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The Spirit of India – a photo essay

April 11, 2007

IIM graduates earning dollar salaries and industrialists like the Ambanis, Aziz Premji and Narayan Murthy may have brought India on to the world map, but the people on the streets toiling day in and day out in the scorching sun also embody the spirit of India. They earn an honest living, as best as they can. I guess dishonest people are never in the majority…good, honest people are. They are what make the world go round.

These pictures are taken in Mumbai…and in a way Mumbai embodies the spirit of India best because it is on Mumbai’s streets that people converge from almost every part of India, knowing that someone, somewhere, will buy their wares. In the decade ending in 2001, 55 percent of those who entered Mumbai were migrants from other states, and in fact 37 percent of Mumbai’s population is the migrant population. It is said that 40-50 families enter Mumbai everyday. The city is populated with around 20 million people today, and is projected the world’s second most populous metropolis by 2015, after Tokyo. Mumbai meri jaan, you are India.

This woman sits patiently on a hot dusty road, painstakingly arranging her wares on old newspaper.


This young fella could be a student and probably is because he tries to converse in broken English. He carries with him a tall stack of books and smiles as he tries to sell me a book.

These guys at the next traffic signal grin and wave to me as I take their pictures. They are selling an assorted number of things, mostly for cars. Finally, I buy a duster.

These two young men are construction labourers, and toil all day in the hot sun, but their smiles are intact as they take a break. Sometimes I feel they are far happier than urban kids who sit all day long and play video games.


This woman was so absorbed in curing the concrete that she did not notice my camera.


I got this picture at Mumbai Central railway station.


Now that one was a licensed porter. There are any number of unlicensed porters who try to grab a slice of the pie. In fact at times they are at loggerheads with each other. I caught this tussle outside the station.


There are grape sellers


And cloth sellers


And omlette makers

And ofcourse, the rag pickers.

As I mused over these pictures, I realised how little I did compared to these people.

Related Reading: Faces of small town India
A photo essay of a traffic signal in Mumbai

14 Comments leave one →
  1. April 11, 2007 11:18 am


  2. April 11, 2007 12:01 pm

    That’s a nice post Nita…

  3. April 11, 2007 7:06 pm

    Nita – it is much work to bring to attention aspects of life in India which complete a picture of a country of great complexity, of jarring contrasts – and you are doing it with every thoughtful report. It is your way of “curing cement” or “displaying your wares on newspaper”, as do the women in your pictures. I really like the honest, unself-conscious character of your photos, Looking at them brings me to stand beside you!

  4. axinia permalink
    April 11, 2007 7:12 pm

    What I love about India is that you can never see on their faces that they are having a heavy life…Amazing!
    It is the opposite case in Russia – eveyone`s face is saying about the hard times (though it is 100 times easier than in India!).
    I wonder how would you, Nita (or other readers) explain this phenomenon? thanks!

  5. Jatar permalink
    April 11, 2007 8:48 pm

    These are the people who really make India and, in my opinion, reflect our true values, which are superb, not what the politicians and officials bring out in their cosy ill-gotten abodes.

  6. April 11, 2007 8:57 pm

    Suburban, thank you. I love people and mostly in my photos I try to capture their personas rather than just their faces. Your comment is very inspiring for me.

    Axinia, what you said is true. People here are mostly smiling and they laugh. I am talking of the common man. In fact what you pointed out has been analysed very well in a book Being Indian by a guy called Verma. There are many reasons why people are happy despite of the abject poverty and one of them is that they have a accepting outlook on life, almost as if this is their fate. This ofcourse has its downside because it makes them try less hard to rise above their condition. Also, people are not generally materialistic, though this is rapidly changing. In fact about 25 years ago the lack of materialism was quite glaringly evident. People who had money would not cool their houses, would not buy fancy clothes, would not go out and eat…in fact even today and some parts of India specially south India you may not realise how much money people have because they live simply.
    But its changing and its not necessarily bad. One needs comforts in life too, the younger generation is quite clear about that. It makes them more ambitious and less accepting and drives them to achieve. I guess that is what we need in modern India.

  7. April 12, 2007 9:02 am


    Photos are fantastic! as good as your previous foto blogs.

    One thing i wud like to comment abt Mumbai… i have never seen a more lively city than Mumbai…awake and ready to serve you 24 X 7..this is something i miss in Bangalore but it has its own goods…

    You are very true in saying that Mumbai is India….i love Mumbai…

  8. purpler permalink
    April 12, 2007 1:07 pm

    Dear Nita,

    I really love your pictures and how you have shown the people of Mumbai.
    Mumbai rocks!

  9. Stacy permalink
    April 15, 2007 7:47 am

    Your pictures and descriptions show these people with such dignity. I love the way you use positive undertones in your descriptions (i.e. “The woman displays her wares on the newspaper” instead of saying she’s too poor to have a table to put her stuff on so she has to put them on the ground.). Very well done!

  10. tulika permalink
    September 8, 2009 9:42 am

    this s d real INDIA

  11. Deepu permalink
    July 12, 2011 7:53 pm

    Very great…!


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