Flirting with the Grim Reaper in India’s Garden City
Last week, I spent a short time in the Indian metropolis of Bangalore, also known as the Garden City of India on account of its numerous gardens and parks. Bangalore is well known as a centre for India’s information-technology sector – it is also called the Silicon Valley of India – and is the third-most populated city in the country. In other words, it’s huge. I had a few hours to kill, so I decided to head out with my camera and see what I could find.
The fun started with an auto-rickshaw ride into the city centre. I use the word ‘fun’ loosely, because it was actually pretty terrifying. I am a regular traveller in India, and have become fairly used to the hair-raising driving of auto-rickshaw drivers, and of Indian traffic in general, but this guy was in a suicidal class of his own…
The mid-afternoon light was still very strong, and the contrast between the light levels inside and outside this death-chariot on wheels was too high for the camera sensor to capture both the interior of the cab and the hard world of metal and concrete outside (frequently passing mere inches from my soft and unprotected body) without either blown highlights or blocked-up shadows. So to make this shot, I used a Justin Clamp – or to give it its full title, a Bogen-Manfrotto 175F Spring Clamp – to fix a Nikon Speedlight to the interior of the rickshaw, and triggered it wirelessly with the pop-up flash on my Nikon D700 camera. I also dragged the shutter, which, together with rear-curtain flash sync, enabled me to capture a core of well-exposed sharpness inside the tuk-tuk to contrast with the scary motion blur of India speeding past outside, and allowed me to beat the high dynamic range of the scene into submission. My left knee is visible at the bottom of the frame; any knee-shake visible is due to vehicle vibration only – nerves had absolutely nothing to do with it ;)
I only had about three hours free for photography, so before leaving the hotel I had asked the hotel concierge for some advice about where to go in Bangalore in order to make the most of my limited shooting time. I asked him to direct me to a traditional area, away from the Western shopping malls and modern buildings. He assured me that he understood what I was hoping to find, and sent me to Malleswaram, in the North West of the city, which unfortunately turned out to be not at all what I was looking for: relatively modern, soulless and simply not inspiring for me photographically at all. I spent around an hour wandering around before deciding to cut my losses and move on as dusk was rapidly approaching. I took some more advice, and and headed to another quarter of the city, Shivaji Nagar. This turned out to be far more interesting, with a bustling market for meat, vegetables and fruit amongst other things, and some narrow residential lanes. I spent a happy couple of hours here from late afternoon until after dusk.
I wandered through the residential area, chatting to the very friendly and welcoming people I met there. Friendly and welcoming apart from the dogs, that is. This dog was as mean as it looked, and would undoubtedly have eaten me if it could. Luckily, it was chained up. I was extra polite to this lady to ensure it remained that way.
I left the residential area, and headed into the market, crossing a busy road on foot. Indian traffic works on the principle of reluctantly giving way to anything bigger than you, and involves much tooting of horns. (Indeed, so many horns are tooted that it’s nigh on impossible to work out who is tooting whom, so it all becomes a bit meaningless, and appears to be more a mechanism for releasing pent-up emotion.) As a pedestrian trying to cross the road, this ‘might is right’ principle is bad news. I have realized through close observation of other pedestrians on numerous trips to India that the best strategy is to take a deep breath and walk at a steady pace across the road. If you vary your speed, stop, start or change direction, or start to jog or sprint in panic, you increase your chances of being hit considerably. By crossing at a steady pace, the drivers of oncoming vehicles are very good at working out where you are going to be and swerving to miss you. If it all becomes too much, it’s better to shut your eyes than to deviate from your course or pace.
By the time I reached the market, it was fully dark. Just outside the market area was a guy selling melons from a cart.
Next, I came to the area of the market where meat was bought and sold. This man was selling poultry.
The market was full of colour. Invariably, the reception I received from the market vendors was very friendly and good-humoured, as is typically the case in India.
I cheated death again with another auto-rickshaw ride back to my hotel. Slower than the earlier ride, but owing to the darkness and numerous animals running into the road, almost as terrifying. The best thing about making this shot was that setting it up took my mind off the ride for a good couple of minutes.
Bangalore was a pleasant surprise. Given its reputation as a high-tech hub, I wasn’t expecting to find photographic inspiration, particularly as I only had three hours to spare and hadn’t done any research before I arrived. It turned out to be a lot of fun.