The last four days have been a bit of a blur. It’s been quite good, spending a lot of time with a group of British guys. Most of them did not know each other before coming to the Salvation Army Hostel, or the Red Shield House. This place has been such an amazing place for meeting very interesting characters from around the world. Some are finishing up a month or so of travels, others are traveling a bit before settling down for a month of volunteer work in various places, and one guy is just starting his year-long journey around the world here. An older Brit, an ex-military type, cynical against the world, seems to have been traveling non-stop for years. I don’t know that it has a purpose other than just wandering. Also in the hostel I’ve met so many other European travelers and a group from Taiwan that is here to perform for Mumbai University, an impressive series of structures.
After waking up for breakfast on Thursday and paying for my bed, I wind up falling asleep till around 11:30. James, one of the Brits, says he wants to go out for a walk and I ask if I can join him. He recruits another Brit, Ben, who’s traveled to over 70 countries somehow in his 38 years. We decide to take a taxi to Dhobi Ghats, an amazing sight of thousands of people doing laundry in what looks like chaos, but is quite an organized industry. I wish I could show you pictures now, but I can’t upload here.
Before going to Dhobi Ghats we stop and eat lunch at Leopolds and I meet a “war Photographer” from Australia named Warren. We talk for a while about equipment and what he does and why he’s here, and then he asks if I noticed the bullet holes in the wall. I had not. Makes me realize how unaware I am a lot of the time. The terrorists on 26/11 had come in and shot the place up with machine gun fire and even thrown a grenade. It was a direct attack on foreigners who mostly frequent the restaurant. After Warren pointed this out I started seeing bullet holes all over the place. Next to where the Brits and I had sat was a window riddled with bullet holes, and we had noticed in the least.
After Dhobi Ghats we walked around the area of the city then decided to take a bus back to the hostel. We wait and wait and after some forty-five minutes we give in to paying a cab. The driver is crazy and hilarious. He tells us he tried to go to the UK, but at customs they turned him away because they thought he was “a bad man. I’m a bad man [insert crazy laugh].” I recorded a video of him talking.
We meet up with two young Brits, who are traveling together for a bit before going off to two separate volunteer projects, and grab some dinner at a locals’ watering hole. Quite cheap, good atmosphere, then we head back to Leopold’s bar for some drinks. In the bar we notice more reminders of the terrorist attacks. Scars from the bullets that came from the restaurant below tore through the windows, the walls and the memories of the bartenders. We ask them what had happened up here. One waiter reenacts how he reacted when the shooting started, and he tells us about the two waiters that died where we sit. One was quite old, the other young and engaged to be married, was shot between the eyes. So real and sobering. These guys have to live and relive the memories every day.
Despite sleeping at close to 2am, I wake at 6am and find myself at the India Gate, a structure somewhat resembling the Arc de Triumph in Paris with a definitely Indian style. I shoot around for a while, playing with pigeons and children till I meet a group of attractive Indians, two girls and two guys. We start with the usual small talk, then the main conversationalist, Shweta, invites me to her church, the Salvation Army. I have never been to a service at the Salvation Army, might be interesting. Any way, this girl knows a lot about the advertising firms and magazine industry and she makes some recommendations for me. I ask if I can take their pictures and they start modeling for me, some needed more persuasion than others. One guy was such a natural at it I wonder how he hadn’t modeled before.
I decide not to do the Bollywood voice over and take a nap for a bit. Around 2pm Mumbai is supposedly going to experience the highest tide in 100 years. I assume it has something to do with the solar eclipse the day before. People were very excited about it and thousands gather around India gate to see waves crashing against the retaining walls. The police had set up a barrier keeping people away from the walls, but professional photographers were crossing the barrier to get better pictures of the crashing waves. I join their ranks, surprised the intimidating policemen do not say a thing about it. After maybe ten minutes I hear people shouting behind me, and the thousands of people are rushing through the police barrier to watch from the walls. There goes my ‘professional advantage’.
Young men start climbing on a gatepost, diving and flipping into the swollen and terribly dirty sea. The gate of India made for a dramatic backdrop for these images. An Indian man asks me to hold his coat, shirt, shoes, money and bag while he jumps in. I guess he things a white man with a huge camera isn’t just going to run off with his crap.
My jeans got soaked up to just below my pockets by a stray wave that wandered up the access ramp. Walking with wet jeans is not pleasant, but I decide to walk to the opposite side of the peninsula to see the ‘real ocean’ on the west coast. I enjoy some quiet streets shaded by huge trees with signs that say, “No Horn.” Being somewhere where there is no horns blaring is quite nice. I walk past Mumbai University and huge cricket and football pitches. Then the area starts looking sketchy, but the people are still very nice. Some refuse pictures while others ask me insistently to take their portrait. It took me an hour and half to walk some 3 or 4 km. Finally with the direction of kind people I find myself at Chowpatti beach.
I have found something very peaceful about looking off into an endless horizon, something like the end of the world. I guess that is one reason the beach is so alluring. For once something in life just ends and there are no worries beyond that point. You lose yourself in the waves, and either lose yourself in peaceful tranquility or thought – not mutually exclusive. I have debated with many and myself which is better, the beach or the mountains. I do not think I have turned my back on the mountains, and maybe it’s a similar tranquility, looking off into the fog on distant peaks. It could be just that fact that there is nothing in front of you, nothing to distract. It is just something about flatland that never gives me peace, there’s always something there, something to worry about. And as I contemplate this all I can see are faces, not particular faces, but a sea of faces somehow all with problems and anxieties. It is only when I look over an endless view that this disappears and I’m filled with familiar tranquility.
A group of teenage boys begin following me around the beach, asking me questions, asking if we can be friends. “We are good guys; we are not cheaters.” Then after sometime, they change their emotional state and one boy begins looking quite sad and another comforts him. The main talker among them tells me the other boy’s mother is quite sick and if I could give them some money they could get her medicine. After much insisting I tell them that I simply cannot help them. I do not have cash, which is mostly true – I am down to the bare minimum I should be carrying. It was obvious it was a show, was the buggered off they were back to the jolly emotional state they were in before.
I catch a bus back to Colaba, where I stay, and wait for the Brits to get back from their Bollywood voiceover debuts. That evening we go out with a girl from Chicago that for now does Bollywood backup acting as her sole source of income, 500/- here, 1000/- there ($10-$20 a day). Many of the guys are cautious eating meat from local joints so they stick to the Veg menu. I could not do that. I love meat too much. Kari, the girl, takes us to a local pub where we hang out the rest of the night.
Saturday morning I catch breakfast just as they are closing up shop. I call up two of the photographers here in Mumbai and one tells me to come over to his studio around 11:30. I catch an overpriced cab and eventually find the studio, surprisingly small for the photographer’s ability and client list. www.vikrambawa.com. I am incredibly impressed by his work. For some reason I am being drawn more and more towards fashion work. It is something I want to experiment more with, but I’m not entirely sure why. It never really interested me before. He gives me a lot of information and encourages me to come to Mumbai and sell myself as an Architectural photographer, because there is a lot of work in that field. He tells me with my portfolio I will definitely get work here, which is great to hear. He also tells me to put work in a PGI show in September, Photography Guild India. Would be a good way to get my name around.
Returning to the hostel I pick up a pirated copy of the book, The Kite Runner, and spent the afternoon reading. I quickly read through 100 pages. One of the guys in the hostel had encouraged me to read as much as possible here, not a bad challenge to take on. I’m still rereading Blue Like Jazz, but it is good to branch out. I have not seemed to read very many novels lately. I think I’ll enjoy changing that…but it helps not having constant internet access. All afternoon the internet at the hostel was down.
Saturday evening we meet up with Kari again and go to an all veg restaurant and I get a Veg Saagwala. I write this just so I remember what it was; it was incredibly good. We plan to go to a “Bollywood” club called Play in Lower Parel with the Bollywood recruiter Amjad. He informs us that single guys are not allowed in, you must have a girl with you. We search through a local bar and find three young girls from Holland that are keen on the experience. I do not want to go because I am not in the mood to drink alcohol and there is a 1500/- cover charge for each couple, but that charge is used for “free drinks”. But if I do not go, I screw up all the numbers and the others would somehow have to pay more. Amjad said he can get Kari, me and one other girl in for free, which effectively solves the problem. I am quite tired at this point, but once we reach the club and the music starts pumping, I suddenly get the energy and wind up dancing the rest of the night. The club is full of beautiful people. If I need models for a shoot, this would definitely be a great place to pick them up.
C’est tout. Sorry for the rambling and no pictures.