Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Welcome To Non-Catholic India

2003 was the first time I traveled by myself, without family, to India. I was 20 years old and working in Lisbon as an editor, and hadn't taken a vacation for a very long time. Having arrived in Mumbai and staying with my uncle and grandfather I planned my trip with their help.  Amit, being a good friend of my Mamaji, received me with exemplary hospitality.
I had travelled by train and arrived early that morning in Delhi, where, prior to 2003, I had never been. "Welcome to Non-Catholic India" Amit said at the Delhi Railwaystation.  Amit joked about me coming to a new country given the fact that I had always and only travelled to Bombay and Goa. And knowing my uncle, Mumbai and Goa, he must have deemed my vision of India as being profoundly Catholic. 
There is some truth in this of course. As one might imagine, the aesthetic influence of religion on its surroundings can be quite strong. And this is specially true  when it comes to Goa.  
Delhi is quite a different mix of south-asianess altogether. The people, the atmosphere, the look.  Its overly present and extremely long history, which becomes evident through the plethora of old monuments: Delhi Hut, Kitub Minar, Huyumans Tomb, and plenty of other Mausoleums. And of Course the Red Fort and Chandi Chowk. This old Delhi with its Jama Masjid, a number of ancient hindu temples, a Syrian church, and a rather dense market. A constant hustle and bustle in its streets, the tasty King Kebabs at Karims, if that is the name of the place.  
My memory of that time fades as I write these lines. Or should I rather say that by writing these lines I notice how scarce my recollection of that place actually is. These pictures which I took back in 2003 with my old Minolta guide me through my mind. And I have to accept that my reading of these images combined with fading memories that lie in some lost synaptic alley of my mind, produce my past experience. Whatever I believe to know is like a match of pingpong between fact and fiction. These pictures show me  what I saw back then. Like a framed mosaic they also tell me at what I looked at, rather than telling me what was there. An old cart pulled by what? A donkey, a bull, a cow perhaps?
I recognise the shadow of a man carrying his bags down the road. Me standing in the middle of the road, unnoticed, taking pictures of the traffic, if one can call it traffic. A salesman in the dark selling long pieces of cloth along with other garment. The place where I ate Gulab Jamun, at night, after taking some snaps. The boy in front of one of the oldest temples, I think I tool some pictures of him. The kids in front of Jama Masjid. The Red Fort in Black and White. How far is it from Chandi Chowk again? Did I walk there? Another gap that needs to be filled. But as I jump from picture to picture other small incidents fill the void: The boys telling me that my bag is open and that I should watch out. The beedie salesmen saying "you are Indian" after I had told him the place of my birth and where I also grew up. The Christian Bus driver who was thrilled to learn that I was Goan, which in his mind meant I was a Christian too. As he was driving the bus with a radiant smile, he rolled up his sleeve to show the big cross tattooed on his right forearm.
But as these small fragments of episodes start to form clusters in my brain I wonder what exactly did I have in mind as I was taking these pictures. And I can only assume, that it probably was, as so often happens, the simple joy of taking pictures. The thrill of finding something through that viewer. Something that corresponds with your view on things. Blocking out those sides of reality that don't concern you in that instant. Something that you think shouldn't be in the frame. Or is it a moment that I wanted to frame? Now I feel like these pictures are telling me that there was more to be seen. Much more than I captured. A hint given to me by my former self. The twenty year old me, 11 years ago. These snaps are giving me a reason to go back to see the change of Incredible India's Capital. 11 years after the great growth of its economy; the boom.  Perhaps it is time to revisit.

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