12.27.13: Foreigners Love India and India Loves Foreigners

Three shoots today! Paolo, Kiran and I are up and out by 5 am, moving through the dark, deserted streets in search of a taxi to take us to Deepor Beel, the bird sanctuary on the outskirts of town where we’re meeting Barsha and her family. Barsha’s 19 and working on a social sciences degree at a local college; her graduate studies will focus on Peace and Conflict.  As sunrise approaches, we find ourselves on the edge of a vast, silent wetland with fishermen gliding by in long skinny boats and all kinds of birds floating and flying around. Afterwards, we walk back to Barsha’s house and enjoy a savory homemade breakfast topped off with tea and delicious coconut sweets. Before we leave, the family presents us each with a Gamosa, the beautiful white and red woven Assamese scarf that is offered to guests as a means of welcome. Lovely.

For Dristi’s 11 am shoot, we explore the Maligaon Market where you can find everything from spices to sunglasses and we have our first taste of Paan, the ubiquitous betel leaf pick-me-up (“It will make your mouth red!”), made fresh by a friendly man in a teeny, tiny drugstore. With Dristi’s nerves-of-steel mom at the wheel, we whiz through the byways and back alleys of the city to the house Dristi shares with her parents, little brother, maternal and paternal grandmothers and great grandfather. After a tour of the family shrine, we are treated to our second sumptuous homemade meal of the day with the most incredible spinach daal and mango pickles I have ever tasted. “Stop saying ‘thank you’ so much!” laughs Dristi’s Mom as she dishes up seconds…and thirds…and fourths… “Foreigners love India but India loves foreigners too.”

Afterwards, it’s Ladies Day in the darkroom. Thanks to the extended developing time required for Caffenol,  Dristi, Barsha and I have an opportunity to chat about boys, Barbie, tonsillitis, travel, love marriages vs. arranged marriages, selfies, studies and the pressures faced by young women in India today to be “good.” We can’t solve all the world’s problems in a single session, but we’re working on it!

Sunset finds us down at one of the abandoned ferryboats on the riverfront for Paromita’s shoot… The mighty Brahmaputra, the only “male” river in India, is a place we keep returning to… the spine of the city and the Sound We See…


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Paolo Davanzo and Lisa Marr travel the world, sharing movies and music with the masses. At home in Los Angeles, they facilitate community screenings and workshops at the Echo Park Film Center, a non-profit media arts organization.

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