It is midnight; inside the airport all is quiet and calm. As I step forward to clear security, a breeze wafts by carrying a scent of something vaguely familiar, yet foreign. I have arrived in Chennai, India.
Dragging my suitcase past a soldier casually seated with a rifle balanced on his lap, I walk out of the silence and the bright lights of the airport into the night. Into utter chaos.
Hundreds of people are crammed up against steel barricades, waiting for friends and loved ones. There is a blur of waving arms, flashes of white teeth; there is a din of indecipherable noise and a cacophony of honking horns. White placards with peoples’ names are fluttering in the darkness – thank goodness one of them is for me.
With relief I greet my airport transfer driver. And so my trip begins.
During my two weeks in Chennai (formerly Madras), I discovered facets of the city that resemble the earthly avatars of the Hindu god Vishnu. At once gentle and kind, it is also cruel and unforgiving. It is beautiful and gracious yet unbelievably ugly and harsh. The spiritual home of yoga, Chennai seems to provide the perfect backdrop for an ancient philosophy that espouses an attitude of non-attachment and the joys of simple pleasures.
This photojournal of the children of Chennai offers a glimpse into the complex nature of India. Some of these children came running up to me, asking that their picture be taken; in turn, I gave them money or pens as a meager token of thanks. Some I captured as they went about their daily lives, oblivious to the photographic intrusion.
Regardless, their oblivion to the poverty and garbage around them made me question if I was the one who was ignorant to the essentials of life. If there is joy in these places, what are the absolutes that drive our happiness?