“I love cats and I like to be in high heels all the time no matter where I go.”
— Keds Krome, Designer/ex-model
Kohima, January 2013.
Looking for potential contributors.
If you have a story, illustration, photograph, selfies(hate that word), poem, map, or anything having to do with people, culture(way of living/social habits/fashion) from the Northeast, please get in touch. My email is: wearabout at gmail dot com. (The material should be your own and not published anywhere else.) Please use the subject line**: ezine/wearabout
These are a few photos from my trip for your reference.
Photos from Aizawl, some parts of Nagaland, and Shillong.
PS. If you have any questions, thoughts, or ideas, send me an email or write in the comment section below.
This is a screenshot from more than a month ago when I was still in Bombay. So far I’ve followed the blue line. I spent two weeks in Shillong and about a month in Kohima. Now I’m in Dimapur; it’s been a week. Will be here for maybe two weeks, or three, or four. Next I might go to Mizoram, or Arunachal. If I end up going to both, that’ll be the perfect tail fin.
I went in and out of fashion weeks, through endless nights and days. Through vapid entertainment and celestial events. Through quiet small towns and dull big cities. Living in boxes in cheap lodges through different seasons in different places. Travelling for weeks and stopping to do nothing — a good remedy. From living in complete silence to raging contrasts and epiphanies. Through absence of television…and doubts. Through daydreams. And sunbeams. And cows. And disco lights. Through photographs, almost illegible notes, and emptiness in life that sweeps in, stops, and passes by…day after day..
“What Kabir talks of is only what he has lived through. If you have not lived through something, it’s not true.”
I’m blogging again after a 5 month break. This post summarizes a bit of my last year — things I keep going back to + posts I’m working on.
Photos: Backstage Sabyasachi/Swapnil Shinde SS 12. Versova beach. JFK quote. Room in Jodhpur. Street in Jaipur. Literature Fest after party. Burberry AOTT shoot. David Shrigley. Medicines. Burberry AOTT event night. Imsu. Hauz Khas Village. Bodice. Dancer at JJ Valaya finale. Kitty Su. Orion+dusk in Tamil Nadu. HSR Layout, Bangalore. Dolly. Bini. NIFT Bangalore grad show. Lunar Eclipse, Versova. Supermoon, Worli sea-link. Elton & Nisha. Tania. Krishna Mukhi. Himanshu Singh. Sana Rezwan. Meera. Street performers. Jack Kerouac. Street kid in Bandra. Airport in Dharamsala. Mcleodganj. Chinese kid & a woman in a magazine. Oasis Cafe. Old Tibetan women. Indian family posing at The Dalai Lama Temple. Summer solstice. Kabir. Foggy Mcleodganj in July. Gakyi restaurant. Cows. Clip from La Haine. Pema. Dusk. Poem by Ian McBryde(I changed Wyoming to Shillong). Kasol. David Shrigley. Street woman in Juhu. Bodice wall. HUEMN stall at LFW. Anila. Nidhi. Arshia. Clear night sky. Page from some Dali’s book. Dog on screen.
Things didn’t seem to have changed here much except those YSL for 60rs selling carts around the clock tower weren’t to be found and the famous Omelette man had shifted to a new spot.
I was here for 5 days. Came here from Jaipur Lit Fest. Took too many photos.
Tomorrow, I’m in Delhi; hoping to stay on till the fashion week begins…and ends.
This is a story I did for HT Brunch with some additional images & text. It’s about drawing analogies between trends I documented in small towns and urban fashion, and my experiences.
“Photographing street fashion started as a weekend thing for me on a trip to McLeodGanj. I was living and working at an NGO there. I had weekends to kill, the place was new, people looked different. Everyday I’d sit by the sidewalk and take photos.
I’m often asked why I photograph the kind of people that I do. I don’t think I’m looking for anything in particular. I just want to make good photos that are socially and culturally relevant. I’m also taking photos for documentation and it’s exciting to make all these images a part of the global ‘street fashion’ conversation with the help of social media.
Bollywood:The biggest trendsetter in India
Undoubtedly, Bollywood hero is the ultimate fashion idol for the common man whose style inspirations, conscious or not, are Bollywood films. For instance, men wearing unbuttoned shirts with their chests exposed, with or without accessories, is the most common trend seen on the Indian street romeo, “Indian MTV” niche, and Bollywood fans.
In small towns, many shops are still selling FRIEND caps from Maine Pyar Kiya & friendship bands from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Clearly, these Bollywood films still have an impact on the local fashion a decade later. In some towns, men are wearing skinny jeans – not a Bollywood inspiration & the only digression -possibly a remnant of the skinny jeans trend that became rampant when some Indian denim brands launched their range of skinnies and slimfits in 2007. A shopkeeper in Bareilly who stocks skinnies for men says his contacts in Delhi, where the stock comes from, tell him what’s in trend.
Also, there was a time when masses in urban sphere related colours to sexuality. A guy wearing pink would be tagged ‘gay’ in general conversations. This mindset is yet to reach the small towns. In Aurangabad and other similar small towns, men wear pink shirts and walk around holding hands. (related: Stuff Indians Like #170: Holding hands).
In small towns blind aping makes Bollywood the biggest fashion trend.
Why runway trends don’t permeate to mass fashion in India?
Fashion designer, Anand Bhushan says, “we don’t imitate runway but Bollywood. Remember SRK’s C-O-O-L neck chains?”
Bandana Tewari says in an interview, “Bollywood is by far the biggest marketing tool for anything that you do in India.” Fashion has to go through Bollywood if it has to reach the masses. Does the common man follow Indian runway fashion? Where is the vision and interest of the masses? Is there even a need for Indian runway trends to reach masses?
Isha Bhansali, stylist at Femina adds, “runway trends don’t go mass because there is no link between Indian high street fashion and Indian fashion on the runways unlike markets abroad. Just how Zara follows catwalk to boardroom procedure, Indian high street labels like Chemistry do not do that with catwalk; they follow international high street.
In Ramp Up, Hindol Sengupta blames the designers. “Unfortunately the appeal remains niche and confined as designers make little effort to really reach out to a wider consumer base. In many ways, runway fashion is the circus of the rich but that’s true for perhaps the entire high-end leisure industry. The thing about the clothes industry is that unlike caviar farming or customised jets, it does not necessarily have to be elitist. The young with dispensable incomes should be addressed by these designers.”
While Anand Bhushan designs for a niche market. He says, “These are the mega mansions one would expect out of a luxury label. I don’t want the world to own my clothes but crave in for a desire to own one. Restraining the supply chain in essential.”
Trends in small towns
In small towns, it’s rare to find an urban middle class person wearing the same piece of clothing as the working class. Usually, clothing of working class people going about their daily jobs is comfort driven and practical. From the old town of Jodhpur to the streets of Shillong — great style is pretty much everywhere. David Abraham of Abraham & Thakore agrees and says, “Often the most beautiful textiles and clothing are worn by the simplest and the poorest in our society. And with great style.”
In Salem, I found an abundance of men clad in madras checks lungis. IOU a clothing brand based in Spain makes all its clothes out of these madras checks fabrics.
In Asansol, the daily wage workers wear Lungis with gamcchas out of practicality & necessity. In Jodhpur, men wear colorful turbans with buttoned-up shirts, tailored jackets with dhotis, and jewellery. Women wear vivid saris and plenty of jewelry. Shillong is full of fashion conscious young people unlike any other city in mainland India. Their influences vary from Korean pop stars, Japanese films, to American sitcoms and music videos.
Connecting street style and fashion trends. I am not looking out to do that on purpose but sometimes it’s just out there. If I remember seeing something somewhere and can make a connection, I definitely will.
Photos: a fashion writer for NYT at fashion week and a man on street in Aurangabad.
I saw the scoop neck tee shirt & cotton pants worn by working class men in all four small towns I went to. Pants below were selling on the streets for less than 100 Rs. I picked a pair and photographed them on a friend.
Photos: Torn. Ekta Rajani, senior fashion editor Grazia at fashion week and a drifter in Shillong.
Photos: Sacha, fashion stylist, at fashion week and a man on street in Salem.
Taking photos on the streets is tiring and exciting. I was once detained & questioned for two hours by the police in Aurangabad as I was taking photographs inside the High Court premises.
In Salem, I was taking photos outside a church and the police asked me to produce an id. They told my cab driver in Tamil that my visiting card did not seem genuine as it didn’t say I was a photographer & didn’t have my house address.
I was mobbed in a small clothes market in Bareilly. People saw my camera and wanted me to take their photos. They were genuinely intrigued.
Once I was followed by two drunk men who first asked me to take their photos then asked me to give them money and my camera for taking their photo.
It’s easier to photograph people in tourist-drawn places like Dharamsala & Jodhpur. People are used to photographers and they don’t give them much attention. While in small towns that are not on the tourist radar, it’s a bit difficult to manage a single photograph without drawing some attention.
Photos: Recycling girls & Paloma Monnappa.
Indian streets are stimulating, colourful, unpredictable, and make for great photos.
Documenting people on the streets requires patience. People talk, linger, stare, get mad. It’s all normal.
Next up: Preview of the project I was working on during Nov-Dec. I did street casting + a few other things for a TVC.
“When we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”
Picking up from where I’d left last…above: A cart pusher in Asansol.
The term “gamchha” derives from the Bengali ga mochha, which means wiping (the) body-local term for a sweat towel. Gamchhas are most commonly found in check and striped patterns of red, orange, green, blue…They’re are also worn as lungis, belts, turbans – styles derived from practicality & nature of tasks the wearer is involved in.
I found myself a spot in the middle of a Y junction in front of a closed shop. There was a small tea shop 10 yards ahead. Idlers there would occasionally look in my direction, talk amongst themselves, and at times smile at me. A little disconcerting. Two people came to me and asked “newspaper?” I said yes. (A lie, obviously.) After a while one of the workers came and sat next to me but didn’t say a word. Often he would smile and try to look into the camera.
We talked for a bit. Soon he got called out for some work and left. I sat there for two hours till I started to see the same men. I was finding it awkward to get up as I was all comfortable in the awkwardness of being in the middle of those occasional stares for long. Eventually I got up, went straight to the tea shop…had a cup of tea, a smoke, & said thank you to whoever listened..
All photos from my July trip.
A gamccha costs 30Indian Rupees(less than a dollar).
Aayushi Bangur, fashion blogger, wearing a polka dot top from Zara.
Girl in polka top, with siblings, en route to Lotus Temple.
— Scarf at Ogaan in Hauz Khas Village.
Tania at LFW in tailored polka dot pants.
The polka dot story ends here…and another begins..
Below is a daily wage worker in Asansol, wearing the same scarf(gamccha) as Paloma...
The story I did for HT Brunch Quarterly is out now. It’s a 6 page spread of about 3000 words and 8 such analogies+ I’m also talking about undesirably stumbling upon trends in the unlikeliest of places, about runways & Bollywood, and my experiences in general with people and the streets…
“People think I’m mad…you know..little off..but I’m not. I’m just old. I don’t disturb anyone. Tired. But not mad. I’m easily ignored. If I stand too long in front of a shop, I’m asked to leave -shooed away like a stray cow. Road is home. There are plenty of places to sleep-next to a shop, or under a tree, or just on the sidewalk. I grew up in this city but can’t remember the exact area. It’s been too many years. Sometimes people give me food. Sometimes I go to the vegetable market or sit outside hotels and get leftovers. Food does not worry me..I can find it anywhere.”
Where is your family?
There is no one. Don’t know where everybody went…
What things do you usually think about?
Everything. This place. I come here everyday. It was empty 10 years ago. It is still empty…
What are you going to do next?
I’ll rest here.
Photographed in Burnpur, West Bengal.
“I exist here, now. I’m not much interested in the future. Or, more precisely put, I do not believe in the future. To exaggerate a little, I have no faith that I will still exist tomorrow or the day after. What is more, I absolutely detest retrospection. That dislike is balanced only by my desire to make my way back home as quickly as possible.”
Sometime in July, I was contacted by the people at Future Brands for documenting street fashion in a bunch of small towns in India. The project was for one of their clients, Madura Garments-one of the biggest apparel retail companies in India.
My brief was to document fashion in these towns as I’d previously done in Jodhpur & Shillong…with the focus being on men’s fashion. My end task was to provide insights via photographs that’d probably help them understand the ‘underlying ethos of dominant aesthetic preferences’ in contemporary India, and maybe help find answers to questions like: How certain fashions develop in small towns? What affects the general style of dressing? Why people wear what they wear…?.& so on…
I would be posting about all these towns separately a little later. This is a preview.
I’ve also done a long story(3000+ words-before getting edited) for HT Brunch – it’ll be out sometime in October. The story mostly covers trends I noticed in these small towns, analogies that I drew between street fashion & urban fashion(similar to this and this), and things I experienced while being on the road…
Aurangabad. Here, I was detained by cops for two hours for taking photos inside the high court premises. And this other time I was followed by two drunk men who wanted money & my camera.
Asansol. The only people I found interesting here were the rickshaw-walas and the day-labourers(actually this was the case pretty much in all towns).
Rest other towns were not appealing at all & there was nothing much to do. That also made me a little sad. I would often think about the kind of lives kids here live and couldn’t help but compare it to mine in the city. All the things I can do and have access to, while people here don’t….even if it is as trivial as deciding which wifi enabled coffee shop to sit at. That may not be a great example but in a big city one has many options and choices- where to go; where to eat; where to shop; where to hang out…while in small towns it’s always this one average looking place where everything seems slow and everybody looks disconnected. I’m sure the town has its own reasons to be like that…
In Salem, it also seemed like there were no young people in the age group of 15-25. Someone said, “Most youngsters go to the big cities to study and when they come back for the weekend, they stay inside their homes. Once they’re finished with college they get jobs outside+there is nothing really to do here for anybody to stick around for long..except for the old people.”
Bareilly. I got mobbed here.
I took about 2000+ photos & mostly ended up photographing the poor working class people on the streets as slightly-urban, middle-class fashion was nothing new or different(I did take photos for the sake of documentation). Another thing common in all these places was the crowds in the markets. It seemed like no matter what, people just never stopped shopping. I find that slightly crazy.
My travel screenshop looked like a mini-India in itself. This is via google-maps..right in the beginning when I was calculating and figuring out the trip.
The trip was about 20 days long with me spending about 3-4 days in each town – involved 6 flights(two I missed). a few train rides, many cab rides, and a lot of walking in the July sun. All these small towns were about 200 kms. away from the big cities. So it was always plane to the big city and a train/cab to the small city.
Each time I flew, I took a window seat just so I could marvel at the crapulous civilization from above, admire the shapes clouds made, stare at the horizon that stretched to eternities, think about how amazing it is for planes to fly in open spaces with no physical barriers and go from one exact land point to the other…and lot of other trivial stuff..
Hazy earth is obviously Bombay. Blue-green is Delhi. Intestine is somewhere in West bengal.
One day I’d like my pre-travel map to look like this. A giant steak.
Photos from Iewduh and Police Bazaar…taken in January.
Kong(Khasi for sister) is a respectful term, and can be used for any woman irrespective of her age.
Although Mary, my host in Shillong, painted this picture(of a Kong) in my head, and I think the two ladies below get closest to that.
This lady is also my host’s domestic help. She walks everyday from Polo Hills to Risa Colony and back. That’s roughly about…7kms. a day? She is in her 70s.
“Old-fashioned dresses worn by Khasi ladies of farming families comprise – the ka jympien, a body cloth wrapped round and fastened at the loins with a cloth belt that ends at the knees or just below it. Over this next-to-the-skin undercloth they wear the ka jainsem, sometimes made of muga silk, which hangs loosely from the shoulders down to the ankles and is not caught in at the waist. It has a built-in pocket for small personal articles and is kept in position by knotting at both shoulders.”
However, what most of the women are wearing here is a Jain-kyrshah – a checkered cotton cloth knotted over one shoulder; sort of an improvised apron.
Even in heaven people eat Kwai – a popular saying in Khasi. Kwai is paan made of betel leaf, areca nut, and lime. Everybody in Shillong eats it. It’s a part of their culture, and is addictive(in a good way I suppose). It’s available pretty much on every street, and in winters, you eat it with ginger; it makes you feel warm.
A Kwai addict is easy to identify – red lips!
Kwai eating lady on the left.
“If she is young, she will be buxom and comely, with powerful calves that are admired as beauty.” Couldn’t have been more honest with the description.
Below: a woman selling Khui(Khasi slang for cigarettes) and Kwai..in Police Bazaar.
“When it gets bitterly cold in the hills, Khasi women wear long feet less stockings; in cases of the poorer families, ribbons or cloth wound around the legs like putties or gaiters.”
Text in quotes + the scans are from the book Dwellers of the High Hills – The Khasis of Meghalaya.
I am also considering blogging about houses of Shillong and the way the city looked in January. The houses here look so pretty and different.
I spent a lot of time in Police Bazaar during my stay in Shillong in January. First eight photos are from Iewduh market, rest are from PB.
Iewduh is the Khasi word for Big Market..also known as Bada Bazaar in Hindi. It’s the largest open street market in north-eastern India. Practically everything is available here – fruits, vegetables, fish to typical medicinal herbs and plants to traditional wood, bamboo handicrafts, and woolen handmade shawls + all the other regular stuff.
On Sundays from 5 a.m. till the ‘good stock lasts’(usually till 11a.m.), this place holds a market for clothes. Peddlers pile up their stock of clothes on the side pavements and push carts.
A typical pile contains mixed items of clothes- shirts, jeans, coats, etc…and sells for anything between sheepoh(10) Rupees to sanspoh(500) Rupees. Irrespective of prices being dirt cheap..bargaining is normal.
Police Bazaar is a major hub for all sorts of activities and is packed with street side stalls of food, jewelry, shoes, clothes..to small basement malls and arcades and restaurants and hotels.
Skinnies with Converse is one of the most common sights in Shillong..although seen less on men and more on women. There are 2 exclusive Converse stores in Shillong and it feels like every person in Shillong owns at least a pair of them.
Shillong, other than being known as the fashion capital of India(along with Kohima?), is also known as the rock capital of India. About 90% of the people I met, knew how to play at least one musical instrument really well. However the tag ‘rock capital’ is not quite correct as they’re inspired by music of all kind – from Eminem to Poison to Dave Weckl to Bach, and they do make a lot of music other than rock.
Also, Bollywood is their last source of inspiration for anything but they do like the regular cheesy Bollywood films.
For most, the influences vary from Korean pop stars(Rain, Shinee) to Japanese films(Crows Zero) to the regular mainstream American sitcoms and music videos. If anybody can think of anything else, please add.
A knife maker above wearing Puma sweatshirt and a watch seller below.
I loosely connect the way this watch seller is wearing his watches, to this style that has been on the runway here at Jean-Charles de Castelbajac SS 11 show.
Although, multiple time pieces around the wrist is nothing new for fashion bloggers, and this style falls in the same category as the multiple belts – serving no real practical purpose…but still..interesting to document.
Women are mostly about floral and paisley prints like following some sort of custom. Men are mostly colorful only on their heads. I hung around in this Sardar Bazaar market because everyday the market sees new people. Other than the regular tourists, there is an influx of people from nearby villages and it’s packed on the weekends. It is close to the railway station. Most places near the railway stations in India have markets where they sell clothes+just about everything that a traveling person(or even a non-traveling person) might need. Considering all that I assume I pretty much got everyone from in and around Jodhpur..or maybe that’s a bit too ambitious.
In a market like this you find cheap goods even by the local standards. Here, the probability of finding international brands is extremely high. Either they are export rejects or a few seasons old stock but they look perfectly fine. Comme Des Garcons and YSL cardigans sell for 60Rupees on push carts parked around the clock tower.