Walking on the Howrah Bridge in Kolkata (India Blog 13)

 

Walking on the Howrah Bridge in Kolkata II (India Blog 13)

I walked up the curved ramp toward the entrance to the bridge meeting a heavy stream of people just swarming across from the western side. They are not out for enjoyment. They are seriously headed for somewhere important. They are not on a lark like me, I want to say. I took some pictures but realized that I was going against the flow of human traffic. And the bridge vibrates. One feels it all the way across as one walks. The Hooghly is a big river, quite wide.

Just as one comes onto the bridge, there is a sign that asks people not to spit. Spitting is a problem. Right then, my film ran out. There was no place to sit down and change it. This was the Kodak color film in the old Minolta. So I had to change the film just standing there by a railing.

Some crazy person, perhaps religious, came and started putting on an act in front of me. He was trying to attract my attention. But I ignored him, working to change my film. Some small school boys were also watching me. I don’t think they have ever seen a film camera before.

I then marched across the bridge to the other side taking some pictures. One goes down a ramp and then down stairs on the other side. Then there is an underpass that goes over to the other side of the bridge. There was no need for me to go there, as I was going to walk back on the same side of the bridge, the north side.

However, I was glad that I went through there and took a couple of pictures. On the other side, there was a pisser, right out in the open. An array of men, maybe 12 or so wide, were standing and collectively pissing. Brotherhood of pissers. I just pretended to be taking a picture of the bridge, but moved the camera around to get a picture of them relieving themselves. The 28 mm lens made it easier.

Then, I walked back through the underpass to the other side and started across the bridge again.

There are signs that forbid doing vending on the bridge, but in several cases, they are being ignored. I took some pictures of people selling things on the bridge. Some guys were selling fruit. They cut up several types of fruit, papaya, banana, watermelon and so on, and make a bowl of fruit to sell. I would have liked to have one, but I was afraid that it would totally fuck up my stomach.

When I got to the other side, I walked down the steps to the famous flower market. I remembered a video I had seen of it on Youtube. It was not as interesting as I expected when I was actually there and saw it. Peons were carrying big bags of flowers on their heads over the bridge to the other side.

Most of the flowers are saffron color, which is the Hindu holy color. There is obviously a huge market for them.

All kinds of baggage and supplies were being carried across in both directions. I stayed on the bridge for a while to get some pictures of guys coming carrying things on their heads and on poles over their shoulders.

Back on the street, I ended up on a busy corner. It was practically impossible to get across the street with all the traffic. When the light changed, it was not long enough to beat the traffic.

I stayed on the corner for a long time, just taking pictures of those old broken down buses. They were stopping right in front of me. They have a conductor who stands in the door and calls out where the bus is going.

Man! One can see shades of that film of Satyajit Ray, The Apu Trilogy, on the street here. I remembered the young guy, Apu, on the streets of Calcutta. I love those three films and watch them over and over. They are reproduced by the Criterion Collection of films. Beautifully done. It is hard to watch them without crying. Powerful films done with primitive equipment in black and white. I love them. It was a real struggle to produce them in India.

I hope that I got some good pictures there.

I realized that the best way to get across the street was to join a group of people and cross with them. When the light would turn green for walking, the old buses were blocking the path. And the light was too short, in any event. It was an amazing scene.

Finally, I got across with others and walked for a long way with sore feet. My feet were getting sorer all the time. I decided that it was enough photos there and I got a taxi, an old Hindustan Ambassador to Sudder Street. Lytton Hotel. Funny, I told the driver, the Alka Hotel, I realized later. But we got to my place. The old taxis are life-savers.

After a rest, I went to Zaranc Restaurant and had some Chinese dumplings and draft beer. After that, felt fine. I went through the small streets back of the hotel, near Hogg Market, and shot the rest of a roll of black and white film. But I am now starting to get low on black and white film.

The temperature was 27 degrees C today. Man! I recovered with those Chinese dumplings and draft beer. It was light and very good for the evening.

Today when I was on the other side of the bridge, as I was about to come back, I saw some guys discover a dead body under the bridge. One of the guys ran to get someone to come and pick the guy up.

I don’t know how people can survive in some of these streets that are complete hell-holes, worse than shitholes, as Trump has it. And the brutality of these rickshaws here. These runner rickshaws! Man. It has to be outlawed. Those guys are literally dying in the harness. My goodness! Tonight I saw a whole family, man, wife, two children, climbing into one of these rickshaws. And the poor guy was going to run pulling them by foot. Can you imagine such a thing?

I don’t know how many miles a day that they have to run like a horse in the streets. This is something sort of hidden, unrevealed to the world. At least, people just do not think about it. How can one have such a torture of humans as in this country?

Indians will get angry if any Westerner points out that it is brutal. But really, that is the height of being a hypocrite. I tried getting a picture of that and several other scenes also. I hope they turn out OK. I will hang it up for tonight.

Kolkata is a wonderful city. But one needs more time.

Walk to Howrah Bridge I (India Blog 12)

 

Howrah Bridge Walk I (India Blog 12)

5:00 Afternoon. Man! I am tired. Walked a long way. Walked across the Howrah Bridge and then back across again. Took a lot of pictures with the Minolta in colour. I will write the story as I get time.

It is almost dark now.

After breakfast, I left the hotel around 9:00. I thought to just walk to the Howrah Bridge, but it is a good long distance. That’s for sure! It seems like three miles on the map that I have. I was glad that I went a little early. The traffic was not too bad at that time.

For part of the distance, the people who live in the open along the street were just starting to set up their shops. Shops have been set up along the sidewalk for much of the way.

There are hundreds of places for street food. Channa and puri. Most of it looks okay, but it cannot be very sanitary, it seems, for sure.

They have large heavy metal trunks where they pack their things every night. Then they break it out again in the morning. It is a huge work. What a struggle just to survive!

In some places, they had made packs in large plastic sheets, tied up with ropes. They were taking the ropes off. It seems that some of them sleep there. There were hundreds of people holding metal plates, standing and eating food. Various kinds of channa (chickpeas) and puri (fried bread). Also curried potatoes. The food smells good, but it would be hard to eat in such filth. It is cooked in the stoves that they have set up all along the sidewalks.

There are huge old buildings that in British times would have been elegant and beautiful. A hundred years ago. Now, they are falling into decay.

There are many old buses. Many of the city buses are old, beat up, and terribly crowded. I took many pictures.

In one place, there were some benches next to a big garden. This is BBD Bagh in Dalhousie Square. I was tired by that time and sat down for a rest.

An old guy came and sat down next to me. He looked older than me, but later told me that he was sixty-five. A Bihari from Patna. He hardly knew any English. I could only understand part of his Hindi. I was trying to remember some Hindi but sometimes started to fall into speaking Turkish.

He was just a friendly guy that wanted to talk to me. They say that Calcutta is the most friendly city in India. Some people are not friendly, but people are not mean or hostile.

I wanted to mention that these low-scale workers on the street and working in the markets and other places are constantly shouting to each other. Sometimes angrily, it seems, but always very loud. Well, how could they not be crude, the way they have been treated. Worse than animals. Society has use for their labour only.

So it was a strange discussion with this guy in mixed languages. He told me his name, but I can’t remember it. He was more than half toothless and that made him look older. He asked me all the places where I had been in India. I listed a few for him and he started talking about Varanasi. He ask me something about what I was eating, but I could not understand all of it. Finally, he said good-bye and walked on. He seemed to be a decent person.

I walked on. I had already taken pictures of the large red-brick building across the street from the garden.

When I crossed the street, I noticed that it was the Writer’s Building, the famous building where British clerks worked. There was a notice above and arched doorway that it was the Writer’s Building. I wanted to take a picture of that sign, but a police officer came and said “no.” That was okay. It is part of some government bureaucracy now. It takes up a huge area. In any event, one can take pictures of if from across the street.

I walked on. Before long, the masses on the side walk became more crowded. Sometimes I had to wait for others, as there is so little space left for people to walk in. Then there were more sidewalk cafes. Further were shops selling big pipes, types of water pumps, auto parts. Also big pieces of round and flat steel. By this time, I could see the top of the steel girders of the Howrah Bridge. What a landmark!

As I got closer to the bridge, I couldn’t see exactly where one would enter the roadway. There was a constant stream of people coming in from a side road, so I thought that must be the way. Buses were also coming down that road. So I saw how to enter the stream of people, but I was actually crossing on the wrong side. The south side stream of people were going west. The north side stream of people were coming east to where I was. But some other people were going my way too. Some peons were carrying huge bags of flowers on their heads from the flower market under the bridge.

Getting across the roads in that area is a problem. There are so many buses coming. If one finds an opening, they can be hit with a motorcycle. There is mass confusion. Just total anarchy. John Kenneth Galbriath once described India as a “functioning anarchy.” I think that Calcutta is the closest possible thing to anarchy!

(To be continued)

The Lytton Hotel (India Blog 10)

 

The Lytton Hotel (India Blog 10)

It was quite a long way into the city through a lot of small streets. There was a lot of traffic. Finally we got down Chowringhee Street and turned left onto Sudder Street. Found the Lytton Hotel. I gave the driver an extra 100 rupees. He deserved it. Came in and got checked it.

The woman at the desk said that since I was staying for a week that she would upgrade my room to a suite. So I got a great double room. It has a table and two couches in one room. It has the bed, desk and closets in the other room. I am not watching TV, generally.

Ali, who is a Moslem, brought my bags up to the room.

After getting organized, I crapped out till about 2:00 in the afternoon. Got up and went out on Sudder Street. Hogg Market is just one block away, just down one of the small roads behind the hotel.

Took some pictures. I love these old Hindustan Ambassador taxis. I am trying to get some pictures of the rickshaws with the guy running in front. I don’t want to use a human for a horse for transport! It is inhumane. It is terribly inhumane! It should be outlawed. Put some of these old machines in restaurants and hotels. But stop this human slavery! It is cruelty.

I got some pictures of Hogg Market. The should buildings need to be restored. The building is beautiful, but like everything else, little maintenance is being done, apparently. It is going down. There is a compound in front of the building. The trash is being swept up against the outer wall, where it stays. They have not picked it up. So it rots and produces filth. It seems like the intentional creation of filth. There is no excuse for that. And the sellers in the market should demand that it be kept clean. Probably they do not even notice it.

Some merchants roam around outside the market and hawk for their shops inside. I have not gone inside the market yet. These kids walk around selling these big balloons. Selling them before they are blown up. I guess it is something new. They do not know just how little interest I actually have in balloons. I talked to one of the Moslem shopkeepers. They are not too pushy.

I walked out onto Chowringhee, then back on Sudder Street.

I went into a bar on the way, but they said that they did not have food. So I left. Also the price for beer was outrageous. Some 400 rupees for a big Kingfisher. And it was too cold in the place. There was too much air-conditioning, and it was so dark in there that I could hardly find my way to a table.

There was another place that has some Chinese food. I ate there, but it was not very good food. Had two small Kingfisher beers.

I shot the rest of a roll of black and white film. I have to shoot some color and go sparing on the black and white. I tried to get some evening pictures of the rickshaws.

Saturday December 8: Early morning, 4:30. Got a good sleep and am finally relaxed, after getting to Kolkata.

Waking up early, I can catch up on writing down my thoughts.

I have two rolls of film per day, for the six days in Kolkata. One black and white and one color. I am trying not to waste any. Once the film is finished, I will have to use my cell phone. See what I can do with it.

Yesterday, I noticed that the Fairlawn Hotel, the famous old hotel were Dominique Lapierre stayed, is right outside my window, across the road. I looked down from my window and saw it. But I am glad that I stayed here. I got a better room. Lapierre is the author of the famous novel, City of Joy about the slums of Kolkata.

I will go to the Zarang Restaurant at the corner of Chowringhee and Sudder Street.

Yesterday, a woman hit me with that old scam mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide. At a small shop, she asked me to buy milk powder for starving babies.

I said that I liked babies okay (largely, a lie) but that it would not help. She knows that the money will not go to babies.

I asked her why she didn’t ask Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister, for some help for the babies. She said: “Modi does not help.”

Well, there you go! He knows his India.

So I was onto that scheme without remembering that it was mentioned in the Lonely Planet Guide. How does one know where the money goes, or the milk?

Actually, she does not take the milk powder, but just takes the money.

I am planning to walk to Howrah Bridge over the Hooghly River today after breakfast. The famous bridge. The scope for photography here is endless. I thought that I was okay with 22 rolls of 36 exposure film. Now I wish that I had brought more. I love black and white so much. But let me see what I can do with the colour film in the Minolta.

I need much longer to get up to speed photographing here, but one would have to actually live here for some time. I would need a month, at least. They would get sick of me.

The Flight to Cal: Kolkata (India Blog 9)

India Part II: Calcutta (India Blog 9)

Midnight: (Thursday December 6)

12:00 Midnight. I could not sleep. So Fuck it. If I sleep some, that would be okay. If not, then I will have to catch up sometime. Now somebody has started beating a drum somewhere.

The empty drum rattles the loudest.

Now the two guys in the next room are talking. They were talking loudly in the hallway outside my door. The bathroom door just started vibrating, maybe from the drum beats. Now I have closed it! Sometimes I wish that I was making my own noise and disturbing others the same way they do me. A mutual exchange of disturbing noise. Some people would be too insensitive to get it, however.

I suspect that this new BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party or Indian People’s Party) generation is different from the old ones. More nationalistic. Loving Mother India and Cows. What a crock! What ever happened to old fashioned honest critique of traditional society? The Sangh Parivar.

Where are the Marxists? The opium of the masses has reached flood stage.

This country has so many well-meaning people, so many improvement schemes, and the only thing they cannot improve is the culture of Hinduism, caste prejudice, itself. That’s the way it seems to me.

Ambedkar was right.

I had made the plane reservation for the flight to Calcutta at noon. But now the flight has been moved back to 6:40 AM. There is nothing I can do about such an ungodly hour. Nothing! I wish these guys would get straightened out and go to bed!

Friday, December 7: Calcutta

I did crap out shortly after midnight last night. It is now noon here. I will take a little rest. I had to turn the electric punkas off in the rooms. I have a nice room. A two-room suite, actually. Wonderful! Glad that I did not go for that famous Fairlawn Hotel.

I got into the hotel and relaxed.

7:45 Evening. I have shot one roll of black and white film already today. My film is going pretty fast and I want to get some good pictures.

I had to get out of the hotel in Delhi pretty early this morning, but picked up maybe three and a half hours of sleep. I checked out shortly after four o’clock in the morning and headed for the airport. It was a quiet, eerie, foggy morning in Delhi. It seems like quite a long way to the airport, but the roads are good now. The fare was around 230 rupees. I just gave the guy 300 rupees.

The navigational system in the car tells them how to go, all in English. I have not seen that in the taxis in Turkey yet. Anyway, it would have to be in Turkish.

It was lucky that I could connect to the internet, because I had to show the time of the flight from the email that came with the changes in order to get into the airport. Everything has become too technological these days.

Even in India.

Got checked in. The airline was making offers to upgrade to first class for 120 US dollars. There was no way that I was going to do that. So maybe that is why they put me in a middle seat with a huge bear, a stuffed pig, next to me. I hate that. The guy tried to stuff his coat down between us. I made him move it, as it was taking up my space. I was glad that when he tried to leave the plane, he got it stuck in the arm rest. He refused to put it in the overhead.

The guy on the other side, next to the windows looked more decent.

The flight was fine. Smooth most of the way. So no complaints.

They served a small breakfast, a sort of pronta and curry along with a roll. Then tea too. The stewardess was from the east, maybe Manipur, a beautiful girl.

The guy next to the window started to get upset. He didn’t want the pronta and asked if there was anything else. Then when the tea came, he asked for lemon. The girl said that she would have to go and get it, since the only lemons were in business class. (That’s what the hundred dollar upgrade was for, presumably. If you don’t pay, no lemons.)

Back in the cattle class section, the passengers do not measure up to having lemons. I said to the guy: “There are only two classes: Business class and cattle class.” He liked that. But his tone was very authoritarian toward the stewardess. First, he had said to the stewardess: “I’ll ask you for tea later.”

Then, when he asked for a lemon, he said: “Make sure she squeezes it.” My goodness! Then when the tea came, he wanted to squeeze the lemon in the tea.

He said: “Bring me the lemon. I want to squeeze it.”

Well, I would have loved to squeeze some lemons, but not that kind. I am sure that her lemons would be lovely to squeeze.

Then the girl offered to bring him another tea. But by that time, it was too late. The plane was about to land. So he had to give it up. I couldn’t believe that he was making so much fuss over a fucking cup of tea!

The luggage came okay and I lined up for a prepaid taxi. There was quite a big line there, so it took some time. The rate was 250 rupees to the city. All the taxis seem to be run by the police association and they are all old Hindustan Ambassador autos. The streets are full of these old cars painted yellow, and I love it. It seems that they have disappeared from Delhi. I mean, what is an Indian city without Hindustan Ambassadors? Each receipt that one gets goes with a particular taxi and the system seems to be working very well now.

It is great that the taxi system is working very well in the Indian airports now. It used to be hell a few years ago.

There was a money change place and I had to change some money, even though the rate was not the best.

The old Hindustan Ambassador was beautifully old on the inside. I regretted that I did not have some film in my Leica as the driver had Hanuman and Ganesh on the dashboard. I had never seen that back in the late sixties. But with Saffronization it is now everywhere in India, it seems.

So-called progress.

I was ready for Kolkata. Calcutta. Ready for heaven. Ready for hell!

A River of Shit (India Blog 8)

A River of Shit (India Blog 8)

I guess that it must have been Punjab that ruined me.

After that two years, I could never really feel at home in the USA again. I just wanted to get the fuck out every time that I got a chance.

Somehow it gave me a feeling of freedom. Freedom from so-called American freedom.

Finally, I had had enough and left for good. That was in 1992. Some 27 years ago. I have never been sorry that I did for a single day. One of the best decisions I ever made in my entire lifetime.

It saved my ass.

Sometimes people ask me if I miss anything. I tell them that the only thing I miss is the poverty. It is true. In the USA, I was always short of money. Once I left, I have never felt poor again. Not since the day I left.

Life, liberty and poverty,” as one of my brilliant students wrote on his exam.

I also don’t have to feel guilty about contributing to the US imperialist war machine that has ripped up so much of the world. That has caused such a hell for so many people. Especially in the Middle East. The US makes trouble everywhere. Political security, my ass! The US destabilizes every place it hits, under the name of political stabilization. Once “stabilized,” American capital can come in and clean up in the country. Make a killing. Get the oil. Cheap labor in Vietnam. That’s the rest of the story that Americans never hear.

Global security, national security and so on.

If one just reads a little of Chomsky and one should understand it very well. But most Americans do not read that kind of thing.

I don’t know if they would understand it, the way they have been brainwashed by the system. So I cannot say how many would really get it. It is not easy to break down systematic ideological indoctrination. This is the especially true in the case of a country so religious. The religious factor is exceptionally strong in the United States of America. It can easily block rational thought.

That is another boon of living abroad. One largely escapes the constant brainwashing. Turn off the TV. Give your brain a break. Shoot the mother, like Edward Abbey did. Free yourself. Free yourself from that river of shit.

You won’t regret it.

Get off shit-face book.

Talk about the swamp in Washington? More like a cesspool, actually. The corporate media floods the country with a river of shit every single day. They call it the news cycle.

My book, USA and the New Middle East, would also be quite educational. If read. It is in some libraries in the USA and a lot of libraries in the Middle East and Europe.

All that work to write a book and no one reads it. Face-book will pretty much ensure that.

Back to Delhi.

When I got to the Regal building, I went into that restaurant in the old Bobbys corner. Pind Baluch Restaurant. At first, I thought it meant Baluch Village, but the waiter, from Utterkhand, said that Baluch just means “place.” Then I realized it must be a Punjabi restaurant, since they started playing Punjabi music.

I had chicken tika and nan. And a big Kingfisher beer. It was not as expensive as Kwality. A great restaurant! The food is better! I was hungry and the food was delicious.

After the meal, I told the guy at the door that I had known the place since it was a discotheque back in 1968, when I first came to India. It was a sports bar when I was there ten years ago in 2008. They were amazed that I knew that about the place and I don’t think either of these guys were even born at that time. It was the infamous Bobby’s. Unbelievable!

Well, I am off for Cal (Calcutta) tomorrow. Now Kolkata. I read that Jet Airways is strapped for cash and the company has not even paid their employees and pilots what they are owed. I don’t know what kind of outfit it is. Maybe it needs to merge with another airline. But the piece said that they were getting a cash infusion soon. They were asking the passengers for it the next day in the airport.

It was not good news to read before taking a flight on the airline.

This is the end of Delhi for this time. Three days, only, this time. That Chandni Chowk is the real India. That is it, undiluted.

I think that I had pulled the wool over my eyes about India. But I think that the scales have fallen now. No need to sugar coat it. The people in these cities, like Delhi, are struggling to survive and are being brutalized there in that mess. Only the very young women are sometimes very beautiful. There are some beauties, but what is their future?

Most will be hit with the tragedy of marriage.

The Red Fort (Lal Qila) (India Blog 7)

 

The Red Fort (Lal Qila) (India Blog 7)

After my photo shoot in the Moslem section, I found a pedal rickshaw and asked a guy to take me to the Lal Qila (Red Fort). He said 100 rupees. A guy nearby said: “No, only forty rupees. Not more than 50 rupees.”

I said, it is not very important, whether it is a dollar or half a dollar!

I was not going to fall, famished on the street, for fifty fucking cents.

Anyway, I got in. An old pedal rickshaw. I do not like to take them and have someone pedalling me under their own muscle power, but one has to take them in a pinch. They also have a hard seat. But the poor guy has to work hard to pedal one. I felt bad about it.

When we got to the fort, which was not very far, I realized that I only had the 500 rupee note. The guy said that he did not have the 400 change. He said that he only had 100 rupees change. So I just gave him the 500 note. I am sure that the guy needed it more than me. It was a lucky day for him.

Having enough small change with one in India is a problem and I am always in need of small bills. Rupees 20 and under and pretty useless and I generally just hand them out to beggars on the street. But they run out quickly too.

It must have been a terrible problem when the Indian Government demonitized the whole money system.

I realized that I had to put a new roll of film in the Minolta. So I needed a place to sit down to do that. I was at the entrance to the Red Fort and it was difficult to find a place. It was not like Turkey, where there would have been chai places and food places and perhaps benches to sit down and do it.

While I was looking for a place, the hawkers started to come to sell me post cards and other things. I was starting to get a little irritated and they were very persistent in harassing me.

I had to tell them, in a rather harsh way, that I was not interested and to please leave me the hell alone. I was busy doing something else. They are like small children, or a TV, howling for attention.

Then I found a low wall near the fence, where I could sit down and change the film. Some two or three school boys stood around watching me change the film.

Then a young guy came selling some kind of rice cakes. He was coming right up to me and harassing me. I said: “Well, I am doing something else right now. So I am not going to eat anything.” It was starting to get on my nerves that they would not leave me alone. It was like I was fresh meat to pounce on.

Finally, I finished changing the film and got up to go inside. I was surprised to see that there was no charge for the Red Fort there. At least, not for the outside of it. A couple of more guys came at me with post cards. These hawkers really ruin tourism in the country, the way they pester tourists. I was starting to get more irritated with them. My objective was to take some pictures and not to fool around buying post cards from them.

I have bought those cheap postcards so many times in the past, I can’t remember how many times. So I was not in the market for them at this point.

I walked inside the gate, which is outside, the perimeter of the fort and started taking pictures with my 28 mm lens on the Minolta. The view is magnificent. I had never realized how big the fort was in the past, with the massive walls and the moat.

I know that there are several special buildings inside the fort, but I did not have time for all that today. It would take a whole day to tour inside the fort. That would have to be another trip to Delhi. So I just walked around the outside of it and made pictures.

They are also still doing the Sound and Light show inside the fort that I had seen twice in the past. The first time was in 1970 and the second time was probably in 1989. It is worth seeing, if one has not seen it before.

Finally, I came around to the gate to the east. Some guys had asked me to make pictures with them along the way. They were taking selfies with their cell phones. I was surprised that so many people wanted to take their pictures with me, a complete stranger. I am not so photogenic and that time, I was actually not in a very good mood, after having to ward off so many pesty hawkers. But I was glad to meet people that were not interested in selling me something.

Chandni Chowk (Old Delhi)

(India Blog 6)

Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi

6:45. Evening. A good day. Good pictures, I hope. Shot about three and a half rolls of film. More than a hundred frames. The last color one is still in the Minolta. It is a good thing that I had that 28 mm lens. I needed it. I had never realized just how massive the Red Fort is. The Lal Qila.

I spent almost the whole day in Chandni Chowk. I didn’t eat or drink there. And I didn’t carry any water as I had the cameras.

Anyway, it is very different from Paharganj. A big Gurdwara there, but I was on the wrong side of the road to photograph it fully.

After that, I wandered back into another area that was totally Moslem. There were at least two big mosques there. One has to get out of the most crowded areas to get decent photos. That is, to even start to frame them anywhere decently.

I sat down on a cement stairway next to a shop to change my film. I realized that it was a good place to take street shots and no one was bothering me there. It was right on the street. So I just kept sitting there. It was right across from a huge mosque. As far as I can tell, I didn’t have anyone trying to steal my bag today.

I still have 1400 rupees out of that first one-hundred dollars that I changed, and it is probably enough to get me to Calcutta. And probably to the Hotel Lytton too. But I would like to change money at the airport if I can. I will be packed up and ready to go tomorrow. The flight is at 6:40, morning. I need to be there two hours before the flight. So I will leave the hotel at a little after four in the morning.

Today was generally quite good. I had to get rid of a couple of hawkers at the Red Fort. They come at you in a very aggressive way with those post cards and other things. Sometimes one has to be quite hard to get them to stop harassing one.

In the morning, it was farther to the Chandni Chowk area than I expected. And there was a lot of traffic. I got down to that big main street. There were families of monkeys walking along the buildings on the opposite side of the street. There was massive traffic, and the middle of the street was all dug out. They were apparently putting in a pipeline. I made some pictures there, but it was too crowded to do any proper framing. The streets were jam packed with rickshaws, cars, small vans and trucks. Even a few bullock carts.

I went into a side street. The sun was coming at an interesting angle, making it rather difficult to shoot black and white film. The electrical wiring was unbelievable, the way the cables were wound up and tangled together. I spent some time trying to photograph that. It was just amazing and quite easy to photograph, really. No one put up any resistance to my photography.

I went inside a smaller lane. This was really better for framing the shots.

When I came out on another street, it had shifted to an Islamic area. I was in front of a large mosque. There were some interesting characters on the street and I began to photograph them. At first, I was just walking, doing what I could. I sat down on a side street, near a stairs, to change the film in the Minolta.

But them, I started shooting black and white film with the Leica M6.

I shot almost a whole roll of 36 frames right there in the same spot. I was sort of back from the street rather out of site. I realized that it was a good place from which to shoot the street. The light was good for black and white, out of the direct sunlight. People had no idea that I was taking pictures of them. It was also a help that there were so many things going on and much confusion. I was not being noticed. There was a constant parade of people walking on the street, where there were no sidewalks.

After a while, an old Moslem guy came with a cart and set up a peanut stand just to the right of me. And he asked me to make his picture. But after that, he acted like he wanted a tip. Unfortunately at the time, I didn’t have any change, and the smallest thing I has was a 500 rupee note. I made a couple more pictures of him while he was selling peanuts.

Young children were coming from a school, packed into rickshaws. There must have been ten or more packed into each rickshaw. That was their school bus. Many people were just walking on the street in rather local colorful outfits, so it was a good place to get local pictures.

Finally, I figured that it was enough in that spot. I walked on and was rather hungry and thirsty by that time. I thought about where I should go. I thought of that Moti Mahal Restaurant that I had made a note of. I knew that it was not too far from there, near the Red Fort.

But first to the Red Fort.

Early Morning Reflections (India Blog 5)

India 2: Early Morning Reflections (India Blog 5)

6 December. 3:30 AM. Thursday. This guy in the next room is snoring incredibly loud. I have been hearing it since I woke up around 2:30. It even disturbs me here in my room. The walls must be pretty thin, for sure.

Yesterday, I was accosted by a woman on the street claiming that she wanted help for children in Bangladesh. Sure enough, she presented a petition of sorts. She claimed that several foreigners had signed it. I saw names and “USA” beside the names. But I didn’t examine it closely.

First, she said: “No Money. Just sign.”

I said: “How will my signature help?” I said that I don’t have any information about it. I didn’t sign and just started walking away. Then she asked for some money. I am sure that if I had signed it, she would have hooked me for some money for sure. Bangladesh, my ass. How would I know if this is anything legitimate? Probably a scam. Why not? Is Bangladesh more needy than India? Where are the signatures of Indians? Anyway, I have no way of knowing, so it would be foolish to give money. If you just walk away, they will not follow you.

She was operating in Paharganj, where a lot of foreigners hang out.

Then I went a little way out of the main street. There were vegetable markets there. A old guy with a white beard came holding a round metal container in one hand. He asked me for money. I thought, Okay. I will give him twenty rupees. But he wouldn’t take it. “One-hundred rupees,” he said. It was like he was bargaining about how much I would give. Then I heard him say: “Five-hundred rupees.” And “why the hell should I give you five-hundred rupees when I know nothing about you and have never seen you before?” I thought.

Another guy wanted to shine my shoes. I had just had them shined, so I was not interested. He said: “Oh, just brush them for twenty rupees.” I said: “They don’t need it, but here is twenty rupees, anyway.” And I walked away. There was no need to waste my time with that. Some kids there just call to you: “Money.” It seems that the foreigners have got them trained in that part of Delhi. They have trained a new generation of beggars.

It is hardly different from “Go Fund Me” on the internet, I must say. That is just high-tech begging. The Western form. Welcome to corporate capitalism. So-called neoliberalism. A new form, when today’s capitalist economies will not provide jobs for many people. At least not the kind that they can tolerate.

So everybody is out for something. But it is unfortunate because after a while, one starts to see everyone who approaches you as wanting something from you. Their friendliness is just feigned to put a hook into you and get something out of you. It is not always that way, but one starts to get that impression. It is because they have actually been spoiled by the foreigners that stay down there in Pahargunj.

I didn’t find the beggars as bad as in Hyderabad, but maybe it was because I was with some American women there. And here, they see that I am busy taking pictures and don’t want to be bothered. It is an institution. Giving will just perpetuate and strengthen it. Probably, there is no solution that the government or anyone can reach. Not under the current system. Sometimes, one feels that Indira Gandhi had the right idea. Mass Sterilizations. There is something to be said for corporatism in such a dire situation. Probably that is what it would take. And it would necessarily be cruel. Some way to control the population. Over population. It is actually not a myth, as one realizes in India. It cannot be said that it is not a problem here.

Most people are forced to deal with it by just looking the other way. It is the only way to cope with it.

I think some type of corporatist rule from the top would be the only way to approach it. Not what they call “democracy” now. I hate to say that, but perhaps it is true. Where are they going? Where have they gone? Everybody with their own car or auto rickshaw or even bicycle just clogs up all the roads.

The mass production of sub-standard individuals who have little or no education. Even the rats have to struggle less than the people to survive here. They are exporting labor. The cheap kind and some of the expensive kind, in the form of doctors and professors.

There must be some limit. Escaping to the USA is not the right thing, either.

I admit that it is bad to come to the country and take pictures for two weeks, like in a zoo, and then get out. Maybe it is wrong. I don’t know. But I didn’t create the situation. Actually, I spent two years of my life thinking that I might do something worth while in this country.

It was all illusion. Nonsense. I don’t know if anyone really believed in that. The so-called “Peace Corps.” I don’t know. The Peace Corps officials were just getting a job and a chance to travel and live abroad. A good deal while it lasted. Nehru knew that it was a joke but did not want to displease Jack Kennedy and his brother in law, Shriver. He had upper class manners and played along.

With all the recent economic growth in India, people, masses of them, are now just eking out a tiny living. The economy goes up. Everything else seems to go south.

Except in rich, elite, families. The only decent-looking young women and girls are those not yet hit by the tragedy of marriage.

But it is still a hell of an interesting society.

I read a few things in the Hindustan Times, and old newspaper. The government is now setting up cow shelters. Well, one generally does not see them on the streets here, like in Varanasi. It seems like the Modi Government is doing more for cows than for people. What a society! It has just happened in some village not far from Delhi. Clearly, one is better off being a cow.

God! Gott! What a fanatacism over cows. The cows are better off than the vast majority of women.

10:30 Morning. I am about to head out for Chandni Chowk, Kashmiri Gate. At four o’clock, I was not sleeping, so I took a pill and slept until after eight.

Tomorrow to Cal! Calcutta! Here I come.

Delhi in the Evening (India Blog 3)

 

India Blog Three: Delhi in the Evening

5 December. Wednesday. 3:00 AM. I have developed a sore throat and I think it is from being a little cold on the plane. And the flimsy blanket they gave me was not enough. After that long march through the airport, my T-shirt was damp from perspiration. That is one of the perils of travel. I woke up now at three in the morning, but got a good sleep since last evening. I am feeling much better. I was quite out of it yesterday.

Man! I am not sold on this society. It seems that so many people are trying to leech off of you. Not everybody. But almost. But maybe I can handle it better coming from Turkey than if I was just fresh from the USA. I think that is probably the case.

I was able to shoot a roll of film in the evening yesterday, with a minimum of molestation. But one must be very careful walking on the uneven pavements and curbs. All of the surroundings are quite rough.

I crossed the big street over to the old Regal Cinema Building. There is an underpass, but I did not realize it at first. There is massive traffic on these streets now, so it is not easy to cross without using the underpass. Almost all are cars, with a few auto rickshaws. There are no old pedal rickshaws now in this area of Connaught Place, that I can see.

I walked and made some evening pictures under the lights. But some of the white lights are just too bright. The old Kwality Restaurant was starting but customers started coming around eight o’clock. So I decided to wait. I walked around to the other side of the building. There is a new Punjabi Restaurant on the corner called Pind Baluch. That place keeps changing. It was a sports bar ten years ago, when I was in Delhi. They have a door-man dressed in a turban and robe. The place looks expensive, but that is deceptive. Perhaps expensive by Indian standards. Middle class.

I could not see any sign of the old Gaylords Restaurant. Is it still there? It used to be close to that cinema. I went there the first night that I was in Delhi in June 1968.

But that was nothing like the scene now. A lot of markets are set up in the evening outside. They are selling woollen things, like sweaters, that look good. They must be cheap. However, I am not in the market for them.

I walked farther, and there the place has really turned into massive saffronization, I can say. There was a whole array of shops selling sweets and Hindu bric-a-bac. It was colorful and a good night for pictures, even black and white. I do not use a flash. I am pushing black and white film for evening shots.

People were walking and sitting around everywhere. Lone individuals too. They stake out a place for themselves on the pavement, making something or selling something, trying to live. Somehow or other, I would say.

In the daytime, young guys just set up a small stand along the walkway, selling something. Things like golies or other sweets or food. Also drinks. That’s what the economy has produced, it seems.

They are part of the surplus army of this society. Karl Marx understood the future.

Back to the night scene. I walked there and took pictures without being heckled much or harassed. As one walks around, some guys or women call out to you, saying “hello” or something. One can just ignore them. What can they do when one does not respond? When one acts deaf and dumb. So that is what I did. I took several pictures of the street shops. There was generally not enough light to take pictures of the people. One needed a flash. But I don’t think that it would be very easy to use there.

Near that old Bobby’s corner, where the restaurant is now, a guy and his friend asked to make a picture with me. I didn’t mind. Another guy took the picture with his cell phone. Cell phones are the only cameras that I have seen here, so far. No one seems to use film. But I know that there are a few in India that do. It is next to impossible to find in India.

After that, I asked to take a picture of these guys. It was a good chance, and one cannot do it with everybody. Sometimes I wait and get a shot of someone that I want. If I am lucky. And they do not even know. That is what I want. Candid shots. I pretend to be taking a photo of something else. That generally works. Last evening, so much was happening there that few people were noticing me moving around to frame shots.

The masses are eating cheap things off the street from all kinds of small vendors.

I finished the roll of film and went to the old Kwality Restaurant. This restaurant has been upgraded, since I was here ten years ago. Now there is an upstairs section. It is elegant inside. There are framed black and white pictures along the walls. Historical pictures of figures who have eaten there. So it has some taste. Some people started coming in after eight o’clock. There is a door-man. Maitre de? He takes one in and shows them a place.

I ordered a beer. A kingfisher. It is from Mohan Meaken. I asked the waiter about Golden Eagle Beer, from the same company. He said that it had disappeared 20 to 25 years ago. That shows how up to date I am! But this was not the big 650 ml bottles. It was one-third liter. I love the bigger ones, that I found later in other restaurants.

A couple of groups came into the restaurant. A young attractive women came in hot pants and bare legs, with her boyfriend, of course.

The other group was more upscale. The women were generally attractive. I could partly overhear the conversation. They speak more English than Hindi, but it is a mixture. I clandestinely took pictures of both groups.

I ordered a type of chicken curry in a sauce. I didn’t know how it would come out, but the chicken were without bones in the spicy sauce. I had two nans with it. I should have had the puffy puris, but the nans were actually delicious. I had two beers with the meal and then decided to have another beer. Most meat dishes are are around 500 rupees, less than ten dollars. So not expensive. I lingered over the third beer. It was around 125 rupees for a beer. They added a service charge, but I gave a tip anyway.

I realize that I need to change more money. I got 65 rupees to a dollar at the airport, but it was not a very good rate. It hardly matters with the amounts that I will spend. The whole bill was around 1600 rupees, around twenty-five dollars. But it is a nice elegant place with class. More so than in the past, it seems. The food was excellent.

On the way back to the hotel, I bought some bottles of water, just twenty rupees each. I saw the old book store there that I visited ten years ago. But it looks quite run down now.

A little further on was a restaurant, that would be quite cheap. It looked like a good place, but there was a crowd outside waiting for seats. Further on were some small restaurants and a place that advertised money change. I don’t know if these places are legal or not. One has to have a receipt to change money back to dollars when leaving.

When I was going out of the hotel earlier, the clerk called up someone. I understood that he said he was an American, but I misunderstood. He was an Indian. Then he gave the phone to me. When I answered, the guy asked: “What do you want?”

I had not asked for anything, really.

I said: “Peace, Love and Brotherhood. But the world is not going in that way.”

But it wasn’t exactly what the guy was asking for. He wanted to pitch me tours. That was his angle.

He said: “Agra, Varanasi and so on.”

I told him that I was not interested. I had been to those places before. I guess that it was a mistake, but I told him that I was going to Kolkata. He asked me how. I said “by plane.” It was OK to talk to him. The good thing is that people speak English. But now, they are angling for a way to hook you for a profit. They seem to think that one just lands in the country with no agenda and they can just arrange travel on the spot. It may be the case with quite a few people.

If I wanted a tour to those places, I could arrange it myself. I would have already arranged it. I am not that naive! Oh well! Those are my midnight ramblings.

On the street, this country is interesting, partly because it is so impossible. So impossible. One sees how so many efforts at improvements have just fallen by the wayside. It turns every effort to dust, it seeems. People just go their own ways to the temples and gurus. There are endless markets for those. And a Prime Minister who is a rank communalist. I don’t pretend to know anything about Modi and Hindu Fascism. It is so thick everywhere that one could cut it with a knife. I pose as a naive tourist.

It was a hell of a day. I talked to a lot of people. Too many people know English.

On the Streets of Calcutta (Kolkata)

 

A walk in Calcutta in December 2018. There is much clutter in streets in Indian cities. It is sometimes difficult to isolate subjects for good framing. But one perhaps gets the idea of what goes on in Indian streets.

Pictures taken with a Leica M6. Leica Summarit 35 mm f 2.5 lens. Kodak Tri-X film shot at ISO 1600. Developed with Kodak HC-110 developer.

Street food is everywhere on the streets in Calcutta. It provides cheap meals for the many who could not afford to go to a restaurant. Efficient, even if sometimes disorderly.

Shops near Nakhoda Masjid (a large mosque) in the Moslem district.

A busy street

A lot of transportation by human power.

Goats and dogs share the street.

Street markets. Colorful, but I do black and white.

Carrying goods by rickshaw is common.

Street food for goats too.

A meat shop.

More Street Food.

Street life

Tata Trucks

Long Road Ahead for a human draft animal.

Loading Up

Entrance to Nakhoda Masjid (Mosque)

Street Restaurant

The Red Rose

Local Street Toughs. They asked me for dollars.

The old Rickshaw, waiting for the human horse.

Trees grow out of an elegant old building on a main street.

Gateway to Paradise

Busy Street

Corner Shop

Street Life

Heavy Load. One way to carry it.

Moti Mahal Guest House

That’s a lot of street life on one roll of film. One section of a great and dynamic city. One can come to love it, the same way one loves any great city in the world.