flat lands and boundless hospitality in Assam
Littered across the landscape of northern India are literally thousands of photos of me. With or without my ‘cycle’ as they call it here ( the pronunciation sounding something more like “sickle”), and often in poses of great familiarity with complete strangers. The images are mostly blurry and pixilated camera-phone ‘snaps’ — indifferently composed and poorly lit. None the less, the photographers seem universally thrilled with their work — insisting on showing me the pics (expecting interest/admiration). Sometimes, when a crowd gathers and everyone gets excited, — people start taking pictures of people they don’t know posed with me. And other times, particularly in rural areas, large groups of people — presumably without cellphones — will line up to be photographed (one at a time) by a friend or acquaintance so equipped — though it is unclear how or when they will ever see the photos.
If properly curated, a collection of the work of this informal paparazzi would be a fascinating socio-cultural document. I’ve traveled in other places where cell-phones were relatively new and high status. Places where my long hair, skin color, style of dress, or mode of transport stood out as much as they do here. But never before has the mere fact of my being, been enough to elevate me to celebrity status. For the record l have only been asked for my auto graph once, but the crowds that gather to watch with keen interest the banal trivialities of my day to day life surely put me in at least the same universe as brad and angelena and company (right?). A relatively quiet and shy person, l find the attention overwhelming at times ( especially when l am calorie deficient and accordingly ‘hangry’), but l have long since resigned myself to it, and do my best to receive it in the spirit with which it is given.