I thought I’d just share some stories with you, this is really part 2 but I didn’t write part one yet, of me ending up at Sai Baba’s Ashram for 3 days instead of Sri Lanka. I will soon though. But here is what happened after I left the 75 cents a night ashram and took a bus, motorcycle, car, rickshaw and airplane to go meet Matty at the super 5 star hotel the TAJ PALACE in Mumbai. I love going from one extreme to another.
India is great. But it’s such a mixture of rich and poor. I started out at an Ashram for 75 cents a night. Then went to the best 5 star hotel in the country and at the same time was exploring all aspects of Mumbai, from rich to poor. It’s weird, you go these religious places that the guide books recommend and well lets take this Muslim Tomb in the sea for example. It is like a 10 minute walk down a zig zagging cement pier. On the left side are people selling little bull shit items, on the right side is a non-stop line of homeless, armless, legless, crippled, people begging for money. At one point I passed a baby of maybe 1 year or so old sleeping by itself on the concrete, sound asleep with no one around him, just lying there. Other kids are running around half naked playing. Everyone just stared at me as I walked to the mosque, mainly because I had my 4x5 camera over my shoulder but also because I was one of 3 tourists that I saw there that day. The poverty is really startling at times. But people with money, or some money, all have drivers and helpers, which is the norm, and I’m kind of getting use to that here, I like it actually, a lot. People take care of you so much hear, it is amazing. They refuse to let you carry your bags in the airport, or open a car door, anything. And they do it always with a great smile, everything they do is with a smile, except when the police stop you from photographing.
I have had many ‘unofficial tour guides”, these are people that always just end up hanging out with me, strangers, and show me around, and to place I never would have seen and that most tourists might miss. The 1st day in Mumbai, this guy gave me directions to the Friday Mosque, then he said “come on, I’ll show you” I knew at the end of the day he might want some money but I followed him anyway. I knew I could get away if I wanted to but I just went with it. He showed me the indoor market which was amazing, this old British building, most of them are in Mumbai (old British Architecture, and really strikingly beautiful). Then we walked through the streets of the outdoor “markets” where each block was a different item for sale. One block is all silk, the next block all school supplies, etc, at the end of the street was the “Friday Mosque” so I started shooting handheld with my 6x7. By the way the streets were jam packed with people, cars, motorcycles, absolute craziness.
The next day:
When I entered the Mosque area the guard did not stop me, to my surprise, at other Mosques I had to say I was Muslim and give them my first name Wyatt as my Surname (it is a Muslim Surname in Trinidad) (oh, I started telling people I’m from either Canada or Trinidad because when I said the US I got very poor responses and I felt it was putting me in a dangerous spot at times.) So basically, that morning in order to enter the one Synagogue I confirmed my Jewishness to the guard who then allowed me to photograph, then at the Hindu Temple I showed them my newly acquired Sai Baba necklace and then at the Mosque I said I am Muslim Ha Salaam Halaquim (sp) in order to get in. which is all basically true in a sense anyway, just not how they probably thought it.
I couldn’t photograph inside either Hindu Temple or Mosque. So what I did was just set up my 4x5 camera on the tripod about 60 feet from the Temple. I asked someone random guy if I could photograph him, he said no at first. Then this other person asked what I was doing and I took a Polaroid of him and gave it to him. He said “how Much?” I said “it’s free”. Next thing I knew I was surrounded by about 20 people, and I mean surrounded as in elbow distance, all wanting there picture taken. It was impossible to only get one person in the frame. Everyone just huddled around all sides of the camera. But I just kept shooting, one sheet of film and then one sheet of 4x5. 10 minutes later, and right when I was about to shoot the shot I was really waiting for of an older Hindu lady in sari holding the prayer offerings plate that they give to Mother Lakshmi, a police officer walked up and ordered me to stop shooting and told everyone to disperse. People argued with him and begged him to let me to continue but he sternly order me to walk away and actually escorted me away. Then when I was trying to shoot more in the small road around the corner, he came again and yelled at me and walked with me to the main road where he told the traffic officer something to the effect of making sure I leave. I thought it was funny. So then I went to this Muslim Tomb that is out in the ocean that I mentioned earlier. And I set up the camera again and this time I had at least 30 people surrounding me asking for photos, I ran out of polaroids. But I stayed there as long as I could, shooting Muslim men and women, but I can never get the shot I want of a Muslim woman in all black with her face covered but eyes piercing though. Anyway, it was interesting, I was in a situation where anything could have happened and no one would have known. I basically just put myself in the hands of destiny, not that it was an “unsafe” place but it was a place where I didn’t know anyone and a place that I didn’t know anything about. And here I am as an American, living under “Bush the Butcher” surrounded by all Muslims India with my big 4x5 camera and a good amount of money in my back pocket which I forgot to transfer to my front. And nothing happened except that I became everyone’s best friend. At some point I stopped taking photos because everyone wanted to get there photo taken with me! They have photographers there that take your photo in front of the holy mosque or the beautiful view of the ocean and city of Mumbai. People began to drag these guys over to get shots of themselves posing with me. It was crazy, and enriching. Everyday has been in a different way. By the way Mumbai is a beautiful city, very dynamic. I would love to live there for a while.
So now Matty and I are in Bangalore, Silicon Valley of India, where the weather is that perfect Spring weather with deep blue skies but most of the city is covered in a sandy dirty dust. But we are at the Taj West End which is so unbelievably beautiful. It is a huge estate and we have a veranda which is where I am sitting now, listening to all sorts of birds chirping and just relaxing, a first for me. I always feel I need to be photographing at all times while traveling. I though today I might just enjoy this amazing 5 star hotel!
PS: my stomach is doing fine, I know you were wondering ;) the food is great!