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The India Chronicles | The Drum Sellers of MG Road

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There is quite a difference in how a photographer is perceived and received on the streets in London and in India. In London, there is a simultaneous sense of respect and distrust - people move out of your frame, wait to pass until you've finished clicking, turn their faces, some surreptitiously try to find out what you're clicking and why. Rarely will a Londoner come up to you and ask, and even more rarely will a stranger in London pose for you. If you're around a policeman, you're likely to be questioned, or worse, under the new strange laws against street photography that are aimed at preventing terrorism, but promote suspicion instead.

In India, however, the story turns on its head. If you carry a camera in public, you yourself become the object of curiosity. You click on the street and a crowd will gather behind your back. If people think your viewfinder is trained at them, a few will move out of the frame and a majority will start hamming it up - putting on a happy display for your benefit. Most people in India love getting their pictures taken, even if they personally won't ever have a chance of having those pictures! I personally suspect the degree of curiosity and hamming goes up if the photographer is female. Of course, not everyone will do this - but this is largely what I've experienced while clicking here.

And so it was on a Sunday afternoon at MG Road. Exhausted by shopping, I was sipping at a disgusting concoction disguised as cold coffee at the Cafe Coffee Day on MG Road, watching life on the busy street whizz past, when I noticed these drum sellers. These young men move around in groups on MG Road trying to sell crudely made drums of all sizes to people. They were evidently not having too much luck this afternoon.

The Drum Sellers of MG Road

The Drum Sellers of MG Road

The Drum Sellers of MG Road

The Drum Sellers of MG Road

Since I was safely hidden under a large garden umbrella and some plants, I took several shots of these guys knowing that they are unaware of my presence and my viewfinder. Or so I thought. One of them noticed me, much to his apparent glee, and this is what ensued.

The Drum Sellers of MG Road

The Drum Sellers of MG Road
Ham it up, Mister

The Drum Sellers of MG Road
The one on the right knows his picture is being taken. This is an attempt to look 'cool'.

I spent the rest of the evening fending off these two guys as they tried to sell me a drum. Every time I stepped out of a store, they would be there:

"Maddum, lowest price for you... you clicked my photo, Maddum"
"Only 250 Rupees for you, Maddum, special price"
"We entertained you Maddum, please buy" (I'd laughed out loud when these guys struck that pose for me).
And even:
"What Maddum, I make so much effort, you still don't buy"


I have to admit I was tickled, even if a bit annoyed by their unceasing sales pitch. Although, I suspect that I provided them with more entertainment in their boring afternoon than the other way round. I did not buy a drum, although I wanted to. I just don't have space in my luggage for one!

18 comments so far:

Abhijit Dharmadhikari said...

I envy your art of describing the events/moments :-) Nice essay and images!

Joydeep said...

You are observant and funny at the same time - i loved the comparison b/w india and london ..& the female photographer realization is probably true!!! have fun and keep entertaining us ....you are now competing with the Indian epapers on India views except that you are way more interesting in your depiction

Purely Narcotic said...

Wha,t Maydum! Such nice pictures, Maydum. You made me laugh, maydum. Thank you, Maydum! ;)

SD (Aspherical) said...

Very cool, I like how you presented this as befor and after. Nice work with the images, I really like how the unique colors of India come through.

SloganMurugan said...

Lovely candid images.
And yes, you are right about how people pose. :)

Flaneurbanite said...

Abhijit: Thank you! And good to see you here after a long time! Do keep visiting. :)

Joydeep: I'm glad you liked it. Thanks so much for the wonderful comment - you made my day!

Purely Narcotic: You're most waylcome, Maddum. We aim to please, Maddum. Er...my tip, Maddum?

Flaneurbanite said...

SD (Aspherical): Thanks so much for visiting. Glad you liked the story :)

SloMo: Thank you! The posing is almost always funny - although sometimes it can exasperate...like when you're trying to click something and random people deliberately saunter into your frame!

Paul Nixon said...

Ah yes, I recognise those characters. You could probably do a follow-up on the Chess Set Sellers of Brigade Road or the India Map Sellers of Commercial Street. Personally, I've never felt the need for a drum but I guess some people buy them otherwise your two subjects would have moved on to selling something else.

Happy Independence Day. I'm currently in London.

Erinn said...

Enchanting. This is such a unique and interesting topic for a photo essay. I really like the contrast you drew in your accompanying text. The text and photos really paint a picture of a more laid back, friendly atmosphere than must of us experience. Mind you, I really doubt those lads would be hamming it up for a thirty-something Canadian man!

Da Underdog said...

Hello ..

Am a recent drifter the to the bootyfool town of Bengalurooo. 8 others have already put u in a place somewhere close to the 'statoshpere'.. I would ONLY say .. Damm Good Madaam ! Don't wana say more lest We loose u to the Outer space (lol)!

My favs are the 2nd the ''HAM'' it up mister clicks
The second Picture says - Damm Life .. so tough am on the roads, look at it .. a drum to beat the frustration out !

Ham it up says - Life s all not so lonely at all , some pretty - sweet lass did frame me ! And here s one sweet kiss !

The last pic - To end it all, some one did manage to bring upon a smile on the battered face of one - Kudos !
TC God Bless

Note : Don't mind .. am with those smart guys .. after all am a Salesman too !

Flaneurbanite said...

Paul: Oh yes, the chess-set sellers and India map sellers! Thankfully I haven't had any of those chase me around MG road yet. Funny, I've come across many chess-set and map sellers in other indian cities. Drum selling on a street seems to a new phenomenon. I wonder who buys them off the street, though?

Flaneurbanite said...

Erinn: Thank you! It was an out-of-the-norm experience for me too - I assure you I haven't been stalked by drum sellers on a busy shopping street ever before. Haha! But yes, the posing happens, everywhere in India. In smaller towns, the men just cannot believe a woman wielding a camera wants to shoot them - reactions range from embarassed laughing to outright losing-of-self-control-type-hamming. It's hilarious!

Flaneurbanite said...

Underdog: Am not sure I got the import of your comment in it's entirety, but I'm guessing you liked the post, so thank you for that! And thanks for visiting. :)

R. Ramesh said...

good blog..congrats and cheers..

Flaneurbanite said...

Thank you and thanks for visiting!

Anonymous said...

Hehe! Have you ever seen a news camera on our streets? Now, THAT, is surrounded with terrible hams!

Flaneurbanite said...

siropdevanille: Hahaha..so true! Thanks for dropping by :)

jyothy karat said...

ha ha.. thats soooooooo true!!!here the photographer is almost always an object of attention. Its quite difficult to be invisible here!

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