100 Days in India Project

A baby having its hair shaved in a religious ritual in Varanasi, India.

18/ 100 Baby Shave

People frequently ask me why I love India so much. It is, after all, not the easiest place to get around and there will certainly be times when you wished you were back at home. I’ve seen some of the most horrible things there, and also some of the most wonderful, and on each of our two trips there were times when I would have happily been teleported back home. Not all of those points in time involved toilets, but was certainly a common factor.

India simply fascinates me, especially as a photographer. Unless you have peeked out of the window on day one and said ‘nope’ and stayed inside your hotel room (someone I once met at a wedding actually did this whilst his wife went out to explore) you will always see incredible things each day. Everything there is just so different to anywhere else I have been and it is like being dropped into another planet. In fact, my aim of this 100 Days of India project is to construct these short vignettes, each one a little story about something we experienced on our travels there, to try and explain just how different it really is.

Before our first trip to India we thought it would be a good idea to attempt to culturally acclimatise with a visit to Thailand but it just wasn’t enough. With the exception of, perhaps, the capital Bangkok, Thailand was calm and peaceful and, dare I say it, quite dull in comparison to India. Bangkok had a lot of pollution but still nowhere near enough people, noise, or feral animals. I didn’t even get a dodgy stomach there.

If you want to see something interesting in India simply go for a walk. Anywhere.

Take this photograph for example. If you look closely enough there is a lot happening. A very young child in the centre is having its hair shaved off with a cut-throat razor in preparation for her first dunking in the holy river Ganges. Not a personal ritual performed in a sacred church or the privacy of a home but out in a busy thoroughfare. Her family are watching and, of course, taking a lot of mobile phone snaps (or clicks as they say there).

Strangers stand and watch too, including a guy with a cage containing two large owls, the purpose of which was undetermined. The carefully cut hair is collected on a small pad of, what looked like, uncooked bread dough along with some coins and paper money. We didn’t wait long enough to see the outcome, even though they were happy for us to come and watch, but it was all absolutely fascinating.

Later that same day we were having dinner in a little cafe and, whilst the owner was gently shooing a puppy dog out from under a table, a small cow snuck inside behind him and stole about 20 chapatis from the countertop. The little dog came back, with a larger friend (see below), and the cow got a second helping when the owner, Santos, being an exceptionally kind man, gave it some more chapatis anyway.

The brilliant writer A.A Gill wrote a piece about traveling to India. He was commenting on the fact that everyone he spoke to had a recommendation for him. Things he must do, places he must visit, food he must eat. He replied, “As if all India seen through Western eyes isn’t sensationally unreal”1. I completely agree.

Two dogs sleeping on a rug in a cafe in India.

1 The Best of A.A Gill (page 95)