Colours and Chaos in the Great Indian Bazaar


Photograph/Dinesh Khanna

Had Indian life been a colourful tapestry, then bazaars and the people who inhabit them would, to my mind, be the warp and weft of this fabulous fabric. This is an analogy that has played in my mind over the years while meandering through traditional bazaars, especially during festivals of all faiths.

As you may know, to weave any kind of textile, the weaver needs to start with the warp threads. Warp threads tend to be stronger and coarser because they must be able to withstand tight stretching. They also provide a core of support for the finished piece, giving the textile body and form. The warp is stretched onto a loom before weaving begins, and it may be coiled onto a spool for very long or large projects, and so on and so forth. Now think of the bazaar as the warp thread, somewhat coarse, but decidedly strong and all pervasive. This forms the foundation for the tapestry. And the people who set up stalls, display their wares, some even their craft and skills, are the weft. And the festivals are the embroidery, the embellishment… the icing, as it were, on this wonderful cake.

“The bazaar is one of my favourite subjects. It’s one big celebration of all that is colourful, joyous and of course, chaotic about Indian life.”

That’s what my day at Sarojini Nagar Market, the day before Diwali, with my family felt like—one big celebration of all that is good, colourful, joyous and, of course, chaotic about Indian life.

Having shot an entire book on the great Indian bazaar, the subject continues to fascinate me even today. It is interesting how certain aspects about my vision remain the same, while others change so drastically while using the iPhone, in comparison to the slide film approach that I used for the book.

Dinesh Khanna’s career path veered from being a calculator salesman, a garment quality checker, a busboy in a New York bar and a client servicing executive, after which,
he finally gave in to his desire to make images. He cofounded the Delhi Photo Festival and regularly conducts ‘addas’ in Delhi to encourage discussions on the medium.

This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of Better Photography.