India Update November 25, 2013 – The Hyderabadi Life

After sleeping 11 hours last night, I’m exhausted. There’s a lot to update on and I’ve wrestled with how to frame it all. The second segment of my time in India has been entirely different than the first. Most of my time was spent in Hyderabad, India, the largest and also capital city of Andhra Pradesh. I was told the various segments of my trip would be culture shock within culture shock, and that has served to be quite true.

My goal in Hyderabad was to document the other side of Timbrel’s life, where she has an apartment and runs the logistical side of ANCER from an apartment an hour long flight away from Mandapeta. And in that process, I experienced first hand what it was like to be a 20 something year old in Hyderabad, India. Amazing, truly amazing, and in many ways, a chance to live a more exciting social live than I’m used to. Being the same age, I felt quickly accepted, many of her and now my friends are at least as well traveled, if not more, and have the social consciousness to match. Some have done business or were educated in the United States, including Lancaster. One friend, Shahzoor, had a random connection in the U.S. who recently moved to Lancaster and upon texting her, she already knew I was a photographer. The world is impossibly small.

Hyderabad is difficult to make sense of in many ways. It’s urban, more densely populated, and the more well to do live alongside the impoverished. There were a lot of beggars in Hyderabad, and if you’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire, the system of begging works the same way, with people funneling cash into a larger system of those with more power. By individual streets, the beggars seemed to have their own tactics: crutches, a cane, an appendage wrapped in bandages. The hardest to get past was young women with a child on their arm. It’s difficult to know what their lives really look like but they find people willing to give them a few rupees. When ignored, they get an attitude about them, knock on windows as they spin away and move onto the next car with contempt, not humility. Sometimes they will physically grab you and not let go. In Mumbai, which I’ll get to in my next blog post, a group of young boys though they could quietly open my camera bag in a dense crowd.

All that aside, there is a thriving lower middle class, common middle class, and upper middle class between the extremes of both ends. One of Timbrel’s friends had just returned from three months spent working in Nairibo, Kenya, and to my delight, had a lot of questions to ask me about my experiences there, as well as in India. His office was immediately next door to the Westgate Shopping Mall, where he experienced the shooting there in September 2013. Another friend is studying to be a doctor. Another is a lawyer who worked for the United Nations and practices in Delhi for social justice. Shahzoor, the friend I connected with the most, has the most amazing terrace cafe, hookah and restaurant in downtown Hyderabad, Skypark Cafe. Shahzoor created the menu on Blackberry tablets and won Blackberry’s entrepreneur of the year for India.

One night we went out for karaoke and I was surprised to find I knew every song sung. The restaurant/bar closed at midnight, local law in Hyderabad, and that applies to all restaurants. The group we were with was hungry and no one could decide on where we could possibly find food. We pulled up to a restaurant around 12:45 AM that was clearly closed. I said, “There’s no way we are going to get food here after midnight. They’re definitely closed for the night.” Shahzoor looked at me and smiled, as a man came outside to the right, drivers side window of the car, and asked what we wanted in Hindi. I couldn’t believe what was happening. We drove around the corner and about 20 minutes later someone came out with a bag of food and took our money. The dish was called biryani, a Hyderabadi special made of chicken, rice and a lot of spices. It was amazing, though after I ended up ill again. 

Having checked out of the hotel three hours ago, I’m currently alone in Mumbai, writing in the hotel cafe. Yesterday’s activities in Mumbai will be the most intense update yet, so stay tuned for that post. I was intending to extend my travels in Sydney and New Zealand but have opted for just a couple of days in Sydney, San Francisco possibly, then home. Admittedly, I’m impossibly ready to be home for innumerable reasons. It’s bitter sweet, because I’ve made friendships I intend to maintain for the rest of my life. I’ve been on 5 flights so far with four to go. Coming and going from my current hotel requires a full security check, and every airport has an extensive heyday investigating my camera gear. Two Nikon D3 bodies and my two most expensive lenses are damaged. The food keeps making me sick though, and my skin constantly betrays my wallet. I’m quite seriously considering writing a book on my perceptions of race and being white. I’ve been having difficulties getting responses from publishers about this work.

On an even more personal level, that frustration of publishing has started to make this trip feel like a bit of a failure, as taking these stories to higher levels is my ultimate goal, the reason I’m doing this work and continue to invest more resources than I can tell you into this path. Nothing worth doing is easy, and this trip literally around the world has been yet another opportunity of a lifetime, but creating a voice is the purpose of being here. The missed wedding is still under my skin, too, and while I’ve tried to handle it with grace, ever since that weekend, coming so far to be denied at the door, I can’t help but feel a nagging sense of frustration and rejection. I’ve met amazing people, experienced so much, produced my best visual storytelling work yet, especially thanks to those who took the time to give honest, insightful, wise critique my work in the past. I just need to do something truly meaningful and substantial with it in a way that grows me as a photographer and benefits the people who are in need. I’ve had countless brushes with near success in “making it big,” but nothing has clicked just yet. There are no set paths but I can’t be, and am not, afraid to embarrass myself in trying.