More updates on the world famous Street Kids of Madras
Triplicane, Madras, Tamil Nadu
Poor Ramu. He keeps trying to get my attention. I feel pulled, each time I step out onto the broken pavement of Triplicane, as though I am in a three ring circus, and Ramu - a fairly quiet, older rickshaw driver with a chipped front tooth - nearly always loses out as the beggars and baby dramas compete for Madam's attention. He asked if he could have your email, the magic link to prosperity (so it seems) . He says he has an incorrect addressl for you.
Mari seems to be in Triplicane all the time, showing off her latest baby (one of 2) and looking quite happy, proud, and well dressed (by the standards of her socioeconomic strata) in her "big Lady" sari (albeit a polyester one - very popular). (Explanation for foreigners: Indian women do not wear sari, generally, till they are married. Particularly in the lower castes, they wear sari exclusively after marriage. Dress codes of all types are more liberal among the affluent.)
Same for Mumtaz. I see both of them making the rounds, baby in tow, nearly every day. I think they enjoy their Lady status now. Whatever they tell you otherwise, they are not desperate for anything.
I asked everyone I interviewed whether they had a message for Mr Robert. Mumtaz wants money so they can purchase the "house" they now live in (two tiny rooms of brick and plaster, with a corrugated tin roof and ceilings so low only a Tamil could stand erect without hitting the ceiling fan. No running water. Toilet around the corner shared with hundreds of others). Mari owns the house, but wants money for repairs - just paint and plaster, cosmetic stuff, nothing crucial. Someone should tell her that exposed brick is very chic now among the rich Americans. Vela and Nagamma want money for new dresses, undoubtedly so they can sell them immediately for drug money.
Prabhu was the only one that thought for just a split second, then silently shook his head No. As though, no, why would I need anything from Mr Robert?
I printed some of the best of the photos to give one each to Mumtaz, Mari, Prabhu, Jennifer and some to VP and family. VP's grandmother in law is my favourite, though I can't speak a word to her except "Vannakam." She is more than 85 years old, only 23 kgs and still working in a garment factory. She married at age 12 to a 25 year old man she had never even seen a photo of. Muniamman -a very old fashioned Tamil name, no one gives that anymore) is originally from Kancheepuram (an historic temple town, steeped in tradition, just south of Madras) and says she had three children.
I questioned VP more closely - in her day, it was common to have far more children, and also common for them to not all live. In fact, it turned out she had given birth to six children and only 3 survived. Muniamman is tiny, with giant round glasses that overwhelm her face and one jagged tooth that sticks out from her otherwise empty mouth. Her skin is nearly the exact colour of her dark brown nylon sari. She wears one enormous gold nosering. In her day it would have been common to wear 2, and I ask about it. Muniamman reports that she sadly had to sell one of the matching pair for money. She had been wearing the pair most of her life. They were probably part of her marriage dowry.
Muniamman, Jennifer, and VP are my favourite people in Triplicane. They are a nice reminder that once you get off the main drag with all the beggars and rickshaw bandits, there are normal families just making ends meet in their modest fashion.
I have a lot of work to do before leaving Triplicane area - I want to spend a day with Jennifer, investigate the child Zardozi labourers in the sweatshops next door, and interview and photograph the many Muslims in the neighborhood. Many Indian Muslim neighborhoods are far off the foreigners' beaten path but this one is smack in the middle. That means they are accustomed to seeing us and speaking with us, so it may be easier to get to know them than usual. And of course, I have to check out the drug rehab program for Nagamma.
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