Photographers' Blog

Not child’s play

Baran, India

By Danish Siddiqui

When I first took pictures of this child couple in a small village in the desert state of Rajasthan in 2010, I had no idea that I would come back to this village again. But life had something else in store and I have been visiting them every year since, documenting the changes in their relationship and their surroundings.

When I went to their house last week I was greeted by the loud wailing of a baby. It was their four-month-old son Alok, which means enlightenment in Hindi. Last year when I visited them, I learned that Krishna, the child bride, was seven months pregnant. I wasn’t surprised at all but out of curiosity I asked Gopal, her husband, why he was in such a hurry to expand the family. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Nothing else to do, no work, life is so boring.” I was a bit taken aback.

Those like me who live in big cities and metros plan meticulously before taking the plunge into parenthood. And here this teenager was telling me that he wanted to have a child and risk his young wife’s life because of boredom. That, again, is a different India.

When I visited, I was happy that the parents, their family and even the neighbors were enjoying the presence of the little boy. Gopal told me that his wife was nearly on her deathbed after the delivery last year and her being alive now is nothing less than a miracle.

When I asked the 14-year-old mother if she’s happy she had a baby boy, Krishna nodded her head and said, “I wanted a girl but its okay now.” I was surprised by her response, as most people in both Indian cities and villages prefer boys over girls who they see as assets as opposed to girls who they consider liabilities or dependents.

Voices of women in India’s “rape capital”

New Delhi, India

By Mansi Thapliyal

My city is known as the so-called “rape capital of the country”. They say it’s unsafe, it’s dangerous, it’s full of wolves looking to hunt you down. A lot of it may be true. As a single woman working, living and breathing in New Delhi, I have had my fair share of stories. But the labels and opinions associated with the city were accepted on one level – no one questioned them, no one asked why – until a brutal tragedy one cold December night which shook the world and forced everyone (the authorities, the public, the lawmakers) to ask themselves uncomfortable questions and focus the on safety of women. It is still an ongoing, raging debate, thank heavens.

Meanwhile, I decided to focus on what Delhi’s women face and what they think about it. How do they go on with their lives, their work, their families? Just trying to understand the magnitude of how unsafe India’s capital is became one of the most challenging and emotionally exhausting assignments of my career.

SLIDESHOW: INDIA’S WOMEN DEFEND THEMSELVES

From call center executives to advertising professionals to tea stall workers, everyone has their stories and how they cope with it. Take the example of Chandani, 22, one of the few female cab drivers in the city. As she drove me around the city, a policeman stopped us at a barricade near India Gate. When he saw that a woman was driving the cab, he scraped his jaw off the floor. “You also drive a cab?” he said with an expression that suggested that he had spotted the Abominable Snowman. “I am doing a very unconventional job for women. Given that I do night shifts, I carry pepper spray and I’m trained in self-defense. Initially I faced a lot of problems but driving cabs at night has helped me overcome my fears,” Chandani said.

Lives behind the gaudy uniforms and loud music

New Delhi, India

By Mansi Thapliyal

Music bands play an integral part to the big fat Indian wedding, especially in North India.

Weddings in North India are never complete until the family of the bride and groom dance to the tune of popular Bollywood songs. Brass bands are hired for the purpose of playing at the wedding procession in which the groom’s family dance all the way to the wedding venue where the bride’s family waits to receive them. A procession called “Barat” is usually accompanied by bright lights, fireworks, loud music and dance. The instruments played by these brass bands are a mix of Indian and western musical instruments.

The men who make up India’s brass bands are regularly seen marching through the cities and towns dressed in their flashy outfits and spicing up parties, though despite their loud presence, they usually go unnoticed.

Meeting a modern-day Gandhi

Delhi, India

By Mansi Thapliyal

“I am Gandhi!” he says firmly. “His soul resides inside me,” he announces, smiling unwaveringly.

I stare blankly at the man who is wearing a dhoti wrapped around his waist, thick black oval glasses and carrying a cane just like Mahatma Gandhi.

GALLERY: MODERN-DAY GANDHI

Two weeks ago, I called this man asking to meet him and he politely told me not to say “hello.”

Farewell old lady of Mumbai

By Vivek Prakash

Many things are uncertain in Mumbai – the weather, the possibility of an appointment actually happening on time, the chance of getting through the city without hitting some obstacle or other…

But one thing is perfectly certain: you’re wanted at the traffic jam, they’re saving you a seat.

If, like me, you think owning a car in Mumbai is a pointless waste of time, you will take a taxi several times a week. So your place in Mumbai’s permanent gridlock is likely to be inside a Premier Padmini taxi, a vehicle I have come to think of as the grand old dame of Mumbai’s streets.

Learning the lessons of the slums

By Danish Siddiqui

If you are flying into Mumbai, the first thing you’ll see from mid-air are the visually beautiful rows of slums. I have always treated the slums and their inhabitants with respect.

GALLERY: MUMBAI’S SLUM LIFE

Every metropolitan city (at least in India) has slums, as more and more people travel to the cities for better opportunities. Unfortunately, not everyone is fortunate enough to live in a planned neighborhood.

Mumbai has a number of slums, the largest of which is called Dharavi. In fact, it is also one of Asia’s largest slums. I started photographing the slums of Dharavi when I moved to Mumbai two years ago. I tried to explore the slums block by block, lane by lane. I still haven’t finished half of it.

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 man into woman

By Adnan Abidi

Hardeep Singh, a father of two, leaves his home in west Delhi every day at around 2 p.m. Dressed in a pair of light trousers and a shirt, he reaches a local charity, where he undresses to reveal his female clothes underneath and transforms into Seema.

The 33 year old is a male-to-female transgender, or “hijra”, as they are known in India. Living with two identities, by day, he is a married family man and by night, a hijra sex worker.

With no legal recognition in India, transgenders like Seema have little choice but to turn to prostitution to earn a living, which is something she hides even from her family.

Charlie’s Angel

By Danish Siddiqui

After an excruciatingly long 15-hour journey from Mumbai, I stepped out of the car outside Adipur train station and found two children waiting to welcome me with flowers. Both were wearing bowler hats and had t-shirts depicting the silent film star Charlie Chaplin. Of course, I was yet to meet the town’s biggest Chaplin fan.

Adipur, a small town in the western Indian state of Gujarat was only famous for its salt pans until Ashok Aswani started living like Charlie Chaplin. A practitioner of indigenous medicine by profession, Aswani has been celebrating Charlie Chaplin’s birthday on April 16 with his fan club for the past 39 years. He even holds a candlelight vigil and a prayer meeting on the legend’s death anniversary on December 25.

Aswani turned a die-hard fan of Chaplin’s after watching his film The Gold Rush in a nearby cinema. The film cost him his job as a type-writer. He didn’t go to work that day and spent the entire time watching the same film over and over again.

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.

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