Photography and other experiences.

Life in Bhogipura

I heard a bystander demonstrate to his friend excitedly how my remote flash worked when I fired the camera. “This box lights up here and that thing (referring  to the flash) barks over there.” It quite beautifully summed up the great divide between Delhi and Bhogipura. A camera is a camera in Delhi and so far no one has called it a box. A flashlight fires here while it barks there. Bhogipura is a part of old Agra, barely five kilometers from the tomb of Akbar at Sikandra which is a major tourist destination and thirteen kilometers from India’s most modern super highway, yet it appears to be stuck in its own phlegm, refusing to be inspired by the desire to know and want more.

Early in the morning black smoke rises from some households. These people are called ‘Bhadbhoojas’. They run kilns fired by trash to roast variety of stuff including gram and lentils.

Goats yawn and stretch themselves on rooftops while pigeons take an aerial survey of the place and flutter back to their masters diligently.

As the sun rises, so does the traffic and the call from many a three-wheeler driver imploring probable customers to pack-in. Vehicles labor heavily carrying more than ten people when they are designed to carry three.

Life has begun at Bhogipura. But a walk in the street also displays an idyllic scene. People throng tea shops and sip it very slowly.Conversations are long and animated.Men sit by the roadside, still in their night clothes and engrossed in discussions, while women can be seen working the household.

Later along with the heat rise the decibels of sound from the road. Honking gets continuous, denser and desperate as the day progresses .Soon, Bhogipura becomes an opera of the chaotic absurd.

Respite comes very late in the evening. This is when men grace beetle leaf shops, smoke, and overcome the stresses of the day watching little TV sets tucked in a corner. Mongrels defeated by difficulties of territorial assignments slink away to darkness. Those who have weathered favorably are usually caked in sewer solids, having spent the day cooling off victoriously in that pool. A spark on the electric wire above reveals the right which an ordinary Bhogipuran claims on the use of free energy. He has laid on a wire, a hook to steal electricity. Power meters are installations of modern era and that era began barely three months ago. No surprise that many a native has not accepted this fashion trend yet.

Before you assume that there is resident madness in Bhogipura’s walnut, I must admit that so far the description has been one sided. Despite the nonchalance of its inhabitants, they have a remarkable tolerance to the state and sweat of another human being. A Bhogipuran can spit on another’s foot without offending him. He can talk in a seemingly rude manner and is responded to matter of factly. He will honk, push, cite an expletive and the reaction he gets from his comrade is of a deaf man who walks in another direction when called.

I wonder whether the Bhogipuran is justified in his behavior. This is his world and he has inherited it from his parents and family. Electronic and print media gives him ample choice to dip into a universe of personal reckoning but to an outsider like me, he is wearing a hat too big which has covered his eyes and ears. But does he need an alternative when he is already comfortable? And what is this alternative? Duran Duran? Two and a Half Men? Clean and quite roads? Electric meters? I think not. In my restless frustration with the native I do not fail to notice the calm with which he strides the eight hours of power cut. In a similar situation I have complained, cursed and wished that I were not born in India. For a Bhogipuran,however, it is one of the natural phenomenons.It also does not matter to him how his music system sounds, neither do his teeth’s appearance after years of chewing gutka. This is the style of Bhogipuran substance.

Like most old areas of a city, Bhogipura is an eclectic place. Shops sell a lot of new stuff but many are still seeped in tradition. Eateries are of an old style where some of them use firewood and coal for cooking. Jewelry outlets are the best lit, dazzling the street with their gold and silver. Clothes and sari shops add color and then there are ‘Pansaris’ . These along with the eateries are amongst the oldest in the area.Pansaris are general merchants, but with a slight difference. They stock all kinds of prayer condiments besides spices and everything else.

My host is pretty well off. He has lived his life in Bhogipura and never bothered to venture out too far to see anything else. Even by big city standards he has done pretty well for himself, yet he has refused to spend money on simple necessities of life. An electric inverter is useless and a refrigerator unnecessary. Television was bought in the late eighties and there is no vehicle in the house, but it was important to spend a lot of money on his maid’s wedding which included a substantial amount of dowry.

Perhaps we, the children of neo-consumerism don’t understand the joy of accumulated money in the bank.

My host’s house is right at the convergence of two roads. So it’s skin rubs a public scene of whatever I have described before. Inside though, is a very different atmosphere. People hardly speak with each other and go about doing their job quietly and efficiently. There is no pressure or compulsion to shout or make a noise about anything. Acceptance of life is staggering. A cat has adopted the home and brought her five kittens to live here. She is fed adequately with a meal of chapattis and milk, duly churned in a mixture-grinder.

A mongrel uses the house as a passage way. She enters the premises from the roof, jumping over other houses to find a way to the main street outside.

The door barring the staircase has to be opened when she declares her presence with a yelp. So even if it is two am or three in the afternoon, someone gets up and quietly opens it for her so she can trot majestically to the door opening into the alley.
Teetu jeweler from across the street had sweet meats made for her when she conceived. A chai wallah always spares milk for her. It seems she is not the only mongrel given this treatment. All the dogs in the area look healthy and well fed.

Five times in a day the muezzin of the mosque next door clears his throat before blaring the prayers for the faithful from a dented loudspeaker. In between from somewhere, a group of ladies sing out-of-tune aartis. A Kali  temple nearby has a lovely Peepul tree which sieves afternoon light into mantic, piercing shafts.

Another temple in a quieter corner of Bhogipura has little tombs of saints. It is believed that spirits of these holy men visit the temple. The narrator of this tale firmly believes that no one can sleep in the courtyard at night. A gentleman who later joined the conversation dismissed it by saying that times have changed and since there are too many people around, the saints have left.

It appears that our country lives in many layers. The top most which is internationally well connected, does hard-sell of its lifestyle through media and other means.Its temptations and snares do manage to drag many into its fold, but others, are laid heavy by their history and attitudes. Fairer skin, softer soaps, faster cars, smarter phones are not this layer’s prerogative,but unfortunately, neither is basic civic sense. The problem is of trust. Most semi-urban India is typically Bhogipuran by nature and any change expected of them is treated with suspicion and considered supercilious.

But what is the need for change. I don’t believe in change, but I have faith in evolution. Three days at Bhogipura left me confused.I found Bhogipuran quite evolved in his acceptance and tolerance, yet in so many ways he has a major journey to complete. If he were not to honk, spit, shout, abuse, litter and steal electricity, I would rate him as the most evolved human in India. Is it asking too much of him ? In his typical style he will ask  why should he make such a sacrifice, he knows his way very well…..

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