Beggars and Bollywood
My first week in Delhi has been nothing short of exhausting. Each time I leave the house is pure vaudeville.
In order to catch a rickshaw I have to put on a Vegas hustler act. No joke - for 10 minutes I stand on a busy street corner and chat-up the drivers before getting one who will a) actually go to my destination AND b) agree to follow the law and use the meter.
I finally set-off in a rickshaw. At the first intersection, the chorus begins: “10 rupees, 10 rupees Madame.” When a group of 4-year-olds beggars approach me one minute feels like an hour. Barefoot and covered in dirt, they stare at me with their big baby-eyes. They paw at my pants and tap their puppy-dog lips....
The intersection quickly becomes a personal cross-road between my emotions and my intellect. A loud “no” will only encourage them more. I know that I can’t, in good taste, offer them a single rupee. After all, the money goes right into someone else’s pockets. If I offer them a meal, they often turn it down. But, they look so hopeless... What to do? So, I sit there paralyzed in close confrontation with my humanity.
I am exploring Indian efforts to stop child begging in my first TV piece. The deadline is fast approaching. I have been working tirelessly to find people who will speak honestly about this sensitive topic.
To do this story right, I can’t go around like an American Cowgirl on some sort of save-the-children crusade. Good & evil bleed together like tie-dye in India. Who is to say that begging is all bad? Is it not just another means of survival for people in a country where little support is given for social services? Point blank, this ain’t some Bollywood movie with classifiable heroes and villains...
In lighter news, there is definite Bollywood flair to another freelance project I am working on. This one is for Public Radio International.
This weekend I interviewed Vijay, a Bollywood poster painter in a run-down arts studio in Darya Ganj, Delhi.
Finding Vijay’s studio wasn’t easy. Since there really aren’t addresses in many parts of Delhi, I had to rely on landmarks to find my way. It is impossible to find Vijay without tracking down the local Pan Wallah (person who sells betels and cigs) first. With a philosopher’s smirk and red-stained teeth he sends you on your way.... Below is a video I took of him in action. Not bad considering I shot it on my digital camera!
One hundred meters from the Pan Wallah was the art studio. It's hard to believe that this place was once like Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel, a celeb magnet for Bollywod stars. Today tattered sheets dance from broken rafters. Crows scream overhead and chipped paintings are mixed into piles of colorful trash. Vijay equated the fall of his studio to the "sinking Titanic."
I went there this weekend because Vijay’s got a fight in him yet. He's found an innovative way to keep his classical art alive. And I find it freakin' fascinating. You'll have to hear the story for the scoop. I will put the link up once it airs! Meanwhile, enjoy some of the photos of Vijay's studio below.