Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Photographing the Kolam Contest

On Sunday I went to the poor neighborhood just a couple of blocks away from my apartment to see the kolam contest my housekeeper had told me would occur that morning. Expecting to see only a few kolams, I was shocked to find extensive colorful designs in front of virtually every house. I had seen some ornate kolams on special occasions such as New Year’s Day and festivals such as Pongal, but nothing of this magnitude.

Accompanied by an ever-growing number of residents, I proceeded through the narrow lane, photographing each kolam and then taking another photo of the artist and her design. Most were made out of colored powder, but some incorporated flowers (or small flower pieces), grains, and even vegetables. Along the way, I met the judges who came to score the kolams according to their symmetry, originality, use of color, and a few other categories. They explained that the contest was part of a promotion to encourage blood donation.

Nearing the end of the maze-like assemblage of streets, I met a young man who worked at a computer engineering college. Impressed that I had photographed all the kolams, he told me that he could get the pictures printed if I made him a CD. That evening I returned to the neighborhood in near darkness (there aren’t streetlights in this neighborhood). Quickly attracting attention and then pleasant recognition, some residents led me to the man’s house. I had intended to simply give him the DVD and leave, but he insisted I come into his house to meet his extended family. I accepted some Indian coffee (sweet and with milk), but turned down his offer for fish curry, as I had already eaten. Just as I was about to leave, my housekeeper and some of her family entered, insisting that I come with her to another person’s house for some badam drink. Here I was offered the only stool in the room, surrounding by an increasing crowd around me. Once again I was offered a meal. Isn’t it amazing the hospitality of the poor? I again politely declined, explained that I was still on “farmer time,” eating dinner around 5:30. The mother accepted my apology on the condition that I return for dinner another time. And do think it all started with the intent of photographing a few designs on the pavement….

Interested in seeing more of the kolams? See my Kolams Flickr set


Bibi said...

Beautiful kolams; what happens when it's really windy or wet on the day they want to make them?

I see the Indians also have the 'stuff-the-guest' attitude, like the Serbs! Remember, John Steinbeck said, "True hospitality is only found in the lower classes." Not nice to say 'lower,' I know, but I think he really meant 'poorer.'

Bibi said...

Me again. Just checked this blog today (January 22) and saw something you will think is funny!