They had become familiar with me in this village and were less formal as a result. They would tease me a bit when my face turned red during a meal, or advised me that they were married even though most were yet to become teenagers. The stark reality was that most of them were married, and yet they remained resilient and optimistic.
The young girl above had become relaxed enough to take a position for her portrait, showing off her bangles in the process. She was smiling at her classmates and sisters standing less than five or so meters away. Standing on a chair to elevate her from the earth, she gave me perhaps five minutes to make this image as well as a few others.
Her hair was short and her limbs were most sinuous, in line with the rest of the girls in this rural land. One however would never think so when they saw these girls do the chores of most adults, carry water for long distances and perform continuous physical acts of labor throughout the long day. While slight in physical stature, these beautiful girls are as strong mentally as any from my travel experiences.
She might be returning from gathering water and instantly smile when she sees us, then go inside and get ready for the photography. Once done she will help her mother arrange our meal and then sit against a wall in her courtyard watching us enjoy her family's generosity. Then she will gather the dishes for washing and help her mother get dinner ready for her family.
During this specific meal a guest from the States happened to be with us, herself doing important work in southern India. She was touched deeply by the children and their excitement. While being served our meal she pointed out to me that perhaps we should refrain from eating because all of the children were seated against that same wall watching us being served. She thought that perhaps we should share our meal with them, that it was inappropriate for us to eat while they were without food.
It might have been easy to be offended by her reactions, for it seemed reasonable to assume that I would have had the sensitivity to the very beautiful spirits I had come thousands of miles away to document. Although I wanted to set her straight in an altogether different manner, I placed myself in her sandals and shared my experiences regarding this matter with her.
Years earlier it was made clear to me by the good team of Humana People to People India that guests are to eat first, while the family waited for the guest to finish before entertaining their own meal. On every single occasion this proved to be the reality. The families would serve us and wait in the corridors of their home in case we needed anything, coming back from time to time to check on the water or perhaps the food. To do anything else but eat with gratitude would be considered inappropriate in itself.
We finished our meal and shared our appreciation for their kindness. A few meters away and a day or so later the above portrait was made. It is her village in which we hope to reopen a school and have a benefit in six days to help make this a reality for her and forty or so other girls.
Halim Ina Photography