In Gwalior I was taken in. I met up with Saul, a friend from my stint in Brooklyn, and he introduced me to Mitendra Singh, know endearingly as Meeth. The Singh family cared for us like we were guests of honor. I have been learning this is the Indian way, treat your guests like kings and queens, and maintain utmost modesty all the while.
We visited Meeth’s brother Vivek at his boarding school, played some basketball, visited a fashion school in Gwalior where Saul played a show for the students. Meeth took Saul and me with him on visits to his his relatives to personally invite them to his engagement ceremony. The way we would send a letter in the states suddenly seemed so impersonal as I watched them greet us, offer us food and drink, and have us take a seat as they spoke with Meeth. He always introduced us, usually as “my friends from the US, Saul is a pop singer and Viola is a photographer. They generally didn’t speak English, and despite my slight efforts at picking up some Hindi, we were unable to speak much, so we exchanged smiles and namaste’s with hands at our hearts. One morning we came home to a throng of women on the patio dancing and singing jubilantly. Meeth’s grandmother poked me with a rolling pin, which is part of a tradition that involves the women of the family visiting the men’s side for money the day after a wedding. I was unsure of my part in this, when Meeth’s mom thrust some rupee notes into my hand to give to her mother in law. I passed over the rupees and they pulled me into the dancing then went on to tease the boys.
Meeth’s mother had tears in her eyes when we left. His father stuck an Indian sweet in our mouths, and gave Saul a gift. His mother gave me one of her saris. It was one of the most touching moments of my trip. To feel so welcome and cared for by people whose language I don’t even know, it was really something else.
The group of boys who were our crew in Gwalior absolutely loved posing in a way that reminded me of a boy band album cover, and I loved photographing their silliness. At the boarding school, below, they were very theatrical about their posing.