Vivid descriptions of India as a riot of festive colors, a kaleidoscope of strikingly contrasted images, a visual pageant, yada yada yada are fairly commonplace and honestly, those don’t tell us anything we don’t already know about the socio-cultural landscape. However, many unexplored facets of India’s socio-cultural life are making an imprint on the national consciousness as the country’s liberated generation of yuppies and retirees in their early 30s are rediscovering the land of their origin in new and interesting ways. One such facet that is really coming into its own revolves around capturing the varied essence of this diverse land by night through the lens of the camera. Droves of photographers across the spectrum have channelized their passion for photography in this direction.
The subject of choice can be an urban setting by night – the bright glare of neon signs, sodium light lit roads, glittering signage above showrooms with glass façades, trails of vehicles inching forward in a traffic snarl with headlights in the high beam mode, an orderly arrangement of taxi cabs retired for the day on a deserted street, a vendor wheeling his cart on his way home, and more.
The subject can also be a small town – an evening vegetable market place with old crumbling structures on the periphery, bustling and disorganized, run over by late evening shoppers, a tangle of overhead cables suspended like festoons stretching from one dilapidated structure to another, the dim glow of light from electric bulbs and more.
Or you could focus on a rural setting for some authentic countryside flavor. Imagine village folk huddled in the chill of the night squatting around a cheerful fire listening to folk songs in the rustic singing voice of the village bard.
Benaras at night
The heart of the Hindi belt, Benares, is an essential destination for professional and amateur photographers alike who travel there to capture the myriad colors of the streets, the man and livestock jostling for space, people moving in to replenish their spirits, or the magnificent Ghats lit in the evening by thousands of clay diyas. The Benaras experience is overwhelming for a photographer who has the onus upon him to gather this effervescence in his frame without compromising the excess which marks the life in Benaras, and not fret over the disorder and chaos of the image. It is meant to be that way: those colors must spill over the edges of your frame.
Every year a multitude of foreigners from across the globe come down to Jodhpur to get an authentic feeling of the past glory of kingdoms and walled provinces. Be it the majesty of crumbling old monuments and forts or the panoramic views from hilltops, the sun-city never fails to enchant the searching viewfinder of a photographer. At nightfall, the city of Jodhpur turns into a beautiful maze of low lying houses, lit in artificial yellow lights, and the bluish evening is initially punctuated by dark patches before getting engulfed by the darkness.
Dilwalon ki Dilli is as alive in the night as it is in the day. If day is all about malls and markets filled with shoppers and food lovers delighting in the inexhaustible varieties of street food, night brings out the shady ghettos and low lives of homeless to light; especially in cold, the ruckus of day having picked up and gone. One can spot a friendly group of migrants huddled around a fire, swathed in layers of shawls and sharing trifles over a smoke.
Madurai, the keeper of historic temples, is a mojor tourist getaway getting more than a million footfalls in a year from all across India and abroad. Having earned itself the distinction of a city that doesn’t sleep, the varied and diverse night life of Madurai always keeps the nocturnal eyes of shutterbugs on the fly. Just imagine yourself standing in an alleyway, people slowed down by the day’s exhaustion, sleeves rolled up, picking their way through cart and rickshaw pullers, and lit in yellow white lights, and feel the half dazed Madurai at midnight, before the day invigorates it again.
The city that never sleeps, Mumbai, is capable of telling the same story over and over again without repeating itself, its own never ending story. One can lavish adjectives, drawing in one’s mind a certain facet of the city: Maximum city, inexhaustible city, a city that shelters not people but dreams. It is only a photographer that can bring out the dreamy, surreal, half-lit lanes and landscapes of Mumbai in the night.
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Do let us know if you have any interesting photos in your kitty and share them with us. Meanwhile, feel free to share this with anyone who’ll find it interesting. It’s the least we can do for friends.