A day at the Delhi slums
Track spinning | Is Pal, Aaja Nachle
I remember passing by the slum areas often while gazing out the taxi window on the streets of Mumbai. At the tender age of thirteen I was bewildered, fascinated and intimidated all at once. I wondered what happened behind those straw doors and wooven roofs that I so frequently witnessed as a tourist.
My curiosity continued to grow after that short first trip to India and so I delved into Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, Thrity Umrigar’s The Space Between Us and Gregory David Roberts Shantaram to feed my fascination. Although I knew they were fictional stories, I was intrigued by the characters and their lives. There was this peculiar sense of familiarity, like I was reading about a distant relative or neighbour; I hurt when they hurt and wept in the emptiness of their hardships.
Although I didn’t know if I would ever have the capacity to help or change the reality it was based on, I never seemed to take my mind off of it. I yearned to learn more and followed in the direction of intuition until then.
Twelve years later I found myself packing my bags one day. I was getting ready to uproot my life for six months to lust after a burning curiosity, a long time dream to explore the country that was supposed to be akin to me.
I arrived in India with a thirst for knowledge and a quest for change, but in that first month there I was very quickly confronted with a cold reality of struggle. I battled day in and day out as I chased for answers to understand the things that made me me. No matter how many times I fell, I got back up and kept going, but India kept testing my patience, pushing my limits… angering and dissapointing me in every possible way.
The unwanted attention, pestering and disrespect stained my insides with deep resentment. I was mad at the people, mad at myself, mad for everything I had given up to be there. I felt like I was drowning in deep water, desperately gasping for air with no rescue team in sight. I ached for comfort and wondered how to reconcile my wavering spirit.
It was the end of January when I returned to sister’s home in Delhi after spending a few weeks with my parents (who had been visiting) in the South. After three months of India and a little dose of home I was feeling calmer about the upcoming weeks of exploration.
A few days before leaving to travel Rajasthan on my own I received an email from a google group I had signed up for – a network of young professionals in India sharing resources. An organization called WASH United was seeking photographers to document sanitation in the Delhi slums. I wrote back immediately disclosing my interest in the opportunity, using my blog as a resume.
The next thing I knew I was meeting up with a group of young talented Indians, ready to explore the Delhi slums….
Four months after the fact and I still find myself in awe. Visiting the slums was one of the most fascinating, eye opening, heart wrenching and heart warming experiences I’ve had in my life. Even after reading extensively about slum life in India, it didn’t all sink in until I found myself walking through the sewage filled nooks and crannies, interacting with the locals; visiting my distance relatives.
They offered seats along their ledges and piping hot chai as they relished in fascination of our fancy gadgets. The children giggled and jumped, excited to pose for the camera. They brought us into their world forgetting the hardness their own and filling it with the joys of human connection. And even if temporarily, I began to forget my anger and frustration as I watched them carry through the day; smiling and scrubbing, laughing and limping. It was then that I started to recognize a new reality; why I love India.
I battled with myself about whether to post these pictures. Something about exposing their lives with nothing to return to made me feel empty inside; as much as I love the art of photography, human compassion trumps all. After much contemplation however, I share these with you in hopes for us to humble one another, sometimes we need a reminder of how fortunate we really are.
As you go through my work, I hope you make it a thoughtful experience. One in which you ponder why you’re thankful for what you have, and consider what you could do to spread the joys of your life, far beyond your own reach.
For now I am working away on a few new projects I hope to spread your way soon.