Jawaharlal Nehru Camp

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My very good friend Deepankar Vaidh with his wife and young daughter, outside of their home. It is two metres square, has no clean running water and no toilet. Water comes from a standpipe and the toilet is a communal shared with several┬áhundred, maybe over a thousand, other residents. I had one of the best meals I’ve had and one of┬áthe most memorable evenings I’ve spent while at their home, as the sun set, neighbours came out onto their roofs and flew kites all around while huge golden dragonflies took to the skies also. It was magical.

Deepankar works very hard, usually more than one job and he is a very clever and able computer technician however because of his status and caste he doesn’t earn much. He tries to make as much money as possible so he can realise his dream – to move his family out of the slums and own his own meagre flat, it’s not much he wants really just a better start to life for his daughter than he has had.

He deserves it and so does his lovely family. I wish him luck in his dreams.

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Aerial view of the camp.

Video of nearby slum

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Day 30 – Friendship.

Friendship

New friends, friendships formed, from stranger to fun friend, from tentative to laughter. A class of kids, living in slums, given cameras, a little training and taken on walks around a vibrant but poor area. A piece of real urban New Delhi, no tourists, just everyday life. Friendships born from fun and breaking the ice, the barriers, the divide between East and West. Shy and nervous beginnings, language differences, yet as a group, photography joins together, brings together and a means to become friends. At first taking practice shots of their tutor, ending up taking shots of him to laugh at, to laugh with, back in the classroom, as he takes photos of them to make them laugh too. A few short lessons, a teacher who says, let’s go have some fun not sit quiet and learn, no longer tutor and pupils but one group of friends, taking photos, together.
Another teacher, also living in a slum area, helping out, fast becomes a friend, tomorrow welcomes his new friend to his house for chai and snacks, glad to accept someone from 4000 miles away into his humble home, as a friend.
In India, as in lots of countries, the first Sunday in August is Friendship Day. Delhites celebrate in their own way, buy or make their friends colourful wristbands, made from cotton threads with little gold charms on. To give one is to show someone is a friend, to receive is to know a friend, to exchange is to bond. From adults to children this new custom is being accepted, to spend time with friends, to enjoy the friendship, to show friendship. Happy Friendship Day on Sunday.

Day 18 – Big.

Big

A little street with a BIG heart. A small building with the BIG wide world inside. A small room full of BIG dreams. A small charity with BIG ideas.
The computer centre of the NGO Project Why in Giri Nagar, New Delhi, provides free computer training for the underprivileged of the area, so young people’s dreams of better careers may become a reality. It gives free internet access so the poorly educated can see and connect with the rest of the world. It may not be a large, plush computer centre but inside it is tardis-like, groups of young faces, illuminated by the glowing portals to the universe, learn, dream and envision.
The little street of the computer centre has tiny, ramshackle, oddly built homes along one side, the people who live there, accept anybody wandering along, sometimes looking inquisitively at passing strangers, occasionally engaging passers-by with questions but usually shyly just watching. Half-way down the street is a tiny house with the biggest heart, where eight people live in the space of a couple of tiny rooms. Outside is a little shrine, inside is a whole wall given over to the gods. Anybody can come in and bless themselves or be blessed by the softly spoken, self-proclaimed holy woman, the matriarch and big heart of the family. Respected by all who meet her, she accepts all, without question. To visit is an experience that leaves a BIG impression, not just on the mind.

Day 16 – Space.

Space

Compact and bijou, compact and bijou…in the words of Stephen Fry to Hugh Laurie on an old TV advert. Well not quite bijou but definitely compact, these homes of a slum in Delhi’s Giri Nagar district. Certainly not the worst slum homes by far but also certainly not the best, though there is space to have built them bigger, why make them so small? Perhaps the tenants could not afford to pay an unscrupulous landlord for bigger space to build their own rooms. Perhaps the landlord is a lesser goonda than a more powerful rogue who has the rights over the adjacent space. Perhaps the owner is just inept. No matter, even in a slum a rent is payable to the local goonda, a hoodlum, who ‘owns’ the area, though most probably the owner of the land is the government and as such these slums are illegally built and could be bulldozed at any moment. Even though the slums could have been there for 30 or more years, the tenants have no rights to stay there or be rehoused if the land is wanted for some other purpose. The government could make these slums legal homes and collect rent themselves thus taking the power away from the goondas but this wouldn’t happen because that would acknowledge the illegality, unchecked, on their land before and also mean the homes would have to be made fit, which would involve bulldozing the lot, a no win situation. Slum space – the finite frontier.

Day 9 – Style.

Style

Style in the slums of Delhi. A first workshop, within a slum, to teach youngsters an art, the art, of art, photography the medium. They sit intently, soaking up, in perfect silence. Is their silence interest or complete incomprehension of Bedford-born English? Into the street, to shoot, to practice, to put in to practice. One boy, small for his age, unblinking in his tutorial, is watched as he shows he understood every word, had absorbed the few pointers. He looks around, sees points of interest, shoots, turns round, sees a mother sitting and asks, as instructed, to take a picture, a scant wobble of the head means OK. The mother and child, perfectly model-like, without posing, without change of expression or posture turn and look into the young pupil’s lens. He shoots, his tutor stands next to him and captures the pose. Will the student get the shot, hold the camera steadily, think about framing and composition, will the shot be as good as the tutor hopes? With just an hour’s lesson, surely a vain hope? Back in the classroom, files downloaded, finally on screen, the perfect shot, the photo of the day, of the class, better than his tutor’s. Maybe, just maybe, another photographer is born. Success.