Child of Ganga


Posted in Uncategorized by Nadia Kamil on November 25, 2008

Daughter of construction worker along Ganga

Benaras seems at first to be a rather photogenic place — the colours, the mad flurry of activities, the uninhibited curiosity of the locals. I wish my eyes were a camera, my eyelids the shutter and every blink the permanent imprint of an image. This physical camera I am holding restrains me. There is something disgusting, almost vulgar, about pointing a camera at certain sorts of people without talking to them first, but they do not want conversation; what can it do for them? Give me your watch, they say. Your shoes. Give me food, give me money. It is tempting, but even more vulgar would be to turn this into some kind of transaction so I just move on. Whenever someone asks me for some kind of payment after I take their photo, I delete it and show them that it’s gone. It’s frustrating and very, very depressing.

I walk along the ghats in the afternoon, talking to people along the way. There is Raj, 12, who wants to go to France and become a doctor. Manoj, 24, who is an “untouchable” and works at the cremation ghat. The boatman with three very young sons who leap nimbly from boat to boat, the dhoby who owns a silk shop in the city.

I pass by a shop selling train tickets and enquire about the price for a return ticket to Kanpur. The man quotes Rs 800 (AC 3).

In the evening, Nandan invites me to a wedding party. I have nothing appropriate to wear so his wife, Bunti, says she will lend me her lehanga and I thank her gratefully. She hands me a turquoise-coloured piece of cloth, which is the choli (blouse) and tells me to get changed. It is skimpy, midriff-baring and very pretty. I try to ignore the fact that I look like a cross-dresser in it. Then she helps me get changed into the long, heavy skirt and applies kohl on my eyes and a bindi on my forehead. Just when I think I am done, she hands me a necklace, a bangle and sandals. Rinki helps to drape the lehanga cloth around me. I have just been given a complete Indian makeover. Bunti, Rinki and Nandan’s mother laugh at how uncomfortable I look. I feel like a statue; it takes great effort to move. The ensemble is completed with my camera hanging around my neck.

There are five of us going to the party so we take two rickshaws. When we arrive, we are greeted with music, dance, people cheering… it feels like I have just stepped into a Bollywood movie. The atmosphere is that of raw joy and the smiles are contagious. I am introduced to a few of Bunti’s relatives. I sit beside Gullu, a very well-mannered and friendly 15-year-old girl from Delhi. She tells me this is the first wedding in the family in about a decade so she absolutely would not miss it despite being in the midst of exams.

We reach home from the party at midnight — Nandan walks back while the rest of us squeeze into a rickshaw. It has been an incredible experience and I clumsily thank Bunti and Rinki for everything, then I get changed and go to bed.

I think I will sleep in today.


4 Responses

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  1. yun said, on November 25, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    nadia, i would give anything in the world to see u in ur indian makeover. topped off with erm, a dslr hanging down your neck.

  2. hazariah said, on November 25, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    i would give anything right now to just go to Varanasi — i check this web every hour for updates!

    PEEKTURES! dont disappoint me, India is swimming everywhere in my head!

  3. Hee-haw said, on November 26, 2008 at 2:02 am

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!! OMG!!! I TOTALLY CAN IMAGINE HOW “GORGEOUS” YOU LOOK! ESPECIALLY with DSLR Camera as your necklace! HAHAHAHAHAHAH! Make sure you show us the photo and I will treat you one piece of daim cake. :D

  4. regina said, on November 26, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    gorgeous photo!!!

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