Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Saga of the Bangle Lady Continues





A while ago I wrote about the Bangle Lady who, with many other women, sits on the ground in the marketplace in Jodhpur, India, near the Clock Tower and sells plastic bangle bracelets all day long. She is among the anonymous poor of India who somehow scrabble out enough to keep their families alive.

My daughter Eleni first encountered the Bangle Lady in January 2006 and took her photograph as she sat with her young baby boy in her lap, thrusting bracelets at potential customers. I liked the photograph so much—an Indian Madonna multi-tasking—that I painted her portrait in watercolors from Eleni’s photograph. (That’s a detail from the painting, above left)

As I painted, I noticed how carefully she had adorned herself with jewels in her nose, on her forehead, in her hair, on her arms and around her neck. Later , when I went to India this past December, I learned that a Hindu woman is supposed to wear 16 adornments. The bangle lady certainly followed that rule and I thought she was as beautiful as any movie star in her bright pink sari.

A year later Eleni went back to the same place and handed the Bangle Lady an enlargement of the photograph. She was thrilled, because she had never had a photograph of herself before. Now she was happy to let Eleni photograph her in her green sari. The little boy who had been an infant in her lap was standing behind her.

That was January of 2007. The Bangle Lady never knew that I painted her and hung her portrait in my solo show last spring at C. C. Lowell’s First Gallery in Worcester, MA.

Now two years later, in January 2009, I went with Eleni to the marketplace in Jodhpur and there she was. I recognized her immediately. The Bangle Lady greeted us with enthusiasm. This time the baby by her side was a girl. We took her photo and, although we didn’t have any language in common, she made it clear to Eleni that this time she wanted two copies of the photo. When she smiled, I saw with surprise that one of her front teeth was missing and the ones on either side were discolored— this had happened in the two years since Eleni’s last visit. But when the Bangle Lady smiled with her mouth shut, she still looked as beautiful as a film star, young and serene.

That same day we went to a digital photo store and had the photos developed. The next day, when we went to give them to her in the market, we saw the Bangle Lady had brought her mother with her to be photographed --a toothless crone in a bright pink sari. (“Pink,” as Diana Vreeland famously said, “is the navy blue of India.”) I realized that this toothless hag, hunkered on the ground behind her beautiful daughter, was probably a good bit younger than I am. Maybe in her forties or fifties?

The Bangle Lady insisted that Eleni take some special plastic bracelets that she had selected for her – as a gift.

So here are photos of three generations of the Bangle Lady’s family. Eleni made sure that a friend took the latest photos back to the marketplace after we left. The Bangle Lady may be among the poorest segment of Indian society, but I noticed that she was beautiful and proud and wore a different sari in every photo.

1 comment:

Frederica said...

I haven't read your blog for quite a while, Joanie, but was v. glad to read about the beautiful Bangle Lady. I can just picture you and Eleni going back and forth to the photographic shop, just as we did in Corfu old town! I shall now explore more of your blog. Such an excellent way of keeping up with your travels. Freddie