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In India, since there is a serious lack of electricity but a major surplus of sunlight, I use only natural daylight. To get the results I want, I am limited to only two hours in the morning... 9-11ish. This can really be a schedule nightmare in a country where yesterday and tomorrow is the same word "kal".

Whether a local photo-subject will turn up on time, if at all, is always questionable... and since the Sun waits for no one, I am lucky if I complete four photo sessions a week.

My house is traditionally Indian... "More Indian than my house," say all my local friends... who's homes are now, proudly filled with as much plastic and stainless steel as affordable. My home has only antiques and traditional textiles, found mostly in the "Bazaar". The bazaar is the nearby market area of tiny shops, with even smaller "head ducking" entrances, bordering either side of a maze of cobblestone lanes, which winds for kilometers... totally conjested with shoppers and cows. A few choice pieces, like the glass "handis" (lanterns) and my bed are from my good friend, Sandra Long, a flamboyant antique dealer who often is a house guest while in India, on her many buying trips for her company, "Anglo Raj". Suresh, a Brahman silk merchant and one of my closest friends in Banaras, thinks that antiques, unless passed down by the family, are inauspicious... "Dead stranger's possessions!" he calls them.

Furniture and most decorative objects are not really part of the average Indian's life. Historically, India existed without furniture and stitched clothing, (mostly rugs and bolsters, saris and dhotis)until the Aryan and Mogul invasions, hundreds of years ago. The Muslims are responsible for so much of what the West associates with as Indian. Most Indians live very simply, quite often on the floor,in one room which serves as kitchen, living room and bedroom. So it is not so odd really then for most of the locals to think of my home, which I feel is comfortable but rather basic like an old fort... as "very Maharaja".

When I found the house, four years ago, it had not been lived in for several years... at least not by anything human. It took two months, with a working crew of at least five to make it habitable. The grain room has turned into a washroom, two toilets (one eastern, one western) replace the two holes in the ground, a kitchen with a counter and sink has materialized, hot and cold running water and electricity throughout, has been somewhat worked out. In India, plumbing and electricity are always a work in progress. All the crumbling walls have been repaired and plastered. What with its black wooden window shutters and ceiling beams it quite resembles a Spanish Mediterranean house, quite livable but far from a maharaja's palace. From the roof, depending on the season, the Ganges river can be seen in the near distance... close enough to enjoy the view but distant enough to avoid most of the devotional commotion which saturates the river "ghats" (the ancient stone steps that lead into the water.)

Living in India is an ongoing game of "Hide and Seek" with the sun. From December to March, I live in the sunshine... on the roof terrace, or in the garden room, where all my finches, parrots and palm trees live. In April through June, I avoid the sun as much as possible, by spending most of the day, staying cool in the courtyard... and the night sleeping on the breezy roof under the stars.

India is part of who I now am... but I am not quite sure why. Perhaps it is the mystery that draws me back, year after year. All that I perceive India to be, is just a hint of what really exists, veiled behind layers of timeless traditions and customs. Ashrams are not for me. I am attracted to India for anthropological, rather than spiritual interests... of course, one would have to be brain-dead not to be affected by India's daily religious rituals. However, I am more interested in the people and their art, music, architecture and of course, the warm winters.

India is inside out and upside down... but at the root of it all, they are just human beings trying to make it in a tough world... As we all are. And they are controlled, just as we are... They, by caste and custom and ourselves, by media and technology. I wonder which is better?

Elle Decor – December 1998