Friday, 31 August 2012

India, Brick By Brick

Every building in India - with the exception of big, poured-concrete structures - is built with bricks. And those bricks are made by hand, out in the country, by families who own a little piece of land and have access to clay. They form the bricks by hand, lay them out to dry, stack them in a pyramid and build a fire underneath them for curing. No factories, just hard labor.

A brick pyramid. The holes at the bottom are for the fires.

The family stacking bricks.

Who does a lot of the work? The kids, of course.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Talalay Portrait Studio

Indians love to have their picture taken so much that sometimes all you have to do is plant yourself somewhere and the people will flock to you. While out photographing one night, James sat down in the front of a typical dry goods stall. And clicked away.

Indian Boys to....


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Real Estate Bubble, India

Sure India's economy is growing at about 6 percent a year, but that's down from more than 8 percent a year or so ago. Welcome to India's real estate bubble slowly bursting. We came across this mirage-like, speculative development way out in the middle of nowhere. You could squint and see the outskirts of Las Vegas.

A lonely tuk tuk passes the development, its welcome sign in full retreat.

The empty entrance and property plot makers. All lined up, but no one to build.

An abandoned brick pile, no longer needed.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Sole Survivor

Since you can't wear (or even carry) shoes inside a Hindu temple complex, you need to find a place to stash them while wandering around the holy site. Bigger temples will have multiple, official stalls for storage, a kind of hat/shoe-check area. If you venture off the tourist path a bit into smaller towns and temples, the place to leave your shoes becomes more of a freelance operation.

There is one such operation outside the Jalakanteshwara temple in Vellore, a lonely guy cobbling together a living with the few shoes he gets to check everyday.

The shoe-check man

The coins left; the chits used for checking.

His little flock of shoes.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Jaw-dropping Carvings At Jalakanteshwara temple In Vellore

The Jalakanteshwara temple in Vellore is a sublime example of Dravidian architecture, prominently featuring two lovely gopurams, finished in understated beige instead of the usual riot of painted color. They're a nice contrast to what you see at a lot of similar temples. The monkey is also there, looking serious.

The real find at the temple is an open air, side pavilion. At first it doesn't appear to be much, just a literal sideshow to the main complex. Men use it for relaxation.

Upon closer examination, the stone carving work is incredible. High relief is an understatement. Columns are covered in whole action scenes. Animals, gods, battles, all depicted in great detail and emotion. Can you carve a warrior riding high on an elephant? How about men killing a big cat? No CGI - amazing!

Our favorite frieze, the classic optical illusion. See the elephant? See the water buffalo? Blink, repeat and enjoy.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Out In The Indian Sticks

If you're lucky to get waaay out of town, once in awhile you can run across a bucolic village. Huts, beautiful setting, some livestock. And, of course, super-friendly people.

Not much of a field to graze in, this lonely calf gets to be tied up to roam its own little area.

The goats, however, get to be pushed down the road, a regular cattle drive. A couple of village women.

Ever photogenic and smirky boys, a million different expressions.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

IHOP (Indian House Of Paratha?)

Breakfast can be had on every block in India and the trusted staples are always available. First, order a south indian coffee and then it's just a matter of deciding how many idlis you want to wolf down before heading to work.

A typical street side stall with the usual breakfast offerings. That newspaper on the wall isn't for reading. Stay tuned....

Deep frying pori. Filling a bag with coconut chutney. Plastic bags are used instead of more expensive containers.

The mighty idli man, steaming another batch. A foundation at breakfast, idli is a savory mixture of rice and lentil paste formed into a cake and then steamed. It's then eaten with a selection of sauces (sambar) and chutneys.

Before and After: Idli and savory lentil doughnut-like items called medhu wada ready for wrapping. All tied up and everywhere to go, using that old newspaper hung on the wall, of course.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Men In The Street

Another typical day in small town India, another batch of unforgettable faces hanging out in the street, storefronts, stalls.

Two guys on a stoop and one gentleman in his shop.

The tire repair man and a memorable face.
Finally, a street cook whose belly is his best advertising.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

"Don't Text Me, Bro!"*

*With apologies to Andrew Meyer, the University of Florida student who coined the phrase "Don't Tase Me, Bro" during a political event at the college in 2007. 

In a country with more than a billion people, it's sometimes hard to communicate amid the cacophony of noises. People routinely do it via text message or SMS. Texting is ubiquitous in India since many people don't have landlines or computers, and thus rely heavily on their cell phones for communication. 

But last week, the Government of India cracked down even on that communication, limiting the SMS traffic to five messages a day until Sept. 2. 

The ban stems from widespread false text rumors warning of attacks between Muslims and the northeastern indigenous Bodo tribe in the state of Assam. The texts have spurred violence and contributed to a mass exodus of people from across India back to their homes to help defend their land and families.

The government took quick action to stop the violence and traveling stampede. But the blunt decree of a five text limit to a billion plus people for a couple of weeks is a new paradigm for us. The freedoms of the United States just became dearer.

Here's a New York Times article about the rocky relationship between the Indian government, which is looking to control information, and the global tech companies that enable even greater dissemination of information.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Beedi Men, Part Two

What's next after all your little beedis are done? Time to stack, pack and count your money.

The storeroom gentlemen.

The money men.

And the final product, in all its packaged glory.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Beedi Men, Part One

If you feel like lighting up in India, there's a cheaper option than grabbing a pack of cigarettes - the beedi. It looks like a slim cigar, but the beedi is actually flake tobacco wrapped in a tendu leaf. Almost half of tobacco consumption in India is by beedi and they come in paper-wrapped packages of various sizes.

Where do the little beedis (beedai?) come from? How about the 3 million or so workers scattered in little factories all around the country busy rolling away.

We ran across an operation in Srikalahasti. About what one would imagine: bales of tobacco stacked in rooms, a group of men busy rolling and other guys drying, stacking and counting the money.

The tobacco comes in giant bags, always maxing out the auto donkeys dragging them in.

A storage room and the men who weigh and dole out the tobacco for rolling.

The counting and portioning area: nothing more than an open air floor. A far cry from the cliched, high tech shots of cigarettes rolling through an RJ Reynolds factory back in the US.

The quota is measured in filled boxes, which then get thrown in a pizza-type oven for a quick dry.

Monday, 20 August 2012

India's Right Time Is The Nighttime

With apologies to Ray Charles' great song. India doesn't just roll up when the sun goes down. Far from it. With the heat beating down all day, getting out under darkness for a little shopping and eating is a must.

Without standard, bright street lights to even out the exposure, towns can take on a noir-ish look. The mood is not too far removed from classic movies like Touch Of Evil. Not that anything rough is going on, it's just more mystery, less bland, suburban strip mall-looking.

A typical scene, an open store. Or is it?

Public and private blend together. A doorway leading right into a living room where a family is tending to someone ill, on the bed to the left. Women out, selecting tasty items at the deep fried munchy stall.

The metal man, a lock and a pot for sale. A group of guys. Always a multiple in India.

A tag team vendor hawker pair. A woman behind her street cart.

Passing time at the Chemists shop.