It has been a while since I posted anything on this blog. Sometimes other writing commitments have to be prioritised and of late I have been running to catch up. But being back in Bangalore working with students and colleagues inevitably prompts new thoughts and offers rich experiences.
First impressions of India tend to remain embedded in the mind. When here, I often recall the searing blast of heat, the chaos of traffic and the brightness of colour that hit my senses on first arriving in Chennai in 2000. This was a real shock to the senses, and one that repeats itself daily whilst in this country. On this current visit I have a colleague with me who is making his first visit to India, and I am sure that in years to come he will be recounting the similar sensory assault that greeted him yesterday.
In order to assist his acclimatisation, soon after arriving in Jayanagar I took David for a short walk (it would have been even shorter had I not become lost in the backstreets!) around the winding lanes of the district. Pointing out familiar landmarks and introducing him to the rich tapestry of the street vendors and their multi-coloured palette of assorted goods, I soon found him indulged in one of his favourite passtimes of taking copious photographs. As I observed David happily clicking at his shutter and making subtle adjustments to the camera lens in order to frame the right image, I knew that before long the inevitable crowd of photogenic enthusiasts would gather.
Whether it is something to do with our current egocentric era of superficial celebrity; one which has given birth to that most ubiquitous utensil of self egrandisement – the “selfie stick”, or simply a generous attempt to to give the tourists a warm welcome, I’m not sure. But exactly as I would have predicted, within minutes we were surrounded by a group of young men and boys, all eager to be part of the scene and a central feature of at least one, and preferably multiple photographs. Looking slightly bemused David found himself required to frame photographs of the “other foreigner” in the company of these local celebrities who clearly relished the thought that they may now feature amongst the many pictures that comprise David’s family album back home in England.
Such trivial incidents amuse me, not because of any great significance, but more because of the simple humanity displayed by local people who feel the need to engage with visitors to their community. The desire to communicate and to relate to other human beings is a natural instinct, but one which is often ignored or even suppressed. As we rush about our busy lives we pass thousands of individuals on the street who can easily become a nameless blur of humanity. Taking a little time to stop and share a moment with a stranger, or simply saying hello with a smile can go some way to restoring the sociability that has traditionally formed a bond within and between communities. Five minutes pause for an unplanned photograph can be time well invested if it sends a message that, though our lives and experiences are vastly different, we share many of the social characteristics that have informed all of our communities. Hearing the laughter of the gathered crowd, and trying to interpret the content of their conversations which I am sure involved a number of harmless jokes at our expense, I was particularly impressed by the ease with which these youngsters felt able to make friendly contact with strangers who had chanced upon their street.
Once again over the coming days I will try and fail to understand many of the features of people’s lives here on the streets of Jayanagar. It may be impossible for me to gain a true picture of the experiences of those I meet, but in my failed attempts I can at least ensure that my efforts are accompanied by a smile.