Sometimes you just automatically connect with people… so it was with Shai Ram Sharma as I wandered around near the City Palace in Jaipur in Rajasthan up in the north-west India.
Street and people photography is not really my forte, particularly in poor countries like India where, although the streets teem with photogenic subjects, I usually struggle to find the right balance between interest and intrusion.
Quite often the problem can be solved by making a small contribution…
I have learned to carry small denomination notes in my pocket – having experienced the folly of getting my wallet out and being quickly surrounded by a lot of poor and hungry people!
With Shai Ram Sharma I just knew he would not object to having his photograph taken, in fact I subsequently discovered that his day job was modeling!
The area of the City Palace I met him is called Chandni Chowk (Moonlight Square) and is what used to be the courtyards of the palace stables.
But these days the City Palace has lost much of it’s former imperial glory and become the temporary residence of numerous homeless people and beggars.
Amid these pretty bleak surroundings Shai Ram Sharma, with his saffron robes & head-dress, proud bearing and brilliant white beard, really stood out.
My request to photograph him was positively received and he went to work like a pro. In return I acknowledged his need to eat, gladly paying him for his brief work and then sharing some tea with him from the nearby chai wallah.
The next weekend I was exploring more of the area when I saw him again, resplendent in his robes, posing for another budding photographer and that was when it dawned on me that modeling was probably his day job.
Early the following day I was roaming around the City Palace again and realized that the area where he had posed for me was actually his home and he lived rough in the courtyard area.
As it was still early, he had yet to put on his kit… which hung on a line near his bed on the hard floor in one of the courtyard alcoves.
Over more chai, he used sign language to explain that the tourists would not be around for another hour or so and he was just chilling before his daily gig started.
Like somebody once said to me, everybody in India has an angle…