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A Goodbye Letter to India

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A Goodbye Letter to India

A nation's culture resides in the heart & soul of its people | Mumbai, India - Sid Naidu Photography 2015

A nation's culture resides in the heart & soul of its people | Mumbai, India - Sid Naidu Photography 2015

Dear India, 

I feel like I'm finally getting to know a bit of you, after visiting your states from Karnataka to Kerala, Goa to Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu & back. You provided me with family that sheltered me with love in your cities from Bombay to Margao. You gave me a home in my parent's childhood town of Bangalore.

I know you sense some tension between us and I have to be honest that I've not yet made peace in living with you. You've told me to accept the way things are but I know your potential is more. I can't accept the way things are because it's hurting you. 

Your roads are reckless and chaotic and so it blisters your feet. Since civic responsibility has been lost to survival your hands have been tied behind your back. Your population living in poverty has become normalized and it weakens your bones. Your streets are littered with garbage and it hides your beauty. Your environment is being abused and it slows down your heartbeat. Your resources are being wasted and it drains your blood. Clashes of spiritual and state lines has divided your soul. 

So tell me why should I accept this as your reality when you deserve more. I've dreamed of the potential for positive change in the world but today I need to dream specifically for you.  

Yet despite all the difficulties you face, you've still given me one of the greatest gifts I could ever receive; the chance to start understanding the stories of my parents. You have allowed me to learn about how they grew up during a time when you were young and free and you've allowed me to accept their life story as part of my own legacy.

This alone has made all the difference for me.     

So I've come to understand that it must have been your plan all along. To let me live with your challenges so you could bring me closer to you. To simply be in the shared reality that our people face & help me make sense of my own stance in being the change I wish to see. 

I've been pondering here quite a lot and there is some truth in my thinking. 

If I was a storyteller, how could I truthfully tell the stories of others if I cannot not speak of my own story of the land from where my ancestors came from and to the roots from which I grew. 

If I was an artist, how could I meaningfully without learning how and what my culture had created before me, with the detailed heritage that influenced many generations but also got lost in the pages of history. 

If I was a community builder, how could I significantly raise a generation without living amongst the obstacles and barriers that the youth battle with in our vast world of complexities. 

So thank you India

For sharing with me your rich history and culture that is still a mystery to many, for making me uncomfortable by the chaos that you command, for challenging me to not accept your flaws as forever. 

You've humbled me on more than one occasion and showed me the complex simplicity of life here. 

I might be packing my bags to leave but this is not goodbye India, this is I’ll see you see later. 

Thank you India for the months that you have carried me through. 

Note from the author

A year ago I decided to slowly start stepping away from the reality I knew in Canada to begin a new journey. Today I am miles away from where I first started, knowing that this journey is nowhere close to being done.

I asked myself if I was willing to choose a life where I could do more on my own to build a better foundation not just for me but for the communities I surrounded myself with & then took the dive.

This post was created as a short travel writing piece to close my travels in India over the last four months of 2015. 

Leave a comment below & share if you believe someone else would like to read this.

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Creating in India

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Creating in India

A Toronto inspired Screw Face City photography series shot on the Streets of India in 2015

A Toronto inspired Screw Face City photography series shot on the Streets of India in 2015

If the goal of a journey is to reach a destination, what happens when the destination is unclear and end goal is unsure? Let the journey replace the destination by becoming everything that matters and reach your end goal by allowing each step to be a destination on its own.  

Reflection of the Past

When I traveled to India in 2009 as a young adult, almost everything seemed to catch my attention.

It felt like sheer chaos and noise erupted every morning as two three and four wheelers raced through the open streets.  The constant grid lock on roads gave way to the free for all driving that would cut in at every direction and corner. I would roam the multi coloured and often worn down lay outs as far as the eye can see in to different overcrowded cross roads of halli’s and nagars (Terminologies used for villages and towns in local Kannada language of Karnataka.)

In these layouts I would see the people of different faiths living and breathing closely together under a common identity of being Indian. During each specific religious celebrations everyone would reach out to wish one another regard of which faith out numbered the old enclaves.  Life could be seen flowing out at every tiny crack and even when constant power outs would have entire districts in the dark, the candles would dimly light up the faces on the street side with store vendors still operating to serve a busy population moving through their daily life.   

I would listen to stories from family and tell myself that India was a land that was just as much as mysterious to the people who lived there as to those who were just visitors like me. 

Capturing India in 2009 as a street photographer has given hundreds of images which will be re-released in a series called India Untitled 

Capturing India in 2009 as a street photographer has given hundreds of images which will be re-released in a series called India Untitled 

Sometimes before you move forward in a journey it’s important to look back at where you've come from. In my situation before creating new works as an artist, I needed to look back at how I was creating in the past.

While I vaguely remember the childhood visits to India before immigrating to Canada with my family in 1999, what I did remember was the mystery to my own cultural background. So in 2009 when I first returned to India older and with stronger set of eyes, I picked up the one passion I had and started shooting as a street photographer. With everything around me feeling magical I accumulated hundreds of images that ended up unreleased and unpublished in my archives. 

The vastness of what I saw & collected through images was me trying to understand my destination. It was almost impossible not to be mesmerized by the unparalleled diversity of this country that presented humanity in an overwhelming burst of cultures, religion, race and tongue. Thus unable to give ordinary titles that were fitting to each image during the time of conception in 2009, this series has become India Untitled  

Changing the lens to create critically  

It is true that there are some parts of the world that once visited, will get into your heart and won't get away. For someone who journeys as much as me, I have quite a few destinations that have stolen my heart. It's the seeking of my own heritage that makes the connection to India's culture more than just a destination to. India brings the possibility of longer term works that I'm exploring by navigating through the complexities of the cultures. 

As I've passed the honeymoon phase on my second journey back to India, I've also started to open my eyes to adjust and live amongst the everyday. It may not feel like much has changed here with the chaos and mystery of the country but I'm seeing things a bit differently now.  

The major foresight for me on this journey came with the factor of time. While all of my past travels were based on a tight schedule of activities versus vacation time, this journey was meant for me to just be. It was the first time that I was able to live in a new place and appreciate how the world carried on.

I no longer felt like an outsider who was just visiting on a short term pass. Instead I pushed to become someone who took the time to learn, ask questions, and ponder upon ways to meaningfully create and collaborate with other long term while I'm on the way to my destination.

While fighting the mixed emotions of being lost far away from home and the possible failure of not being able to create anything of value, I did what I rarely do when travelling. I paused to take some time away from being on the road so I could focus on the long term game plan and ask myself what this is all about. 

One major reason for this downtime was the need to reflect on my past work that amounted to me reaching this peak in life. I sensed an evolution that would require me to gain some more clarity on how I should be developing as an artist in a way that is not only right for me but most importantly for the people that I'm connecting with and the stories that they are sharing with me.

I needed to change my lens to view the way I was creating more critically 

Portraits of Anglo India 2015 

Portraits of Anglo India 2015 

An excerpt for one of my instagram posts highlights this reflection a little more with the question "What type of photographer do you want to be?" 

There was a time when I felt like more of an outsider to photographer who is often glamorized by their medium. I felt a strong connection to the streets but struggled in feeling that I was doing any justice here. I was a silent shooter strolling by without speaking a common language, I was a storyteller from the sidelines. I wasn't always able to connect with my subjects, at times it felt like they knew I was only a passer by. A large reason to why a lot of my work remains unpublished is because I felt that I missed the spark in their humanity that needed to be shared with the world. You see, I strive to be the photographer who knows their subject's struggles and sufferings and their joys and happiness. I strive to be the photographer that exists beyond the image captured. If there is no true connection, the image feels meaningless. I want to be the photographer who creates with purpose because the subject deserves more. 

Framing the destination you want to see

If all that was gained in three months passing by in India was the critical change in my work today as artist versus the street photographer who was shooting life in 2009, then this was a destination found. Today I'm not interested in just doing work anymore, I'm more interested in doing work that I can be proud of. Which now means that I shoot less images so I can have more conversations. I spend more time visualizing a focus and purpose in my head before capturing those images forever.  

The newer bodies of work that are being explored on this current journey has a lot to do with my own personal storytelling. While taking a deeper look into my own cultural and ancestral roots, I'm able to work with different photographic styles that frames documentary, portraiture and travel. 

I may not know what the final destination of my work as an artist will look like and to be honest I don't quite know if it is something that will be my only focus as I move closer to international development work. What I do know is that the journey of creating in India is what has helped me make sense of a possible end destination itself.

I can't say that I've necessarily accomplished all that I've hoped to do in India in three plus months but I'm saying this knowing that one rarely accomplishes the magnitude of meaningful work with just one journey. 


Follow me on instagram if you would like to see my work as an artist on @thekidsid

Portfolio of documentary and potraiture work can be found on sidnaidu.com 

For bookings & inquiries about my work as a photographer contact hello@sidnaidu.com

Now shooting destinations worldwide from Canada to India

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Defining India

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Defining India

When I decided to leave Toronto, I left knowing that there is more for me to do in this world. I had accomplished many things   through my work as a community leader and knew it was my time to dig deeper by chasing those dreams built of possibility and potential. I've always longed to make the world my home and I knew that in order for me to accomplish more, I would need to fulfill the life goal of exploring the word first. 

When I decided to leave Toronto, I left knowing that there is more for me to do in this world. I had accomplished many things through my work as a community leader and knew it was my time to dig deeper by chasing those dreams built of possibility and potential. I've always longed to make the world my home and I knew that in order for me to accomplish more, I would need to fulfill the life goal of exploring the word first. 

It's been almost two months and over 12,000 miles traveled since I left Toronto in search for something greater. I've had numerous friends both congratulate my decision and share their envy with me. A few more provided their well wishes for me to find what I'm looking for on this year long (and possibly longer) journey. Yet the honest truth is that I don't even quite know what I'm looking for by leaving home.  

I've tried to make sense of it many times over by pondering upon what I hope to gain from living overseas but always feel like I'm coming up short when trying to piece together the mixed feelings that are running through my mind. So in order capture and share these moments of deep thought while on the road I've decided to create a new blog for 2015 that provides an outlet for dialogue on my travels as a hard knock leader. 

This is me defining the journey. 

Have you ever felt like there was something more to life than the way you've been living? 

When I decided to leave Toronto, I left knowing that there is more for me to do in this world. I had accomplished many things through my work as a community leader and knew it was my time to dig deeper by chasing those dreams built of possibility and potential. I've always longed to make the world my home and I knew that in order for me to accomplish more, I would need to fulfill the life goal of exploring the world first.     

During my past travels I've always aimed to learn about the realities that exist in the world by being a part of the solution rather than the problem. Finding solutions requires one to be fully aware about the issues that differ from region to region. This is the type of work that requires one to be closer to the ground by experiencing the realities instead of just reading about them. If I really wanted to make an impact on the places I touch down in, I would require to be there for a longer time. 

This journey is about realizing change. 

 

Change should always starts with yourself, it starts at home. There is a lot of people who want to change the world but perhaps not enough who start in their own backyard. For me returning to India to learn about this land was a must. It is a land that is my heritage and one that I've been disconnected from for far too long. 

The beat of India is like magic and chaos; a forceful undercurrent to its incredible history, humbling poverty and the new age developments around every corner. It's a land where countless religions, languages, cultures and identities all come together. My journey start here, in my ancestral land, where I focus on the stories and issues of people that exemplify and define the unique power of what it means to be a part of the world’s largest democracy.

Starting my journey with India as a destination was necessary for me to understand part of my own cultural heritage. Families migrate to Canada to provide a better future for their children but how often do young people create the opportunity to return to their families home and learn about the future of their parent's past. 

Capturing the Streets of India 

Capturing the Streets of India 

Here is an excerpt from one of my first instagram posts documenting my journey to India 

I'm living a couple of blocks from St Charles, a school my father attended in his childhood. As kids they nicknamed this area Harlem, it was an uncharted territory of turfs reserved for a simple life.
The only way to enter is by passing through the underpass of a flyover that seems to marginalize these neighbourhoods even more. Underneath you will see another world come alive with vendors, auto drivers, bikers & dwellers moving around in the shadows. The loafers I walk around in may only last another month or two on the broken down dirt roads.
The air is thick with enough dust to power a sand storm in the desert. The odour of burning ashes is waste management. Garbage is a problem here & every abandoned space is a dumping ground, there is not much care to pick up the litter and trash bins are a rare sight. It took me three weeks before I saw a lorry come by collect & shift through the ashes and trash.
Water does not run freely in most homes throughout the day and often must be rationed. Pollution and population are understated words. Solitude is a luxury and privilege not often found in this concrete jungle.
Welcome to the new world. Hopes & Dreams Still Live Here

I never expected the road to be smooth, luxurious or comfortable. This environment can be harsh and the realities even harder. Yet people still survive here and make do with what they have. Here you find the stories of survival at its most realest. Here you find the story of humanity.  

This journey is about understanding identity.

 

A large part of my time on the road will be dedicated towards my freelance work as a photographer & community organizer 

A large part of my time on the road will be dedicated towards my freelance work as a photographer & community organizer 

In the last two months I've covered a lot of grounds but not without its challenges. The hardest adjustment for me on the road is finding a flow allows me to be as productive as I was on home turf. For me staying busy is what keeps me sane even if the pace of the country is different. I needed strong reasons to make this journey worthwhile, so I gave myself work that is worth committing to while on the road. 

Part of this work is community building, part of it is selflessness. I'm learning about the movements that are redrawing India and the many change makers behind them. I'm looking at the different problems, searching for the answers and probing the possibility of collective solutions. As always I ask how my work will engage audiences that have been deemed disengaged, those who are seen as marginalized and underprivileged in a place where survival becomes a daily task.

Part of this work is artistic, part of it is self engagement. I've immersed myself in the arts & culture scene here in by spending time learning about traditional art styles and paying homage to creative works in both local museums & international arts festival from Kerala to Mumbai. I'm looking to create bodies of photographic work that are influenced by my ancestral lands and one that can find a home here, I'm looking to create art for social change. 

My freelance work as a photographer & community organizer is what I'm hoping will help fund my time on the road but more importantly its what I hope will make this journey more meaningful. 

This journey is about finding purpose

 

While the truth is that I may not entirely know what I'm searching for on this year long journey, what I do know is that I will find a richer life at the end of it. Not the type of riches that accumulates in your bank account until you retire but instead the profits that are gained from the life experiences of living differently and learning all over again. 

So for my family, friends, colleagues, readers and fellow journeyers; I ask you how will you let your journey define your life?


The journey is a new blog of the Hard Knock Leadership initiative: sharing stories from taking the road less traveled

Comment with thoughts & share with others if you've enjoyed this read.

If you are interested in learning about ways to define your own journey as a Global advocate  

Contact: hardknockleader@gmail.com

 

 

 

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