The private workshop is in full swing now. We are in Bundi. Thankfully not much has changed around here since the last time we visited, but then it has not even been two years. It is great to be back doing what I did for almost 5 months during our last India trip – riding around the countryside, looking for interesting subjects along the roads, out in the fields and in the villages. It is also quite fascinating and somewhat educational to be the onlooker and not the photographer, as I watch Kym – the workshop participant, do what I did in the past. For most part I avoid taking photos, as having two photographers in some of these remote areas would raise the people’s excitement to an unmanageable level and turn the whole thing into a circus. We have to be really careful with how we approach the situation.
I have recently been reminded that India never runs out of surprises. The other day we stayed in a traditional village – full of stone and mud houses. Many people here still dress in clothes from a different era. At the edge of the village there was a different kind of house, it seemed to belong to someone a bit better off than the rest of the villagers, it was more modern and used concrete elements. Seeing a house like this amongst traditional buildings is not unusual in India these days; what was unusual – was the computer inside the house. Even more surprising was the fact that behind the computer sat a boy of eleven. He typed Hindi characters using an English keyboard; he had memorized which Hindi characters corresponded to which English letters. As we chatted with his proud father we found out that there are currently only three computers in the entire region and his boy was one of the lucky owners. He had had it for only two months, but already knew how to use Microsoft Office and Microsoft Paint, Bill Gates would have been proud, although the software was surely pirated. The boy painted a figure with a mouse and when he made a mistake clicked Ctrl+Z (the shortcut for undo). Hardik, Tanya, Kym and I were all a little startled. A computer in a medieval village and a little wunderkind operating it: What better symbol of where India? The boy’s father asked if we wanted a print out of the picture than the boy had drawn. – What, there is a printer too? – Yes, laser printer. – Hmm, well, we don’t want to waste your cartridge, don’t go to the trouble. – No, no problem. Said the father and within a few seconds we were standing with a print.
I have mixed feelings about such changes. I feel sad that it is only a matter of time before much of what I have come to love about this region will be changed by the influences of the world where I come from. If these changes happen too fast for the people to really comprehend what is happening, the situation will become very ugly indeed. On the other hand I know that I don’t really have any say in how things should develop. If a family of cow herders wants their son to become a computer programmer; who am I to say that it’s not the best decision? Mud houses and nights by the fire may be a romantic idea for foreigners who visit India and come back to their brick/concrete electricity powered houses/apartments with running water. For people who have not seen anything other than a very basic way of living there is nothing romantic about not having electricity, running water and having to fix their mud floor every time that someone with shoes takes a large chunk out of it. Personally I wish there was a perfect balance, a harmony between the old, the culture that developed over hundreds of years and survived hundreds more and the onslaught of modernity. It’s unlikely that something like that will happen in the region of Bundi; but one can always dream right?