Work with Gilles Delmas

Gilles Delmas is a documentary maker and an artist from France. I was introduced to him by a friend of mine from Varanasi. Actually Gilles was looking for an assistant to help him photographing in Varanasi. The theme of the photography was relationship between chair and death. He approached to my friend first but my friend had to no idea what Mr. Gilles was talking about so he brought him to me. Mr. Gilles explained me his project and since I had already worked with so many photographers and documentary makers, I just thought that this project would also be like any other project I had worked on.

I immediately agreed on working with Mr. Gilles but I had no idea how different this project was going to be:) A few really interesting things happened only in the first meeting. Actually Mr. Gilles was staying at Hotel Haifa and it is prohibited for me to enter in this hotel. Mr. Gilles asked me to meet him the next day in the hotel lobby and I told him that I cold not enter in the hotel. He asked me the reason behind it and I told him that hotel owner had told me once that it was their policy that they do not allow locals to enter in the hotel. Mr. Gilles did not tell me anything at that moment but later I got a call that he had already changed his hotel.

Mr. Gilles told me that he doesn’t like racism hence changed the hotel. I had never thought that somebody would even care about my personal problems this much. Anyways, it was really nice of him that he cared a lot about me and I really appreciate it. We met the next day and Mr. Gilles asked me to take him to the places where Sadhus or regular people live to die. I took him to several places and he chose one of them to work. Now he needed chairs which I did not understand. I asked him the reason behind this theme of relationship between chair and death.

He told me that he had always wanted to come to Varanasi to photograph death and once he was laying down with his closed eyes in Haridwar along the Ganga thinking about his project in Varanasi. When he opened his eyes, he saw a big chair in the sky with yellow and orange color and it gave him this idea that there was some kind of relationship between chair and death. He thought a lot about it and realized that it was true. He was trying to tell me things that I did not understand at all. He told me that even the people who come to die in Varanasi have to use a chair in their journey, maybe just by sitting on it waiting for a train.

I did not understand anything but at the same time things were becoming more and more interesting. I took him to several shops where they sell chairs but Mr. Gilles did not like them. At some places he did not like the way they were making the chair, at one place he did not like the children of the carpenter and at the same time he was asking me to take him to a right place. I did not know what was going on, it was kind of upsetting for me. I had no idea what was the right place for him. I kind of gave up at this moment and called the friend who had introduced him to me.

I asked him to take care of him as I felt like leaving the project. This friend came and we went to his place along the river side. I introduced my friends father to Mr. Gilles and told him that father also works as a carpenter but he usually makes boats. Mr. Gilles finally said that the father was the best person to make his chairs, big relief. We went to buy the wood and day was over today. I thought a lot of about working with Mr. Gilles and started talking about him with my western friends. They all told me that Mr. Gilles was not different at all, all the artists are same. They do things differently, they are very creative people and we should respect them.

When I met with Mr. Gilles the next day, I saw him with hair shaved. I asked him why he shaved his hair and he said that it was because he was going to start his project. He was wearing orange color jacket and it was also intentional. Actually most of the holy men and other people who come to die in Varanasi wear orange color dresses and since he was going to work with them, he also wanted to wear the same color dress. His devotion for the project made me feel like really artists are different. I realized that it was first time in my whole life when I was working with an artist. His devotion made me respect him and his project more than ever before.

Mr. Gilles had drawn pictures of several different kinds of chairs with different sizes. He needed a chair with really long legs, as long as four feet. Another chair with regular size, one chair one and half feet tall, one broken chair and three chairs as small as a match box. I was thrilled to see the idea of the chairs. The most interesting thing about the chairs were how they were going to look like. They needed to be in two colors- orange in front and yellow in the back. The space of the seat and back needed to be empty, wow. I was thinking that if someone sits on such kind of chair and get photographed then those empty spaces won’t be even visible but it was still very important for Mr. Gilles.

I told about this strange structure of the chair to my friends and they told me that the things which was not visible but still exist means a lot to artists. I was like, wow. I had never thought about such thing. Anyways, finally the chairs were prepared. They looked beautiful and different than any chair I had ever seen, even in my dreams. The chair with the long leg was so big that it would not fit in any taxi or auto so we had to hire a boat to carry them and then lift them to the photography place. Mr. Gilles had chosen one particular ashram called Machli Bandar Math which was situated near to the river and he wanted to photograph one particular Baba.

We arrived at the Ashram the next day with all of our chairs and started photographing. The tall chair was so big that the person could not even sit on it. We had to lift him up and help him getting on the chair, it was so funny. Mr. Gilles sometimes wanted the Baba to sit on the chair, some times just stand next to the chair, sometimes just look at the chair, sometimes walk towards the chair… many different poses. Mr. Gilles was super devoted for his work. Once he started photographing, it felt like he had lost connection from the world. Sometimes he would talk with himself and with the camera. His camera was also very different.

He had three cameras and all of them were roll cameras. One of them was very big in size. I asked him why he was not using a digital camera and he said that since his pictures are poster size, he could not print digital photographs in that big size. I did not know this before. We worked with the wooden chairs for three days and the fourth day something new arrived. Mr. Gilles brought chairs made of cloth. He had two chairs- one regular size and other one as big as a house. He wanted to stick the regular size one on the wall the spread the bigger one on the ground and just have the character look at it.

The big chair was so big that we had to go in a ground. He spread the chair and went on a roof top next to the ground and photographed it. The project was completed successfully but the last day was not happy day. Actually Mr. Gilles wanted to compensate the Baba for his time and we had agreed on a price but on the last day he started asking for ten times more money. I somehow handled the situation by paying the Baba from my own pocket. I did not pay him ten times more but a little bit more than we had agreed.

I think a lot about Mr. Gilles and his project and feel like I really learnt a lot. He was a gentleman and super professional person and I really look forward to work with him in future. Mr. Gilles want to come to Varanasi again for the documentary filming project and again I would love working with him.

Nadia back to Singapore

Nadia left Benares on the 20th. She stayed at my place for one month while she was doing research for her photo documentary called child of Ganga. We wandered together to different places in Varanasi along the river. We went to see all the sewage discharge place. It was an amazing experience to be with Nadia along the river. I really enjoyed my time and learnt a lot of new things and saw a lot of new places where the sewage is directly discharged to the river.

Nadia says that she had expected to finish her research in one month but it was nothing for her, obviously people say that even one life is not enough to understand Benares. She plans to come back again next year and continue her research. Her documentary will be showed in university sometime in the month of March, 2009. I am excited for it. I was curious if she would give credit to me in her documentary or not and when I asked Nadia about it, she said if she doesn’t then she will be sued.

She is supposed to write a book as well and I would like to see my name in this book. I think Nadia did something different than other researchers who come to Benares. Usually foreign researchers don’t know about the events which take place once or twice in a year like when people make a pilgrimage by going to all the major temples of Varanasi and finally drink the sewage water, actually it is not supposed to be the sewage water, they are supposed to drink the water from the place where the river Varun mixes with Ganga but in reality Varuna is nothing accept a sewage.

We were waiting for this event but could not make it because Nadia left early. I am very much excited for the book which Nadia is going to write. I could talk her much about what she thought after spending a month in Varanasi because Nadia was always busy. I hope to see her again in future and help in her research.

photo documentary about Ganga

A student from Singpore is staying at my place. She had contacted me through couchsurfing. She just wanted to meet me. But when I saw that she was doing research about Ganga, I asked her if she would be my paying guest. She was also looking for home stay so she decided to rent my apartment. She is making a photo documentary called Son of Ganga which will be about people’s relation with Ganga in Benares. She says that it was her own personal research motivated by her father but when she informed her school about it and asked for leave, her school told her to do it with them.

She wanted to do her research with Sankat Mochan Foundation. She wrote them about twenty days ago but hasn’t got any response yet. I had already talked to her a lot about pollution in Ganga. I took her to a place where sewage is discharged directly, without treating, to the river. She was shocked to see the quantity of the sewer water. She said that she never thought that Ganga was this polluted. When I told her that there were more than 10 places like that in Benares alone, she just could not imagine it.

I showed her another point of sewage discharge near Shivala ghat and Assi ghat. Assi ghat sewage drain has a funny story. The Government spent a lot of money to divert this drain and mix it with Nagwa one so that people don’t see a direct sewage discharge. But now Assi ghat drain has started again. It again has a lot of sewer water that mixes with Ganga in front of people. I never understood why government spent that huge amount of money just to hide it. They could have spent the same money to built a small treatment plant.

There is an another river called Varuna in Varanasi which has become a complete drain now. The Hindi word for drain is ‘nala’ and this river is known as “Varuna Nala” by the locals. I never knew that Varuna River and Varuna Nala are samething. I just came to know about it few days ago. There is a religious walk called Antargrih where people start walking from Manikarnika ghat and cover all of Benares. One part of this walk is to walk along the Varuna River and do some rituals where it mixes with Ganga.

Most of the Muslim neighborhoods and slaughter houses are along the Varuna river. All the animal waste from more than ten-fifteen slaughter houses is dumped directly into the river. There is lots of sewage discharge also. Varuna River is the best place for criminals to throw murdered bodies because nobody wants to walk along this river. So it is not rare to find human bodies as well in this river. And it all mixes with Ganga after seven or eight kilometers.

This walk is sometime this month and I and Nadia have decided to do it. I have heard that people drink the Varuna’s water when it mixes with Ganga. They walk along the river, see all the waste mixing in it, human and animal bodies flowing in the river and a huge quantity of sewage discharge, but they still drink this same water just because of the religious reason. I can not imagine what I will be seeing but I am so excited for it.