Wednesday 27 November 2019

Delhi's New Gramophone House - Albela, Bhagwan and the Delights of Classic Bollywood Vinyl

Old Delhi's New Gramophone House, a treasure trove of vinyl recordings of all genres, opened in 1947. Bhagwan Dass Rajpal opened the original store in Lahore in 1930 but moved his family and the business to India during Partition. The store can be difficult to find. It is located on the first floor of a building on the main road of the extremely busy Chandni Chowk and there are no obvious signs of its presence from the street. Visitors must pass through a different shop on the ground floor, then scale a steep set of steps that sit below a low ceiling (watch your head) before reaching their destination. But it's worth persevering as once there the vinyl fan enters paradise - a small room packed with thousands of recordings stacked on shelves and in cabinets. 

I make a pilgrimage to the shop every time I am in Delhi with the objective of adding to my small but growing collection of vintage Bollywood soundtracks from the 1940's, 50's and 60's. Regular readers will know of my love of jazz but thanks to a former work colleague I have been smitten by classic Hindi film songs. Playing them on youtube is no longer enough - I want to handle the vinyl recordings and have them in my collection.

Of course Bollywood churns out hundreds of contemporary musical productions but I do not enjoy these so much and prefer contemporary Indian dramas. In recent years Indian cinema has dealt with many social issues in films including Dangal, Dhobi Ghat and Aligarh as well as producing delightful romances like Lunch Box and suspense stories such as Aandhanhun. But you really can't beat those vintage movies and I've grown to love the films of Raj Kapoor, Johnny WalkerMadhubala, Nargis, Guru Dutt, Nadira and Bollywood's best dancer, Helen. They tell a story, tackle issues and have memorable songs performed by the classic playback singers - Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey, Kishore Kumar, Hemant Kumar, Geeta Dutt and of course sisters Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar.

More recently I came across a film called Albela. Released in 1951 it was directed by Bhagwan Dada who also starred in the film together with Geeta Bali. It tells the story of Pyarelal the son of a poor Bombay family who needs to accumulate money to help marry off his sister, Vimla. Not only does he fail to raise the required amount but he also loses his job. The resultant quarrel with his family leads him to leave home vowing not to return until he is rich and famous. He goes on to pursue a successful career in the theatre and eventually decides to return home only to find things are not as he believed them to be. You'll need to watch the film to find out how it ends! Albela was the third highest grossing Indian movie of 1951 and its soundtrack by C. Ramchandra continues to be acclaimed today. Ramchandra performed most of the songs himself (under the name of Chitalkar), dueting with Lata Mangeshkar on several tracks and with the superstar Mohammed Rafi on one song. The film also made use of westernised style cabaret dance and choruses as well as using bongo drums, oboes, clarinets, trumpets and saxophones, little used in Indian film during that period but which still influence cinema today.

Director and leading man, Bhagwan Dada was born in Sindhudhurg, Maharashtra in 1913. The son of a textile worker, he originally worked as a labourer but had a strong ambition to work in cinema. He eventually obtained work in silent films, making his debut in a movie entitled Criminal. He went on to learn film making, co-directing his first film in 1938 and from then until 1949 he made a number of popular low budget movies. As well as producing Hindi movies, he made at least one Tamil film, Vana Mohini, in 1941. This film was significant for including an elephant as one of the leading characters! A year later he worked with prolific film actress Lalita Pawar. There is a story that he was required to slap her in one scene and that hitting her too hard he injured her eye leaving permanent damage.

In 1947 he set up his own Jagriti Studios and four years later produced his all time classic Albela. Shola Jo Badhke, the best known song from the move is still popular today and Albela is often performed by students as a high school musical. He went on to produce a few more hits in the 1950's but then his success dried up and he was forced to sell his home and cars and take on bit parts in other people's films. He was eventually reduced to living in a chawl, a one room home in a tenement block originally built to house textile workers. Bhagwan died of a heart attack in 2002. A biopic of his life, entitled Ekk Albela, was released in 2016. The original vinyl soundtrack of his masterpiece can still be found and I returned from my most recent Delhi trip with a copy - purchased at the New Gramophone House of course!

New Gramophone House , Shop No 9, opposite Moti Cinema, Main Road, Chandni Chowk, Delhi. It is also possible to browse and purchase items online here.

See pictures from India here.

Thursday 21 November 2019

Jambur - An African Village In India

Jambur is a village of about 5000 people in the Junagadh district of Gujarat. For several centuries it has been home to a Siddi community. The Siddi are people of African origin who have lived in India for several centuries. There are also Siddi communities in Karnataka, Hyderabad and Pakistan. It is thought that they first arrived in India in the seventh century with more coming as part of the Arab invasion of 712. Some came as merchants and sailors whilst others were brought to India as slaves.

There are no accurate figures for the total number of Siddi living in India and Pakistan with estimates varying enormously from 270,000 to 4 million. The vast majority are Muslim but there are also small groups of Hindu and Christian Siddi. The Jambur community are Gujarati speakers with no memory of African languages. They have adopted local dress and identity as Indian.

Helping mum at the shop
"Take as many pictures as you want"
During my recent time in India I was able to visit Jambur to meet and photograph some of the people. The village is similar to other rural Gujarat settlements with small single storey homes, a few shops and life lived in the narrow streets. My first visit was in the early evening when people were enjoying sitting outside and talking to their neighbours whilst their children played. People were welcoming, happy to talk a little and the children curious about this unexpected visitor. The villagers were happy to be photographed. Immediately I arrived a woman who sat having her hair plaited by a friend invited my companion to make a video of the process and told me to take as many pictures as I wanted! The young people were particularly interested in the camera and some of them asked for pictures in different poses. A few proud parents also came forward pointing to their children indicating that they would like me to photograph them.

As well as visiting the village I was introduced to two prominent members of the community who told me their own stories and spoke about the current issues facing the Siddis of Gujarat. Siddi Babu Nathubhai lives in nearby Sasangir and was born locally. He studied to grade seven at the state school and unlike many local children did not attend the Madrassa, the Islamic school. He spoke affectionately about his younger days saying that his school was integrated and that he enjoyed his time there. His father worked as a labourer but Siddi Babu trained as an electrician and obtained work in Mumbai. Unfortunately a serious problem with his leg prevented him from being able to carry out the full range of tasks and so he had to leave his job and return to Gujarat. After coming back to his village he studied for and passed exams to qualify as a guide, specialising in wildlife.

Falaluddin, a young man of Jambur
Hirabaiben Ibrahimbhai Lobi (Hiraben) is perhaps the most prominent Siddi woman in India. Born in Jambur, her parents died when she was just 14. Married young, her husband like her father believed in women's equality and they worked side by side on their small patch of land - just 0.5 hectare. They inherited a huge debt of 100,000 rupees but refused to sell the land, preferring instead to work to pay it off. They listened to radio shows together and it was from this that she learned about and decided to begin producing organic compost. Wanting to start a business making and selling the compost she looked for other women to work with but initially could find only one taker. In the first year they managed to produce 160 bags. The following year this increased to 500 bags with nine women involved and a small profit being made. There are now 95 women organised into 12 groups that produce and sell organic compost. Hiraben believes passionately in the importance of education and although she is willing to take on and train any woman interested in her project she will only retain and promote those who also study. Today most Siddi girls are educated to grade ten or twelve.

Over the years, this kindly, reassuring woman has led a number of projects to promote health and hygiene within her village and she reports that these principles are now widely adopted amongst the Siddi. More controversially she has also promoted birth control as a way of helping women in particular to have a better life and to be able to provide for and look after their families. Her commitment to education and learning is something she returned to frequently throughout our meeting. None of her own family were literate and she is determined that this will not be the case for current and future generations of Siddi. Some years ago a playschool was set up in Jambur but few parents were willing to take their children. Worse than this, the school building was subject to vandalism. In despair, the teacher came to Hiraben to ask for help. Her intervention led to the school being respected and many more children attended. It was with obvious pride that she told me her own grand daughter attends an English medium school.

She also continues to work tirelessly to better the position of women in her community. This includes helping them achieve financial independence. Thirty years ago no Siddi women had bank accounts. Now several do but only because she helped them set the accounts up, going to the bank with them to help deal with officials. That said, she is keen to ensure that the women become self reliant and able to help each other and so has established a self-help group to encourage this. Her work has been recognised by the great and the good and she has a cabinet full of awards as well as pictures of her with various politicians, multi-millionaire Mukesh Ambani and Bollywood superstar Amitah Bachchan. None of this is for her personal gain and it is clear that her only interest is in promoting the well being of her community.

A young man of Jambur
I asked both Siddi Babu and Hiraben about issues currently facing the community. Both of them spoke about employment and the need for greater ambition amongst the younger generations. The Siddi have traditionally worked in agriculture, construction work and other manual jobs. Tourism  now offers other opportunities and the chance to put traditional knowledge of plants and wildlife to good economic use. However much of this work is seasonal and many young men involved in tourism return to labouring out of season. Women are mainly employed in agricultural work. Siddi Babu also spoke about social problems, particularly with drugs and alcohol - problems that also affect other areas of Indian society. He sees tourism as a good thing for the new opportunities it brings but also has concerns that too many visitors could be a problem citing the relatively "easy money" from this work as an issue. Most visitors come to this part of Gujarat to see the wildlife. I was astonished to hear that I am one of just a handful of people who have been to find out about the culture and daily life of the community.

I also asked about knowledge of African culture and tradition and if there is a memory of these things in Jambur. Both Siddi Babu and Hiraben told me that although people know they are of African descent, there is no real knowledge of African culture. The only remaining tradition is a particular dance, the Dhamal, performed by some of the young men and which is related to nature. There has been no systematic recording or documentation of Siddi culture. I was especially interested in this subject because when photographing some of the children they repeatedly said (in English) "say Africa, say Africa" seemingly in the same way some people like to say "say cheese". It was explained to me that this comes from a TV advertisement for motorcycles which includes a reference to Jambur being 100 kilometres from Junagadh and describing it as "Africa in India".

A woman of Jambur
A woman of Jambur
Some Siddi are now becoming well known in non traditional fields. Siddi Babu proudly told me that one community member represents India at judo and another plays soccer at national level. Researching this article I also came across Abdul Rashid Qambrani, a Pakistani Siddi who represented his country in boxing at the 1996 Olympics. Still in Pakistan, Noor Mohammed Danish is a well known Urdu poet. Social change is also happening. More women leave the village now to find work whilst marriage with non-Siddi partners has begun to happen - although always within the same religious group. Hiraben is happy with these changes but wants things to improve more quickly.

Visiting Jambur and meeting the Siddi was a very special experience. I was touched by the easy acceptance of my visit, helped to a large extent by my being in the company of a young community member and I was honoured to be welcomed into the homes of Siddi Babu and Hiraben. It seems appropriate to give her the final word "I dream that not all Siddi will be labourers and that one day a young person will knock on my door and ask for help to become an engineer". 

A proud father with his daughter

You can see more pictures from India here.

Monday 21 October 2019

Lucknow - tradition in the Chowk

Lucknow is perhaps best known today for the many Islamic monuments dating from the time of the Nawabs, Muslim royalty who ruled over the city until they were deposed by the British in 1856. The city was the capital of Avadh a princely state that broke away from the Mughal Empire in the mid eighteenth century. It became a centre for the arts with many poets, singers and dancers gaining fame there. It also became an important centre for Shi'a Islam, something that continues until today and which can be seen in the annual Muharram processions and events. Today it is the capital of Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state and home to about 4 million people, although a range of figures can be found for its population.

Ejad Emaz, kitewallah
A busy, bustling place, in 2015, Lucknow was named as India's second happiest city. Residents gave numerous reasons for this, including improvements to the infrastructure, cultural activity, parks, great food and most of all, the helpful and friendly people.  I spent a few days there earlier this year and can attest to much of this but the place I most enjoyed was a long, narrow street known as Chowk.  There are more than 5000 businesses in this street and the narrow lanes leading off it and you can find just about anything here. Hundreds of small food outlets sell the city's famous kebabs, and there are countless chai stalls and some excellent sweet shops. The Chowk is also home to businesses dealing in traditional crafts including the famous Chikan (embroidery), jewellery, wooden items and attar - essential oils and perfumes made from flowers. In addition to this, some of India's disappearing arts and traditions can be seen in the Chowk but mass production, foreign imports and changing social attitudes are inevitably placing pressure on a number of small, mainly family run businesses. 

Ejad Emaz' family have had a kite shop in the Chowk for more than 100 years. He is 60 years old and has worked in the shop since he was 20. His colourful kites are made by homeworkers who then bring their work to him for sale. He has both male and female workers but says that the women are more efficient. All of the kites are made in the traditional way, from paper rather than the modern plastic versions imported from China. Kite flying is still popular in India, both throughout the year and at special times such as Independence Day and during religious festivals. Ejad told me that although business is rather less than in the old days, it is still enough to survive at least for the time being. 

Mohammed Ibrahim Warsi, surmawallah
Mohammed Ibrahim Warsi is 65 years old. His family have sold surma in the Chowk for more than a century. Surma, sometimes called kohl, is a traditional cosmetic used as a type of eyeliner by both men and women. Made from various ingredients, it generally includes sandalwood paste, castor oil, ghee and soot. Some communities believe it to have medicinal properties whilst there is also a belief that it prevents children from being cursed by the evil eye. In the 1990's health concerns were raised about surma when high concentrations of lead content were found in some products. This can  cause lead poisoning and a range of other symptoms. Ibrahim assured me his products were healthy and beneficial. His shop was not in good physical shape and it seemed that business was not good. Despite this he was eager to talk and insisted I drink chai with him. He proudly told me that he had six children, three boys and three girls. As well as Hindi and Urdu he speaks some English learned some years ago at Hussainabad Intermediate College. 

Haji Sahib Sikkewale, coin seller
72 years old native Lucknawi Haji Sahib Sikkewale (real name Abdul Khalid) sells antique coins. He saw me before I saw him and he waved me over. He wanted to show me a newspaper article that included a photograph of him and more importantly that identified him as having a bit part in the next Amitabh Bhachchan film. Not only this, the Bollywood superstar had also bought 20 coins from him, result happiness. As well as coins, Haji Sahib sells rings and small metal objects. I noticed that like many of  the  neighbouring shopkeepers, he chews paan whilst waiting for customers. Paan, a combination of betel leaf and areca nut is chewed for its stimulant effect and is popular throughout Southeast Asia and the India subcontinent. It is often mixed with a lime cream and tobacco. Regular users are easily identifiable from the red stains on their lips, teeth and tongue caused by the red liquid released when chewing. Depending on the mixture, it can have a serious impact on health,  destroying teeth and being linked to cancer. Some reports say that use is now decreasing but it can still be found almost everywhere including in the Chowk. In some countries the sale of paan is now banned. Many people depend on the industry for their living, including Mohammed Ali, a paanwallah who has a small stall outside one of the street's mosques.  It is hard to know how people like Mohammed would survive if this happened in India.

Mohammed Ali, paanwallah
Faizan, spinner
Lucknow is famous for its textiles and brightly coloured garments can be seen throughout the Chowk.   In the past the bright yellows, reds and oranges were achieved through using only natural dyes. Today there is significantly more use of chemicals to achieve these colours but there is still enough demand to support a few shops selling natural dyes. Mohammed Shami has a shop selling only natural  products and at the time of my visit was so busy that he had to continually break off talking to serve customers. His neighbour, a young man called Faizan also as a traditional business - spinning.  

Mohammed Shami serving customers in his dye shop
I have already mentioned Mohammed Ali the paanwallah. He has a namesake aged 58 who sells wooden printing blocks for use in hand printing designs on the Chikan garments. He has managed this small business, established 75 years ago, since his father died. He has two sons one of whom will eventually take over the business and another one who will study for a profession. This Mohammed Ali is a talented self-taught artist. Between serving customers and managing the business he produces designs for clothing, draws pictures of the city's architecture from memory and practises Islamic calligraphy. He only studied until the end of elementary school and has no formal training. A little shy at first he was very happy to show his work to me and like several of his colleagues, sent for tea so that we could sit and talk. He produces art only for his own satisfaction and does not use it commercially.

The Chowk has many delights, treasures and secrets. Some of them are being lost as traditional methods are overtaken by rapid modernisation, mass production and changing tastes. A number of shops have already fallen victim to the wreckers' ball as older buildings are demolished to make way for new developments which often lack character despite the advantages of air conditioning and other technologies. Change is inevitable but at least for the moment, Lucknow is managing to sustain many of its traditional businesses too. Maintaining this balance might well help the city retain its status as a "happy city" and to attract new visitors.

Mohammed Ali, artist and seller of printing blocks

You might also like Chawri bazaar - a Delhi delight and Sidhpur's Bohra havelis

You can see more pictures from India here.

Tuesday 8 October 2019

Mystery in Mumbai's Camera House

Mumbai's Chor Bazar is a much loved part of the city, well known for its antiques, vintage items and memorabilia. It is currently undergoing "re-development" with most of the commercial and residential units being demolished and replaced by modern buildings. There are mixed feelings about this with concerns about losing the character of the Bazar coupled with the positivity of being rehoused in better quality homes. I was there recently and spent some time in the Camera House in Mutton Lane, one of the Bazar's main streets. I'd read about there being piles of discarded photographs there, many of them from Parsi families and was curious to come and see them. The shop is tiny and so full of old cameras, photographic equipment and piled up photographs that the owner and his assistant stood outside so that I could enter and browse.

I spent some time browsing through discarded family albums and loose individual photographs, many in poor condition and most of them clearly once the property of Parsi families. I wondered how the pictures came to be there, arranged haphazardly with few clues to help in identifying these faces from the past. It is unlikely that any of the people in these pictures is still alive but surely there are surviving friends and relatives somewhere? I worried that the next and final home for these pictures might be the dustbin, especially given the changes in the Bazar and so decided to purchase a few that particularly interested me. That evening I met a friend for coffee. I took the pictures with me. We spread them out on our table and spent some time talking about them. My friend shared my fascination as did the two young women at the next table, one of whom having seen them asked me where I'd got them from, did I know who the people were and what was I going to do with the photographs. At the time she asked I could only answer the first of her questions.

The photographs provide few clues about the people in them or where and when they were taken. Some are set in cardboard frames, a couple of which bear the names of photographic studios. Online searches for these companies have provided fruitless and it seems that B. Adey and Co. who had branches at More Gate in Delhi and in the then Bombay, and Eduljee Sorabjee of Park Lane, Secunderbad are no more. Portraits of two men have the name A. N. Kapoor written on them, one bearing a signature, and the year 1939. The other is addressed to Mister Kapoor with a message of best wishes. Who were these men? What was their connection? As with all of the men in the photographs I purchased they are dressed in formal, western style jackets perhaps indicating a professional career and middle class status. All of them are dapper and one sports a jaunty dickie-bow.

"Parsi" is a Persian word meaning "Persian" It identifies the origins of this community that fled Persia (modern day Iran) during the seventh century in order to avoid persecution. They are one of two groups in India that follow the Zoroastrian religion. The other  group, the Iranis came during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, again as religious refugees. Over the years the community has made significant contributions to Indian society especially in the fields of science, industry, sport and the arts. The community in India has produced many famous people including rock star Freddie Mercury, actress Nina Wadia, conductor Zubin Mehta, cricketer Farokh Engineer, and India's first female photojournalist Homai Vyarawalla. Award winning author Rohinton Mistry has written a series of books featuring characters from his now Mumbai Parsi community. Several community members have served with distinction in the military.

The community has particularly made its mark in Mumbai where they funded many public buildings and where they established a particular style of cafe, several of which survive until today including Cafe Leopold, Jimmy Boy, the iconic Britannia cafe and the wonderful Parsi Dairy Farm where I like to stock up on peda and other Indian sweets, drinking a glass of lassi whilst my purchases are packed.
The community is now is rapid numerical decline due to a declining birthrate and large scale emigration. In turn this has produced an ageing population with more than 30% of the community being aged over 60 and less than 5% below 6. The 2011 census showed just 57,000 Parsis living in India a figure expected to reduce to a mere 23,000 by next year. Sadly, it seems that the once lively bhags, housing blocks in Mumbai's Colaba and Byculla neighbourhoods, catering only for this community will one day stand empty.

Other pictures are of important lifetime occasions, not all of them of Parsis. One seems to be of a young Catholic boy holding a huge candle and standing beside a picture of Christ surrounded by children. Perhaps he is about to take his first Holy Communion. I have only half of the picture bearing the Adey studio logo. It shows a mother holding a young baby. What happened to the other half of the picture? Was it deliberately torn in two by one of it's subjects or has it been broken during its time in the Camera House? I searched the pile of pictures for the missing piece but couldn't find it. There is also a formal picture of a young couple, the woman holding a book as she looks directly at the camera. Perhaps most interesting of all is the badly damaged group photograph at the top of this post featuring a large gathering in a formal setting.

The question the young woman asked me in the cafe was a very good one and one I've been considering since leaving the Camera House. As well as writing about them here, I plan to share some of them on social media. Perhaps someone will know who these people are or remember something about the Adey and Co or the Eduljee Sorabjee studios. All information is welcome.

Thursday 3 October 2019

Sidhpur's Bohra Havelis - A Gujarat Secret

Sidhpur in Gujarat is home to about 60,000 people. It has a long history. The Rudra Mahalaya temple dates from the tenth century, whilst in 1140, Jayasimha Siddharaja, declared the town capital of his kingdom. He also changed its name from the original Sristhai to Sidhpur, meaning Siddharaja's town. Today it is a bustling place with a busy bazaar, a famous sweet shop and as I recently discovered, a fantastic collection of mansions known as havelis built by and for the Bohra Muslim community between 100 and 150 years ago.

The Bohra are an affluent merchant community. Adherents to the Shia form of Islam, they can be found in significant numbers in India, Pakistan, the Middle East and East Africa. Women members of the community are easily distinguishable through their wearing of a brightly coloured burkha, sometimes decorated with patterns and lace. Well educated, Bohra women today include many successful business owners, doctors, lawyers and teachers, particularly in the United States. About 250 Bohra families remain in Sidhpur but many now live in other, larger Indian cities, particularly Mumbai, as well as overseas.

The havelis are clustered in a number of streets in the centre of the town. I have visited havelis before, notably in Churu, Rajasthan, but Sidhpur's buildings are something very different and perhaps unique in India. Numerous commentators describe the architectural style as British and although that influence is obvious, the approach to design is more complicated than this suggests. The facades display several late 19th and early 20th century influences including elements of the Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Gothic styles. The brightly coloured facades are more redolent of mainland Europe than of London where the yellows, greens, pinks and oranges of Sidhpur are rarely seen. However, the steep steps rising from the street to the main entrance are a classic London townhouse feature. These elements are combined with more local features including, extensive use of wood, Islamic geometric patterns and those wonderful raised platforms on the front of the buildings. In years gone by, residents would have used these platforms in the early morning or evening to take the air, read the newspaper and watch the activity in the street.

Today, these streets are very quiet, almost deserted and most of the buildings stand empty other than for a few weeks of the year when family members return to check on their property and other interests. Almost inevitably this unique heritage is being placed at risk as developers purchase some of the homes, demolish them and replace them with, for the most part, ugly unappealing yet expensive "modern" structures.

A short step from the haveli neighbourhood, there is another magnificent, empty building. The House of 365 Windows built in 1938 with strong Art Deco features. It dominates its corner site and is ripe for bringing back into use, perhaps for cultural activity, as the city begins to attract more visitors. Sidhpur barely rates a mention in most of the mainstream English language travel guides but numerous bloggers have written about the town particularly about the havelis and I doubt this  little treasure will remain secret much longer.

The House of 365 Windows
Chanasmawala monogram on haveli facade
Art Deco motif on haveli facade
Monogram on haveli facade
I spent a couple of hours in Sidhpur en route from Bajana to Ahmedabad but could easily have spent a couple of days there. The bazaar warrants a good couple of hours and there are numerous temples and mosques worth visiting. At the beginning of this post I mentioned a famous sweet shop. Regular followers of this blog will not be surprised to know that 20 minutes or so of my visit were spent in  Nafees Farsan and Sweet Mart where I was generously invited to sample several of the delicious sweets and baked items on offer. They will also not be surprised to learn that I left the shop with a box of peda - my favourite Indian sweet. A town with a bazaar, unique architecture and a fabulous sweet shop - how could I not want to return?

More information

Sebastian Cortes  photographed the havelis for National Geographic magazine.

Nafees Farsan and Sweet Mart, Zamplipole Bazaar, Sidhpur, Tel 384151

You might also like Churu - A Rajasthani Secret

See more pictures from India here

Saturday 14 September 2019

Chawri Bazaar - a Delhi delight

Chawri bazaar is a sprawling shopping area in Old Delhi. You can find just about everything here but the traditional specialisms have been copper and brass items, especially statues of Hindu deities as well as paper, cards and wallpaper. Over time the choice of goods has expanded to include electrical items, machine parts, glass, medicine, clothing, fruit and vegetables. There are also many small stalls and shops selling tea and snacks to the bazaar's thousands of workers. From morning to night the streets are packed with people selling and shopping whilst porters carry impossible loads from one place to another. As I stood watching one man lift a large package on to his back, his colleagues told me it weighed 75 kilograms. With a little help from his friends he pulled it onto his back, smiled and went on his way.

The bazaar's streets are narrow and busy - clogged with rickshaws, scooters, motorbikes, carts, small vans, bicycles and the occasional school transport vehicle. Although cars are not supposed to pass through, they sometimes do, adding to the chaos that inevitably comes to a crescendo in the afternoon when drivers struggle to avoid bumping into each other and workers step into the melee directing drivers wanting to reverse, go forward or u-turn in order disentangle themselves from the crush. Sometimes tempers fray but things calm down very quickly when the traffic starts moving again. Friends in Delhi think I am a little strange but I love traveling through Chawri in a rickshaw, watching the traffic and occasionally engaging in friendly chatter with people in adjacent vehicles when things grind to a halt. On my recent visit I was even offered a bite of a burger by a young couple enjoying a take-away lunch in the next rickshaw. 

The bazaar has quite a history. Founded in 1840, it was the first wholesale market in Delhi and originally boasted many fine mansions. It was also a centre for Tawaif culture. Tawaif were high class courtesans, skilled in music, dance, theatre, good manners and Urdu literature. They served the Indian nobility in the way that Geishas served their Japanese counterparts. Extensive study was required before the young women were brought into service and when this training was complete a celebration known as missi took place during which their teeth would be blacked out. Some of the Tawaif rose to positions of influence, especially in Lucknow which was also an important centre of their culture. However things deteriorated during the period of British rule, the mansions disappeared and prostitution became widespread on the upper floors of the Chawri.

Today the bazaar is a photographer's dream but is also extremely challenging with only a second to get a candid shot before someone or something blocks your view or needs you to move so that they can make a delivery. Last year I concentrated on talking to and photographing some of the casual workers who spread their tools on the pavement, waiting for customers to come and offer them day work as carpenters or decorators. This time I gave up trying to get clear shots and settled instead for glimpses of life in the bazaar. It was my first attempt at something like this so I had lots of unusable images but also a few that I was happy with. Shooting the passenger traffic as it passed also allowed me to capture images of women, noticeably missing from the portraits I took here, mainly due to the absence of women in the street in this part of the city - other than passing through in rickshaws. And speaking of rickshaws I was taken by surprise on one of my forays in here when I noticed none other than Munaji, who I met and wrote about last year, calling and waving to me from one of these ubiquitous vehicles as she went by. Recognised in Chawri Bazaar. Fantastic!

Last year I was able to give several of the labourers a copy of their photographs. This time I again looked for some of those I'd been unable to find but was unsuccessful. Change is a constant in such a large city and people come and go so it was unlikely that I would find all of them again. However, one constant is Aslam, the friendly owner of the Vespa Glass Service on the edge of the bazaar. I photographed him last year and in his absence handed the picture to his son the next day. I passed by the shop again on my most recent visit He saw me, smiled, took the photograph from his desk and waved it at me. He still has the best smile in the market. Both Aslam and Chawri really are Delhi delights.

You might also like The Labourers of Old Delhi

You can see more pictures from India here.

Monday 26 August 2019

"Social" - a chance find of an iconic 1930's magazine in Havana

Whilst browsing Havana's Memorias book shop I came upon the March 1933 edition of Social an iconic Cuban magazine published between 1916 and 1933. Not quite believing my luck, I spent a little time admiring the brightly coloured, highly stylised cover and monochrome contents before purchasing it to add to my small collection of vintage magazines from different countries.

The cover was designed by the magazine's founder and director, Conrado Walter Massaguer. It features a fashionable young woman, epitomising Social's intended audience - wealthy middle and upper class Cubans eager for its articles on art, music, theatre, fashion, sport, politics and original fiction. This particular edition includes an article on Spanish sculptor, Jose Clara, French writer Andre Maurois and perhaps surprisingly an academic piece on agriculture and commerce in Cuba in 1800!

There are also a number of theatre related articles including a photographic piece on actress Berta Singerman. Born in Minsk in 1901 she emigrated to Argentina with her family at a young age, took to the stage as a child and performed in Strindberg's plays at the age of just 10. She went on to have a stellar career in the Latin America theatre and was befriended by, amongst others Pablo Neruda and Alejo Carpentier who also worked on the magazine.

Light relief is provided by a number of fashion articles including advice on "appropriate" clothing for Cuba's climate, bridal wear and of course, all the latest notes from Paris. Modernist architecture is covered in an article on Philadelphia's Saving Fund Society building and the news page includes snippets on the then recently deceased former US President Calvin Coolidge, sometime French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier and Irish republican and eventual president Eamonn de Valera. Many of the articles cover news and trends from outside Cuba, perhaps reflecting Havana's position as a world city during the 1930's. My only disappointment was not to find a problem page. You can't have it all.

Advertising was an important element of the magazine, with leading traders and manufacturers eager to sell luxury goods to its readers. I especially enjoyed General Electric's full page endorsement of its new refrigerator, boasting its advantages and commanding the reader to Buy it! General Electric were clearly on a roll at this time as the inside back cover features another full page advertisement extolling the futures of their Edison-Mazda lightbulbs which the reader is instructed to insist on obtaining. Well known brands such as Remington typewriters and Elizabeth Arden lipstick also feature in the advertising columns.

In addition to making his own significant contributions to the publication, Massaguer secured the services of several leading writers and artists of the day. Examples include Swiss born writer and musicologist Alejo Carpentier, modernist painter and photographer Enrique Garcia Cabrera and painter and illustrator Rafael Angel Suris. Suris joined Social in 1921 as Assistant Art Director in charge of page layouts. In addition to producing specific themes for the contents page he was responsible for a series on the zodiac featuring his pen and ink drawings of female characters drawn with reference to the art nouveau style. He later left for New York where he worked as a caricaturist for Harpers Bazaar.

Massaguer led an interesting life. Born in Cardenas, Cuba in 1889 he moved to Havana in 1908 where despite not having studied art formally he secured work as a baseball cartoonist for the El Mundo newspaper. This led to more work and he went on to contribute to a range of publications including El Figaro, Cuba y America and El Tiempo. By 1910 he was able to establish his own advertising agency with one Laureano Rodriguez Castells and the following year held his first solo exhibition of caricatures at the Havana Atheneum. In 1913, together with his brother, he founded Grafico magazine. This was to run until 1918, but two years earlier he established the iconic and highly influential Social and a children's publication Pulgarcito.

Massaguer developed a graphic style influenced by modernist aesthetics with perhaps a touch of Art Deco and cited American artists Charles Dana Gibson and James Montgomery Flagg as influences. In turn, his work influenced many illustrators working in Latin America, including his colleagues from the Grupo Minorista of which he was a founding member. The Minoristas held famed Saturday lunches that drew both local participants and artists from overseas.

He was also active in politics and vigorously opposed the oppressive regime of Gerardo Machado. This led to him living in exile in the United States from 1931-37. He had already spent a brief period working in New York in 1923 and during this time collaborated with a range of US publications including Life, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan and Town and Country. Prestigious as this was, overseas recognition was not something new to our man. In 1919 he had been invited to exhibit in Paris as well as to work on a project for the League of Nations in Geneva.

Following his return from exile he worked as a caricaturist for the newspaper Informacion and in the 1950's accepted the post of Public Relations Director for the Cuban Institute of Tourism. He published his autobiography in 1965 before dying in the October of that year. His work is mentioned and some illustrations from Social are included in the excellent book Havana Deco by Alonso, Contreras and Fagiuoli.