Faces Of Mumbai

Mar 30, 2014 by

Indian people are striking. Over the past month of living in Mumbai, I have been observing the people around me, and I can now conclude that the word for Indian people is striking. I have always known Indians to be beautiful (my gorgeous Indian-Canadian friends over the years have been proof enough), but now getting to see so many of them each day confirms my findings.

Here then, are some of my favourite portrait shots from my time here so far (and a little bit about the story behind the photo).

1. The lady by the fruit…



This lady was kind enough to allow me to take a photo of her, although I could tell she was a little shy. I was drawn to her incredible jewellery; just look at that nose ring!


2. She cooks for us…



This little lady cooks for us at the school in Nallasopara. She always has a little smile on her lips, just like the one I captured. Here she is among her work.


3. This man blessed me…



Go to the Gateway of India, and you will probably see this man. My first time there, he took my wrist, tied some red yarn around it and began saying a blessing for me. He placed a red powdered dot on my forehead and gave me a flower for luck and some sweets. Some people find this kind of attention obnoxious or think it’s just a “cash grab” and those people can say what they want, but there is something about this ceremonial greeting that I find beautiful. He asks for a donation after the blessing (and this is what a lot of people have a problem with). He suggested I pay him 200 rupees, and I answered with, “I will give you 50.” This morning, I went back to the  Gateway of India, and I saw him again. He recognized me, remembered that he had put the yarn around my wrist and called me family. I wondered if men like him would harass me for more of these donations, but when they saw that I already had yarn on my wrist (the same yarn from the first blessing), they smiled and left me alone. At the end of the day, they are trying to make a living just like the rest of us.

What do you think about this practice?


4. One of the little ones at the school…



If I have learned one thing about working with the kids here, it’s that most of them have low BMI. A lot of them are so skinny that they look a couple years younger than they really are. When I saw this beautiful little girl, I noticed her full cheeks, and I was happy to see at least one chubby Indian baby.


5. Teacher…



This man is one of the teachers at the school at Nallasopara. He and I are waiting in the kitchen for everyone else to join us for lunch. Killer smile.


6. The vegetable vendor…



This was another shy one. We made eye contact, probably for no other reason than my white skin, but I used this as my chance to move in for a photo. I pointed to my camera and asked if I could take a photo of him. He nodded and put this little smile on his face. As I readied my camera, I told him to “Smile!” and a split second after I took the picture, he burst out laughing. I only wish I had managed to capture his laugh too. Total knockout.


7. I fit in a box!



This little girl is a complete stunner. She is the one who picked flowers for me when we played in the park last Saturday and then insisted I put them in my hair. Who said anything about favourites? What?


8. The cricket players…



Near Churchgate, in downtown Mumbai, there is a massive field, and every time I am there, the place is packed with men playing cricket. I ambled inside the field’s perimeter in order to get a few snaps, and before I could manage to get my head got knocked off by a cricket ball, this group of men asked for a photo. The friendliest of smiles.


9. Stopping for chai…



Whenever we miss our train back to Bandra from Nallasopara, we kill time waiting for the next train by stopping for chai. This drink is an institution in India and a rite of passage, one I have adopted into my daily life. These men have seen me at their chai shop a handful of times now and always greet me with a big smile.


10. Friends…



I walked past these men on market day in Khar. They wanted a photo, so I obliged happily. As I took this photo, the man in the middle pointed to his friend saying repeatedly, “He so black man.” Nothing like a little Indian racism to start the day…


11. True happiness…



He is easily one of my favourite students. There are few people more kind or charming than this one. Unfortunately, he has found a lot of the material I have been trying to teach him boring, and because he struggles in English, he tunes out even faster than he otherwise would. The other day, I brought out a book on fish, only to find out that fishing is his one passion. Last week, he found a crab and brought it to school, grinning ear to ear. Do you want to see what happiness looks like? Here it is.


12. Buying grapes…


On market day last week, I bought 2 coconuts and a kilo of grapes. This man weighed my grapes using an old fashioned scale. Simple pleasures, people.

13. We’re with the band…


On that day that I was drawn to the streets to witness a boisterous wedding procession, I was greeted by many friendly and smiling faces, these musicians among them.

Which is your favourite photo?


Please don’t forget to stop by my Facebook page and click like. My Instagram feed is lots of fun too, and every now and then on my twitter feed I tweet things like “Quote of the day in India (not said by me!): ‘I farted when I sat down to pee, and a bug came out. It was wormy and had lots of legs!'” … so you don’t want to miss that!

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  1. Beautiful portraits! I’m particularly drawn to the one of the chai man (that stare!) and the one of the woman who cooks at the school (that Mona Lisa-esque smile!). It’s pictures like this, and your description of your experience at the Gateway of India, that really do drive home how alike all of us humans are. No matter where in the world, we all just want health and happiness. 🙂

    • Colleen

      Haha, that chai man always looks like that. It’s tough to get him to smile.. only his friends do, but I know he really is friendly. And you are so right about people being the same. It doesn’t really matter who we are or where we come from; we all want the same thing. Beautifully said.

  2. Zhu

    People are indeed beautiful. I ove the way you captured snapshots of life.

    I wouldn’t have mind the “blessing guy”. He asks for money in exchange for a service after all, fair enough! It’s not a scam, it’s… well, making a living 😉 Bonus point he is nice and remembers people!

    • Colleen

      Thank you! I love the photos opportunities in India.. the people here are very kind and obliging. Thanks by the way for the input on the guy who does the blessings. I know I’m not alone on that!

  3. Beautiful portraits Colleen – the grape vendor is my favorite of this collection.

    • Colleen

      Thank you – I quite like that shot too. I feel like I have a ton of photos from here I could frame to decorate a room.

  4. Ha! Love the picture of the kid in the box! Adorable!

    And I love the one of the man weigh grapes, though for totally different reasons. I love a country where every face is so expressive and arresting. One day I will make it to India, but for now, I’m so happy to experience its beauty through you!

    • Colleen

      Oh, arresting. I love this way of describing the people. It’s so true. So many times I stop in my tracks because of the sights I see.
      I’m glad you are satisfied for the time being to see India through my lens. What an honour!

  5. Gorgeous pics, I love them!

  6. Emy

    Oh Colleen … this has to be one of my favourite posts of yours, and probably all blogs taken in consideration! I just LOVE how you included a little bit of everyone’s story and personality with your pictures. I get sometimes a little unconfortable looking at blogs where there are tons of pictures of locals but nothing else… It feels just a bit strange, I mean … humans aren’t landscapes, if that makes any sense at all? Though obviously you cannot always know people you meet/snap a picture of!
    I loved all those pictures… But my favourite was probably the cooking lady !:) her smile is so sweet! And as for the benediction… ah. i’m sure those people, just like the ones in Paris trying to sell mini eiffel towers would love to do something else, and as long as they’re not being rude… I don’t think we’re in a place to complain!

    • Colleen

      Oh Emy, that is so nice of you to say. I love portraits, but yes, it is also a fine balance between telling a story and just taking random pictures of people. I used to do the latter, but now I try to have some connection with the person first, even if that is just permission from them to take the photo.

  7. Colleen, I love India and the people is what makes it so special. I think you’ve done such a fantastic job catching a range of emotions, actions, and Indian-ness! Beautiful!

    • Colleen

      Thank you, that means so much to me! I’m glad you enjoyed these portraits!

  8. My favorite is the little girl in the box. It doesn’t get much cuter than that!

    • Colleen

      That little one is just the sweetest, brightest little thing!

  9. I love the thumbs up in photo 8, but the woman in photo 2 is my favourite. I love her expression and your description. She sounds and looks like a kind soul who I would love to cross paths with.

    • Colleen

      Those cricket players were so funny and very excited to see their photo. And yes, that lady always has a little smile on her face, definitely a gentle soul.

  10. I liked the one of the lady/cook the best with those plates of food. I wonder how many meals she’s made and how many dishes she’s served to folks at the school over the years…

    • Colleen

      That’s a very good point! I wonder how many mouths she’s fed in her time with the school…

  11. Each of these photos are so strikingly beautiful in their own way but I really love the ones where the individuals have such big smiles on their faces. The world needs more of those.

    For the adults, numbers 6 and 11 are my favorites and well, number 7 is absolutely charming since you can’t get any cuter than that precious face.

    • Colleen

      No one knows how to smile like the Indians! So many times, an Indian will be looking at me, even staring, without a hint of a smile, and as soon as I send a smile their way, they smile right back, their whole face lighting up. I love this!

  12. Ooooh!! I love the kid in the box! Heart warming! I also wouldn’t mind swapping some accessories with the lady by the fruit!

    • Colleen

      This little girl is a total gem, and India has the best jewellery! I’ve gone a bit mad since I’ve been here!

  13. First of all I love my own country and our culture. As I’m fond of music so my favourite will be these musicians. Thanks for post!!!

    • Colleen

      I’m so glad you chose the musicians! They were so friendly. Thank you for commenting Seema!!

  14. This pictures are all amazing Colleen, I cannot choose only one, it’s so tough! The kid in the box is super cute tough and I also really like the teacher with his lunch.

    • Colleen

      Thank you!!! I’m so glad you enjoyed these photos. Those are two of my faves too!

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