Exposures


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The Little Acrobat

Text by Patty Simon | Image by Dick Simon
India

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I don’t know whether to cry or be in awe of what I am seeing. While traveling, I remind myself that these sights have context and the reasons become emotionally charged.

We are 100 meters from our hotel in Kanyakumari. We have walked this path over 10 times and once again, I am blown away by yet another spectacular sight.

A little girl, about 7 years old, dressed “up” in purple and balancing three silver pots on her head. She is 7 feet off the ground on a makeshift tightrope set up on the street. The young father looks indifferent while tapping a drum and the mother holding a crying baby in the sweltering sun is adding to the drama beating a tin pan.  I only hope they are ‘spotting’ her tiny body as she kneels on a silver pan balancing on her knees, swishing back and forth and forward and backwards.

We stop and get out of the car to watch and video. I notice not a few but many visiting Indians give large donations – paper money not coins and we, of course, do the same.

I notice I am almost in tears seeing this sweet, innocent child being used as the sole provider for her entire family. Though, in a different setting, she could be training for the Olympics as a young gymnast.

I wish I could see her in a clean, crisp school uniform going to school or dressed in a new party dress on vacation eating an ice cream. But, even as she is, the good news in a country of millions of poor – this family is not starving – but at what cost?

 


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No One Will Be Jealous

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon
India

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4 AM on Sunday – Kanyakumari

Note the time and date. Add being bolted out of bed by shrieking, blaring music coming out of bad speakers (the kind of music that is intolerable and brings on an instant headache) and you have no idea why or for how long. We stumble out of bed in the dark thinking it must be the call for sunrise and flip all the switches thinking it is some kind of malfunctioning alarm on a radio. Nope! It’s outside. We next check the hotel hallway making sure this is “normal” and not the tsunami alarm warning us we have only 15 minutes to run for our lives before a 30-foot wave comes crashing down on us. No one else is screaming which is actually bad news… this means this is all part of the culture. Ugh! I’m going crazy, because I stayed up til midnight watching “War Horse” (I needed a hit of American culture and our TV had been broken for 3 days). So, with only 4 hours of sleep, we lay in bed miserable concocting ways of blocking out hell (funny… on a Sunday)!

After a feeling of forever, it stops! Ah, the sounds of silence are truly sweet. But never fear, minutes later, more from the speaker! This time, competing with some earlier Hindu ritual, a chanted Catholic mass much softer but long drones on and on and on.

Oh, yes, it is Sunday! What was I thinking with all the countless temples and cathedrals?

We finally drift off and like the last 2 mornings, our brains are timed for 6:51 AM – sunrise. We trudge to the window and watch yet another beginning of the day (all too soon!).

* Our experiences on this trip are connected in strange ways. One hour later I hear an argument on the street. Or I should say a “cat fight” over some domestic issue. All too public and louder and louder until a male voice intervenes.  I only laugh. The whole town has only gotten 4 hours of sleep. What do you expect?

 

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The Invisible Truth

Text by Patty Simon | Image by Dick Simon
India

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This is more of a thought than an essay.

Here is the thought.

We have now traveled to four countries: Rwanda, South Africa, India and Sri Lanka. They had an invisible thread of similar histories all related to independence and change of governments, policy and conflict. Dick and I like to dig into the history. One of Dick’s missions is understanding post conflict. I Iike reading guidebooks and historical writing and talking to guides and locals to try to put this complicated puzzle together.

This is what I have found and it came to me when we were actually talking to a documentary filmmaker and I found myself strongly disagreeing with some of the content. It brought about a discussion about bias, the power of a filmmaker, and ultimately the question – “How the heck does one get to the actual truth of a situation?”

It seems impossible to get to the pure facts. Therefore, I back off, humble myself to the not-knowing, trying to accept the complexity and am left to an openness to every moment I am in a culture or read about one. I always come to this acknowledgment – “there is always more to the story”.

 


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Make My Day

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon
India

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I had grown tired in the bazaar. Day after day looking at plastic Chinese “junk” cheap enough for locals on holiday to have fun choosing a piece of jewelry or toy to take home. I had sadly reminisced in years back before plastic took over, how beautiful things were. Even the Indian bangles, now plastic, were made of pottery embedded with rhinestones.

The sun had just set and we were headed back to dinner, when I saw white stencil designs on the street. Coming closer they were made of white sand and the accouterment that made them were being sold. As an artist, I flip when I see another art form, so I was so excited and knew this would be my purchase.

On closer inspection, the designs were made by PVC plumbing tubing cleverly hole-punched by hand so when you filled it up with sand and roll it, a wallpaper design magically appears. They also had round screen designs of lotus and flowers and one that looked like a Jewish star.

The best part was not finding this cool product but paying the vendor and his wife $12. for one of each design. A crowd had gathered. We were walking away when Dick turned around and saw a great big smile. We knew we had made his day.

 


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Fortune Teller

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon
India

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A favorite pastime is just setting out on the streets to see where it leads you.

Coming out of a temple, Dick and I see a row of fortunetellers. Four of them to be exact and I start thinking about ” location, location, location” turning this scene into an HBS case study. Who gets the most business? The first man or the only woman or the last two because it gives the passerby a second or two to change their mind and stop?

Why did we stop? Deja Vu. I was suddenly back in Guatemala where another fortune teller had a parrot who would walk out of its tiny bamboo cage and using its beak, flip thru cards and pull out the magical card – just for me!

But this time, I’m in India and the fortune is cleverly translated from Tamil to English including a little reminder of the hopeful price – a whopping 300 Rps each = $6. = a “fortune” in this country! Dick hands over what he thinks the real market value for this service is… 200 Rps for 2 readings. He pauses and gets a tad superstitious and hands over another 100. After all, we were both told we would have great futures!

 


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“Sun” Day

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon
India

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We all know the sun rises and sets. This is why thousands of locals and foreigners come to Kanyakumari to see this natural occurrence at the southern tip of India where the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea all converge.

But it’s what happens in the middle that is so interesting.

Highlights:

– Meeting an Indian couple on the roof at sunrise and the next thing you know she is reading my palm and proselytizing. She has a sister in Dallas, which peaked my interest. She asked for payment to make this prophecy come true so I give her a Love Card in Hindi. She reads it but looks puzzled. She can only read Tamil so I switch to English which she is well versed in but not Hindi. Go figure!

-We head to the beach where Dick is consumed by colorful fishing boats in great morning light. I take my own pilgrimage out on a jetty I saw from our hotel room. I am drawn to water like a bee to honey so I set off. From far away the jetty looked like rock and dirt but it turns out it is a landfill with pieces of ragged plastic fabric, tile, glass, mortar and “things” that are not biodegradable. Typical India… more garbage, though this trash is put to a very good use as it helps make a bay and provides the fisherman a place to cast nets. I walk and walk and finally give into picking up colorful shards to add to my bottle cap collection. I end up at the very end where it is just the tumultuous sea and me. Heaven!

-Dick finding a “Pay and Use” Public Toilet for 5 cents

-The shocking pink cotton candy vendor. The fresh limejuice seller. The roasted peanut and deep fried chili “chefs” in their open air stalls. The Silk Sari merchants. The ice cream carts with bells. The cooks frying dough in all shapes and sizes who have to tolerate two kinds of sweltering heat from the frying pan and the sun.