India’s a lovely place to go anytime of the year, warmth is always refreshing to someone from the Western Hemisphere. However, there is something quite irritating about going in the winter, the constant nagging by people to wear something, stay indoors and cover-up. Bearing in mind this is coming from people that have probably never experienced sub-zero temperatures, the foreigner quickly surrenders and fakes being cold. Another staple of Indian winters is the uninterrupted warming of water, for drinking, for washing and for basically anything they can think of. Due to lack of an efficient supply of warm water in rural small towns, there is a pot of water boiling all day. My grandparents’ house has a very traditional method, a pot over a proper fire, the amount of time it takes to get 5 litres of hot water is ridiculous not to mention the greenhouse gases produced from the burning of any rubbish.
Heaters don’t particularly make an appearance due to power cuts, so there’s another very traditional and ecologically harmful method, an angithi. Basically, the contraption is half a gas cylinder with coal burning, old people flock to surround it like a bear to honey. If you can’t be bothered with that much fuss there is always the reliable duvet, that is piled on to beds, restricting movement as if someone had tied you down to the bed.
One foggy Saturday morning, the seller of various spices, herbs etc. came calling down our street, his cart was an explosion of colours and aromas, classic India. Upon being photographed by my mother he said, “thane me band karengi kya ye le ke?” (are you going to put me in prison with these photos?) We uncovered his whole backstory, a regular street seller with big aspirations. He told us that his son was doing a degree in architecture and his hope was that his career would not be repeated by his children. His job had been the same for around thirty-five years and he’d realised that his struggle wasn’t the most rewarding. As he left he asked for water as he took his medicine and then told us to at least not take a picture of that moment. I encountered the same man in a market the next day, he simply nodded and smiled. I was quite pleased that he remembered me but who would forget the strange person that photographed a normal man doing his normal job.
So to another normal person doing his normal job, Imran the sabziwalla, a vegetable seller with a difference. Now, he had been a vegetable seller since he was 15 years old, in the middle of that he had dabbled in woodwork and been a barber. However, I guess vegetables had some charm to him, maybe it was the colours or the fact that different vegetables came every season. In a new twist, my interviewee asked me some questions, mainly about how cold it was and how vegetables looked in England (not as good as they look in India). We were very forthright with Imran that he would be interviewed and he thought I was strange as well, a lot of people thought this. He wasn’t that concerned with his picture taking him to prison, no he had bigger concerns, Facebook. I have no idea why he was so terrified of ending up on Facebook but he was very persistent about it, little did he know I would paint him for my GCSE art project and put him on my blog… But he’s still not on Facebook. Yet.
Back in the good old days, everyone had this little shop, somewhere they’d waste money on for Type 2 diabetes in the future. The tradition has died out in most places due to some reason like sugar is bad for you. India is different though, my little shop has only moved one building to the right in the sixteen years I have been alive. The shop owner is related to me in some complicated way but we have a solid friendship. Every year or so, he knows he can rely on this foreign girl wasting her money on sweets she’s craved for too long. I have great hope that this shop will carry me on till I’m old and grey.
Now, this is a paandaan, it is the food of the old and wise, and it is also probably the main reason why over 50% of Indian people have dental problems. It’s a leaf, with some nuts and weird pastes, some of these pastes have psychoactive effects, all of them stain your teeth red. The nuts can break your teeth and altogether it’s a very harmful and addictive thing to eat. Try explaining that to a generation of addicted old people though.
On the other hand, there was a young person giving us some cake (that we bought, you don’t just get free cake in India) and he inquired about the accessibility to England. Sadly, we had to break the truth to this young man, that with May’s immigration policies he was unlikely to sell cakes in England. Who knows? If you spot this guy in a Patisserie Valerie near you, let me know.
This poor guy might have head lice, or he might just be bewildered by the five foot eight girl waving around a camera. Needless to say, it’s the second (we hope), plenty of children will have shared this thought as I pranced around my uncle’s school. More surprisingly, however, some of them had the courage to command me to move out of the way from the blackboard they were looking at. It would’ve been fine if they weren’t sniggering whilst they asked me, I would have done the same in their position though. Tall girls in jeans are just so amusing.
You know one of those moments where life smacks straight in the face, this was one of those. A little girl came with a bouquet of roses in her hands, a cute scenario in any case except the dangerous roads of Delhi. Everyone in the car became sparked by emotion for this girl and I just began running the entirety of Slumdog Millionaire in my head. Persuading people to get out their wallets, we lowered the glass barrier and bought a rose, window sellers are quite common in India. She seemed gracious and half-relieved but then she bought a friend. She wanted to help her friend because they had to support themselves and roses were their income. If you feel out of touch with the world, India makes you realise how grateful you should be.
A trend continues, smiling street vendors, caught in a flash. This fruit seller seemed to be having an entertaining conversation with guys driving by on a bike. What’s more attractive than his charming smile: is the fruit. There’s fruit you wouldn’t even have dreamt of in dreary old England, all dressed up pretty. It may be January but you can get papayas, guavas and kinnows (all fresh and locally sourced). Kinnows aren’t oranges, although us ignorant fools did think so. How wrong we were, they’re actually a high yield mandarin hybrid, completely different.
Monkeys are difficult to capture up close, the closest I got was a blurry drive by but one of them did interrupt my selfie. Wow, that sounds amazing, “I got photobombed by monkeys.”
Now you don’t look at a sweeper and go he’s interesting but with that many brands on his body, you just gotta wonder. An Adidas cap, Converse shoes and a broom, is he a victim of consumerism or is he all-consumed by that broom?
You can’t go to India without going to a wedding, you just can’t, it’s nearly impossible. But here’s a different angle than the blushing bride, the people that feed her stomach. This is the heart and soul, the centre of a wedding, forget the bride for a second, nobody would go if there wasn’t food. The food is free and limitless, so eat until your tummy is close to an explosion. What’s even more hilarious is the fact they think they have the right to criticize this free food, momentarily they all become a Michelin food inspector.
Last but by no means least, here’s the new man of the olden times, my handsome grandfather. The coolest guy around, he invented every single Instagram worthy pose, no joke. Opening suitcases full of photographs is the best feeling ever though because despite from your cringe-worthy baby photos there are also hidden gems like that picture where your mother looks literally like you. Or that picture of your grandfather looking thoughtfully at a lake. Or ALL those terrible years where you looked like a boy.
If you can’t tell already, “picture abhi baaki hai mere dost”, Volume 3 will be out soon enough (but not really soon I procrastinate too much). What can I say? India has a lot to talk about.