Tuesday, December 5, 2017


Pushkar is a melting pot of cultures, both occidental and those of our sub-continent. Spirituality brings together peoples from all over the world in the tiny valley; the mela brings the camels and the purnima heralds the pilgrims. Both of which bring the tourists.
Popularly known as the Pushkar Mela or cattle fair,  this is an annual event. It's also known as the Kartik mela.
There are two parts to the mela - the first half soon after Diwali is the cattle fair
The second part of the fair is a week after leading up to the Purnima (full moon) which draws  pilgrims from all over the country to this important Tirth, place of pilgrimage. The pilgrims bathe in the holy lake during these days of the mela.
Now let me introduce the Raika
The Raika are nomadic camel herders; they are the sacred keepers of the animal sent by God. These nomads walk miles with their animals in search of pastures and are in sync with nature. They have an understanding with the farmer (agriculturist) whose land their animals fertilize during their halt overnight in exchange for grain. They are one with their herd in so many ways, walking & keeping up with these long-legged animals is no mean feat for a human .. hard to imagine.
We know little or nearly nothing about these precious people and their animals.
Every year sees the biggest camel fair in Pushkar (yes it's a trade fair).
For a long time the camel population is steadily  declining, now there are horses mainly and some cattle at the fair since they fetch a better price and have more buyers.
Apart from facial features and physical structure, in India we have strong communication through intricacies of traditional dress and textile.
I would like to portray this from the perspective of dress.
There is much concern and research on the front of biodiversity that is being adversely affected with the decline in the camel population.
Through my observation and research over the years I see the intrinsic role of dress that is intertwined and plays an important role with this decline indirectly affecting the biodiversity.
What is  the role of dress here?

"Years ago we were sitting around at the Pushkar mela and one of the Raikas asked- 'Gujjar ho ya Raika?' He said "Kuch nahi, mai to gora hoon." (I'm neither, I'm a white man)

Had he been in urban attire it would not have drawn that question from the Raika. His desert silhouette .. the turban, jewellery ..  made them curious.

One (pun intended) with the Herders

The Semiotics of dress, specially of the desert region is absolutely fascinating and highly detailed."Dress has an intrinsic role to play with the biodiversity"
This may not seem to play a role in disrupting the bio-diversity and in the decline of the camel population but to me it has an elemental role to play. Dress is a form of communication, it is what binds a community as well as pillars it, if a Raika doesn't look a Raika he doesn't feel like one and when he doesn't feel like one, he lacks pride in his work; when one doesn't pride one's work and traditionally it is hard to  separate the two, it is one's identity! It is not a Job where he only plays a role, it is one's Farz, one's dharma!! The desert stays only if they stay and by they I mean the Raika and the camel as one.
Living even briefly in a rural area for an urban Indian like me is hard; although I love rural India one has become so accustomed to urban comforts that it feels a hard life.

To live not just a rural life but that of a nomad is not exactly easy for a foreigner. One has to have one's heart and soul in it. To walk with them and live with them, decipher their lifestyle and customs, be one with them.. His research is unobtrusive as he becomes One with the herders.

Editing Credits- Kavita Shah 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

An unravelling tale...

- An Introduction

I visit Pushkar quite often for Cattle fair- the mela, I have a certain fondness for the place. It keeps calling me back and I feel at home here.
I'm intrigued by the people, not the original inhabitants as much .. but rather those who have wound their way here to call it home. Back in design school my room-mate had been in boarding school at the neighbouring city, Ajmer, Pushkar's a stone's throw away; she would describe it to me mesmerisingly. Bob Marley rang out in the streets and li'l white kids trotted alongside their mothers who carried pots of water on their heads like the village folk.

It was this complete blend of the goras and India, rural goras, who spoke marwari hindi, dressed more traditional than the natives and knew the intricacies of our culture with a clear questioning eye.  The integration of the foreigner and the openness of the local is a fascinating blend. What is understood by an 'angrej' (foreigner/white skinned person) is translated to an urban Indian with the same air since western influence allows comprehension with logical reasoning. Indian culture is so complex that it could take many lifetimes to logically understand each minute detail, so we're told 'follow the grown ups' or 'just do it, don't question' .. it has taken me much unlearning from my convent mould to understand this.

I love to travel by myself; every once in a while I'd share an 'Italian' coffee with a fellow traveller at Salim & Nizam's Honey Dew Cafe this is where one usually meets the 'rural goras'.  
One such person who arrested my attention since a couple of visits was a rustic looking man in authentic local costume, his features seemed those of a Sikh, but his garb? No Sikh would dress like that. I have a discerning eye for culture, textiles and detail which makes me dig for origins, he for one was a mystery. Now now now, who was he, was a mystery needed unravelling.

Every time I'd see him pace up and down the market place I'd quickly try and absorb all the elements of this interestingly dressed man. One morning at breakfast two years ago I  heard Italian at the next table. I turned to look and there he was! I broke into a smile as I love Italian .. it's music to my ears. I still didn't have the courage to accost him, perhaps it would be intrusive. I'd always keep an eye out for him, maybe I'd get to know more. Now here was an Italian who had no give away of his origins except when he spoke the language which he rarely did.

At the mela I was drawn to this contemporary looking stall called Camel Charisma, an NGO that works to preserve the biodiversity by spreading awareness about the lesser known troubles resulting from the drop in the camel population. I volunteered with them and learned much from Ilse (the camel lady from Germany) Hanwant Singh (from Jodhpur) who spoke the local dialect and was genuinely concerned for the Raikas and their camels. That evening with Heva I met an Italian girl who I overheard talking of a man with the exact description, I couldn't help but ask more about him. Oh 'Jyoti ba'.. that's what people call him, yes he's Sicilian and he loves to talk, he knows so much about the locals and can tell you all if you walk around with him. I was glad! I had to search for him again.


Next morning at Salim's I asked about him and they told me sketchy bits they knew; that he was a nomad, you'd spot him if you were lucky. I left a little note written in Italian for him. On my way back, voila! There he was, he'd got my note and was more than happy to talk, not in Italian or English but speaking the local dialect of marwari hindi.. hahaha!

We spoke, he told me of his origins and his stay in India, I was curious. When he was quite certain that I had genuine interest he began telling me more of who he was slowly unravelling his school of thought, ideas and ambition. He had quite a history but now he was one with India, with Rajasthan. He for one has lived his research through and there can be nothing more thorough I thought. He was not just any 'rural gora', he had a purpose and he was living it.
His disgust for modern schooling, left-over of the Raj which has truly broken the spine of our country in more ways than one. As we spoke I grew more aware of things I had thought of in the past and some that I hadn't. I couldn't agree more: we can pick out a mispronounced English word but are quite unashamed of our inability to light a fire.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Tradition to trend

Dear readers/followers I usually don't post secondary research, but this just seemed so interesting that I had to post.

Indian Islamic man, Hennaed hair

Elderly Indian man, Sadhu/sanyasi possibly

Elderly Indian man, post Holi

Indian Islamic man, Western India, printed turban

Indian Islamic man, green turban

Indian Sadhu, Coloured forehead & beads

Sikhism Inspired fashion image

Waris Ahluwalia, Sikh designer NY

Accessorised beard

Flower beard

Accessorised beard

Flower beard

Flower beard

Flower beard

Flower beard

Flower beard

Flower beard

Beach scene beard

My sincere credit to pinterest and the many photographers/stylists/models who are contributing to this. I could not find origins of all the pictures though please feel free to write in to me should you have any queries/requests. Thank you once again.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Nascent Nelipots

Barefoot Bhakti..

The more I  travel this land (India) the smaller I feel and probably lack words to describe the deep feeling it leaves me with.

Our Rishi munis have lived detached from the material world for thousands of years.

We have visitors from world over who come to this land to understand the meaning of this enigmatic country. For us city brats it is much about how terribly inadequate our systems are and its best to flee, it does take a while to understand what a land of plenty we are, pause; and wonder what still keeps going?

Sometimes we need to come full circle to understand this, we are not a 'trend' driven culture and words like fashion/trend are fairly recent, probably still not understood conceptually as a nation. So, something like walking barefoot which is either for reasons of material detachment or poverty, is now 'fashionable'

Often enough it is not adopted for either of the above reasons and there is a group of people doing it. The Nascent Nelipots!

The original pundit in the background does believe in footwear. The one in focus has clearly been a nelipot for a while and to him it's not just a holiday trend.

The soles get tougher and acclimatise after a while of walking barefoot.

#Nelipots have even creeped into the punk souls so we have an overlapping cross trend here. Bare-soled punks!

I usually strike a conversation with people I photograph so the picture has more depth than just a flash image. 

Why does one choose to walk on the rough streets of India without footwear? 
It is of course not the easiest terrain to walk on keeping in mind the weather & our not so clean uneven streets. Some just took off their shoes in the heat and didn't put them back on but it has a deeper meaning, spiritually; to absorb praan (life) from holy land, which is commendable, pilgrims do this as a form of tapp.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Pushkar Jewels

Lasagna in a butter dish!! where else could it be? Pushkar... the beautiful camel fair. No matter how many times over the Rajasthani colour, costume and people have been photographed there's always more. From my brief visit, I caught some jewellery that tells much, a lot of it has disappeared though and I see earlobes with piercings and nothing to adorn them! lucky to have spotted some handsome folks who still dress gracefully!

Each time I'm here I love it even more than before. The people, the vibrations and the devotion! It makes one re-affirm 'belief'!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rural Indian Fashion

Not in a hurry.. 
The pace is calming; for urbaners a bit stressful to see the ease, androgynous I must say, they wear sort of men's shirts with cuffs and collars as the upper garment with the sari.

Graceful Indian men's wear, androgynous again, absolutely love Indian rural fashion, whether its tradition or innovation its quite genuine!

Fluo femmes 
If you work with color and love textile India's the place to be!

Chai wala 
Indian tea, absolutely eco - ps: that's his bin at the bottom for disposing earthen cups.