Thursday, June 12, 2008

Balle balle Bathinda

I used to think Bathinda (yes, not Bhatinda!) was the name of a place thought up by Bollywood scriptwriters (Jab We Met). Then I heard it really existed and that we would be staying there for the photography workshop to be conducted for a dozen villagers living in and around Gidderbaha, a small town about an hours drive from Bathinda. One expected a group of rustics, simple and untouched by urban India.

The day of the workshop dawned. In walked a group of cheerful, smartly dressed individuals, ranging in age from about 16 to 45. The 45-year-old is a tall, energetic widow whose children live away, and she was all gung ho about learning something new, involving technology that was totally alien to her. A tough act to follow.

The others in the group were high school students, college goers and fresh graduates. One young man was into mobile repairs. So much for the rustic villager. This is the face of the new Punjab.

Till now we’d thought it was difficult to to keep up with the children in Hyderabad and Sheopur. But they weren’t a patch on the group from Gidderbaha. How can a tall strapping Sikh boy in a bright yellow turban vanish in the blink of an eye in the middle of a market place (that too, when it’s not crowded)? And as for that boy in a black T-shirt and Naandi hat who stood next to a mannequin in front of a store and became one with the background!

And dare we forget the vivacious ladies of the group? The vibrant colors of their flowing dupattas, kameezes and voluminous patiala salwars fluttered wildly in the breeze like all the flags of the United Nations, making them stand out against the stark white of the beautiful Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj Sahib at Muktsar, and yet made them blend in smoothly with all the other women who came to worship there. We didn’t relish the thought of shadowing a group of women with our very conspicuous video camera only to discover they were the wrong ones!

Being older and more mature than our previous participants, they were more used to taking their own decisions. Hence, they decided what they wanted to shoot. Even if it meant dragging a little beggar off the street and making him pose on the steps leading up to the hotel entrance! All this while we were trying to shoot them through the glass doors of the hotel. And then there were a couple of enthusiastic young men who snuck off to the fort (for which we didn’t have permission to shoot!) while we were in the market, and quietly took some very dramatic shots that were revealed the next day, much to our surprise.

Our visits to their homes were full of warmth and hospitality, coupled with frantic maneuvering on the part of our videographer Srinivas to make the most of natural light while coping with the jostling crowd of assorted family members, friends and neighbors. They also went out of their way to provide us with the much-loved images of lassi being made manually in a matka – these days, the electric mixer prevails you see!

And of course, a charki for spinning yarn which had everyone tied up in knots. Fortunately for everyone, a visit to a spinning mill the following day explained the plethora of colorful fabric available in Punjab today. Which kept us on our toes, trying to keep track of the participants darting between the colorful bobbins and barrels getting some very dramatic perspective shots while we battled with the fluorescent lighting!

Much fun was had by all, as we left picking lint out of our hair and clothes!

Then there was the very festive evening when a Bhangra performance was organized, followed by the Lohri. Colorful costumes, the setting sun and a high spirited crowd kept us on the hop. Till the power went on the blink and we were left with a cheerful, albeit inadequate bonfire for video shooting. Frustrating. But good fun till then.

Barely recovered from the Bhangra evening, we had to wake up at 4.30 this morning to drive off to the Damdama Sahib Gurdwara, one of the most revered places of worship for Sikhs everywhere. Though we couldn’t shoot inside, the exteriors provided enough inspiration for our workshop participants. And it was admittedly easier to keep track of them in the wide open spaces!

And so, the ‘action’ continues. But this too shall end. For now. And we shall move on to Araku Valley, with fond memories of Punjab. It’s been ‘Balle Balle’ all the way!

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