can be at peace
And be as spirited
And fun loving as me


Palolem beach South Goa 2004

The Poem was written by David Hurt, invigilator from The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry, UK. It is Davids  response to my People of India exhibition.

Canvas Rites; a Poem by David Hurt

Canvases of ritual and worship,
Their bodies and faces alive
With colour

And whisks of jovial pleasure
Devoted to their deities,

Caught by the beauty of light

Married with chemistry

And the mastery of a skilled eye.

Portrait from Udaipur Rajasthan 2003

This poem was inspired by my People of India photographic exhibition at The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum Coventry. Thank you, David Hurt.


Grandpa back at school Bangalore

From the very start of this project in November 1999 in terms of distance I’ve travelled a very long way. In terms of an education and the many emotional traumas I have experienced along the way I think I’ve travelled even further. First Grandpa died whilst I was in Kerala South India, then Nan died last year and just four months ago we lost my father. My longing to be back in India has never been stronger.

Of cause at the moment I have a little boy who I adore being with and he is the only thing that stops me from packing my bags a leaving. He is the only reason for me being here.

Grandpa would have loved Max. This is a portrait taken of Grandpa sitting on the wall at Bishop cottons school Bangalore As I look back it was such a happy time.





Nandi in Hampi

Whilst visiting pilgrimage sites in India I always start my day eating an omelette that the chef makes using two eggs and always comes accompanied by two small slices of slightly sweet square toast (separate butter). The omelette arrives laced with fresh green chilli which helps to wake the sleepy morning tongue and it is a healthy and filling breakfast option when there are no pigs living nearby  to supply the protein. I prefer eating at Non Vegetarian restaurants in India though I do enjoy vegetarian food sometimes. One would have has to force me  kicking and screaming into Pure Vegetarian eateries.

Whilst staying in some of the more devout Hindu places of pilgrimage on the temple town circuit, sometimes even finding eggs can prove problematic. When you do eventually stumble across the odd egg or two they are offered to you by the waiter with a secretive whisper in your ear and then served to you quietly in the corner of a room out of view as if they are illegal drugs or smuggled alcohol and yes I am aware of local sensitivities concerning the consumption of some food types but I learned many years ago in India ‘Sab kuch milega’. Or as the Hindi saying transcribes in to English ‘everything is possible’. With that said and as a general rule of thumb the more sacred the town you find yourself eating in the less likely you will be able to find a full English breakfast and yes you can get ‘full- English’ in much of India. Thankfully India absorbs cultures and caters for everyone.Hampi Baba

The days always start slowly in India, boys and girls in smart uniforms brush their teeth from outside water taps before heading off to school whilst soapy men squat next to metal buckets that clank together noisily as their vigorous body washing begins and as is repeated in countless other towns across India, cows that at first glance appear to belong to know one roam dusty streets where they rummage through rubbish collection points burying their snouts deep into an unhealthy combination of plastic bags and rotting vegetation where they search for any left over morsel of food they can find.

For the last couple of days I had been enjoying the company of a young British woman called Jessica who was heading in the same direction as me. We met each other at Bangalore city train station whilst buying tickets for Hospet and after our over night train journey we then shared the cost of the 13km auto-rickshaw ride to our final destination of Hampi where we then shared a small room, it makes perfect economic sence!

Hampi is an ancient temple town that is located on the banks of the Tungabhadra River in the southern state of Karnataka. It is not a well-kept secret, it is visited by thousands of foreign and local tourist who travel here each year to loose themselves in the faded splendour of its temple ruins, ruins that were painstakingly carved centuries before out of the moon-like boulder strewn prehistoric landscape.

I had travelled to Hampi once before and to get lost amongst its lunar panorama is reason enough to visit again but to stumble across and then climb up hidden ruins that spread out for mile upon mile is also unforgettable and well worth a second look. That morning before we started our day’s exploration we walked a short distance from our guest house and we found a typical family run restaurant called Nandi named after Shiva’s bovine chariot. Jessica and I entered through the open door and we sat down on one of the plastic chairs ready to order our breakfast. The restaurant was empty, we were the only customers.

Tourist restaurants across India that cater for the long-term European traveller are cheep and cheerful simple affairs, stone floors plastic chairs and tables, a fan that may or not work. Found hanging from walls on loose hooks will be framed photographs of deceased relatives, images of Indian Idols or any number of Hindu gods, whilst slowly burning incense sticks perfume the air. Adorning another wall will almost certainly hang a large out-of-place plastic banner with a either a photograph of snow-capped Himalayan Mountains or a beautiful Goan palm fringed beach scene or a soaked Keralan house boat caught in a monsoon downpour, photographic clichés that help to reinforce the Indian tourist departments’ ubiquitously used slogan ‘Incredible !ndia’.

Jessica and I waited for the waiter…. And we waited a bit longer. We were in no rush and we sat talking together patiently. After about ten minutes the waiter appeared from the kitchen door and when he finally noticed us he made his way from behind the counter the short distance to our table. He was a small middle-aged man and he was wearing a clean and freshly pressed white shirt and black trousers; he looked slightly surprised to see any customers at all. I knew what I was ordering so when he asked “what would you like to eat sir?” Men in India are always served first; I replied straight away “I will have an omelette with toast please and a coffee, thank you.” And Jessica said “and I’ll have the same please, coffee also.”

The waiter wrote the simple order down onto his note pad he politely nodded his head towards us thanked us both very much and he walked back behind the counter and disappeared from where he first came. Jessica and I waited and talked. We waited and we talked a little longer. Jessica and I were in no rush we carried on chatting until a full twenty minutes had gone by without either of us catching a glimpse of the waiter again. And then, an extraordinary thing happened.Worship

A large white bull that had been wondering around outside the restaurant walked in through the door. The bull made its way to our table in the middle of the room, it stopped for a few seconds checking out the empty restaurant, it turned its head from side to side ignoring myself and Jessica before it continued on its way towards the counter where it stood and waited……… It waited some more.

The bull stood quite still, its only occasional movement was flicking its tail from side to side to remove flies that had been drawn to its shitty arse hole, this twitching movement allowing the occasional rear glimpse of its magnificent pair of low hanging testicles.

The waiter appeared from the kitchen door and when noticing the bull he immediately turned around and doubled back on himself into the kitchen. The bull waited patiently moving only to scratch one of its horns on the counter top. Sounds of a knife Chopping on a wooden board came from inside the kitchen and five minutes passed before we saw the waiter again, when he did eventually returned from the kitchen he was carrying a small mountain of mixed salad that was piled high on a shiny steel platter.

Having travelled in India for a number of years I explained to Jessica that once whilst on an increasingly desperate hunt for Imodium tablets I had stumbled across a Cow that was lying down inside a chemist shop where subsequently it transpired that it was allowed to escape the scorching midday heat on a daily basis, but that was in the Holy city of Benares and nothing surprises me in the Holy city of Benares but until this point in my lengthy travels across this great country I had never come across a bull being served a mixed salad in a restaurant whilst I was seated and waiting for my breakfast.Sacred cow

The waiter placed the mixed salad on top of the counter infront of the waiting bull, he then turned around and went back through the door disappearing once more into the kitchen from where he came. Jessica and I then watched the bull as it slowly munched its way through the fruit and vegetables of which for any bull anywhere in the world was a very healthy start to the day.

The bull cleared the food from the metal dish with its dextrous probing slimy black tongue making double sure that it had consumed every piece of vegetation the waiter had served onto that shiny plate. Once happy all of the food was finished the bull did a remarkable three-point-turn managing to avoid every empty table and chair in the restaurant. The bull walked straight past where Jessica and I were sitting ignoring us once again and missing us both by inches, It then sauntered out of the restaurant. There was a short silence between Jessica and I, the sort of silence that occurs after all remarkable events.

I looked at Jessica  as much to break the silence as for anything other good reason for speaking and I said  “I wonder where our Coffee is?” She replied agreeing with me that it seemed to be taking a long time “Yes, it has been a while hasn’t it.” Jessica and I sat there waiting.

It was another ten minutes before we saw the waiter again and when he did return from the kitchen both Jessica’s patience and mine had worn a little thin the restaurant was empty and we were desperate for our cups of Coffee. When I saw that the waiter was not even carrying our coffee let alone the two omelettes I felt I needed to make a small complaint. I raised my hand in the air like a child who trying to grab the teacher’s attention and I pompously said “excuse me, now I’m not being funny but you took our order down over thirty-five minutes ago and it was only for a couple of cups of coffee and two omelettes you are not exactly busy and we haven’t had either. A bull wonders in off the streets it walks straight to the counter and you serve it almost immediately.”

The waiter looked directly towards me and he replied politely in a calming hushed ascetic tone “Yes sir that is true but that bull comes in here to eat everyday.” With a slight smile and half an Indian head wobble he turned around and headed back towards the kitchen pleased I am sure that he had reminded a Gora that being a tourist and human does not mean automatic preferential treatment over regular customers especially when in temple towns and the name of the restaurant is Nandi.grand_award_lottery_logo_08MASTER LOB

Jason Tilley

Cheryl in the blue chiffon dress

NOTE 1–  After taking advise I have chosen to use the more acceptable Hindi word Kinnar as reference to India’s 3rd sex, rather than the general word ‘Hijra’ which holds disrespectful colonial connotations and I admit I’ve used for years.

NOTE 2-  I must also make a note to myself some time very soon. I must not start any more blog postings with ‘whilst sitting and gently rocking on a train’ but as it is true, here goes.

Whilst sitting and gently rocking from side to side on an express train bound for VT station deep inside Mumbai’s frenetic sense arousing suburbs I heard the ominous ‘triple hand clap’ of the Kinnars’ as they made their way along the carriage towards where I was seated.

Hijra Benares 2002

Kinnar, Benares 2002

They were still some distance away and with my ear finely tuned I could tell by the amount of hands I could hear clapping there were a group of Kinnar approaching. This provocative on-mass approach was a clear signal to me. There was the probability of gang intimidation the definite use of some very provocative language and behaviour and the possibility of a smidgen of sexual molestation, aimed predominantly at vulnerable young men. I have been witness to a number of testicular squeezes on board a train on a number of occasions and I was hoping that once they realised they had a foreigner on board, and that being an unknown quantity for them, I would most probably be spared both the sexual assault and daylight robbery, I’ve only had my balls grabbed once. I could cowardly sit back and watch as my fellow male passengers deflected most of the flack away from me. Women are always spared the intimidation and humiliation!

The train was somewhere between the local stations of Kalyan and Thane well inside Mumbai’s commuter belt, the perfect hunting ground for Kinnar to find their prey and collect revenue whilst people are on their daily commute into work. As for me I realised that this could go one of two ways, they would either giggle at first then completely ignore me or I would be picked out for special treatment. This day I got the ‘special’ treatment.

Since sunrise I had been sharing the compartment with four young men and two young ladies, I myself had been on the train for over 24 hours whilst my six fellow passengers were newer arrivals, having boarded the train on its slow approach to the city. The four young men had huddled together on the two single seats next to the isle and were sitting on top of one another in a comfortable early morning embrace as young men often do in India. The two young ladies were sitting opposite each other inside the carriage peering through the metal bars of the trains open windows, their faces partly covered by their sari in a polite discreet manner this helped keep their faces free from dust but also enabled them to hold a private conversation together.

The jingle of bells from gold ankle bracelets grew louder as the bare footed Kinnar announced their approach. Heavy stomping of feet accompanied by rhythmic finger clicking and their oh-so-soft hollow hand clapping along with the occasional loud bang of a tabla let everyone know they was coming. An inexperienced foreigner  who was travelling on an Indian train for the first time could be forgiven for believing the train had been boarded by a troupe of female dancers dressed in traditional rural village costume from deep inside the deserts of Rajasthan. Not as was the case, by a group of hairy legged transgender ‘males’ who had nothing more traditional on their minds apart from relieving people from there hard-earned Rupees.

Within Indian culture the Kinnar (who are also known disrespectfully  Hijra)  have a magical persona and can perform religious rituals at weddings and at the births of newly born boys, they can also bestow blessings for good health and can earn a handsome living when working for the upper classes. Most Kinnar see themselves as neither men nor women but as a separate 3rd sex and life for the many different ‘types’ of Kinnar can be as complex and as troublesome as it is fascinating. Many Kinnar are also sex workers.

Almost all my encounters with Kinnar have been happy ones and for most of the time they have been a brief enlightening experience for me. My encounters with India’s 3rd sex have usually been filled with many jokes and also lots of questions. I have asked them questions and in turn they have interrogated  me. Only once, an isolated incident close to Hosur in the southern state of Karnataka have I ever had a proper ‘run-in’ with a Kinnar, when I felt under pressure to hand over money, that on that day, I just did not have and the altercation ended up with a brick being thrown at the rickshaw I was travelling in. That was the only time a meeting with a Hijra could have turned really quiet nasty, my auto rickshaw man quietly and wisely advising me not to retaliate. He said Hijra sometimes have bad days.

Almost out of nowhere and as I sat remembering  my slight rickshaw-altercation some years before, that very moment, a ‘diva’ of Bollywood poroprtions burst through from behind her entourage and freed herself from her hand clapping and dancing friends. She was wearing an electric blue and quite revealing chiffon dress that flowed almost to her ankles. The neck line was plunging allowing just a tantalising glimpse of her red laced Bra and she had a huge fake Safire necklace which lay against the a growth of stubble on her chest. Stubble that I estimated was shaved off roughly a week ago.

There was no doubting her intentions she took one long and lingering look in my direction she sauntered over to where I was sitting and sat down next to me she put one hand firmly on my right knee and in a voice that could pass for an Indian version of Ertha Kitt she stated very deliberately with eye to eye contact “I-am-in-love–with-you-darling”. She purred after she said this to me.

She asked me. “What is your name darling”? I replied with deliberate eye to eye contact that my name was Jason. She replied back in the voice of a purring Indian cat once again “My-name-is-Cheryl-and-I-love-you”. It was at this moment for a few brief seconds I actually flirted with assuming the identity of a generic and bumbling Hugh Grant type of character, stumbling through a dictionary full of apologetic words with an English boarding school stammer. I thought against this option though and decided to front this situation out without using an alternative persona for cover.

Also at this point in the journey I honestly sensed that there had been a sharp intake of breath from everyone else in the carriage swiftly followed by a huge collective sigh of relief. I definitely felt that the atmosphere had been lifted and everyone else in the carriage were actually thinking, Ha! Let the foreigner take all of the flack this morning.

Cheryl asked me politely “What is your name and what do you do”? I told her that my name was Jason and that I was a photographer. Before I could catch my breath she exclaimed loudly ensuring everyone in the carriage could hear “Jason-I-Love-you”. The young Indian men adored the attention that was being lavished upon me and not upon them and I admit now that I was slightly flattered by Cheryl’s advances but only slightly you understand. I told Cheryl that as we had just met I did not believe that she really loved me and that may be it was possible it was only a little lust she was feeling. The young men on the single seats were laughing out loud now and the ladies in the open window seats were also paying more attention to the commotion we were making in our carriage.

There are never ‘normal’ journeys into Mumbai on the train. Life in India is never simple but today’s encounter with Cheryl was less normal than other. Cheryl and I had quickly turned into a comedy double act aboard that train, we had really clicked and I told Cheryl that she should have her own show on prime time television. Cheryl was born to be a star and I do believe that in any other country she could have fronted her own cable TV chat show, she was an enigma. I remember thinking at that time that Indian prime time television may not be ready for Cheryl just yet.

I am not easily shocked. I have been in some situations that some people might find uncomfortable and others even questionable but the refreshing thing about being in India is that however long I spend within India’s cultural grasp she always pushes the boundaries of what might be considered socially acceptable to the absolute limits. In India I imagine clearly defined rules but in India I find these rules can be bent and even more fluid and surprising than many supposedly liberal western communities.

Cheryl was pulling no punches. She said to me “I know that you love me and I know that you want me” and I told her categorically that I had absolutely no sexual interest in her at all but I did think she was very funny. Cheryl was like a mongoose in a death grip with a serpent  though, she would not let go. Cheryl made her intentions quite clear again and with the universal and provocative hand gesture she openly offered me some light hand relief. Cheryl said we could go to the toilet. I told Cheryl that although she was dressed as a woman I was aware that under her blue chiffon dress she was almost definitely still a man and that I really had no intention of finding out. I was not about to be tossed off in a toilet by a bloke in a blue chiffon dress on a train in India even thought I quite liked him-HER. I said to her quiet defiantly  , I’m just not doing it!

The two young ladies who were sitting in the window seats were laughing at us whilst her troupe of fellow Kinnars’ listened passively from the next compartment. So I turned towards the young Indian men expecting their support, Cheryl wasn’t taking ‘NO’ for an answer. I turned to the eldest and smarter dressed of the young Indian men. “You wouldn’t go off to the toilets and pay to have, with a nod of my head,  ‘that’ done to you would you?” and without any hesitation he replied “yes, why not?” I asked the next man “would you?” He also replied yes. All four of the young men confessed that if it had been offered to them they would all go off to the toilet to be tossed off by a Kinnar on a train. The two young ladies in the window seats were holding their sari over their mouths and were giggling loudly.

I asked the first man again. I said I can’t believe it; you would have no problem going off with Kinnar to a train toilet? With a cool shrug of the head and in his lovely confident Mumbai accent his said “Ya! why not? Same feeling!”

The only thing that really shocks me to this day about that mornings encounter was the honesty of those four young men and that how sex with a male prostitute was so readily accepted in front of virtual strangers. Imagine that on the Birmingham to London cross-country line.

Before Cheryl left I did manage to write down her phone number I was desperate to meet up and take her portrait but I swear and I know you will not believe me  I lost her mobile phone number and I never met her again and that is the sad truth to this little tale ended. Honest…..

Jason Scott Tilley


The man in the road

I was walking towards Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai; I was on my way to buy train tickets at what used to be called ‘in British times’ Victoria Terminus. I was standing by the side of a road intersection waiting patiently for a gap in the insanely busy traffic, car horns ringing inside my ear drum; I had been standing there for quite some time along with a number of other Mumbaikars when I felt a tug on my trouser leg. My initial unguarded reaction was to pull my leg back and shout. Personal space in all Indian cities is almost none existent and I had grown used to this fact, but, even on Mumbai’s over crowded streets this personal  intrusion I felt went a bit too far especially whilst I was waiting to cross the road.

Squatting at my feet was a young disabled man; the lower half of his body looked like it had been paralysed for many years probably since birth, his legs had withered his feet and toe nails were gnarled and he was dressed in filthy old rags. He motioned his hand towards me opening and closing the palm of his right hand, a beggars hand gesture in India when asking for money. So I gestured back to him, trying to point out how dangerous the situation was as I tried to cross the road and that his actions were distracting me. I realise now I must have sounded like a complete idiot, from his daily view of life, having to walk on his hands and cross these deadly roads must have been quite some challenge.

I took my forward position up once again, eyes forward, then left then right, waiting for an opportunity to arise, a break in the traffic when I could take my chance and I could sprint to the other side of the road. The man on the floor tugged at my trousers again. On numerous occasions in Indian cities I have felt preyed upon by beggars, Picked out and picked on! My western appearance alluding them to the possibility that I may be rich pickings and even though I am not rich, I do realise I am still incredibly rich when compared to the man who had just pulled on my trouser leg. Even though he appeared a pathetic figure I was still a bit pissed off with him. By the time I took these portraits I had spent almost five years travelling across India, I had lived in some of the most populated places on earth and I had stayed in some of the cheapest accommodation I had become hardened to many sights, sights that when I first began my journey would have shocked me.

So I decided to ask him if I could take his portrait, or if I’m honest, I think I said “if I give you some Rupees, I will take your photograph!” It was a statement not a request. I’m usually much more polite when asking if I can take some ones portrait but as I said in the heat of the moment whilst wilting in the sweltering humidity of Mumbai’s midday sun I already felt hastled and pissed off. He nodded to me that that would be fine, that I  could take his portrait. He sat staring up towards me as the people who were also waiting to cross the road became bemused onlookers sharing with us this normally intimate act and they watched as I took about 3 or 4 frames of this man. I did not take me any longer twenty seconds, enough time to take a few images and as I took the photographs he opened and closed his hand, a little reminder to me that a fee was required for this portrait. This was not a portrait he was giving to me as a gift, this was a business transaction between me and him.Man in the road begging

The man in the road Mumbai

I do not walk around India offering people money to take their portrait, why would I? On this occasion it was right and proper that I should give something. How much should one give though? There had been no time for any negotiation, our brief encounter had not allowed for this. I put my hand in my pocket aware that what ever I offered would not be enough, so I was already prepared for a row. I have watched people in India hand out Rupees to beggars and when money is given it is usually given in quite small amounts, 3 or 4 Rupees at the most. I knew exactly how much money I had in my pocket; I had about 600 Rupees, enough money for some thing to eat and enough for my train ticket that would cost me 450 Rupees. I decided to offer him 100, I would still then have enough money for the train ticket and I could eat cheep fried food from a street vendor and not have a sit down dinner. I was also aware that this was a good deal for him for 20 seconds work.

I planted 100 Rupees firmly in his gesturing right hand and as I did this every one else who had been waiting at the side of the road took advantage of a break in the traffic and they began to cross. I smiled at him said goodbye and I took my chance along with everyone else. I had not banked on being chased across the road though, completely underestimating the potential speed of this young disabled man and his solid determination to get even more money out of me. Sprinting on his hands he followed me 50 yards along the gutter dodging traffic, I also  noticed he was half laughing at me. I stopped and I said “OK, OK”. I put my hands in my pocket again and I took ALL of the loose change out and I bent down and I gave all of it to him, I patted my pockets at him, they made no noise now, I felt like I was being mugged. I had kept the other 500 Rupees notes I needed for my train ticket in my back pocket. I am aware of how this makes me look now, but I swear to you really had to be there to really appreciate the comedy value in our little encounter, as we left each other he was really milking the situation, laughing and taking the piss out of me. Good lad!

Jason Scott Tilley

The Aghoree Baba from Assi Ghat (part2)

Like stories on pages in a book the many years that I spent travelling across India slowly turned for me and like a good read I seem to have lingered over some pages longer than others. I often stopped off on a long train journey east from Delhi to wallow in the chaotic beauty that is the city of Benares; I loved to spend my days on foot treading the stone steps that tame the Ganges, and along this dirty, polluted and over populated section of the holy river I always managed to find some peace, as well as a chest infection. The Aghoree Baba

I would slowly amble the Ghats under the midday sun with only chai wallahs and mad dogs for company with sweat seeping and bubbling from my ample forehead; I would on occasion bump into my Aghoree baba. He would appear like the monsoon, never guaranteeing a time or a place, just a certainty that through the passage of time and as we turned life’s pages our paths would inevitably cross.

On one particular hot afternoon during the summer of 2009 I met my Aghoree Baba once again. I asked him if he would accompany me and be my guest for lunch. He agreed to my offer and we both left the river in search of food. Having already known each other for a number of years by now I immediately asked him if we could find a bar? He said no, a wine shop would be better. We flagged down a cycle rickshaw wallah, one of the thousands of men who huff, puff and pedal the congested dust roads that run parallel to the Ganges River. After some time spent searching we eventually bought some curried chicken and half a bottle of cheep whisky (Bagpiper).

During our short ride from the River in search of meat and alcohol we drew many stares as we sat perched high on the bouncing seat of the rickshaw wallah’s tricycle – I think some of strange looks we got were from concerned local people, wondering what a foreigner was doing with an Aghoree Baba on the back of a rickshaw and wondering where we were headed. I was even warned to be careful around him by fellow drinkers outside the wine store. I know he was embarrassed by the concern that some of the drunks were showing for me and I assured them all that all was fine.



The Aghoree at Assi Ghat. (part 1)

I first met with an Aghoree Baba in November 2002 at Assi Ghat in Benares, although at that time I did not know or care that he was an Aghoree; he was sat sharing a chillum with a few young foreign travellers, many of whom appeared more fashionably ascetic than him. I think stoned and wanting to impress the crowd he pulled a few almost impossible Yogic positions in what appeared an uncomfortable couple of sweaty minutes for him. We talked together for a while in short sentences that were made up of broken words of English and Hindi, a hybrid language that I now refer to as Hinglish.

I took a couple of frames of him I said goodbye and I moved on. One year later I bumped into him again and once again he sat entertaining a small crowd of impressionable young foreign travellers who had congragated at Assis Ghat. Recognising me he embraced me and he took me to his home. His home was also a shrine, built for his gods, it was leaning against  a small growing tree, it was perched high on the muddy rivers bank, at the very western end of Benares’s Ghats, safe from the river in full flood. Aghoree Baba

Next day though I found him sobbing close to the steps of Assi Ghat. He told me he was crying because earlier that morning a few police men had raised his small shrine to the ground and now his home was gone. He pleaded with me to do something for him . I asked, what could I do? He looked terribly disappointed in me, he almost expected me to have some sort of power over authority that I could help him to restore his home and his shrine.

‘Ghats’- concrete step at the rivers edge.

Jason Tilley

Passage taken from Malati and Mahdava a drama written in the eigth century by Bhava Bhutt.

Now wake the terrors of the place, beset

With crowding and malignant fiends. The flames

From funeral pyres scarce lend their sullen light,

Clogged with their fleshy prey, to dissipate

The fearful gloom that hems them round.

Well, be it so. I seek, and must address them.


How the noise…………………………………

High, shrill, and indistinct, of chattering sprites,

Communicative fills the charnel ground:

Strange forms like foxes flit along the sky.

From the red hair of their lank bodies darts

The meteor blaze: Or from their mouths that stretch

From ear to ear thickest with numerous fangs,

Or eyes, or beards, or brows, the radiance streams.

And now I see the goblin host: each stalks

On legs like palm-trees: a gaunt skeleton,

Whose fleshless bones are bound by starting sinews,

And scantly cased in black and shrivelled skin,

Like tall and withered trees by lightning scathed,

They move, and as amidst their sapless trunks

The mighty serpent curls-so each mouth

Wide yawning, lolls the vast blood-dripping tongue.

They mark my coming, and the half-chewed morsel

Falls to the howling wolf-and now they fly. 

Extract taken from The people of India volumes 1868-75 Birmingham central library


Many different India’s

The day after my encounter with the man who lay dying, half on the road and half on the pavement in New Delhi, I made my way south by train to Goa. As a way of proving to myself that India is still stunning and beautiful though complex and at times mystifying to me, I made this portrait on my arrival at Palolem beach in south Goa.Goa boy Palolem low res


I was once corrected by an Indian scholar during a conversation we were having about life in her country, I had reffered to India as if it were just one place with only one people. She quite rightly reminded me by telling me“always remember there are many different India’s”.