Chasing Shadows through India
My Holga 135 was perfect for travelling through India…
In comparison to other film cameras, the Holga has little to no settings. Its functions encourage a point and shoot approach that sometimes results in happy accidents. Cultural interactions are assimilated the same way an image is exposed onto film. We’re provoked to press the shutter, to compress the memory to the size of our palms and remember it forever through evidence. We then place everything we learned while travelling against the grain of our own cultures. A cross process.
I was snap happy in India but it took me the better part of a year to develop the film and realise what the images represented: India’s ability to transform a person. It changed me. I know it seems cliché but India is and always will be a place associated with finding oneself.
My knowledge of India was based on Gregory David Robert’s Shantaram and Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited. Both portrayed a landscape where spiritual journeys take place in those willing to accept that fate is wild. My other knowledge of India was disconcerting. My girlfriend and I were packing for a three-month trip around the sub-continent, the decision unfortunately coinciding with the gang raping and subsequent death of a British tourist in Delhi and the hospitalisation of her boyfriend. Preconceptions were being shaped to that of mainstream media. India was a dark shadow we were chasing. “We’ll be careful,” we reassured our mothers before leaving. Bad things happen everywhere.
I have three seconds to get to a toilet…
It’s finally happened. Someone did tell me that no matter what you do, you will get sick in India. It’s more or less an adjustment to the abundance of red chilli powder. Kilos are lost over the course of days. Jess overcomes her malaria scare and joins me by the toilet. Any chance of sightseeing or adventure is thwarted by the need to have a toilet and privacy. Even walking out into the street for breakfast results in hunched over agony, unable to continue, about to burst. We take turns. We buy more toilet paper. We listen to hours of music through noise-cancelling headphones, a fumbling panic to put them on before the other goes about their business.
The sun setting somewhere over Jaipur tells everyone to leave their seats and enter their horizontal berths above. I do so gladly, excited by the prospect of sleep. Unfortunately the back of the bus also means copping the brunt of any potholes, which is likely on a sixteen-hour journey from Pushkar to Rishikesh. I underestimate the extent and depth of them. Each time a wheel enters the earth I’m sent flying. A thick plume of dust releases from the thin mattress when I land. Poor Jess and her small frame go with every corrugation. I’m there to catch her elbows in my ribs.
The bus stops every few hours for toilet breaks. Women wait in line at holes in the ground or simply hike up their saris in the field. Men stand like incense in sand pissing in the wind. I get up to stretch my legs. I don’t feel so good.
It’s somewhere near midnight…
and we’re back on the trampoline in and out of gravity. Our slow progression toward the yoga capital continues. I drift into sleep but can’t sustain it, waking to the feeling of waste moving through my intestines. I’m exhausted. I’ve never been so afraid to close my eyes. I spend the wolf hours waking to clenched butt cheeks and suppressed childhood memories.
Much like developing film, happiness takes time. Through India I saw different shades of frustration and anger now filtered through a lens of laughter. It’s those unhappy moments that are remembered for what they become.
No one warned us these things would happen. I may have brought a spare change of underwear if they had but would’ve ultimately let destiny run its course. Unfortunately destiny also meant the death of my grandfather and cancer diagnosis of Jess’s father. We were ordered not to come home despite our best efforts. Looking back, we were exactly where we needed to be. India was embracing us, teaching us a little more about ourselves which enabled us to better handle our tragedies. Perhaps our parents knew this was the case.
Travelling through India belongs to the individual…
Moments and memories forged between country and self. I think about the different versions of myself. The person I was in India and the person I am now. First World problems concern me as I write this. My laptop has distressingly little charge and Jess’s Himalayan salt lamp is increasing our power bill, somewhat. Life is far less complicated with a rucksack and minimal possessions. Life is far more thrilling chasing shadows through India. You’ll never know what lies between the borders unless you let the light in. It far outweighs the darkness.
All images and text © Aaron Chapman
See more of his work at www.aaron-chapman.com