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  • Shelley Dark

11. people of the markets

We're talking about last Saturday. The day we flew out of Goa to Chennai. I'm a little behind. I'll catch up.

Our driver is waiting at 6.30am to take me to the markets to meet Cisco at 7am. I haven't mentioned it up until now but since we've been in Goa John has had Delhi belly and has been staying at the hotel. Thankfully we brought enough medications with us from Australia to start a chemist shop. Plus we've been given a more specific antibiotic here. But don't mention his health ok? He doesn't do health talk AT ALL.

I am sorry to leave him behind again. But the wholesale food markets await. I love markets. They provide such amazing opportunities to photograph people going about their daily work. And here they are so generous in their co-operation. I give a big smile, lift my eyebrows, point at my camera.

Oh my goodness. Talking about agreeing to photos. I have only just seen the Indian head wobble which everyone talks about. Really seen it properly. I don't believe I really saw it last year, or if I did it went over my head. It's a cross between a nod and a headshake, but the head wobbles round and round on the shoulders, almost as if there is something physically wrong with the head-wobbler. It means, maybe yes, maybe no, whatever, do what you want, I'm not sure so you take the lead, I can't be bothered with you. All of the above. It's totally FABULOUS. I nearly laugh out loud when a man does that today when I ask to take his photo. Wish I could have videoed it but I wasn't at all ready. I'm going to try to master it.

Along the road to I see a shantytown. Above the long line of dwellings is a billboard with a mother and a fat baby. Perhaps an ad for baby food. Or insurance, or something else totally irrelevant to these people. I am struck by the irony.

I am at the markets early. Peter has a dental appointment -:( so I ask this new driver to take me back along the road where there is a lovely fog. As we passed it earlier, my trigger finger was itching.

I've seen kids playing badminton - this net stands lonely in the morning mist with only a few birds for company.

We're back at the markets still early and I open the car door, ready to get out when Cisco arrives. The driver suggests that I don't leave it open as there are mosquitoes. He only has to mention malaria and I slam it shut.

Cisco arrives. He has emailed me this morning early as I requested, as I felt that he might wish to cancel after his accident yesterday. No. He went to the hospital last night, had an xray, no broken rib, a pain-killing injection, a good sleep, and here he is. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Cisco tells me his favourite spots for photography are the bus stations, train stations, and markets.

Women are carrying fish on their heads in large dishes, a cape of plastic wound around their head covering their shoulders, so they don't end up smelling like fish.

She could be a model, couldn't she. She's tall and elegant and moves beautifully.

Women and men carry baskets, dishes, bags on their heads - some very heavy loads.

There are homeless people here too, living around the markets. Cisco says he brings food to some of them, and is trying to raise money to do something to support them. He takes an interest in what is happening to them. The worst thing to be in India is old, a woman and an untouchable. She is all three. Cisco says he will buy her a meal. She seems impatient for it. A little demanding. Somehow reproachful. I don't understand the interplay. I would be demanding if I were homeless and hungry. I ask if I may pay for the meal. It costs a pittance.

There are fruit and vegetables of every description, hands of bananas for miles...

That red cap!

Betel leaves artfully arranged.

Dried nutmeg flowers. They smell exotic and quite different from nutmeg. There are also darker ones. Cisco asks the vendor what is the difference. Unnoticed by us, he has been listening to someone behind him. Just as he is about to answer Cisco's question, he grabs a heavy iron bar, lifts it above his head and wheels around, ready to strike the man behind him. Someone shouts wildly. The other man raises his arms in a martial arts stance. This is deadly serious. I briefly think of taking a photograph of it, then realise that's silly. The moment where anything might happen passes. They are still shouting but no iron bar is going to be used. We walk away quickly.

A pyramid of figs

A bakery with beautiful sweet delicacies decorated with silver leaf seem out of place.

Some look like an Indian flag.

Others are rolled so finely.

These are betel nuts.

Many women are sweeping with their straw brooms. She is attractive. No, cute. Her pan is a piece of tin.

These two men are peanut and chick-pea roasters. Heat is blasting out of this room. They work over a furnace. The nuts are mixed with black sand and turned over and over in the wok, with a fan next to them to dispel the heat. The smell is wonderful. When they are done, they sieve the mix. I wonder if all the sand comes out.

We visit the flower section.

I love her sari. Does she buy her bangles one at a time to accumulate so many?

But as always, it's the people I am drawn to. I wonder what is happening in this woman's life. Her expression is timeless, patient.

Often when I ask laughing people if I may photograph them, they suddenly are serious and give me what I call the dead fish look. This woman does it. I take a photo and as soon as I drop my phone down from her face, she laughs. I bring it back up again to take another before she stops smiling.

This girl is open, unreserved, quick to smile. I think her life is happy.

A Mona Lisa smile. Inscrutable.

He is selling limes. He loves his product.

She is totally unfazed by her crutches.

Doesn't he have a kindly face? Cutting chillies.

I am getting a good feeling from these market people.

He loves having his photo taken. I take several and move on. Later he is standing in front of me again, waiting to be photographed.

Those eyes!

This woman laughs when she sees the photo I have taken. She gets me to show her husband.

Isn't she divine? I say that I love her hair, and she immediately sweeps her hands back and those beautiful little ringlets disappear. I'm glad I didn't say it earlier.

I'm surprised to see two men sitting by a fire, warming themselves. One is reading the paper. I am hot.

I thought this fish fillet display worthy of an advertisement

A circle of fish

The oysters and other molluscs are so tiny!

The crabs are upside down in the display. In passing I wonder why.

Somehow these fish remind me of Shiva. They are so fierce!

She is shelling them by cracking them on this iron tool.

They're so tiny and look so yummy. I imagine them on a bed of ice, with lemon, and fresh bread and butter. I'm sure I could eat dozens.

The cows all sleep in the village square. This is breakfast.

He does mending.

They learn to help at an early age.

This load would probably be full tare for a utility at home.

She sells vegetables and is so sweet.

Made from coconut molasses and displayed opulently.

It says foodgrains but it looks lumpier. Made in India.

On our way home, I notice the Loving School. Says it all, really.

I feel an affinity with Cisco. He understands my need to capture images. He's been shooting too during our walk. He's interested in my business, in how I promote it, whether I sell e-books, in what format. He's an interested and interesting person.

I arrive back at the hotel. John is still alive. Hallelujah.

OK buddies. See you in Mammalapuram. (said as in Pamela-poo-ram).


shelley dark, writer 

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