The end of the Ambi

June 3rd, 2014 by Stuart Freedman

 

What a shame. It seems that production of the Ambassador, the first car to be made in India, has been halted. Hindustan Motors said it had suspended work at its plant outside the city of Kolkata, blaming weak demand and financing problems. There was always something reassuringly sturdy about bouncing along Indian roads in one. Never the most comfortable of cars but you could always reckon that a roadside mechanic would be able to bash, bend or replace something that had broken… Here’s a frame of a garland hanging from a mirror in one I hired in Tamil Nadu a few years ago…

 

 

India - Swamimalai - A garland of flowers hang from the mirror of an Hindustan Ambassador  car in the town of Swamimalai, Tamil Nadu, India.The car, based on a Morris Oxford has been in production since 1948 and is considered as a definitive Indian car and is fondly called "The king of Indian roads" and nicknamed the 'Ambi'..

India – Swamimalai – A garland of flowers hang from the mirror of an Hindustan Ambassador car in the town of Swamimalai, Tamil Nadu, India. The car, based on a Morris Oxford has been in production since 1948 and is considered as a definitive Indian car and is fondly called “The king of Indian roads”, nicknamed the ‘Ambi’..

The telling legacy of MF Husain

June 2nd, 2014 by Stuart Freedman

 

I’m delighted that the V&A in London will be hosting a new show of MF Husain’s work this Summer.

I photographed Husain many years ago in his Bombay studio (I’ve previously written about him here and here) and he was as charming as he was prolific. How awful then that his work, a mixture of European Modernism and Indian imagery, is unlikely to be seen again anytime soon in his home country. He had to flee India in 2006 as Hindu militants put a bounty on his head, charging him with “offending religious sentiment”. The London show is, in a sense, a farewell to Husain but perhaps moreover, potentially to the ideas to which his art spoke: of a secular, tolerant India. As India rushes headlong into the clutches of corporations and those that seek to divide it’s people against one another (rigidly defining those who are and who aren’t an ‘acceptable’ Indian), it ironically may take the legacy of an elderly millionaire painter to act as a metaphor for the freedoms that ordinary Indians – indeed perhaps the idea of India itself – are in danger of losing.

 

India - Mumbai - MF Husain (b. 1915, Maharashtra) India's foremost modernist painter at his studio in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). In the 1990s some of Husain's works became controversial because of their portrayal of naked Hindu deities. Charges were brought against him by Hindu Nationalists but were dismissed by the Delhi High Court. Husain dies in exile where his painting continued to command prices of several million dollars at auction.

India – Mumbai – MF Husain (b. 1915, Maharashtra) India’s foremost modernist painter at his studio in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). In the 1990s some of Husain’s works became controversial because of their portrayal of naked Hindu deities. Charges were brought against him by Hindu Nationalists but were dismissed by the Delhi High Court. Husain died in exile but his painting continue to command prices of several million dollars at auction.

Missing Delhi mornings

May 25th, 2014 by Stuart Freedman

 

India - Delhi - A man lounges inside the remains of the Sultan Singh Ghar ki Haveli. Much of Old Delhi's historical architecture is being lost to new development. Old Delhi, India

India – Delhi – A man lounges with his morning newspaper inside the remains of the Sultan Singh Ghar ki Haveli. Much of Old Delhi’s historical architecture is being lost to new development. Old Delhi, India

 

International Landmine Awareness Day

April 4th, 2014 by Stuart Freedman
Lebanon -

Lebanon – Basouriah – Coloured staves used to mark unexploded ordnance

 

 

Lebanon -

Lebanon – Tyre – Rusha Zayoun, 17 who lost her leg to a cluster bomb when her father brought it inside the house and it exploded

 

 

World Water Day

March 20th, 2014 by Stuart Freedman

 

By tomorrow night, according to Human Rights Watch, more than 1,800 children will have died from preventable, treatable diarrhea, largely linked to lack of clean water and sanitary conditions.

I’ve written several times about Delhi’s water wars and the struggle for its people to find any water, let alone clean water – (see here and here for a start). Here’s an image from the Kusumpur Pahari slum where that struggle for water is a daily one.

 

India - Delhi - A woman carries water delivered by tanker back to her home in the slum of Kusumpur Pahari. The slum, built more than thirty years ago has no running water or sewage facilities. The only water supply come from the Municipal  JAL Board water trucks that visit several times a day. The deliveries are supposed to be free but in reality, residents must pay bribes to have the water delivered.

India – Delhi – A woman carries water delivered by tanker back to her home in the slum of Kusumpur Pahari. The slum, built more than thirty years ago has no running water or sewage facilities. The only water supply come from the Municipal JAL Board water trucks that visit several times a day. The deliveries are supposed to be free but in reality, residents must pay bribes to have the water delivered.

Another one gone…

March 6th, 2014 by Stuart Freedman

 

I’ve just discovered that one of my favourite Indian Coffee Houses, in Kollom, Kerala was closed in January.

I photographed there for an afternoon when I was working down there this time last year.

Over the years on this blog, I’ve written numerous times about my love for these places that hold a memory of an older, more gentle India…

 

India - Kollom - A waiter in the Indian Coffee House

India – Kollom – A waiter in the kitchen of the Indian Coffee House

 

India - Kollom - A waiter walks through the Indian Coffee House

India – Kollom – A waiter walks through the Indian Coffee House

 

A day against child soldiers

February 13th, 2014 by Stuart Freedman

 

Today is the International Day against the use of Child Soldiers, a United Nations sponsored campaign which aims at the universal ratification of the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.

I spent a couple of years in the late 1990’s looking at the mental landscape of war amongst former child fighters in Africa in a series called The Lord of the Flies

Here are some images.

 

Liberia - Monrovia - Two former boy fighters from Charles Taylor's militia on the streets of Monrovia argue with and threaten another boy.

Liberia – Monrovia – Two former boy fighters from Charles Taylor’s militia on the streets of Monrovia argue with and threaten another boy.

 

Uganda - Gulu - 'Andrew', 17. A former kidnapped fighter with the Lords Resistance Army, he remembers killing at least twelve. "...but only two with a machete...". Gulu, Uganda, "We are the miracles that God made to taste the bitter fruits of Time..." Ben Okri from 'An African Elegy'

Uganda – Gulu – ‘Andrew’, 17. A former kidnapped fighter with the Lords Resistance Army, he remembers killing at least twelve. “…but only two with a machete…”.  “We are the miracles that God made to taste the bitter fruits of Time…” Ben Okri from ‘An African Elegy’

 

Uganda - Gulu - 'Edward', 16 sits alone at the World Vision Centre for child abductees in Gulu Northern Uganda. Forced to fight, he is deeply traumatised by his activities with the Lords Resistance Army that he is unable to mix with other children. At night like many of his contemporaries, he wets the bed and recounts his experiences as he sleeps. Gulu, Uganda

Uganda – Gulu – ‘Edward’, 16 sits alone at the World Vision Centre for child abductees in Gulu Northern Uganda. Forced to fight, he is deeply traumatised by his activities with the Lords Resistance Army and is unable to mix with other children. At night like many of his contemporaries, he wets the bed and recounts his experiences as he sleeps.

Martyr’s Day in São Tomé and Príncipe

February 4th, 2014 by Stuart Freedman

 

Yesterday was Martyr’s Day in São Tomé and Príncipe, the island nation that I visited last year on assignment for Conde Nast Traveller Magazine. I’ve posted quite a few favourite images from that assignment before (here, here, here and here) but I thought I’d show a little set of images that didn’t make the magazine cut – but that I liked …

Sao Tome - Sao Tome - Boys sit on the wall of the Avenue Marginal 12 Julho

Sao Tome – Sao Tome – Boys sit on the wall of the Avenue Marginal 12 Julho

 

Sao Tome and Principe - Principe - A man poses with his child and his bike, having just ridden out of the jungle

Sao Tome and Principe – Principe – A man poses with his child and his bike, having just ridden out of the jungle

 

Sao Tome - Sao Tome - Young men swim towards the Isla Sebastao at dusk

Sao Tome – Sao Tome – Young men swim towards the Isla Sebastao at dusk

 

There’s a bigger selection on my website here

 

 

 

 

Kathputli Colony’s last stand

February 3rd, 2014 by Stuart Freedman

 

I’ve written several times over the last few years about Delhi’s Kathputli Colony (or as I knew it, Shadipur Depot) – that Dickensian maze of street performers and magicians that somehow floats on the imagination of the city. This time however, it looks like the city will finally swallow the place. According to Tehelka Magazine, residents of the ‘illegal’ slum – some 3500 families that have been there for forty years – may have to move soon to a re-development far to the North. The site at Shadipur where the land was once worthless is now, as the city grows, worth a fortune. It was sold by the the Delhi Development Authority in 2009 to the Mumbai-beased Raheja Builders however, at what Tehelka suggests was seriously undervalued price to make way for a high rise developments. These would, it was promised, include social housing for the performers families. It seems though that even on paper, the proposed number of dwellings for the artists is far short of the actual number needed. Perhaps with some good reason, the artists families don’t believe that the authorities will make good on their promises to allow them back to the area when it is developed. The project is now stuck in limbo as the Delhi Urban Arts Commission has objected to it. The traditional performers are caught. If they move, they lose their homes and their livelihoods. If they stay, they are likely to be evicted and from previous scenarios that may well be violent. They know however that they are simply powerless actors in a city’s development, caught as they are between tradition and a very cruel version of modernity. Since I made a story in Shadipur nearly a dozen years ago, quite a few photographers have worked here and a film was even made of the struggles of the residents. In some senses it was an easy story; a fairy tale in a bleak metropolis. Most people’s recent treatment of it completely ignored the fact that as Delhi grows and divides even more sharply between those that produce it’s wealth and those that exploit it, the story is no longer about a quaint tinsel-town slum. It is about how Delhi will look in the future. It is about what kind of society India wants for its cities and its people.

In 2010 I wrote about the city’s sweeping of street vendors off the pavements before the Commonwealth Games and I mentioned the excellent book, Trickster City, a collection of writings by those at the sharp end of the slum clearances. As I wrote then

The irony is that many countries celebrate their street culture … 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.

As I’ve said many times here, I have no sentimental attachment to poverty and no Raj-tinted spectacles through which I view Delhi. I both hate and love the city but the scales are now tipped so far against certain sections of its people that I find it difficult sometimes to walk it’s streets and look some people in the eye.

You can see my original set from Shadipur here

I’ve decided to show some less well known images from the set – some that I have rediscovered. I hope you like them.

 

India - New Delhi - Reenu, 15 and her brother practice their contortions. Reenu and her family are trained by her mother, herself a former acrobat. The children, when babies, were stretched and contorted to make their bones pliable for the act. Shadipur Depot, New Delhi, India.The Kathiputli Colony in the Shadipur Depot slum is home to hundreds of (originally Rajasthani) performers. The artistes who live here - from magicians, acrobats, musicians, dancers and puppeteers are often international renowed by always return to the Shadipur slum.

India – New Delhi – Reenu, 15 and her brother practice their contortions. Reenu and her family are trained by her mother, herself a former acrobat. The children, when babies, were stretched and contorted to make their bones pliable for the act. The Kathiputli Colony in the Shadipur Depot slum is home to hundreds of (originally Rajasthani) performers. The artistes who live here – from magicians, acrobats, musicians, dancers and puppeteers are often international renowed but always return to the Shadipur slum.

 

India - New Delhi - A performers son in a gold shirt, Shadipur Depot,

India – New Delhi – A performers son in a gold shirt, Shadipur Depot,

 

Indian - New Delhi - A man and his performing monkeys. The Kathiputli Colony in the Shadipur Depot

Indian – New Delhi – A man and his performing monkeys. The Kathiputli Colony in Shadipur Depot

 

India - New Delhi - Chand Pasha, a magician produces a bird from his sleeve

India – New Delhi – Chand Pasha, a magician produces a bird from his sleeve

 

India - New Delhi - A boy on his way to perform his magic act at a wedding waits for a lift by the side of the road

India – New Delhi – A boy on his way to perform his magic act at a wedding waits for a lift by the side of the road, Shadipur Depot

 

 

 

London Traffic Wardens ‘dirty tactics’

January 28th, 2014 by Stuart Freedman

 

The BBC have reported on dastardly ‘dirty tactics’ by London’s much loved and universally admired traffic wardens – I of course find it hard to believe that this could possibly be true of such a fine body of professionals – a bastion of fair play and decency…

 

UK - London - An argument with a wheel clamper during a training exercise where clampers are taught to diffuse a potentially violent situation

UK – London – An argument with a wheel clamper during a training exercise where clampers and traffic wardens are taught to diffuse a potentially violent situation