Faces that spoke

Varanasi, India, December
India, varanasi.

Thinking back to our traipse from new dehli down to varanasi, by way of the gorgeous taj mahal (yes it is really all they say) in agra, i find myself returning to the many faces i’d come across. Of course, every trip brings a never ending revolving door of faces. Some nameless, most mysterious, a few captivating. But of india, instead of architecture or landscape, i keep returning to their faces.

I’m usually happy to go for documentation more than narrative-soaked images (ref: entire blog). But for the first time, i found myself wishing i could take better pictures. Those that would hold the entire expression and emotion of a face. Instead, I was disappointed at the often rather flattened image in my camera.

Perhaps it is just india; the dignified lush lines of their faces do lend themselves easily to expression. The people generally aren’t afraid to have an opinion and it shows. Then again, it was the travelers and visitors too, who would wear the same look of unadulterated expression.

Saying the streets are rough is an understatement. I traveled easy, but the traffic, the smog, acrid smoke from bonfires burning, the icy (disclaimer) cold, and jostling hordes could sometimes make you feel like you’re wading through a cesspool of humanity where the living struggle against the dying. They don’t hide, it’s in their faces–and i felt it in every pore of my skin. You could not not be affected.

Maybe i’m simply used to our singaporean sian* face. Or the general east asian aesthetic of congeniality in conversation. My mind flicks back to european cool, american chill. And me, city-folk i am and live among, we come with a cultivated face, all moderated expression and scrubbed skin. Do we even have much room in our day to day for unadulterated expression? We can’t quite bring our mrt surliness into the office, or carry our dreams on our faces all day– we’d be called mad. Nope, the faces i saw beat to their own heart and reflect their environment. Their faces plain and loud for all to see, and comprehend what they will.

*rather deadpan. with a lace of sour.


As usual, i’m not too disciplined even in documentation, so some faces i remember in my head i do not have pictures for. :

Sunny in agra, the economics student/rickshaw driver. Who so charmingly told us his love story. Four of us, and only one of him, but he talked all our ears off at lunch. I remember his eyes, studying us in his rear view mirror, a half-smile as he watched us do our tourist stuff.

The hippie traveler, all decked out sitting swami-style in the sun. Skinny as a beanpole, bearded. He couldn’t have been more than 24 years. Stunning image of a caricature, pity i can’t find a pic of it. But the pure concentration on his face convinced me he was reaching with all his heart.

Our boy guide in varanasi, with watery brown eyes. All of fifteen years old, fully confident going from table to table chatting up tourists. Long lashes framed his intelligent eyes, his skin still unmarked by the sun and dust. He shared alot, but we could tell he was also studied us.

Mohan the receptionist in agra. From mumbai, he said, and spoke in perfect accentless english. He stood neatly, quiet, a dignified upward turn of the mouth. He was very handsome too.

The tea shopkeeper and his assistant. The boss sat fat and squat, his huge belly hanging over his belt, and indeed over the seat. Red eyes, brows furrowed in mild annoyance. He looked as if he was baking a forgotten rage. For sure, i thought his arteries would give out any moment. His assistant, spry and eager. He’s lived in new delhi for 6 years, and asked if i had facebook. He must have met a million tourists, but still his eyes searched our faces deeply for a connection.


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