Posts Tagged ‘Dickens’

Dickensian Delhi

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

 

I visited the Dickens exhibition at the Museum of London yesterday – a really powerful evocation of the writer and his times.

What always struck me about Dickens was his ability to convey the despair and misery that the city around him housed: no stranger to debt, his past was marked by the fear of slipping back into poverty. I think that the exhibition gave me a very apt adjective to describe the dark underside of a city that I have worked in so much, namely Delhi. Perhaps all societies lurching through such painful Capitalist development are like this – but certainly Delhi is Dickensian in its mercilessness and its cruelty. The lack of a safety net and not-so-subtle machinations of caste mean that the people who produce the city’s wealth by selling their labour are completely at the mercy of the vagaries of the Market and the violence of the street. In a similar fashion to Dickens’ time they must struggle against a whole moral code that tells them they are nothing if they have no status. I’ve mentioned here before a slim volume of reportage and writing from those at the bottom of the dark underbelly of this metropolis called Trickster City and the more that I looked at the exhibition yesterday, the more I thought of Delhi.

Dickens’ “slime and ooze of the Thames” is the realm of the boy who picks bits of detritus out of the poisoned Yamuna River on a pathetic raft of polystyrene and rags. Budi Lal, pouring through other people’s filth and rubbish and ignored by all except the snarling dogs and his debtors is Boffin, the Rag Picker from Our Mutual Friend. The men burning plastic bags could be from the slum in Bleak House; Tom-All-Alone’s.

All of them would recognise Victorian London.

 

 

India - New Delhi - A young scavenger on a raft, beneath the road bridge across the Yamuna River by the Kudsia Ghat, New Delhi. Scavengers trawl the filth of the river to find objects to sell. The river is so polluted that it can no longer support life, however a community still live and work on it's banks.

 

India - New Delhi - Buddhi Lal, 30 works before dawn collecting refuse to recycle and resell. Known as 'rag-picking' he can make perhaps Rs150-200 a day and is often chased and attacked by stray dogs because of the smell of his work

 

India - Delhi - Destitute men gather around a fire made from refuse and plastic bags to try and keep warm. It is estimated that around 100000 people are homeless in the city

 

 

The green, green grass of… Delhi

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

I’ve been associated with Delhi in one way and another almost fourteen years. I’m sometimes based there for months on end and, although it is perhaps one of the most frustrating and brutal cities I can think of, I find endless fascination with it. Like London, Delhi is a palimpsest of perhaps nine, perhaps more cities built, destroyed and rebuilt. It’s usually recorded, with some notable exceptions (and again) as unknowable and unloveable. Choked with people and displaying more violence than India would like to admit, journalists tend to concentrate on its chaos poverty and pollution. I’ve done those pieces myself, most recently a film for More4 News about Water in the city that you can see here. But Delhi is certainly more than that. During that film I was working in Kusumpur Pahari, a thirty year old slum or jhuggi cluster. The slum is entirely illegal but is home to thousands of people. Some have rather nice houses and of course some have tried to beautify them as best they can. Many have little flat roofs where they have gardens made of pot plants. It struck me that this didn’t really fit with the poverty stricken Dickensian idea that we in the West have of helpless slum-dwellers and I started to photograph them. That led me onto an as yet unfinished body of work about imaging Delhi in a different way. I wanted to look at Delhi’s relationship with Gardens and space and so for the last couple of years have been trying to photograph not only the acres and acres of green space in the city but crucially in such a crowded conservative place, people’s relationship to it. A couple of weeks ago I was approached by Fabiano Busdraghi who publishes online the small but beautifully formed Camera Obscura magazine/blog. He asked me if I’d write something and I immediately thought of this project. You can see the piece, The Gardens of Delhi – Public Spaces, Private Lives, here. I hope that you enjoy it.

The text on the Camera Obscura site is pretty explanatory about the project so I won’t bang on about it here. Instead, here are some more images that I like from it.

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India - New Delhi - Boys play cricket in the park at India Gate.

India - New Delhi - An early morning yoga class in Lodi Gardens in front of the Bara Gumbad Tomb

India - New Delhi - An early morning yoga class in Lodi Gardens in front of the Bara Gumbad Tomb

India - New Delhi - A 'phool wallah' (or flower seller) delivering flowers on tricycle, Mehrauli

India - New Delhi - A 'phool wallah' (or flower seller) delivering flowers on tricycle, Mehrauli

India - New Delhi - A guard in a judging tent at a particularly Raj style event, The Delhi Flower show

India - New Delhi - A guard in a judging tent at a particularly Raj style event, The Delhi Flower show

India - New Delhi - The roots of a tree in the grounds of Humayan's Tomb in New Delhi, India. The tomb itself built in 1570, is of particular cultural significance as it was the first garden tomb on the Indian subcontinent. It inspired several major architectural innovations, culminating in the construction of the Taj Mahal.

India - New Delhi - The roots of a tree in the grounds of Humayan's Tomb in New Delhi, India. The tomb itself built in 1570, is of particular cultural significance as it was the first garden tomb on the Indian subcontinent. It inspired several major architectural innovations, culminating in the construction of the Taj Mahal.

India - New Delhi - A tear in the plastic of a greenhouse in the Rose Garden that is behind Safdardjung's Tomb

India - New Delhi - A tear in the plastic of a greenhouse in the Rose Garden that is behind Safdardjung's Tomb