My first sense of India was in the town of Ahmedebad, Gujurat. I had no frame of reference for comparison and no expectations. I had only the images I’d see in movies as a guide and I didn’t expect them to be too accurate. What I found was this mysterious world unlike anywhere I’d ever been. I was captivated by the colors and cows and honking horns. What was the protocol for photographing people, especially holy men? Do I pay them, ask them, not photograph them? Is it safe to walk around alone? Should my head be covered? These questions sorted themselves out in time.
I was only in Ahmedabad for about 24 hours and most of those daylight hours were spent sleeping off jet lag. I did manage to wander down the street to a Jain temple that first evening. It was closed but the grounds were open and dimly lit. On the way back I found this little corner store that seemed to represent something familiar, and a tiny temple. Just out of sight of this wall mounted altar was a gentleman stringing together leis of freshly picked marigolds. His finger tips were yellowed from the work. He looked up and smiled as we passed. It felt invasive to photograph him so I took a picture of the altar, instead, adorned with his handiwork.
The next morning I encountered a woman selling her wares to a local on a motorbike. I watched the older woman push her cart through the streets until she found a suitable location. Right outside our hotel gate was this colorful holy man waiting to cross the street and and along the way passively soliciting money for his copper pot. Not far from him, sat a truckload of young men enthusiastically looking for work.
This final picture was taken on our way out of Ahmedebad to the towns of Kutch and Dasada. The little tent type houses are not uncommon. They show up everywhere made out of whatever can be found to be used as shelter. While the people who inhabit them are poor and work primarily as beggars, they are often found squatting around a cooking fire, smiling and chatting with one another while barefooted children run and play close by.
For my first impressions it was difficult not to measure all I saw and experienced against my own reality. Believing I had come to India without expectations, I was quickly made aware of my own personal prejudices and biases, wanting to categorize things as right or wrong, should or shouldn’t, good or bad. I could not fit India into any paradigm that I had already safely constructed for myself. Instead, I had to let go of labels and categories. As I allowed for the experience of India to filter in I began to fall in love with the differences, with the poverty, the trash, the beauty, the colors and above all, the people. I could not return to the United States unchanged. Just how much would reveal itself over the next three weeks.