Photo essay – The Opulence of What Never May Have Been

Kolkata-11 Osiyan-2 Osiyan-4 Ujjain-14 Ujjain-15 Ujjain-16 Ujjain-17 Ujjain-30 Ujjain-31 Ujjain-34 Varanasi-36 Varanasi-37 Varanasi-44 Varanasi-54 Varanasi-55 Varanasi-56 Varanasi-59 Varanasi-66 Varanasi-68 Varanasi-87 Varanasi-125 Varanasi-153 Varanasi-157 Vishnupad-2

“Street scenes: what allures me is that the most humble abode can be ornamented with the brightest of colours, their contrast imparting all the magic of a lolly-shop; the old fashioned kind with big clear glass jars that display the gaudiness of their sugary contents. The buildings washed sometimes in lime greens, the wooden shutters of their windows mauve and rich chocolate browns, the walls with small alcoves, these serving as tiny shrines. And like a rude voyeur trying to glean the intimacies of people I do not know, I gazed closely at the modest offerings placed in each one. The high balconies of some structures seem beyond repair, the decking dangerously ajar, held at delinquent angles by rusting wire, their awnings of ancient corrugated iron sheeting, all but about to plummet down to the detriment of those unfortunate enough to be walking below. People, the young, the old, all nameless to me, live inside. Within the ruined caverns of this architecture they sing and laugh, shout, cry and make babies. They share fears and joy, hear news from relatives living in foreign lands, suffer their country’s losses at Test cricket; and in time pass from this world. Yet, from out the most world-weary of doors and windows, waft delicate fragrances of burning incense, and the rich smells of spicy meals being prepared inside.”

These are lines taken directly from Post 54, Day 30, of ‘A Passenger through India’. They are about the seemingly ordinary buildings and back alley scenes that collectively construct the architectural panoramas of India’s old cities; the images of tired buildings and humble ornamentation that don’t make the tourist brochures. None are likely to make any heritage list. Yet for all their weathered and at times collapsing facades, these sit as kernels within the city matrix. Everything else, be it the grandeur of the Taj Mahal or the Sun Temple at Konarak, can be dismissed as cultural embellishment, regardless of how splendid or nationally iconic it may be.

You can lose yourself in the back streets of India. Sometimes dim and foreboding, and ever unknowing as to what will unfold beyond each constricted corner, regardless, therein can be found a richness of experience that transcends the confrontation of impoverishment. The buildings tear you from the dull sameness of packaged Western suburban architecture. To walk these streets is anything but ordinary. There is no numbing monotony of urban existence.

(photos from Kolkata, Osiyan, Ujjain, Varanasi, Vishnupad)

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