India Insight

Photo gallery: a Hipstamatic trip through Old Delhi

As an iPhone owner and an avid Hipstamatic user, I’ve been capturing daily life on the streets of Delhi for the past few months. As someone who was born and raised outside of India, I’m struck by how much of life is played out on the streets here. From bathing to cooking to sleeping, India’s streets are truly an extension of the home, and in many cases, is home itself.

Most of the photos are from Old Delhi, a world within a world in the heart of the Indian capital. The old quarters were once known as Shahjahanabad — named after Mughal Emperor Shahjahan who built the city in the 1600s.

Seventeenth-century writers and poets described the old city as “paradise” and “like a Garden of Eden”. Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi’s main thoroughfare, once had a canal running down the centre. Today, the canal has disappeared and Old Delhi is overcrowded and run down, and poverty is rife. Beggars line the narrow alleys alongside vendors selling everything from a fresh lime soda to used car parts, and young, homeless drug users huddle to smoke heroin before passing out on the side of the street.

But Old Delhi retains its charm. The smell of kebabs and fresh naan bread hangs in the air near Old Delhi’s most striking landmark, the Jama Masjid. The streets are constantly evolving, every hour, every day. You could walk down a street early in the morning to watch the city slowly wake up, and return hours later to blaring car horns and screaming rickshaw drivers under the hot, shining sun.

 

A man bathes in the polluted Yamuna river in the old quarters of Delhi. Oct. 1, 2012.

Photo gallery: A walk through Mehrauli Archaeological Park

Next time you plan a visit to the Qutub Minar, venture beyond its crowded complex. Walk past the parking lot, which is on your left, and take the first right turn. Next to the Qutub Restaurant is an obscured path. Take the path, walk down a few steps and this is what you see:

 

You are inside the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, located in what was once the first of the seven historic cities of Delhi, dating back about a thousand years. The first structure (see below) is the Metcalfe House, which was once a tomb. Thomas Metcalfe was an agent of the Governor General of India to the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar, India’s last Mughal emperor.

 

As you move on, you’d find columns to your left and right, guiding you to several structures in this area. This also is a Delhi Development Authority park. Next stop is the Jamali Kamali mosque.

from Photographers' Blog:

Solar power nightlight

By Adnan Abidi

Near my house in Delhi at Deenu bhai’s tea stall, I noticed a very young visitor; 7-year-old Sohail. He was Deenu bhai's relative visiting him from Aligarh for the summer breaks. Before leaving for work, I enjoyed a cup of tea at Deenu bhai’s, and as usual, I was sipping a steaming hot cup of tea with a snack when I saw Sohail with a drawing book.

Hot summer mornings keep away a lot of lazy lads who otherwise are found gossiping at Deenu bhai’s place. I was finding no such company, so I asked Sohail what he’s been up to. He showed me a few landscape drawings, which were mostly village scenes with huts and animals, with the sun rising at a location painted in yellow.

GALLERY: SOLAR INDIA

I am no art critic, and couldn’t actually make out anything in those drawings. But I recalled my childhood days, and compared it with Sohail’s to figure out a similar thought process in both of our generations. Neither of us have ever imagined a typical Indian village scene during or after sundown.

from Photographers' Blog:

Privileged witness to the start of life

By Vivek Prakash

It's an experience I will never forget. I have no children of my own, but when the day does come, maybe I'll be just a little bit more prepared for it.

I had come a long, long way from my usual cosmopolitan stomping ground of Mumbai, to a place just about as far interior as you can go in India. I was about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the Rajasthan border in the state of Madhya Pradesh, in a village of about 700 people. This is very, very small by Indian standards. There were dusty roads that a car could barely fit down, mud houses, a scorching heat during the day which turned to a deep chill at night.

I had many ideas in my head and many questions too - what kind of emotions was I going to experience and witness? Should I be excited, or should I feel like an intruder, given the subject matter I was here to shoot? I had come a long way to shoot this, but now, standing in this little rural community health center with my camera, I felt conflicted.

from Photographers' Blog:

Rushdie, Oprah and disappointment

By Altaf Bhat

When I set off from Delhi to cover the Jaipur Literature Festival (my first art beat assignment) I was full of enthusiasm as controversial British-Indian author Salman Rushdie was expected to participate in the event. I had planned a sequence of photographs on the growing "Lit Fest" but all my planning turned out to be the proverbial "castle in the air".

The festival's invitation to Rushdie, whose 1988 novel "The Satanic Verses" is banned in India, sparked protests from some Muslim groups who said he had offended their religious sentiments. Rushdie made headlines in Indian media much before his arrival in the country. Muslim organizations in Jaipur threatened to hold protests if Rushdie was allowed into the country, and permitted to speak at the festival. The author and the organizers of the event maintained that Rushdie would participate.

The situation was shaping into a face-off between the literary circles and the Muslim organization and I was hoping to get a few good pictures. With shoe-throwing becoming the fad form of protest in India – Rahul Gandhi, heir-apparent of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, being the latest victim – I readied myself to get the best shot if Rushdie faced a similar fate during his presence at the event.

from Photographers' Blog:

License to kill

By Danish Siddiqui

 

Mumbai provides everyone living in it with an opportunity to earn and survive. Be it a white-collared job in a multinational company located in one of the city’s plush high rise buildings or killing rats by night in the filthiest and dirtiest parts of India's financial capital. This time, my tryst was with the latter.

I decided I wanted to meet Mumbai's rat-killer army employed by the city's civic body. Very little is known about this tireless force that works the bylanes of the metropolis every night. Mumbai's municipal corporation employs 44 rat killers and also has a freelance contingent, who aspire to be on the payrolls one day. Employees of the pest control department receive a salary of 15,000 to 17,000 Indian Rupees ($294 to 333) while contract laborers are paid 5 Indian rupees ($0.10) per rat they kill. The rat killers are expected to kill at least 30 rodents per night and hand over the carcasses to civic officials in the morning. If they fall short by even one rodent, they are expected to make it up the next night or else they stand to lose a day’s pay.

I zeroed in on a family living in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai, six of whom kill rats for a living. The oldest of them is Javed Sheikh, 61, who has been killing rats for the last four decades. The youngest rat-killer, on the other hand, is Javed's son, 12-year old Waseem Sheikh. Only the father and the eldest son are employed by the sanitation department of Mumbai’s municipal corporation; the rest work as freelancers.

from Photographers' Blog:

Circus nostalgia

By Vivek Prakash

There are a couple of stories I've been waiting to do since I heard that I'd be moving to India last year. Maybe it's part nostalgia, part fascination, but I'm happy to be able to interpret these stories visually, finally.

The last time I was at a circus was some twenty-five years ago. My father brought me to the Bandra Reclamation in Mumbai to see it. I can't remember which one it was, maybe the Apollo Circus? I remember the smell of fresh dirt and popcorn. There were fireworks. There was a dome where three people on motorbikes rode on the walls without crashing into each other. There were big cats; lions and tigers with some jumping through flaming hoops. I was wide-eyed and thrilled. I've dreamed of seeing and photographing that show for years.

Twenty-five years later, I came to the very same location, with a camera in hand. When the Rambo Circus pitched tent, I jumped at the chance to spend a few days documenting what Indian circuses are like. This place has been in my imagination for so long.

from Photographers' Blog:

Jostling for space in Mumbai

By Danish Siddiqui

To live in the world’s second most populous country and city is itself an experience. When I was asked to do a feature story on the world's population crossing the 7 billion mark, I realized it wasn’t going to be an easy task. This was simply because there were so many stories to tell in this city of dreams, Mumbai.

I chose to do a story on the living conditions of Mumbai’s migrant population who pour in to the city by the hour.

I decided to go to a slum which is inhabited mostly by migrants arriving from the northern part of India in search of a better future. Most of the migrants who live there work as taxi drivers and manual laborers. It was difficult to get access as they were always apprehensive of journalists. But I was able to convince a couple of them over a cup of tea after which they opened the doors of their one room world to me.

from Photographers' Blog:

A village of eternal bachelors

By Vivek Prakash

With the world's population set to hit 7 billion on October 31, photographers in India have been on the move to tell stories that talk about what those numbers really mean in a country as large as India - with 1.2 billion people and counting, this is supposed to be the world's largest democracy.

When you take a closer look at the statistics, you find some surprising and scary figures - the ratio of female children to males born actually declined here over the last 10 years - from 933 females for every thousand males in the 2001 census, to just 914 in 2011. The combination of cheap portable ultrasound technology and a decades-old preference for male babies -- who are seen as breadwinners -- has enabled sex-selective abortions and made worse female infanticide. In a place as wide and as vast as India, these are things that are hard to control, no matter how illegal.

We had been trying to find ways to illustrate this for some time without much success - getting access to tell this story had been taking some time. Late last month, a story about a small village in Gujarat was brought to my attention.

from Photographers' Blog:

City of joy

By Rupak de Chowdhuri

It’s festive time in Kolkata, with the Durga festival celebrated across the city, before Diwali celebrations fill the city with light. Kolkata has been called the "City of Joy," a title which was immortalized in a book by Dominique Lapierre. It tells the story of the poorest of the poor who still somehow find hope and joy in life. Little did I know I was about to come face-to-face with such a story.

I hunt for pictures every day. One day, I was looking for pictures when an old friend told me to go to a place where I was guaranteed to find a good story. Because of my curious nature, I started to walk in search of the story I’d been told about in the middle of Kolkata. I started searching among the food stalls because I wouldn’t believe it until I saw them myself.

At last I found them. And I stood stunned, like other customers in front of the food stall. I watched for half an hour.

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