Heroes in a 100 faces

Some heroes fight great battles, hoisting nations on their shoulders as they charge into the dark. Silhouetted against the sun, their capes dance in the wind.

These are not those heroes. 

Here dwell the common folk, the unseen men and women who form the tapestry of our society. They have no special qualities, no exceptional strength or astounding mental prowess. But they persevere in a society that overlooks them. They do not get bogged down by the politics of greed. They are authentic, honest and straight dealing, a great feat in a world of makeup and deception.

The everyday person needs to be acknowledged, to be heard, to be seen. Their lives are pure, simple, salt of the earth. They have a story to share but no one to share it with. They go unheard. They, too, have a place in this world.

These people are heroes in their own right; for persevering and always moving forward. 

Here, I give you a celebration of the common folk in portraits and stories. Their faces are as cryptic as the stories in which they were wrought. There is a tantalising beauty in their bland normality. Their ordinariness can teach us humility, compassion, love, honesty and tolerance. We need this now more than ever.


I was inspired by the work of Mihaela Noroc. She is a Romanian photographer who is travelling the world, photographing a great diversity of women and sharing their stories. She’s collected these gems from over 100 countries, compiling them into her book, “The Atlas of Beauty: Women of the World in 500 Portraits”. I cannot recommend this book enough.

This is a project five years in the making, where I traversed India, my country, in search of ordinary folk. While all the stories merited reading, here I give you a mere 100 to dwell on. So scroll until one image speaks to you, then dive into their story. Immerse yourself in their searing gaze and subtle silences. May the run-of-the-mill person enthuse you in wonder.

Ultimately, we are all connected to one great human experience—we want to be validated. Emulating Hajime Isayama, we all are special because we are born into this world. By existing, we are already great. I hope that this project gives these people the validation they deserve. 

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

Maya Angelou

It would enormously help me if you shared this on social media—WhatsappTwitterInstagramFacebook.

Idukki, Kerala.

This is Pushyanthan. He is a plantation worker in Idukki, Kerala. He tirelessly works through the rain to clear the land for planting cardamom.

Every day, he makes his way through the plantations, hacking down the stray foliage. He is adept at everything, from clearing the soil of weeds to digging the pits and planting the saplings. Nothing escapes his keen eye.

Then, switching to his spade, he strikes the ground, churning up the ground for the saplings. With perfect technique, he drives the shovel into the mud. He shifts from one place to another, making short work of the damp soil.

His hands are rough and calloused, thanks to the intensive labour. This contradicts his cheerful demeanour, for he thrums with exuberance.

During the monsoon, rain sluices down the landscape. Undeterred, he trudges ahead, for this work is his only sustenance.

He reminded me of a character from the Tintin comics. Was it Thompson or Thomson? I can’t tell which.

Old woman with wrinkled face.

Aurangabad, Maharashtra.

I was exploring Aurangabad, when I came across this woman. As soon as I saw her I thought she had a very interesting face, with age-old wisdom creased into every line in her face.

As I approached her, she smiled as if she knew what I was going to ask of her. She did not speak a word, but simply looked on as I photographed her. We shared a silence that seemed to tingle with magic.

When I finished, I got up and thanked her for her time. She smiled her farewell, before returning to gaze pensively into the distance. 

Old man with mask. Shot in Allapuzha, Kerala, India.

Alappuzha, Kerala.

This man works in a toddy shop which I had stumbled into in search of a meal. He had a gentle benevolence about him, shining through his captivating eyes. Quicker than words could tell, I sensed something riveting in his gaze, which I tried to freeze in this image.

He was surprised that I wanted to photograph him. 

Amristar, Punjab.

Everyday, this man sets up his stall in the streets of Amritsar to sell grains to anyone who wants to feed the pigeons. There was a sad silence about him, one I found hard to pin down. 

Man with cigarette in his hand.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

Some people just have an intimidating presence. It is evident when your with them; you can sense that they cower at nothing.

That was the feeling I got when I came across this man. He seemed so stoic, as if he was ready to take on the world.

The same cannot be said for the other man. He seemed much like me, an ordinary bloke trying to get by in this world.

This intriguing contrast moved me in a way I cannot articulate. I simply knew that I had to capture that emotion forever in a photograph.

Man smoking a cigarette

Bangalore, Karnataka.

Firstly, smoking is injurious to health. I don’t promote or support smoking. I don’t smoke.

Having said that, there is something ethereal about smoke. The way it dances in the air. White wisps riding some unseeable waves. Poetry in motion. I’ve been fascinated by how it casts a magical glow when photographed.

I had been on the lookout for a smoker to photograph ever since I had this realisation. And lo, while traversing the markets of Bangalore, I found this man selling vegetables and smoking the most badass cigarette (locally called beedi). He was delighted to have his photograph taken.

Munsiyari village, Uttarakhand.

Every day before dawn, she wakes up to break stones, helping the construction of a relative’s house. She’s old but wears a smile that makes her look years younger.

I had a lovely chat with her and only hope to be as hardworking and joyful as her when I grew up.

When that will happen, remains unknown.

A beggar portrait B&W. Shot in Bangalore, Karnataka, India.

Bangalore Urban, Karnataka.

I was cycling around a rather affluent part of Bangalore, when I saw this woman sitting next to a park. She was begging for alms to all the path goers, who nonchalantly ignored her presence as they walked by. 

I found the contrast between her white clothes and the dark tree bark very enigmatic. So I walked up to her and asked if I could take her portrait. She was very flattered that a stranger asked to take her photograph.

Indian old man with long white hair

Bangalore, Rural Karnataka.

As a people photographer, you come across so many faces. Of all shapes and colours. Each person’s countenance twinkles with some strange magic. A billion stories hidden in their eyes.

Every so often, you come across a face that instantly speaks to you. That was the case with this man. I spotted him from several hundred meters away, his back bent, with a slow shuffle that passed off as a walk. I ran after him, dodging bikes and cars alike to ask him if I could take his portrait.

There is something rather wise and sage-like in his face. A tenderness in his expression. He held a certain intelligence about himself, exuded through his delicate smile and calm presence.

I call him the Indian Einstein.

After taking his picture, patted me on the back and walked on without a word.

Old lady portrait. Shot in Bangalore, Karnataka, India

Bangalore Rural, Karnataka.

Some people have a natural charm that anyone around them can tap into. I noticed this lady having a good laugh with her fellow vendors when I was wandering through a vegetable market. I could tell that she was repressing a smile, which made the picture all the more personal.

A Sadhu. Shot by Ishan Shanavas in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, India.

Haridwar, Uttarakhand.

Haridwar gets devotees from all over the country. It is a holy city for Hindus. You can feel the aura of spirituality radiate through the buildings, temples and millions of believers. This pilgrim had a sentient gaze that proved too enlightened for me to resist.

Belvadi, Karnataka.

I was driving through rural Karnataka when I came across this man sitting beside a blacksmith, watching the sparks fly. There was something about the wrinkles on his face that caught my eye.

I tried striking a conversation, but my Kannada proved to me to inadequate to have a meaningful exchange. When I whipped out my camera however, he grew very excited. He nodded when I asked for a photo and nodded once again as we parted ways.

He said nothing, communicating only with grunts, nods and eye movements. Perhaps he was in some different mind space I could not access.

His friends started mocking him as I walked away.

Unnamed village, Uttarakhand.

I was making a 12 hour journey through the rugged Himalayas of Uttarakhand, when we stopped at a tea shop for a break. Over there, I saw this man sitting quietly, absorbed in his thoughts.

It was Holi day, a Hindu festival where people cover each other in powdered colour. I could see just a streak of green across his forehead—adding an extra touch of personality to his character.

He was quite a chatty guy and while we didn’t speak the same language, he understood what I wanted. He flashed what I think is the most charismatic smile I have seen in my entire life. The salute was totally unexpected.

A farmer portrait B&W. Shot in Madanapalle, Andhra Pradesh, India.

Rural Andhra Pradesh.

Deep, in rural Andhra Pradesh, this man takes his goats out to graze into the scrub forest that dominates much of this state. He seems like he has seen the world, his wrinkled face etched in experience and life.

But it is in his eyes that I found the most character and depth. Their searing gaze seems to penetrate the lens and right through to your mind.

Old man with runny nose.

Bangalore Rural, Karnataka.

His gaze was searing, almost as if it could penetrate my lens and burn my retinas. But the man behind it seemed lost, unable to understand what I was doing. His nose was running, yet he didn’t seemed the slightest bit aware or concerned.

Maybe he didn’t have anyone to tell him about it…

Delhi, NCR.

A tea seller, who was initially happy to be photographed, but soon got annoyed at my shutter incessantly firing away.

He did smile again once I showed him the resulting images.

Young boy smiling. Shot in Bangalore, Karnataka, India.

Bangalore Urban, Karnataka.

Often, when I’m out doing street photography, I get a couple young boys who ask me to take their portraits. This is usually in good spirit, and we have a  good laugh when I show them the image afterwards.

Such was the case in this instance. I was photographing fish for another project when I was approached by the boy. He was curious as to why I was photographing his catch. He said that he’d make a much better subject than the dead animals before me.

I admired his carefree attitude towards life, and I hope I captured that in my portrait of him.

Old man with large beard. Shot in Bangalore, Karnataka, India.

Bangalore Urban, Karnataka.

Some people grab your attention from afar. You might be in a crowd, but it is impossible to ignore them. They stick out like a sore thumb, or, like in this case, one long beard. 

He stroked his beard with an aura and demeanour, befitting someone who has seen many great things in life. His charm, his character, his conviction—I see all in his eyes, and his beard. 

I went back to the same location a year later and found him, with his beard longer than before. He, however, did not remember me.

Banana Seller. Shot in Allapuzha, Kerala, India.

Alappuzha, Kerala.

People come in all kinds, as do bananas. Some are short, some are tall, and all have a different hue. Our world’s diversity is mirrored in its myriad varieties of bananas.

He was very proud of his staggering display of bananas. I knew his portrait had to be captured, framed by the fruits he so loves, and sells.

A fruit seller B&W Portrait. Shot in Bangalore, Karnataka, India.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

This man and his wife sell greens at a large market. Because of stiff competition, they have had to set up shop at a spot next to the lavatories, which are generally avoided by customers. As a result, they make less money than their counterparts with better locations. 

Old Man portrait. Shot in Bangalore, Karnataka, India

Bangalore, Karnataka.

For a couple weeks, I kept cycling past a shack outside which sat this man. Each time I saw him He’d be doing nothing except stare into oblivion. I’d always wonder what he was up to.

Eventually curiosity got the better of me and I walked up to him and asked him. Turned out that we didn’t speak the same language. Actually, I don’t even know what he spoke, or even if he could speak in the first place.

I showed him the camera and tried to best convey through actions and gestures that I wanted to photograph him. I think he understood, for he nodded his head. 

He seemed unmoved when I showed him the resulting image. As I cycled away, he merely continued to stare into nothing, as if nothing had ever happened.

Fisherman by the beach, holding a tyre.

Kozhikode, Kerala.

Some fishermen, like the gentleman here, use rubber tires to stay afloat as they wade into the sea to haul in their catch. It is ingenious how they use implements from another industry to help them in their craft. 

Bangalore, Karnataka.

Wrinkles, in our age of beauty filters, are something people try to hide. It is seen as ugly, and is filled with umpteen chemicals to satisfy a look sold to us by the capitalist enterprises that govern our world.

Here I found someone who cherishes his wrinkles, he bathes in the reverie of old age and wisdom. He lives life freely, with everyone free to marvel at his wrinkles.

In both his look and attitude, he is wizened.

Indian religious man

Bangalore, Karnataka

In the Hindu faith, having saffron or turmeric paste smeared on your head is a sign of religious endowment. Both priests and devotees wear it, and if you visit a temple, chances are you’ll get one too. It is interesting how these symbols becomes markers of religious identity.

Delhi, NCR.

His bright orange turban caught my eye from several hundred meters away. I had to wade through a crowd of people to get to him.

He is a cycle-rickshaw driver, and he took me for a ride afterwards for a tiny sum of 20 rupees.

As fate would have it, I ended up in the same area several months later and spotted him dropping a passenger. I ran like a maniac after him; people looked at me as if I was crazy.

It took a couple minutes for him to remember, but at last, I could see him smile in memory. I wanted to take a selfie with him but in the blistering heat of Delhi, my phone refused to turn on.

Old man wearing a helmet.

Bangalore Rural, Karnataka.

I found this man on his scooter trying to weave through the huge crowds that line the markets of Bangalore. He was buying flowers, presumably for a puja at home. 

A puja is a religious ceremony of the Hindu faith where you pray to a god and offer him or her flowers and fruits. Some houses do one everyday, some every Sunday and some just on festivals. 

Man with mask falling off

Bangalore, Karnataka.

Covid hit the underprivileged community hard. Many lost their jobs, while those who were already homeless were thrown into further turmoil. 

This man is a beggar, who did not know how to wear his mask. Others mocked him as he walked through the market where I found and photographed him.

Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka.

Yetha-Yetha is a member of the Jain Kuruba tribe who live in the forest and are intimately connected with nature in ways even words can’t describe.

I had the great opportunity of spending a couple days with them and seeing how they interacted with the forest. They showed me how to walk quietly under the trees and track animals along trails.

They are working with Junglescapes, a local NGO to combat the spread of the invasive plant Lantana that has taken over the forest.

Delhi, NCR.

I spotted him joking around with some friends in a crowded market in Delhi. After I photographed him, his friends demanded that I photograph them too.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

Why this man brought his dog to a fish market was beyond me. But she was very excited to be there, walking up to everyone and prodding them with her nose.

I made the mistake of indulging her by scratching her behind ears. From then on, she wouldn’t leave me. As I tried to photograph the market (which was the purpose of my visit), she would prod me for more affection.

At last, her owner came back and took her on his bike. I thought it was only fitting that I shot them together. I had a funny feeling that she straightened herself up when she saw me pulling out my camera.

But I can’t say for sure.

Munsiyari, Uttarakhand.

A local villager who had taken the day off to relax and drink with his friend.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

He spoke in Tamil, and that is one of the South Indian languages I have absolutely no knowledge of, and so we had a hard time communicating. But fortunately, a bystander intervened and told him that I wanted to take a photograph of him.

I found the leaf hanging from his eyebrow to add a touch of personality and character to the image.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

A vegetable seller in an obscure part of the city. He might appear serious in the photograph, but he is a jolly good fellow. We shared many laughs before I left…

Delhi, NCR.

This man sells ice in Delhi. Given that the city reaches a whopping 40 degrees, his business thrives. He cycles around the back alleys of the city with a block of ice and an ice pick.

He was so busy that he stopped only for 2 photographs before pedalling on. This was one of those images.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

He asked me to pay him a lump-sum of money after taking his photograph. We got into an awkward position when I told him I had no money to pay him. I offered to delete his picture instead, but at last he refused and walked on without a word.

Munnar, Kerala.

A local worker from the tea estate waits for a jeep to come and pick her up for a day in the field.

During many of my street photography expeditions, I meet people who are curious to see what I’m up to. For them, it seems absurd that I take photographs simply for the sake of it.

But they are only too happy to flash a smile at the camera. It gives them great joy and gives me a memory I can cherish forever.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

While driving, the stark blues and yellows caught my eye from across the road. I hastened to park the car on the main road before running across and asking this man if I could photograph him.

He was pleasantly surprised and even smiled. But once I pointed the lens at him, his expression turned cold and serious.

Maybe it was because he was staring into the sun, which shone so brightly that the colours on the wall popped more than usual.

I was greatly disappointed when I returned to Bangalore years later and drove by the spot, only to find that these dazzling colours had been painted over with a dull white. The man was nowhere to be seen.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

A man smokes with a casual air of confidence about him.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

Everyday, this man and his granddaughter walk their dog around the block. This is a ritual going strong for many years, and hopefully for many more.

The girl was too shy to be photographed, and so was the dog. He however, was willing to pause for a bit, share their story, pose for a picture, and then proceed onward, granddaughter and dog in tow.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

I asked him how he grew such a full beard, to which he said, “I have no idea!”

Kurishipara village, Kerala.

This young school girl was interested to see me lugging around my large camera in an interior corner of Munnar. I was actually on exploring the hills for birds to shoot.

She politely asked me if I could take a picture of her. I couldn’t hide my smile at the innocence behind her question. Since I had my long lens on, I stepped back a few meters so that I could focus on her.

She didn’t even want me to send her the picture later on. She just wanted to be photographed.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

A man poses for a quick shot before returning to help his friend unload the day’s produce from the truck.

Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka.

This Jain Kuruba tribal works everyday to remove the invasive Lantana weed that has devastated much of this famed forest. His work ensures the wildlife thrive.

You can read about their work here.

Bangalore Urban, Karnataka.

If he chose, this man could have an imposing his demeanour. Such was the nature of his moustache. Like the Rajputs and other kings of lore.

But when I asked him if I could take his portrait, a huge smile broke over his face. No one had ever asked to shoot him before. He straightened out the stray hairs around his mouth before asking me for the best angle.

His smile grew even larger once I showed him the photograph.

Alappuzha, Kerala.

I spotted this man fishing in the canals of this city from across the water. Keen to learn his story, I ran to the nearest bridge, crossed over and struck up a conversation.

Turns out he is a local who likes to catch his own meal instead of buying it from the market. He had two small fish to show for the day; enough for one person.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

I initially asked this man if I could take a picture of him smoking his beedi (local cigarette), but he seemed to have misunderstood, because as pulled out my camera, he took one last puff before flicking the beedi away.

We had a good laugh after he realised what happened and asked that I take his portrait anyway. I gladly obliged.

You can still see his fingers bent around a imaginary beedi.

Delhi, NCR.

I don’t know why this man was sitting by the roadside, but he had something curious about him. We spoke only through eye contact. After I took this shot, he nodded before returning to doing nothing.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

I was heading back from a long morning at a vegetable market when I saw this man on the side of the road. One look and I knew I had to take his portrait.

Though he was in a hurry, he took the time to pose for me and exchange pleasantries. It got me thinking about how all of us are in such a rush in life. Rarely do we stop and talk to others, especially strangers.

Thettu village, Andhra Pradesh.

I’ve noticed that people in villages like nothing more than to have conversations, especially with strangers. They are simple and down-to-earth people, with none of the fluff that you sometimes find in people from cities.

I was strolling through some villages in Andhra Pradesh when I came across this lovely woman. She was only too happy to stare into my camera for this image.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

She sat at the entrance to a flower market, selling rows of flowers tied together with strings. She was very flattered to hear that I wanted to photograph her. She took 2 mins to straighten out her hair before allowing me to take this shot.

I went back with a printed photograph weeks later but I couldn’t find her.

Kozhikode, Kerala.

Our ancestral home in Kerala has several coconut trees in its compound. When coconuts are ripe, they can fall down and greatly injure people who stand underneath.

To tackle this, a Koyilettakkaaran, a coconut tree climber (Paravanmaar in southern Kerala), comes and chops the ripe coconuts off the stalk, sending them plummeting down. Gripping the trunk tightly, they climb the 60 ft tall tree.

They also hack off the dry leaves so that they do not accumulate at the top.

Watching them scramble upwards, one’s heart pounds. One misstep and they could fall to their deaths. 

But this does not deter them. They are seasoned professionals, after all. Their toughened hands and feet speak for the years spent in this profession. They defy death every day for a living.

The cost of trimming one tree is a nominal 70 rupees (≅ 1 USD). In addition, they receive a bonus of 2 coconuts per tree.

This is a dying profession. As fewer locals take this job, migrant workers fill their position.

It awes me that they would choose such a dangerous profession. There are many risks involved; paralysis at the very least. As the sole breadwinners, losing their mobility would greatly impact their families’ lives.

They are courageous and yet so humble. I salute them.

Sad old woman.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

Many working class people do not concern themselves with makeup and other cosmetics. But one thing you find across Indians is the nose ring. It is a piece of jewellery worn as a sign of womanhood, grace, and elegance.

Somewhere in rural Tamil Nadu.

A man cuts onions for his friend’s little restaurant.

Man with turban.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

The first time I saw him, I thought he would make an interesting portrait. He was pushing his cart of vegetables along a road not that far from my house. But I didn’t have my camera at the time and thus missed an opportunity.

Then, several months later, I came across him again, a couple hundred meters from where I saw him last. This time I had my camera and struck up a conversation, before taking this shot. I loved the fact that he was wearing a turban, something that is uncommon (but not unusual) in South India.

He remembered me when I saw him a year after taking this shot.

I wonder where he is now.

Man with glazed eyes and cigarette in his mouth.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

While cycling, I came across this man huddled up in a blanket outside a school. He was homeless.

It is so easy to forget how fortunate we are to have a roof over our heads. So many people don’t have this luxury. They need to live on the streets, braving the elements with nothing but a thin sheet to cover them.

Inspite of his harsh life conditions, he flashed a lovely smile at me as I moved on…

Rural Andhra Pradesh.

She was waiting for a bus when I took this shot.

Old man portrait. Shot in Bangalore, Karnataka, India

Bangalore, Karnataka.

He was one of the first people I shot when I started photographing people. His sons, who were seated beside him, insisted that I shoot him. He wasn’t all that keen.

Man Smoking cigarette. Shot in Bangalore, Karnataka, India

Bangalore, Karnataka.

You have to be very delicate when you ask to photograph someone smoking. You don’t want to offend them or have them think that you’re photographing them for the press or anything.

Luckily, this man understood that I didn’t want to cast him in a bad light. I merely thought he was a photogenic person.

He had an intimidating aura about him, which I hoped to capture in this shot.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

He was selling cotton candy outside the Vidhana Soudha, the state administrative building.

Delhi, NCR.

He was a complete stranger who was curious to see what I was doing. After 5 mins of just staring at me, he worked up the courage to come and strike up a conversation.

He thought I was from the press. He flashed me this lovely smile before carrying on with his day.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

I was walking around Bangalore, with my camera up to my eyes when I felt something prodding at my feet.

Looking down, I found a dog with a chain around its neck bumping its nose against my jeans.

Running after it was this man, huffing and puffing. Realising that the dog was trying to run away, I quickly caught hold of the chain.

He was very grateful, saying that his dog loved to make him run. I snapped this shot before the two of them walked off. I swear I saw a mischievous glint in the dogs eyes.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

I saw this boy working hard with his parents to sell fish from their stall in a market. I was saddened because he looked like he should have been in school.

But I watched as he worked with utmost focus. I admired his dedication and commitment at such a young age. I definitely didn’t have the same focus when I was his age.

He wasn’t all that happy that I was photographing him, and he didn’t have the time to stop and chat.

Delhi, NCR.

While roaming some of the back alleys of the city, looking for scenes to shoot, I found this young boy single handedly selling knick-knacks outside a dargah. He cannot be more than 12 years old.

He said that people rarely talk to him. Customers just ask for the price of certain objects and pay the amount. He was glad that he could have a simple conversation with me.

He gave me a fist bump as I left.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

I was in a popular fish market in Bangalore when I was stopped by this gentleman. He saw me strolling about with a camera and wanted to show me his catch. I was shown rows of sardines and a host of fish that I do not know the names of.

He even showed me a fully grown sting ray. God knows how that was caught.

It didn’t bother him that I wasn’t interested in buying any fish. He just wanted to show off which I think, was quite understandable. He did have a marvellous selection.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

When I write a novel, one of the characters will definitely be inspired by him. He has the carefree energy about him. In the 1/2 an hour I spent around him I didn’t see him frown even once. His smile seemed plastered to his face.

I can’t believe that his parents allowed him to colour the tips of his hair at such a young age.

Alappuzha, Kerala.

I found her at the back of a toddy shop that also served food. She was in the middle of seasoning karimeen pollichathu, a classic dish of the state. I gladly ate two after taking this shot.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

That was the biggest fish he had that day, and he wanted to pose with it so that, when I share this online, people would see that he sold such prized fish.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

A man passing by, posing for a quick shot.

Old Woman Portrait. Shot in Bangalore, Karnataka, India.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

I was walking through a fish market in Bangalore with my camera, when I noticed a lady eyeing me from the corner. After a while, I could not contain my curiosity any longer, and I went up to her and asked if I could take her portrait. She gladly obliged and we had a cordial chat before we both moved on with our lives. 

Bangalore, Karnataka.

This boy probably isn’t even 10 years old. Yet he was single-handedly managing this convenience store that his parents probably put him up to.

Alapuzzha, Kerala.

A postman cycling by the canal.

Bangalore Rural, India

He was a wandering priest, with his eyes staring into some strange middle space, deep in thought. He barely acknowledged me when I asked if I could take his portrait. After pausing, he went on his way as if nothing happened.

There are many people in India who are on their spiritual journey, seemingly detached from the worldly plain. Think of the number of stories! I wanted to hear his but within a few seconds he was already lost in the crowd behind me…

Bangalore, Karnataka.

I was walking along a bus station when I spotted this man selling cheap headphones by the side of the road. There was something about the gusto with which he was hawking at passing people that I had to strike up a conversation.

After taking his portrait, I had to convince him that I wasn’t interested in buying a set of earphones for 200 rupees. 20 minutes went by in this exchange. He didn’t seem to happy that I declined what must have looked like a “steal” in his eyes.

The boy in the background was entirely unexpected.

Delhi, NCR.

Delhi is one of the hottest cities in the country. This cycle-rickshaw driver was taking a break from the blazing midday sun.

Every time I see this picture I am reminded of how fortunate I am to not have to work in such dire conditions. We must acknowledge such people for persevering under such uncomfortable conditions. Their survival depends on their persistence.

Bangalore Rural, India.

Have you ever had a stranger stop you in the middle of the road and buy you tea for no apparent reason?

That’s exactly what happened to me. I was returning from a morning of street photography when I found my path blocked by this man. For reasons known only to him, he grabbed me by the arm and said something in Tamil.

I don’t speak Tamil, and I indicated so. But that didn’t deter him. He ushered me into a local tea shop and bought us two cups of chai. He staunchly refused to let me pay. We both sipped our chai as he went on explaining something in rapid-fire Tamil. I nodded along, not understanding a word. From the sack of coconuts he had with him, I gathered that he was a labourer.

My guess is that all he wanted was someone to hear him out. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand him. He just wanted to share his story and thoughts with someone.

Several months down the line, I met him at the same tea shop, and he was only too happy to share another drink together. Once again, I wasn’t allowed to pay.

To this day, this remains one of my favourite and most bizarre encounters.

Alappuzha, Kerala.

He owns a banana shop, selling them for a fraction of the price you’d find in city shops. Such is the nature of smaller towns.

He winked at me as I left.

Bangalore, India.

I love how this man’s serious expression is juxtaposed with the mango balancing on his head. While he might appear morose in this image, he was quite a good sport. It was his idea to place a fruit on his scalp. He said that it would make the image more interesting. It most certainly has!

Bangalore, India.

After getting his portrait taken, he indulged me in a 30-minute long discussion about my education and plans for the future. To make me more comfortable, he resorted to broken english, seeing that I wasn’t all that fluent in Kannada. Turns out he knew a couple folks from my old school.

He was of the opinion that I should study engineering, seeing that it is a very prestigious profession in India. I politely declined, but assured him that I haven’t ruled it out. He then went back to his heated argument with a man selling cabbages.

Chopta, Uttarakhand

This man owns a small restaurant up in the Himalayas. His main customers are trekkers and his star dish is a piping-hot plate of maggi noodles. I ate two plates of it before taking this photograph.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

She sells her vegetables by the side of the road.

Alapuzzha, Kerala.

Two school boys, enjoying their Sunday beside the intra-city canal, watching the water and boats go by.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

She sold flowers for people to perform “puja” with.

Puja is a ritualistic form of worship done by Hindus (and other faiths) where the pray to an idol and offer it flowers, fruits and other items. Many households begin the day with a puja in the morning, some perform them only on Sundays, while others simply have them on special occasions.

Delhi, NCR.

He didn’t want to chat. But he smiled before sending me off.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

My father and I were walking in our colony one evening, when we saw this man sitting in the cold. He was a security guard, and from the looks of it, he was shivering terribly.

My father told me to take off my jacket and give it to him, seeing that he needed it more than me. The happiness I saw in his eyes cannot be boiled down to words.

I saw him for the greater part of that year, always smiling and waving as I passed by.

Then one day I didn’t see him. One day became two, which became three and soon many years passed in his absence.

I don’t know where he is now, but I hope he is warm there.

Old woman selling lottery tickets. Shot in Allapuzha, Kerala, India.

Alappuzha, Kerala.

This lady walks around the town with a bundle of lottery tickets in her bag. She asks around if anyone wants to take part in this state sponsored game. She symbolises one of many such sellers who are the pawns of this large enterprise that makes a lot of money every year.

She was more than happy to have her portrait taken. We chatted for a while, when she mentioned that few people were buying her tickets. Life was getting increasingly hard for her.

 After we left, she continued to scout the town for more potential customers.

Attari–Wagah border, Punjab.

A man who sold orange juice at the border between India and Pakistan. He was a jolly chap, talking about how his juice was better than his competitor down the road.

His juice was quite lovely.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

This man was happy to pose for my camera, but his two sons were very suspicious of me. At once they covered the lens, pushing me back with anger. They were very big and I was scared they’d hurt me.

Luckily the father intervened , and stopped them from doing anything.

Whenever I look back at this shot, I remember both the fear I felt and the gratitude I had for this old man.

Wayanad, Kerala.

I found this auto-rickshaw driver while running after monkeys on the boundary of Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. He offered to drive to get photographs in motion. He said they would appear much cooler than static shots.

The auto-rickshaw is the Indian taxi for the masses. You find these open-air yellow vehicles almost throughout the country. They are an iconic element of the Indian cityscape, often seen sneaking between cars and buses in busy traffic.

Cheaper than regular taxis, it is the mode of transport when you need to get somewhere in a hurry. 

The Covid-19 pandemic wrecked the livelihoods of so many auto drivers. As more people keep to their homes, the search for customers becomes cumbersome. Some have been put out of business altogether.

Riding an auto is an essential part of the Indian experience. It continues to be emblematic of India.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

A person selling greens by the side of the road, all too eager to pose for me. I took down his number afterwards and sent him the photographs.

Haridwar, Uttarakhand.

He was in the middle of his prayer when I snapped this shot.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

A butcher eyes me warily. Many of them think photographers will cast them in a bad light because of all the gore involved. But I think they are important people who fulfil an important part of society. So many people consume meat and without them, these people would be very unhappy.

Alappuzha, Kerala.

I found this old man at the back of his restaurant meticulously tracking the records. He was working with such diligence that it took him a while to notice I was standing there.

The room was quite hot and he had nothing but a rickety fan to keep him cool. That’s why he worked with his shirt off.

He was surprised to hear that I wanted to photograph him.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

She was sweeping the dust off the entrance to her house when I met her.

Delhi, NCR.

A tourist at the world famous Qutub Minar, who thought I was taking pictures of people for money.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

He pushes his cart around the city to sell his greens. He undid his turban and hung it across his shoulders.

He was very happy to see his photographs in my camera screen.

Delhi, NCR.

He was preparing nihari, a Mughal stew usually with mutton, for the onslaught of customers who were going to come for dinner. I had a plate, and it was fabulous.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

She was sitting at the side of the road and while she consented to my photographing her, she soon got annoyed and was just about to yell at me when I took this shot.

Afterwards however, she began smiling again.

Delhi, NCR.

A local cycle-rickshaw driver, taking a break after a long day at work. He saw me photographing his friend and demanded that I take his portrait as well. I was only to happy to indulge him.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

He did not say a word to me. He merely nodded his head when I asked him if I could photograph him.

Bangalore, Karnataka.

His stall was at the very end of the market.

It takes a lot of skill to carve up a jackfruit. This bizarre fruit has spikes on the outside and a stringy, almost meat-like interior. Only the most skilled people can cut one up.

He was such good fun that, on my next few trips to the market, he’d stand in front of my lens and demand that I take his photograph. I’d always oblige.

Thank you for reading all the way to the end!

This marks the end of years of hard work.  I enjoyed talking to all the people I’ve featured here, and many more that I didn’t, knowing that each has shaped me into who I am today. When I look back, I can’t believe that I’ve gotten to be part of this journey.

I hope that you’ve gained an appreciation of the common folk, and will now see them in a greater light. If they have taught me anything, it is that most people are kind and genuine. I want to thank everyone here (and in my archives) for being part of this journey. Although I was a stranger, you trusted me with your smiles and your time. Words cannot describe how much that connection means to me.

I want to thank you, the reader, for revelling in this collection. All this work was ultimately for you.

If you liked it, it would mean the world to me if you shared this with someone you know. Whatsapp, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook—whatever your medium of choice.

If you’re interested in my work, you’d LOVE my newsletter – The Owlet. Every week, I share my work, writing and favourite content from across the net. I’ll deliver these emails directly into your inbox, for free!

Published by Ishan Shanavas

I am a young adult, interested in nature, photography, art and culture. An aspiring polymath, I share my learnings through my blog. I also include insights from my favourite books.

10 thoughts on “Heroes in a 100 faces

  1. This is simply amazing work. Breathtaking portraits of real people whose innate beauty you have managed to capture with such finesse and sensitivity. Loved your short write-ups do. Thompson or Thomson?!!
    Have to go through them all again…because each time I thought this one was the best, some picture came along later surpassing it!
    Looking forward to more amazing work from you…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was absolutely phenomenal.
    Each photo told a story, and I could see that reflected in their eyes, and the way you captured the contours of their face. The fact that you wrote so beautifully about each of them opened a little window for me into their lives, and made me oddly emotional.
    Brilliant work!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These are priceless expressions of what you learnt in your engaging conversations with the ‘face in the crowd’. The ‘ I can’t say for sure’ punchline about the dog posing for a photo….. wow!! Sublime
    I hope you retain the sense of wonder throughout your life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! This is so kind of you. I appreciate you for taking the to go through them.
      Thank you for pointing out that specific line. I had good fun playing with that dog and writing that story 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Quite a fascinating work! You captured the grim and grind of daily life in these images really well. My favorite is the one from Tettu village in Andhra Pradesh. There is something serene in the eyes of the woman.

    Liked by 1 person

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