Stories from the Road is a collection of stories about my own photographic adventures in South Asia. Sometimes the stories are exciting and sometimes mundane and at times emotional. This section deals with vernacular photography and the way we all experience the photographs we see. What they meant when we took them and what they mean over time.
Tuk-Tuk driver Drama at the Mathura Train Station
Photography is an interesting beast. You are either having a normal, non-photographic moment or you are having the experience of making a photograph. What you see above is the outcome of my photographic experience just outside the Mathura Train Station. Mathura is a small town known as the place where the Hindu god Krishna was born. It is a short train right from Agra. My mom and I decided to take a side trip to Mathura and Vrindavan to see if there were any great photo opportunities. Sadly, there were not great photo opportunities in either location. Vrindavan is a story in and of itself which I discussed in an earlier post.
I made the photograph above when we arrived back at the Mathura Train Station in order to go back to Agra. As we walked toward the station, I decided to take this photo with my phone to have a record of what the place looked like. It is a fairly non-threatening place. In the photograph, you can see everyone is just minding their own business. After making this image, my mom and I continue into the train station. It was a total non-event. However, the space shown in the photo was soon to become the site of one of our most memorable experiences from the 2018 summer trip.
Once inside the train station, my mom and I milled around and tried to find somewhere to sit. We had about 2 hours until our train. After 30 or 45 minutes my mom said she was going to need to use the restroom before the train came. I told her, I had noticed a pay-toilet across the entrance drive outside the station. (If you look on the left-hand side of the photograph behind the structural beams, you see a small yellow building. That is the pay-toilet.) The pay-toilet was going to be cleaner than the toilet in the train station. Thus, my mom and I head out of the station to cross the drive.
As soon as we get out of the station we were swarmed by at least 20 tuk-tuk drivers wanting to give us a ride. I am telling them no and nahi (no in Hindi) and informing them we are going to the toilet. They just will not listen. They continue to hound us as we walk across the dirt drive. We are about halfway across the drive and my mom and I had some distance between us. I look over and see that she is flanked by two tuk-tuk drivers. She is just walking with her head down. I walk over and scream in their faces that we do not need a ride. They back off. Most of the men had backed off at this point. But one last man walks up to me and asks if I need a ride. I scream in his face that we are going to the toilet. I ask him does he want to give us a ride. It was pretty funny. Once I am done screaming, I start laughing. The man also started laughing and they all backed off.
We walked into the toilet and my mom paid the fee. I waited for her and watched what was playing on a TV mounted to the wall. My mom came out of the bathroom and I asked her if it was clean. She said it was. We steeped out of the pay-toilet and there was not a tuk-tuk driver in sight. They had all dispersed to places unknown. The drive in front of the train station had returned to a space of non-event. We walked back to the station without a word from anyone.
We have laughed about this many times over the past months. We will probably laugh about it for the rest of our lives. My mom expressed shock at the way I yelled at the men. I told her that is just what you have to do. In a way it is part of the way things work.
The event reminds me of my first trip to India. My travel companions and I had just come out of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai. Steven, one of my travel partners who has lived in India, got into a screaming match with a tuk-tuk driver. That confrontation was about price. I will always remember this event as well. Heather, the other graduate student on the trip, and myself started backing up and separating ourselves from Steven and Dr. Owen. We were embarrassed. But now I know, sometimes screaming is the only way to go.