last stop – mumbai

there is a lot more i could have said about kerala, particularly kochi (cochin), where we spent the first night – it’s a lovely town on the water, it has a colonial feel, it was a center of early jewish life in india (there is still a “jewtown” with an old but still functioning synagogue that has just six members left); we also had a relaxing evening on a houseboat, which is what one does in kerala; but abby and i will probably go back there later, so i will do more of a photographic study then.

we ended our trip in mumbai, where we visited the famous elephanta caves, which are enormous caves on an island off mumbai.  the caves were carved with statues of gods and demons between the 5th and 8th centuries A.D. the hindus used them for worship; however, the portuguese, upon their arrival in the 1400s, used them as target practice. many of the statues are missing limbs and faces as a result. the light was not good, so i didn’t take many photos.

the final highlights of mumbai were the slum tour and the visit to dhobi ghat. first, in the morning, we visited a slum area of mumbai that houses a huge number of workshops and recycling facilities – textile block printing, plastic bottle shredding, oil can cleaning, paper collecting, animal hide tanning, and so on. the area is so important economically that people commute to the slum from other parts of the city. there also is a residential section composed of two- and three-storey houses that open onto narrow, dark alleys full of possibly less-than-clean water. it’s quite remarkable. unfortunately, the ngo that operates the slum tour doesn’t allow cameras in, “to preserve the slum-dwellers’ dignity”, they say, while i think it’s to protect their photography monopoly. this gets to an embarrassing aspect of a photographer’s mindset, at least for me: the “is it worth going to if i can’t photograph it” syndrome.

in the afternoon, we saw dhobi ghat, one of the great central open-air laundries in mumbai, where workers (dhobis) wash clothes and sheets from hospitals and hotels all over the city. i wasn’t able to go down into the ghat, so i could only shoot from the overpass. again, this was pretty frustrating, but it gives me a reason to go back to mumbai.

elephanta caves: two representations of shiva: one in which he slays andhaka, his son, in a myth that is highly reminiscent of the oedipus story; and one as the trimurti, a 20-foot high sculpture showing the three aspects of shiva (brahma, vishnu and shiva – creator, preserver, and destroyer).
dhobi ghat, from a distance.