Dan Barr Photography | Charmed in Mumbai

Charmed in Mumbai

January 16, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

We have been in Mumbai For a week now and I have been having a great time running around and photographing some of the sites. I wanted to share a story about an interesting encounter we had in South Mumbai near the Gateway of India. My wife and I had just had a long walk through the streets of Mumbai and arrived at the Gateway of India where we were greeted with throngs of tourists and these very aggressive Indian photographers who were accosting everyone. “Please sir, I take your photo. It will be a very good photo. It is a very good camera, it will be a very good photo.  I have printer with me, I print photo for you.” And on and on and on…. Finally I suggested I take their photo and began snapping pictures of them. That got them off my back for a while…  


One of the many roving photographers that would be happy to take your photo


We left the gateway of India and went down the street where I saw an interesting horse drawn carriage. The horse was painted and adorned with tassels so I stopped to take a quick image. We’d been walking around Mumbai for a while and this was really the first time I had pulled the camera out of the bag. In hindsight it maybe the most touristy area of Mumbai isn’t the best place to suddenly start looking like a tourist. 


So, anyway, I had my back turned as I was taking pictures of the horse, my wife could hear flute music not too far off and said to me “that sounds like a snake charmer”.  At this point I should mention that my wife has a fear of snakes. That is an understatement. It is more like an uncontrolled panic that results in a frantic dash to safety. I remember we encountered a rattlesnake on a trail in the San Diego backcountry once. My wife suddenly developed super human hiking abilities as she practically ran up a steep and rock strewn trail. But I digress.  I turned around and saw man with a basket and a flute sitting over in the corner about 40 feet from me. My wife takes off in the opposite direction and I make eye contact with the man with the basket. This is when things start to get weird. He begins playing the flute and beckons me with finger. Things suddenly seem in slow motion as I begin walking towards the man, he lifts the lid off of the basket and a very live, very active cobra emerges.  I am in an almost hypnotic state. I kneel down and take and take a single photo of the snake charmer and the cobra emerging from the basket. I bungle this shot horribly. The man is in the shade and my exposure time was too long. I begin fiddling with the settings on the camera and raise it to my eye to take a second photo.

Unfortunately I bungled this image completely


At this point, my hypnotic tranquility is suddenly shattered when a woman approaches and continuously grabs my arm. She tells me to move closer. She says the snake will not bite. I wonder who this woman is: A helpful passer-by with knowledge of snake charmers? Finally it dawns on me the snake charmer and the lady are in cahoots.  I snap two additional photos the entire time she is tapping my arm, telling me to move closer, telling me about the snake, breaking my concentration. I am surprised I ended up with any usable photo!

Beckoned by the Snake charmer Much Better!


She then instructs me to go sit next to the snake charmer and she’ll take my photo with him. At this point in the show I realize I need to extract myself from this situation. I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. There was no way I was going to surrender my brand new awesome Fuji X-E1 to this mysterious woman.  All of this took place within the timeframe of one minute. My wife is standing 40 feet away terrified of the snake. I turn around and make a beeline for my wife and we begin walking rapidly away. You might think that that is where the story ends. Not quite. We look back and the lady and snake charmer are following us. She starts yelling at me “sir, you need to pay us money”. My wife sees the snake charmer with her and becomes visibly concerned that he has the snake with him. Her heart is racing, adrenaline pumping. She goes into super-human hiker mode. My wife is way ahead of me at this point and the woman catches up with me. She explains once again that I must pay her money. I decide that I will simply pay her to get her off my back. I tell her that I will pay her 50 rupees but I must get it from my wife. My wife is deathly afraid of snake and they cannot come any closer. Her response was something along the lines of “50 rupees will not do, you must pay us 200 rupees”.  Now I suppose I could have gotten into a discussion with her about business ethics of demanding money from tourists for what is essentially a street performance. Perhaps I could have explained that I would never pay 200 rupees, or about 4 US dollars for a photo to anyone. Instead I choose to run away. I pick up my pace and finally manage to catch up with my wife. We continue walking and are once again berated by this woman screaming “you pay us money”.  She catches up with me and explains that her snake charmer friend stopped a way back and that the snake is nowhere nearby. My wife and I stop and she again demands 200 rupees. I should probably mention that my wife was born and raised in India. She is fluent in Hindi. She is annoyed by this woman’s behavior. She asks the woman why she wants 200 rupees. The woman explains that snake handling is banned and in order to continue their shows they must pay the police. My wife very calmly suggests that since they are paying the police, perhaps we should go and have this discussion in front of the police. 


Perhaps these cops require a snake charming bribe?

We begin walking back towards where we saw several uniformed officers. A flurry of hindi is spoken. The woman flails her hands in frustration and walks away. Finally! Our India snake charmer encounter is over. We continued to have some strange encounters with Mumbai locals throughout the day including giant balloon wielding salesman, dozens of drum salesmen, and one very interesting fellow who asked us if we wanted to buy a cow. India is crazy. Entertaining, but crazy. 


We ended our Day at Marine drive in South Mumbai. 


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