Mobbed at the Lal Kothi Subzi Mandi - [Many Images]

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Mobbed at the Lal Kothi Subzi Mandi - [Many Images]
Dec 1, 2012

I had an interesting experience in Jaipur recently. Early one Sunday morning I decided to head out to a fruit and vegetable market to shoot. I figured the explosion of color and form would be worth exploring, so I headed out to the Lal Kothi Subzi Mandi (Subzi = vegetable, Mandi = market in Hindi). I got there at around 7 a.m. and many of the stalls had still not been set up - it was early.

Walking around, I engaged with the vendors that had set their stalls up, asking them how things were going, where they were from etc., given that I speak Hindi. I also asked them if I could make images of their stalls. Every one of them consented. Even as early as 8:00 a.m., the sun beats down strongly and the light gets very harsh in Jaipur.

Their reactions to my engaging them in conversation were very interesting. A few commented that "foreigner tourists" came by every once in a while and shot pictures but did not speak with them. They asked me where I was from, what I was doing in Jaipur and many of them offered me tea/coffee/"Thandai" (cold drinks). When they learned that I visit Jaipur from time to time, many of them invited me to their homes for a meal. A few even offered to take me to their villages in and around Jaipur, as they felt there was much to photograph in rural India. This one young man seemed to be the comedian of the bunch. He expressed great skepticism at my stated intent - that I was a hobbyist photographer. He just wasn't buying it and repeatedly asked me why I shooting there.

When my answer remained the same, he theorized that perhaps I was the advance scout of a terrorist organization, shooting pictures to plan a terrorist attack on the market! Jaipur had a few bomb set off in the city in May 2008, causing a lot of deaths. People still remember that incident. The other vendors chided this young man for being silly, calling him a "ullu ka pattha" (son of a owl, a mildy derogatory term in Hindi), telling him that terrorists didn't walk around asking people about their business, their families etc. I was relieved at the support from the other vendors! The tea they offered me is delivered to them by this man, who walks around with a kettle full of chai and tiny cups made of clay.

The Tea Stall is this tiny setup under the stairs of a building under construction. The "Chai-walla" (Tea Man) wanted me to shoot a portrait. He also offered me free chai.

This watermelon seller called me over and wanted me to shoot a portrait. It's interesting that when people in Jaipur ask you to shoot their portrait, they pose and assume very grim expressions, full of gravitas. I guess they are influenced by all the portraits they have seen of the Maharajahs, who never seem to smile in their portraits. After he struck up a suitably grim pose, I commented that he looked like a "Daku", (a dacoit, an armed bandit, famous in India for their criminal exploits). I asked him if he knew how to smile and that got this huge smile from him:

This gentleman, Ashok-ji, who sells onions and potatoes asked me to sit down and asked me about my family, where I was from and what I did for a living. He insisted that I join him in a cup of chai. He was being ribbed by the other stall owners around him. They insisted that he put on his glasses and pose reading the newspaper as he looked like Mahatama Gandhi! There was a lot of good natured leg-pulling going on.

This young man seemed very web savvy and asked if I had a website and got me to write down the url:

This young man was setting up his "Jambul" (Black Plums) stall. He insisted that I shoot a portrait of him:

Then he asked me to give him his image. I explained that I was shooting with a digital camera that did not have the capability of printing images. He then asked me to come back with a print. When I said ok, he, sensing that I was blowing him off, looked me intently in the eye and said that he would pay me money for the portrait. Again, I said ok, I'll give you a portrait. Again, sensing that perhaps I was not sincere, he looked me in the eye intently and said "I'll pay you a lot of money". I was touched and I said to him that I would come back with an image. He again looked me in the eye and asked me if I gave him my word. I said yes, he had my word.

Having promised, I had no option but to deliver. After processing the images, I put the jpgs on a usb stick and went to a local color lab. The man at the lab was a wizard at Photoshop. He took one look at the images and said to me that I had processed them on a laptop and that he'd need to adjust them for proper printing on at the lab. All the processing was at no charge! Next day I collected the prints of all of the portraits that I had shot. The following weekend I returned to the Market, this time with an American colleague who was fascinated by this story and wanted to see what happened. As soon as I got to the market, the vendors recognized me and I was greeted with smiles. As soon as I pulled out the prints and handed one out, word spread like wild-fire through the market. A bunch of the vendors came running from their stalls and I was mobbed! All these folks pushing and shoving each other, clamoring for their portraits! A whole new set of vendors that I had not shot the last time because they were luke-warm, now came running our and insisted that I shoot their portraits!

I asked around for the young man who had accused me of being a terrorist - I had a print of his portrait as well. He wasn't there that day and a few of the vendors I asked said things like "serves that clown right"! I left the print with one of the other vendors - hopefully he got it.

All in all, one heck of an experience. The warmth and kindness of these folks is amazing. For people that earn as little as they do, for them to offer me Coke, Chai, Lunch etc. I found extremely touching.

Other images from that excursion can be seen here:

As always, comments and critique welcome. Thanks for looking.



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