What makes this country a land of celebrations? Celebrated photographer Steve McCurry tells Nidhi Raj Singh why.
I first came to India in 1978. Although I have read a lot about the country and seen photographs, it was a profound, almost overwhelming experience when I finally landed here. There were so many things to take in… ancient culture going back thousands of years, varying landscapes, and of course a sea of humans belonging to different culture, practicing different religions. The original plan was to stay for six weeks, take lots of photographs and write stories, and head to the Mediterranean. Instead, I stayed for over two years. I travelled through the country… Kashmir, Kolkata, Goa, Mumbai and realised there is so much history, depth and variety. I have been coming to India almost every year and I still feel I have just scratched the surface. I have come to the conclusion that it will take me more than a lifetime to experience its full glory.
A big reason for loving India is also because Indians are so generous, open, giving, and they continue to be like that. When I compare it with say my time in the US, I am surprised by the difference in openness towards a stranger. I rarely face the problem of people refusing to be photographed. Those, especially in the countryside, are so hospitable. May be because Indians have a rich tradition of art and heightened visual sense. In fact, Indian photography is of very high level. I feel to be a good photographer one needs to have the confidence to approach people. Indians, inherently, have pleasant personality, which makes it easier for a photographer.
And I continue to make a lot of happy memories and this makes it almost impossible to pick just one. Festivals, weddings that I attended, actors I met from the film industry, Bollywood as it is called, remote areas in Ladakh... all conjure beautiful images.
I travelled all over India, but Delhi was like my base camp, even when I had to travel to other countries such as Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan or Sri lanka. I think I have stayed in every hotel and guest house in Delhi. However, the circular pattern of Connaught Place continues to confuse me. But, nothing was more confusing than attending the Ganesh Chaturthi for the first time. I lost all my cameras during the immersion of the idols. Not that I am complaining. It was a wonderful experience.
It is difficult to wipe the strong influence of tradition, certain things have changed in India. I see lesser people dressed in traditional attire. The dhoti and turban are slowly disappearing. The good thing is that music and food is as incredible as ever, even better I would say. Today, the country is unstoppable... a digital and economic super power.
Indians always find ways to celebrate, which is a great thing. Anyone belonging to any religion partakes in festivals such as Holi, Diwali and Eid. I think the secret of happiness is that India is a multi-cultural society that respects and accepts differences.