The end of Delhi’s street culture?

I was saddened but entirely unsurprised to see in a recent BBC report that Delhi’s excellent street hawkers were being evicted before the Commonwealth Games. With grinding monotony it seems that vegetable sellers, cobblers, presswallahs, hawkers and other undesirables that the city depend on are being moved off – often despite applying for licenses that never come.

According to the National Association of Street Vendors, Delhi has something like 350000 hawkers that sell their wares on the streets. Most live a hand-to-mouth existence and, if they are the main breadwinners in families of perhaps five people, the economic fallout from a large section of Delhi’s working class will be enormous.

The streetwallah’s plight follows Delhi’s drive to evict as many beggars and ‘undesirables’ from the city as it can. Andrew Buncombe’s piece for the Independent here is worth reading.

Earlier this year I read a fascinating book, Trickster City; an anthology of writings from the ‘belly of the metropolis’ by young, working class writers dealing with slum life and eviction. A voice rarely heard – an almost Dickensian cityscape rarely seen by Westerners and desperate to be hidden by the State authorities.

The irony is that many countries celebrate their street culture – especially food – and make them a tourist attraction: one has only to think of Singapore and Vietnam. Delhi’s depressing desire to imitate a corporate driven monoculture is certain to lead to a lessening of the city’s heritage.

My images start with Kishori Lal and his family. Lal, a tailor from Rajasthan, set up his little stall outside the wall of a ‘big man’ twenty two years ago. He takes up the story: “There was no footpath here then. The tree that you see on the footpath is standing on a narrow strip of land between two sewage lines that run underneath. I asked the maali (gardener) to plant it there and got
the sapling for him. If I have any trouble, the Saheb helps me out. After so many years here, like this tree I have also taken roots in Delhi. But who belongs to this place? Even the sahibs are from outside.”

India - New Delhi - Kishori Lal, a tailor and his family under an Ashoka tree

India - Delhi - A paan wallah making paan in Old Delhi. Paan consists of chewing Betel leaf (Piper betle) combined with the areca nut. It is chewed as a palate cleanser and a breath freshener. It is also commonly offered to guests and visitors as a sign of hospitality and as an "ice breaker" to start conversation. It also has a symbolic value at ceremonies and cultural events in south and southeast Asia. Paan makers may use mukhwas or tobacco as an ingredient in their paan fillings. Although most types of paan contain areca nuts as a filling, some do not. Other types include what is called sweet paan, where sugar, candied fruit and fennel seeds are used.
India - Delhi - A street vendor frying potato cakes on a stall
India - Delhi - A street vendor frying potato cakes on a stall
India - Delhi - A Chai Wallah or tea maker makes tea in Old Delhi, India. Traditionally Indian tea is a mixture of tea leaves, water, sugar and sometimes spices boiled together and strained into cups
India - Delhi - A man eats a plate of street food
India - Delhi - A man eats street food bought from a hawker

The women and the mountain

In an extraordinary and wonderful turn of events, I have just heard that India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has blocked Vedanta Resources’ controversial plan to mine bauxite on the sacred hills of the Dongria Kondh tribe.

Vedanta Resources, a UK-registered ftse -100 company wanted to mine The Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa which are sacred to  Dongria Kondhs, a protected tribal group of ‘original’ Aboriginal peoples.

According to Survival International, Mr Ramesh said Vedanta has shown a ’shocking’ and ‘blatant disregard for the rights of the tribal groups’. The Minister has also questioned the legality of the massive refinery Vedanta has already built below the hills.

I wrote about this back in May 2009 (India – Vedanta’s shame) and also for Tehelka in late 2007 (Knocked Out by Bauxite).

Here are some images from the story.

India - Orissa - Dabu Limajhi, a Dongria Kondh tribal woman in Kankasarpa village, shares a joke with friends in her house
India - Orissa - Dabu Limajhi, a Dongria Kondh tribal woman in Kankasarpa village
India - Orissa - A Dongria Kondh woman carries a pot of water on her head in front of the Vedanta plant, Lanjigargh

India - Orissa - sunset over the Niyamgiri hills. The hills are sacred to the Dongria Kondh and are worshipped as a deity

Iraq Inc. or how a withdrawl is really not…

Today’s newspapers are full of jubilant American troops leaving Iraq after completing their mission to bring peace, democracy and their ‘way of life’ to the uncivilised. A tremendous success. The ‘surge’ worked and all those Allied soldiers didn’t die in vain.

Well, not true. The war, born of a lie, born of greed and evil has been a disaster for America and for the world. There is also no end to the violence: more civilians died last month in Iraq than in Afghanistan. There is no political settlement and the Iraqi Resistance is as strong as it ever was. The Occupation hasn’t ended, it’s just been privatised. Apparently there around 10000 armed mercenaries in the country working in the State Department’s interests and the American’s want this increased (Blackwater helpfully calls this ‘the coming surge’). Of course the advantages of having cheap mercenary armies made up of contractors (notably from the Developing World) are clear: cost and (non) accountability. In any case, someone has to patrol the oil fields under (long, probably illegal) contract to the Americans and their friends joyfully raping Iraq’s natural resources.

Still, we haven’t really seen this. What we have seen is the war as viewed from the back of American and (sometimes) British armoured cars. It’s rare to see or hear Iraqi voices despite the war lasting seven years and we’ve generally had to endure the war through embedding and spin. The few cracks in the information blackout have been enlightening but as rare and as elusive as peace itself.

Iraq - Baghdad - Two women wearing chador gossip and laugh on the street

Iraq- Basra - Boys climb what is know locally as the tree of Adam at Al Qurnah near Basra. The Holy Tree, according to the legend marked the Garden of Eden, at the convergence of the Euphrates and the Tigris Rivers

Iraq- Baghdad - A man in the Oum Kalsoum cafe

Iraq - Babylon - The restored walls of the Temple complex. Babylon, an ancient city when mention in the Bible is dated at around the 24th Century BC. In 1985, Saddam Hussein started rebuilding the city on top of the old ruins (because of this, artifacts and other finds may well be buried under the city), investing in both restoration and new construction. To the dismay of archaeologists, he inscribed his name on many of the bricks in imitation of Nebuchadnezzar. One frequent inscription reads: "This was built by Saddam Hussein, son of Nebuchadnezzar, to glorify Iraq".

Iraq - Mosul - A Yezidi priest lights a lamp in a religious service at a Yezidi temple. The Yazidis believe in God as creator of the world, which he placed under the care of seven angels the chief of whom is Melek Taus - the Peacock Angel. Speculation that worship of Melek Taus was worship of Satan (who fell) have resulted in Yezidi's being persecuted as 'devil worshippers' throughout their history and persecuted.

Iraq - Mosul - An old Yezidi woman

Iraq - Ur- A man walks past the ziggurat at Ur, supoosedly the city of the prophet Abraham's birth. Ur was a principal city of ancient Mesopotamia. The Ziggurat was dedicated to the moon and was built approximately in the 21st century BC by king Ur-Namma. In Sumerian times it was called Etemennigur.

Iraq - Basra - A shepherd boy and his flock
Iraq- Basra - A shepherd boy and his flock

Iraq - Samarra - A man climbs the minaret of the Al-Mutawakkil mosque. The first mosque, built in 836, has now disappeared; it was replaced in 849-852 by a new mosque built on a grand scale, which for a long time was the largest mosque of the Islamic world. It continued to be used until the end of the 11th century.

Iraq - Basra - A boat on the River Euphrates at sunset

Grace Robertson

I’ve been away and somehow missed this piece in the Telegraph about one of my favourite and ridiculously under-rated photographers, Grace Robertson. I’ve always admired her understated and subtle work – especially Mother’s Day Off – first for Picture Post and then Life. Apparently, she was forced, for a time in such a male profession, to work under a pseudonym – Dick Muir – and I saw her work sometimes printed as a young photographer at Bert Hardy’s old darkroom in Waterloo. Wonderful, elegant pictures.

Shadow People

A taste of a new project that I started to work on this year about the mental health crisis in Delhi is showcased by my agency Panos here.

The poor have fallen out of the narrative of modern India. Delhi, the nation’s capital, has been transformed into a vibrant, wealthy metropolis. But where extremes of wealth tread, illness and despair follow, and Delhi is today in the grip of a mental health crisis.

An estimated 20 million Indians suffer from serious mental disorders, many of them hidden from public view by their families. Delhi is a city of migrants and every day thousands more arrive to try to escape the poverty of the village. Many will remain homeless, divorced from the traditional family structure and culture. Delhi’s army of homeless is conservatively estimated to number around 100,000 people. Mental illness in this group is treated either by violence from the rest of the community or traditional ‘quack’ or faith healers. Delhi has had a traumatic history. The city was destroyed by the British in 1857, by Partition nearly a century later and riven by anti-Sikh violence in 1984 after Indira Gandhi’s murder. It seems to me that Delhi has lost a great deal of its culture and sense of itself; a dangerous thing to lose. A psychiatrist might contend that by its rampant consumerism it is trying to ‘feed itself’ an identity.

Nimesh Desai, head of psychiatry at the New Delhi-based Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences, estimates that India has fewer than 4,000 psychiatrists, and even fewer general mental health professionals. ‘The lack of psychiatrists is bad and the shortage of psychologists, social workers and councellors is even more alarming,’ Desai told me. ‘It meets about five to seven percent of the projected need.’ Desai has however attempted a solution. After eight years of intense lobbying, his team have started to conduct weekly open air surgeries for the mentally ill homeless in Old Delhi. He is accompanied by a High Court judge who assesses each patient to decide whether or not Desai can inject them with anti-psychotic drugs. On rare occasions he sections them to his mental hospital in the east of the city.

India - Delhi - A homeless mentally ill man picks up a rock to throw at passing traffic

India - Delhi - A mentally ill man kisses his wife who visits him in the secure ward

India - New Delhi - A Pir, exorcises a spirit from a mentally troubled who believes herself possessed at a dargah (shrine) in South Delhi

The Word

It’s amazing what you find in the ‘papers these days. I opened the Grauniad this morning and found a cover feature on The Word.

The Word was a ground breaking (in terms of taste and errr… editorial judgement) British ‘yoof’ television show that showcased music and heralded the ‘reality’ concept that you find everywhere on television nowadays.

I was assigned by the Times Magazine to do a feature about the show in the mid-nineties. I stumbled upon the trannies (or most of them) a couple of years ago and managed to scan perhaps a dozen. I put them onto my archive. And them forgot about them. Until this morning. Now, I suppose the hard working busy picture desk on G2 could have searched for them but instead, they simply ran an entire feature with screengrabs…

Here’s a bit of a selection…

UK - London - Terry Christian in rehearsals for the cult British Television show, "The Word"

UK - London - A stage hand raises signage before transmission of the cult British TV show, "The Word"
UK - London - Members of the audience prepare to dance on the cult British television show, "The Word"
UK - London - Mark Lammar lights a cigarette in his dressing room before an edition of the cult British television show, "The Word"
UK - London - Audience members before transmission of the cult TV show "The Word"
UK - London - Mark Lammar in rehearsals for the cult British Television show, "The Word"

“This is a big inconvenience for me…”

So, apparently, it was a “big inconvenience” for Naomi Campbell to appear before the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague yesterday… words fail me. Sometimes perhaps it’s just best to let people hang themselves by their own words: their own ignorance (“I’d never heard of Liberia…”) and their own selfishness. Of course it’s also a “little inconvenient” to have your arms/legs/noses/genitals hacked off with machetes by rebels financed by illegal diamond mining. But I digress… here are some more “inconveniences”…

Sierra Leone - Freetown - A young girl, with obvious trauma, constantly counts her remaining fingers after rebels cut off her left hand as part of a campaign of terror directed against the civilian population. Murraytown Amputee Camp.

Sierra Leone - Makeni - A woman brutally injured by rebels in an unsuccessful attempt to cut off her arm. The arm is now completely lifeless. The amputees carry the visible scars of the Sierra Leonian conflict on their bodies - a constant and painful reminder of the cruelty and damaged psyches of the years of war

Sierra Leone - Makeni - Isatu, 34, shot through the vagina by rebels after rape.

Sierra Leone - Freetown - Safia, 14 was forced to watch her father murdered. Because she cried, the rebels dripped molten plastic into her eyes. Milton Margai School for the Blind

“I’ll read my bloody ‘paper where I want to…”

I spotted this chap defiantly reading his morning ‘paper in the middle of the street in Paris recently on assignment for a magazine. He’s reading La Tribune, so maybe he’s playing the markets…

France - Paris - An elderly man reads his newspaper on the street on the Rue Mouffetard.

Here’s a couple of more images – not from the edit set – that I liked from the same job.

France - Paris - Graffitti and apples on a stall in the market on the Rue Mouffetard.

France - Paris - A baker pulls croissants from the oven at the Maison Morange Patisserie on the Rue Mouffetard

Archives – rediscovered images 1

I’m currently going through a rather time consuming process with a really excellent editor, to upgrade my website and portfolios (more about this another time). The project involved going back over many of my stories and looking beyond the initial edit to images that were discarded or forgotten. Unfortunately, many of my originals have been lost or damaged over the years but I seem to have made some interesting discoveries: pictures that I’d forgotten about or simply overlooked. During the next weeks, I thought I might post some significant finds. I start with an image from a story in Mauritania about the wind and the desert.

Mauritania - Chinguetti - A sad woman in a house in Chinguetti.

I remember photographing this woman in a house and her looking terribly forlorn, distant and sad. I never could find out why. My notebook tells me that I was with her and her husband for only ten minutes. Sometimes, perhaps its better not to know…