19 february 2011

not that this is a terribly profound post, but abby and i were in mumbai this weekend; and while we were visiting the museum formerly known as the prince of wales museum, i was struck by how the old photographs, in black and white, said something completely different than they would have had they been in color. color photos of people working in fields are about the brilliant green of the vegetation, the bright hues of the saris; the same images in black and white focus more on the story of the picture, at least to my mind. as an illustration, here is a color photo of a slum taken from a moving train:

and here is the same thing in black and white:

incidentally, downtown mumbai is much nicer than downtown chennai. it helps to have had lots of local rich people contribute to civic buildings and infrastructure during british rule.

14 february 2011

today’s chennai times

also, in case they take the link down, the text from the times of india:

Calendar boys of Chennai
TNN, Feb 11, 2011, 05.26am IST

Tags:Paul Cohn|Mike Edward|Miguel Chao|Abigail Aronson

CHENNAI: It is a challenge that has the US state department stumped. The consular office in Chennai has 10 spouses, all male, trailing their partners posted in Chennai. And the home-bound husbands are wondering what to do since they no longer have a regular job.

But even before the officials could come up with a solution, the husbands got together and decided to capture their lives on a desktop calendar. The Real Husbands of Chennai’ shows the men as they go about their daily routine when their spouses are at work.

You have Nasaa Dorjjugder playing pool, Miguel Chao vacuuming the house while minding his daughter and Rahul Nandi on the phone. Mike Edward has chosen to be captured by the pool while Paul Cohn is busy photographing his dog. Rick Arnold barbecues, Allan Whitehead nurses a glass of wine in front of his computer, Anandaroopa carries shopping bags and Kihyok Ki exercises and keeps his daughter entertained. There is also Joe Clymer, who is back in the US, in time for the snowfall in December.

“If you look at the photos, it also shows the work we do,” says chief photographer Cohn. He is the July man and Cohn is not just indulging in his hobby, photography, but ensuring that his dog gets some exercise too. “It is not easy for men or women to trail their spouses. I fell in love with Abigail and married her knowing that she is in the foreign services,” says Cohn, a professional photographer and Harvard-alumnus, who left a full-fledged public administration career back in Washington DC.

While Cohn trailed wife Abigail Aronson, manager of fraud prevention programme, to Albania and later to Chennai, for Anandaroopa, former investment banker, this is the sixth posting’ with his partner Bryan Dalton, chief of consular services. “When I came there were only tea groups and baby days for wives. What could I do?,” asks Anandaroopa, who is an animal rights activist.

Later, he met Rahul Nandi, who now runs his own software company. Soon Cohn joined them for lunches. “We discussed everything from where to get good bread to the best place for golf,” says Nandi, whose wife Aileen is the commercial attache. “Our wives have fancy titles but we also have our individual skills. During these lunch meetings we came up with many fun ideas,” says Nandi.

And one of the first was to create a calendar featuring the group which had grown to a solid 10 with the name Husbands of Chennai’ (HOC). “We decided to have a calendar from March to December, a Valentine’s Day surprise to our spouses,” says Anandaroopa.

The calendar is not all fun, says consul general Andrew Simkin. In a note accompanying the slick desktop calendar priced at Rs 400, Simkin says that the increasing number of HOCs represents an exciting new challenge to the foreign service. “Behind the humour and cheeky pictures of the HOCs lie policy challenges,” he adds.

And as Cohn and Anandaroopa say, the challenges start with taking care of children, running a house, handling the staff, dealing with shopkeepers and autowallahs and answering the inevitable question from everyone: “What do you do?”

11 february 2011

pages from the husbands of chennai “(most of) 2011 calendar”

the “husbands of chennai” is a loose group of the male spouses and partners of the foreign service officers in chennai. for all of us, chennai is the first post where there were more than one or two other male spouses, and a few of us decided to start having lunches together. somehow this association morphed into a recognized club, at first among the consulate community and then in the press (in an article most notable for its inaccuracies, such as the statement that the club is open to the public, or that i was eating pizza.  my quote is completely fabricated). 

a few months ago, a nonprofit organization that some friends support released a calendar featuring male models. either at the calendar’s release party or some time around that event, one of the single female officers asked me “when are the husbands of chennai going to release their calendar?” (there is now a debate over who suggested this, and when – what’s the quote, “failure is an orphan but success has a thousand fathers”?)  it was just a joke, but it launched a 10-month calendar which i shot (except for my own photograph, which abby took, and one that was sent in from the states) and that we’re going to sell tonight in time for valentine’s day. for some reason, the times of india decided this was worth covering on page 2 of today’s edition, but the forgot to mention that we’re donating the profits to the animal shelter.  

we’ve said, in the article and elsewhere, that it’s a 10-month calendar because there are only 10 male spouses and partners, but the truth is we just were too disorganized to get it done before the first of the year.

16-21 january 2011 – manikarnika ghat

(disclaimer: these are not my best shots from the afternoon; i’m going to try to get those published somewhere. you get the rest.)

on my fourth day in varanasi, i went to manikarnika ghat. manikarnika ghat is one of the two crematoria on the banks of the ganges. according to my guide – an 18-year-old kid who basically started showing me around unbidden, but who ended up being a lot of help – they burn upwards of 400 bodies each day there. (i’d estimate only 100-200 based on the traffic i saw, but i may have been there at a slow time; only two bodies came in while i was shooting, whereas during my first visit four days before, they were coming in one every five minutes.) the mourners bring the body, wrapped in colorful cloth, down to the ganges to be washed; then the dalits take the body up and build a pyre. meanwhile, the chief mourner – a husband, oldest son, etc. – is being shaved by one of the barbers just outside the ghat: the barber shaves the mourner’s face and head, leaving only a tuft of hair at the back. the dalits sprinkle the body with sandalwood powder and spices and then the chief mourner lights the pyre with embers taken from a 3,500-year old, continuously burning fire.

photography is strictly prohibited inside the ghat, unless you get permission from the boss. permission cost me 6,000 rupees for an hour of shooting. (my guide had said it would only cost 5,000 rupees, but the boss said, through an interpreter, that there were a lot of policemen who’d have to be paid.)