Indian Winter (few and far between)
Walking farther and farther into the depths of the old city and its darkened streets my senses tried desperately to cling to something they understood. Anything. But as we lost our selves to a rambling stream of watchful faces, frenzied traffic of people, bikes, carts and cattle, I soon found myself rendered motionless. Resigned to the notion that whatever this was, whatever I saw or felt in this moment it could never be captured in a photograph. Nor could such image compare to the fleeting allure of something so rare, so real and so magical all at once.
Like nothing I had ever seen before, Jaipur, in only hours of our arrival had provided so much more than I could process. And, as I stood momentarily paused by the current, gazing into a dusty chaos of what they call the Pink City of Rajastan; witnessing the pace of it, the noise, the movement, the smoke, the sense of community, families, children, I realized that whatever lay before me from this point on I was, what could only be described as, ill prepared. But as they say in India, ‘One Life’, a sentiment I could relate to, or at least as we say in Wales ‘Un bywyd byw fo’, one life live it, and no matter how prepared I was, that is exactly what I intended to do.
“We had to do a play in school once, me and this other little boy, Timothy Rees had to pretend we were going round door to door selling things out of a suitcase. We used bottle corks and a candle to darken our skin too. We were meant to be salesmen from India, see. Selling things like silk ties, silk scarfs, silk shirts, silk fucking everything. They were nice too. We even had to sing a song… Dau ddyn o India ydym ni, daeth am dro i weld chi… well, that’s all we knew about Indians back then.
They used to call pub-to-pub in those days see, every pub between Carmarthen and Llandeilo. I even remember them calling in the Prince of Wales with us, regular. I’m not sure why we were doing a show in school about it though, I don’t know. We never did a show about Sioni Winwns, he could talk Welsh too, and that poor fucker peddled his onions all the way from France. I mean the Indians they got the bus”. Prince
For whatever reason, much like my father (who shares his thoughts on India from the comfort of his throne) until my more recent interests in meditation, India had had very little impact on my understanding of the world, or at least I had thought. Other than frequent inquisitions on the definition of an Indian Summer, or a rare rendition of ‘Thank you’ by Alanis Morrisette, until well into my adult years, India to be brazenly honest had been a stereotypical montage of Sari’s, Turbans, Gandhi, the Taj Mahal, and lest we forget, Karma.
Informed by little more than my childhood years of Indiana Jones or James Bond, my concept of one of Asia’s most influential countries was nothing more than a vision of Arab swordsmen, Snake Charmers and Tuk-Tuks. Which to me, was simply all I needed to know, as this was a country on the other side of the world, on a continent that I had not been privileged, or cared enough to save and travel.
What I have come to learn, however, is that India has far more to offer, and may have had a greater influence on my life than I had once thought, it just takes a different perspective, or sometimes more than one person to realise things. In all our differences or even our ignorance, when people get together, like my father and I for instance (the day before I left for India), in a moment of airing out my anxiety and apprehension for travel, I was reminded that in these situations we get a better understanding of the world, a shared understanding; an understanding that helps us see things in a different way.
And it was in this moment of clarity, in the company of someone I regard to be very different, I began to question the concept of ‘distinction’, recognising that “different” is sometimes not that different at all, and this was something I would come to think about a lot more of on my travels in Jaipur. It was also something to take my mind off the twenty-four hour journey ahead.
“It was wintertime, and not like India wintertime, this was a hard British winter, it was bloody freezing. The car had conked out at the bottom of the hill, and that was on the way up. Glyn was shouting, “don’t stand there like a twat, push, you bastard”. That’s how Glyn used to talk see. So Ben jumps out of the car, he takes his coat off and slips it under the tire. Whoosh, the car moves a few yards and then it stops again and skids in the spot. His coat was in rags. “Throw some more under it you bastard”, Glyn shouts.
So Ben takes off his jacket, then his shirt, then his vest, even his trousers. In the end he had fuck all on, it was all now under the wheels of the car. All of a sudden, Glyn is off up the hill. He had left Ben there standing in the cold, starker’s. It wasn’t long before the car conked out again though. A few hours later he was outside the Prince, hammering the shit out of the bonnet with a starting handle. Now I don’t know what they are like in India, but that’s what they were like here in Wales, and not that long ago either”. Prince
Poles apart, Indian culture was very different to a life in which I am accustomed, or at least it was in Jaipur. Where here I learnt that people agree not by nodding, but by shaking their head. They don’t eat cows they worship them. They stop traffic for animals and even cross roads on foot in the middle of rush hour by simply stepping out into the oncoming flow. Clothes of the deceased go to a graveyard in the trees. And, their peak of winter is like our hottest summer (which again beckons the question, why do they call it an Indian summer? why not an Indian autumn / or winter? this would make more sense would it not? Being a period of unseasonably warm weather in the Autumn season, particularly in the UK. An Indian summer typically reaches temperatures of 32-40ºC. The UK, once at best saw a mere 29.9 °C).
Jaipurians will take selfies with complete strangers and thank you for it, and they will invite almost anyone back to their homes to cook them food and meet their families, something that most westerners would be very apprehensive of. What was also evident in only a short walk through the streets was that a bathroom visit is something of a public display, and that food time, which is often catered by a vender, is always shy of a left hand as this is the hand important to the said bathroom etiquette. A left-handshake in which case is certainly an event providing food for thought.
However, after a short while as I unaffectedly acclimatised to my surroundings I began to wonder further; beyond our genetic makeup, our fashions, or our traditions, how different are we really? Here in India, they drink Chai / we drink Tea. They drive like loonies / we drive like loonies, although in a more orderly fashion. They worship monkeys and they even have monkey priests, although, they seem to worship most animals, and build temples to do so. Are we any different? They pray / we pray, or at least some do, but seldom will you hear a call for prayer at home before ten in the morning. Especially at 5am, as I am sure this would be met with a hostility unworthy of the lord.
It is said that India is the worlds largest democracy / we like democracy. They invented Chess / we like Chess. India has the second largest English speaking population in the world / our democracy only wishes ours was close to that. They are most welcoming, helpful, colourful, and happiest of people. They know how to celebrate (they really know how to celebrate) and as they should, they do so on a weekly basis. And just like us, they pride themselves on being different, and standing out from the crowd.
“I’ve seen them driving like idiots on the telly in other parts of the world, but I think people are far fucking ‘Twper’ in this country, its brilliant, I’m telling you. Listen to this. A lorry brakes down in the middle of November, it was my lorry, then I was the one driving it so I phoned the boss to tell him this thing has broken down. It turned out that the diesel had frozen. He was with me in ten minutes, throws a pile of boxes under the lorry and sets it alight. No thought or delay, just sets it on fire and gets straight in to the cab to start it up. Well it wouldn’t start would it, and in just seconds the thing was ablaze. He nearly burnt the whole lorry down with thirty tone of coal on the back. That’s mad for you, I mean how fucking twp can you be. Now I bet that doesn’t happen in India”. Prince
While much of my time is spent trying to understand the social and psychological constructs of my own community, it’s people and it’s traditions, I have always been more than ready to learn of that which exists outside. In doing so it has allowed me the opportunity to explore, compare, and appreciate different aspects of different cultures, while helping me to better understand my own. I have far from seen it all, and claim less to have seen enough, but what I have seen is to know that many often share the same ideals, the same morals, the same principles, and most even if they show it in different ways, have the same great love for life.
In this respect, India has delivered on all fronts and unequivocally so much more.
Besides providing an experience unparalleled, it has opened both my eyes, and my heart. I have a greater love and respect for India, its people and its culture. It has brought me closer to contentment and it has reaffirmed all so many things. But, what is most apparent, a confirmation of something which I have been taught from such a young age, is that the moment should be ceased and no opportunity should be missed; live for today forget tomorrow; ‘Un bywyd byw fo’. The ‘moment’ is to be lived in, to be risen to, it is to be cherished and savored. We may record them in any which way to remember, but more importantly we must make each one count because some moments are even further, few and far between.
“I’ve had a few opportunities over the years, but I never seem to see them at the time. I had a chance once to own my own machine; a bloke offered to buy it for me, I never took it though, and years later I thought how silly was I? I was always on the go, always busy-busy. The thing is, ninety-five percept of the time we are busy for someone else, for other people, and never for our fucking selves. I take life as it comes these days of course, but I no longer take it for granted. Nor do I look back, there’s no good looking back, because we cant go back anyway. Get on with it. You’ve got to look forward, all the time. Make the most of things, life is too short, bei”. Prince
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