INDIA.002: DELHI

INDIA.002: DELHI

I think the picture above sums up DELHI in a nutshell –> MADNESS…and I mean that in the most sincere & positive way. This city is absolutely out of control. It is SENSORY OVERLOAD from the minute you get off the plane, to the minute you step out into the street, get in a car/rickshaw/auto/bus (take your pick), to the minute you lay down to sleep (if you can manage to pull that off), to the minute you wake up in the morning and all the seconds, minutes & hours in-between. It’s 24/7. Constant. Unrelenting. Now, before I jump in, I’m going to warn you, this blog itself will be sensory overload; I felt it only fitting that the aesthetic & pace match the energy of this city, so this post in particular will house more images & random stories than any I’ve ever posted in the past (nearly 50 images). Why? Because I can’t help myself, the city is forcing it upon me and I have to share everything I see out here, its stunning to say the least. In the pic above, my sister & I were walking back to the Delhi Metro (yes, that’s a two-way walk-thru) after spending the day in Chandni Chowk, on the hunt for rare vinyl. As you push your way thru this alley, loud speakers warn you to watch your pockets, bags, valuables, etc., because this is a thieves den, and being the intelligent foreigner that I am, I bust out my NIKON D700 to snap a quick shot – well worth the risk, don’t you think? – by far one of my favorite images from this trip thus far. I am thankful for being a basketball player in my youth, because you literally have to box-out people everywhere. No joke, even the bijis (grandmothers) get swol on you in Delhi…bijis don’t play.

Supposedly, there are 2 record stores located somewhere within the Meena Bazaar portion of Jama Masjid. The very fact that 2 kids from Sherman Oaks, even attempted to navigate through that madness solo, was down right impressive…and borderline psychotic. Even though we knew the actual store numbers, it was not an easy find. Chandni Chowk is THE place to witness Delhi in all its craziness. And we went down there on a frickin’ Saturday afternoon, prime time baby…

It was my first time riding the metro since I’d been here (it didn’t exist the last time I was in Delhi) and I must say, I was damn impressed with how efficient it runs (every 2 mins there’s a train…on the dot). Getting on at SAKET was a breeze; South Delhi, that’s the place to be…and lucky for me, that’s where home-base is for this portion of my trip. But we were going to CHANDNI CHOWK, where Indians go to bargain hunt…you feel me? Not foreigners, but the NATIVES…this is where they go to buy those wonderful half-vest-glitter-wool-sweaters and baby outfits made out of blankets (I shit you not). So, exiting the subway at CC station was like running w/the bulls; it was like being in a mosh-pit of a riot. PEOPLE EVERYWHERE. No walking real-estate available, so get used to walking on people…its normal & nobody seems to mind.

We exit the subway, box-out our way thru a few more of the alleys like the one above, pass by dudes carrying full on grills of food on their heads, under electrical wiring that is sure to cause a massive fire, find the main road, jump into a rickshaw and we’re off to find the bazaar. I should mention that these rickshaw drivers might be some of the strongest, most fit people in the world – its mind-numbing the weight they pull on their bicycles and amidst massive traffic & chaos (most of them rockin’ sandles yo…not sneakers, SANDALS)…truly amazing – naturally, I bust out my DSLRs (yes, plural) & start to go nuts πŸ™‚

Ok, so, we get dropped off in the thick of it – well, actually, not so much…hommie could’ve taken us in much further, but he knew we were foreigners & dropped us off farther away…clever punk. At any rate, here we are, at the base of Emperor Shah Jahan‘s mosque, JAMA MASJID, which was built in 1650AD, trying to find a record store…2 actually. I can’t get over what I’m seeing, hearing, smelling…its almost too much, all at once. WELCOME TO INDIA. “Hello Sir’s” being lobbed in my direction from thousands of street merchants, “Dhai-sao, Dhai-sao, Dhai-sao” all over the place (that means 250rupees = $4.50US). Hundreds, if not thousands, of birds circling overhead. I walk by a mini-pool of water, filled with watches (that’s how they show you they are water proof – gotta love it!). This hilarity is side-by-side to some of the worst poverty you’ll ever see in your life. That is something I will never get used to when visiting India. It’s hard to stomach, always gets me down and you will see it everywhere, so you have to learn to cope with the visuals, as hard as it may be. All at the base of this ancient mosque, built in a time my own country didn’t even exist. There is NOTHING like this in America. Not even close, so don’t even try to relate. You can’t. Period.

Of course, we know we aren’t near any record stores yet, so we move deeper into the thick of it and start to ask around – mind you, my sister speaks fluent Hindi, while my shaved-head-punk-ass stands beside her with my camera on my chest – think stupid foreigner again. Any attempt my sister makes to “blend in” is automatically negated by me standing next to her. Nobody seems to know what a record store or vinyl/records are and the actual store numbers make no sense (they go up & down in every direction, north, south, east, west – remember my 1st blog on India, logic & reason do not rule here). We keep asking as we go along, but just get BLANK STARES…and the merchants in Delhi, they are deceptive, so instead of saying “I don’t know”, they keep pointing in random directions.

Go that way, make a left. Ok. No, go back where you came from, make a right. Ok. No, go back again the other way. Ok. We stay persistent, guessing people were clueless themselves. Finally, some dude asks us what are we looking for, because in that particular area, we stood out like sore thumbs and the number of females was slim to NONE (that’s typical of India anyways, you see a lot of men everywhere but not too many women and this time, there seriously were no women in sight – NOT ONE. Ladies, you think you’re independent & strong? NOPE. Not like my sister; you simply can’t measure up).

We tell him we’re looking for a record store, “you know, vinyl records”. Nothing. We quickly realize, its not that they don’t know what records are, but rather it was the way we were saying “records”…we had to accentuate the “cord”, “re-CORRRD”. Now people were like, “Hah, Hah, Shah Music, #256, that way”. Mind you, we are walking through some sketchy parts now, absolutely secluded, with nobody around except the vendors and hardcore locals. I got my camera gear on me (because I’m the dumb American, remember?) and my sis is the only woman in like a mile radius at this point – granted, she wraps her head in a dupata (scarf) every time she leaves the house to protect her skin from the Delhi dust, so it looks like she’s wearing a burka, which was good being in a heavy Muslim market.

I was going through worst case scenarios in my head, thinking, alright, my back-pack is about 35lbs, I can knock a couple fools out, drop at least 4 or 5 dudes before I get cold-clocked or something…word up, I can handle that. Even dropped my kara around my fist, just in case I had to bomb on someone. My sis tells me later that she was a bit freaked out, but didn’t want to alarm me until after we were out of there. But once the vendors figured out we wanted vinyl, they all were pulling for us to find the store(s). I was impressed. Delhi merchants will deceive you to get the business themselves, but in this spot of Jama Masjid, there was a community. They wanted us to find those records. And we did…oh, boy, oh, boy, oh, boy, did we find some records!!! One of my goals on this trip was to collect rare vinyl, hindi, punjabi, instrumentals, etc. from the 1950s-1980s and we hit the mother-load. I had read about two stores that faced one another on a local blog, SHAH MUSIC CENTRE (#256) & YASEEN MUSIC CENTRE (#152), and there they were…in the middle of the motor district of the bazaar.

What’s a motor district? Think every single part of a motorcycle or scooter and that’s all we see for blocks & blocks & blocks. Vendors selling nothing but motor parts (and drill bits – no clue why). And bam, smack in the middle of all of this, were 2 vinyl shops.

Oh yeah, and goats. Lots & lots of GOATS; some tied up, some wrapped in “blankets” (rice sacks). They like their goat meat out here, what can I say…shit is good, I’m not gonna lie. Makes you sad passing them, because they are well taken care of, even given names in most cases. They look pretty happy too. Little do they know, they are being taken care of to be grub soon…

At any rate, I got my records, well over 100+. And the best part about it? They delivered them to our house. See, that’s the wonderful thing about India. For all the hassle you have to go through to get stuff done, there’s all these affordable luxuries that balance out the madness. My sister had been telling me about the perks, but it honestly didn’t register until I was here. If you know my sister, then you know she’s a master planner and since this was the first time I’d been able to visit them as they’re going on their 3rd year of living in Delhi, she had a lot on deck for her little brother. From the first morning after we landed, my sister started to line up the goodies. We start with a visit to the Ayurvedic doctor; hommie takes one look at me and completely knows everything that is wrong with me. I was STUNNED. All holistic care, I get a sack full of meds (disgusting meds, mind you, but I’m a trooper) and a new food regimen to start & I’m already feeling amazing (side note, the guy told me to go vegetarian, immediately…and I was like, brotha, I don’t think that’s humanly possible for me, so I’m to stick to fish & chicken for meats…phew).

What do you want to do next? Do you want tabla lessons? Boom, dude is at the house, every morning, teaching me tabla…for $10US/session (yeah, that’s right, TEN DOLLARS). You want a massage? No problem, any day, any time, $6US for an hour & half, full body massage (even works in your skull at the end) – I should mention I’ve never in my nearly 40yrs of being alive had a professional massage and now I’m hooked. Damn you Preet! (BTW, when they say a massage rids your body of toxins, they weren’t lying. Oh boy did I rid myself of some toxins that evening – ’nuff said). Want some yoga lessons? Every day, BOOM. (REAL yoga, not the nonsense its morphed into in the states – “Downward Dog” is American, its really called the “Mountain” pose. Bikram Yoga is idiotic & goes against the core principals of yoga…figures). What would you like to eat? Our cook can make you anything. Oh, WORD? First day, I had 9, count ’em, NINE aloo-parathas (further proof of my JATTness). Where would you like to go? Our driver can take you anywhere. WHAAAAAAT?! You see, for all the headaches you’re dealt in India just living day-to-day, the affordability of the good life is not bad at all, so you have to indulge. And the good life is not just good, its down right outstanding…I mean, it better be, considering I’ve already bared witness to 5 power outages in one week. See why all the luxuries help lesson the blow?

My sister keeps telling me how “hip” Delhi has become (really Preet? Are you not seeing the same sweater-vests I see everywhere?) and in particular continues to talk about this lounge I must check out called Blue Frog, which is housed amongst some very swanky stores & restaurants, just on the outskirts of India’s tallest minaret, QUTUB MINAR – beautiful place, built in 1192 (again, older than anything back home).

Side-bar, but I visited Qutub Minar for a quick 30min trip; that’s all you’ll need before you’re overrun by local kids, boys in particular, looking to get in to mischief. When dudes in India stare at women, they stare at them like they’ve never seen one before in their life. Its both funny & freaky, all wrapped up into one. By the same right, they stare at people with sophisticated camera equipment much in the same way, so I wasn’t about to hang around too long, ya feel me? At any rate, the day I went, I was lucky that the sky was overcast, because it allowed for some rather cool imagery…check it…

Alright, back to Blue Frog…my sister insists the music is amazing and that’s a hard one to stomach for me, because when you travel through Europe & Asia, even South Asia, all you hear is nauseating house music; GOD AWFUL house music. Nothing else. Gangnam-style all over the place, you feel me? With the sensory overload you get in this country, house music is like a jackhammer to your brain. Remember, this isn’t good house music, its that Euro-trash. So, I’m weary, but my sister knows that my life, outside of photography, is all about music. QUALITY BEATS. PERIOD. She knows what I like, she knows my taste, she knows what I spin back home, so I’m looking forward to checking this place out at some point. We went last Thursday, randomly. My Jeejah (brother-in-law) hands me the local newspaper every morning which lists what’s going on in the art scene out here (and this time of year, Delhi is dense with cultural events: photography exhibits, concerts, readings, dance recitals, art galleries, etc.). There’s some band that’s going to be in town from Austria; apparently an all vocal band. Cool, lets check them out, show starts at 9:30PM. We don’t make it out there until 11PM (plans are always shifting in this place, get used to it) and as we walk around the outside deck, I hear, yet again, house music bumpin’ from the inside…bummer, I think, the band must’ve already finished their set. At any rate, we head in for a drink (I end up ordering a quadruple scotch, Johnnie Walker Black, because doubles out here are less in volume than singles back home – wack), only to find out that the music we heard is actually the vocal band. 5 Guys. 5 Mics. No Instruments. This is the genius that’s BAUCHKLANG. Suddenly, I felt like I was in LA at an underground, unknown, quality electronica bass show (think LOW END THEORY – yes, it was THAT good). I was seriously taken back, first by the talent of this band…I have never heard a vocal group absolutely crush it like this; the bass sounds they produced were nothing short of brilliant. They were flipping genres like it was nobody’s business and even though you could see everything was generated vocally, it sounded like a DJ spinning (I bought ALL their records on my way out). Second, I was taken back by the response of the crowd & that this place decided to host such unique, eclectic talent. That’s rare, even in the states. Their future roster was diverse indeed, dub, trip-hop, reggae, hip-hop, funk, soul, you name it. I need to get on the decks at this spot and hit them with some Cali swag on the Tech12z, they’ll appreciate it for sure (then again, nobody in Delhi seems to have Serato…what’s up with that nonsense?). Kudos Blue Frog, that place is the f’in’ shit. You MUST go if you’re in Delhi. I’m headed back this Saturday to check out one of my favorite electronica duos to come out of India, Delhi locals MIDIVAL PUNDITZ.

Then, there’s another place my sister keeps raving about, near her work (which sits outside Chotti Gumti and a variety of other ancient tombs – yeah dude, right outside my sister’s work are a set of ancient tombs…this place is nuts). At any rate, the place is called HAUZ KHAS VILLAGE. The village is right near Hauz Khas Complex…again, another ancient structure built 700+yrs ago and houses the tomb of Feroz Shah.

Think Silverlake, with hipsters in tow. Yes, there are hipsters out here, but unlike the states, they can actually pull off skinny jeans. They are not pretentious, they are young, creative, have a love for art and don’t try so hard to look like they aren’t trying so hard. Polar opposite of the hipsters you see strolling the streets of Echo Park & Silverlake back home.

Preet takes me to the village, walks me around, then shows me the ruins of HK Complex in the back to explore. I bid her farewell and roam the ruins with my camera(s). Security stops me from shooting video, yet they don’t mind the dozens of kids littering the place like their own personal trash-can (sometimes I think these kids out here take what is around them for granted – coming from the states, you’d think preservation would be high on the list, but its not). Whatever, they didn’t stop me before I got a solid walk-thru of the place with my steadycam, hehe πŸ˜‰ (yes, I brought a steadycam to India – I know, I’m crazy). Again, its a visual paradise. You can basically point your camera in any direction in India and get amazing results.

I find a spot to eat, Cafe Zo, which is right next door to a shop that carries vintage Bollywood movie posters (I was stuck in this store for about an hour, digging). It’s in between meal times, so Zo is empty. Completely empty, except for one guy sitting to my left. I hear this amazing hip-hop/funk/electronica band rehearsing somewhere in the building and strike up a convo with this guy, asking where its coming from. Turns out, he’s the owner, Ankit, and the band is rehearsing in the basement for his launch party, which was this past Monday. He calls my waiter over and hands me a personal invite to the event. NICE.

My first day in Hauz Khas and already have an event on the roster to hit up! BTW, we went on Monday night and it was nuts. I even ran into a photographer who I randomly approached in a coffee shop not 2 days before. Random? I think not. Look, I’m in India people, its no holds barred for me. I’m here on vacation, but I’m here to work as well and building up a list of contacts to make sure I come back for more πŸ™‚

I can’t believe I’ve only been in this city for 10 days. Honestly, it feels like I’ve been here for months. I’m immersed in the scene & loving every minute of it. My favorite images so far are of the working class people. I stop people in the street all the time and ask if I can take their pictures. Taxi drivers. Construction workers. Food vendors. Shoe-shiners. Priests. Vagabonds. Their faces are amazing. Powerful.

I have no problem saying this, but India has the best looking men in the world, PERIOD. I was told that years ago by a 67yr old white woman back in the states, after she overheard I was Punjabi. She looked like she was transferred back to another time when I told her my ethnic background, remained silent for a second and simply said, “Ah yes, Punjab…home to the most beautiful men in the world.” – go ahead gori, I know you got your freak on with some JATTs back in the day πŸ˜‰ After spending a couple of weeks in this country, that statement rings so true in my mind. The men of this country by far outshine the women in looks…and believe me, that’s a tough statement to make, since I’ve always thought Indian women are some of the most gorgeous in the world. Can’t put my finger on it, but some of these faces really stand out to me. I think any number of fashion agents can pluck nearly every other dude off the streets of India and turn them into high-paid fashion models if they wanted.

At any rate, I try my best to mix it up with the working class every chance I get. These are the REAL people of India. They are happy, work hard and value their friends & family. They make this country what it is, so my photography will lean heavy on their visuals throughout my stay.

Now, there is one major drawback to Delhi when you frequent these posh venues & malls…sometimes, the crowd is a bit hard to stomach. In Delhi, you have the rich and then the ungodly rich, alongside the working class & poor (like I said before, if you’re from the states, you have no point of reference; the poverty in India is unnerving, it always hurts to see it). The ungodly rich are priviledged, rude & obnoxious. Most go about their days & nights with a frown/scowl on their face (why you gotta look so down?…you’re LOADED fools, SMILE). They emit arrogance & greed and treat the working class people like they don’t exist. They bark orders (yes, bark, not speak, they bark), demand things, never say “Thank You”, are mostly over-weight (yes, because being heavy-set is a sure sign of wealth) and truly believe they are better than everyone. They frequent certain spots in Delhi, so you have to get used to rubbing shoulders with them. It’s a lot like Hollywood, but much more brutal. I’ve seen wealth in the states, but nothing like this city. It’s out of control. Don’t get me wrong, there are a great many folks out here with ungodly sums of money that are great people, no doubt. I’m talking about a certain few; you’ll know them when you cross paths, no question. And again, its okay, because that’s a product of the North. You don’t see that in the South. I didn’t get that impression from the wealthy in Goa. They were different. But that’s the beauty of India, every state has a very distinct culture, language, food & different set of social rules to live by.

Ok, one last story, I promise. Sunday night, my cousin brother’s car broke down on his way over to our house for dinner; car full of family, breaks down about a mile away. What would you do? Call AAA or a tow-truck…BAM…problem solved, right? Naw, not here. In India, you call your family, because if you leave that car on the side of the road to get later, good chance it’ll be gone in the morning. So, we had to meet them off the main road in a side-cut, where my female niece, in heels, pushed the car (yes, she’s a Dhillon…told you JATTs were crazy). We brought 2 cars, one to take the women to the house, the other for the men to come in later, because me & Jeej were gearing up to push this car a mile to the crib (I said that was the only option, since the “rope” we had was a dog’s leash – seriously, you think I’m kidding? – we had a dog leash as our towing “wire”, yeah, um NO). Mind you, there are no rules on the roads; bicycles, pedestrians, trucks, scooters, cars, horses, rickshaws, autos, cows, beggars, motorcycles, elephants, wild street dogs, etc. all share the roads together. Every last bit of asphalt (or should I say dirt) is taken. Horns honking constantly. It’s the ambient noise out here, BEEP-BEEP. All day, every day. BEEP-BEEP. So, I’m thinking, shiiiit, this is how I’ll go out, pushing a car on the streets of Delhi. Now, luck would have it, my cuz tries the car again and it starts, so we avoid a walk in the madness (no words could describe my relief at that moment), dinner goes off without a hitch & they cab it back home. But the car is still sitting outside the house, 3 days later, unable to get a mechanic to look at it or fix it. Why? Because that would be too easy, wouldn’t it? Just like it would be too easy for my sister to plug in her brand new clothes dryer; something she’s just now getting after spending nearly 7yrs living in this country (a true luxury indeed, since everyone hangs their clothes out to dry & the result is a stack of “washed” clothes that are about has hard as cardboard). There is no way in the states that a dryer would get delivered to your home, without it being connected & functional. My sister’s has been sitting outside the house for 3 days, in the box, because, you see….aaahhh forget it, just laugh. Another day, another hurdle. We’ll figure it out later…just like every minute of every day spent here. We’ll figure it out somehow….and that is what makes me absolutely LOVE this country, whole-heartedly πŸ™‚ Alright, I hoped you enjoyed this edition of my INDIA journal. I know its a lot to stomach, so at the very least, I appreciate those that made it this far and those who simply scrolled through my images; either way, I appreciate your time. In a couple days, we head off further North for a 2-week family vacation (for me, that would be a vacation from my vacation – that’s kinda pimp, huh?) –> RAJASTHAN –> HARYANA –> PUNJAB. I’ll most likely be off the grid until we’re back in 2013, armed with a truck-load of content no doubt. If I don’t hear from you or get a chance to post again before 2013 arrives, I would like to wish you all a very happy, healthy and safe New Years.