Tea Field Ladies

I took a lot of photos I like this year, but this is one of my favourites.

It isn’t a high quality photo, being a photo of two photos. But it’s the story behind the photos that means something to me.

I was staying in Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India, and had gone out to a tea garden a ways up the mountain. When I lived in Ooty, I often rode the bus with a group of ladies who worked in the tea field across the road from where I worked. I didn’t speak Tamil, and they didn’t speak English; we didn’t ever know each other’s names, but we had a great time together. I was working on photos for a book called Women in India, and thought I’d try to get a few pictures of the ladies picking tea.

I didn’t know if any of the ladies would still be out there, especially when I saw that the garden had been turned into a government run tea garden for tourists. I went in and started walking around, looking for photos and for the women I’d known who had worked there.

I saw a few of the ladies picking tea, but two were missing. Two who had been older when I last saw them, about four years ago. I wasn’t able to communicate well enough with the other women to ask questions, so I was afraid that I would leave without knowing what had ever happened to these women I used to know.

I walked around the whole of the tea garden, looking at each group of women I came across, and just as I was getting to the end of the garden, I saw two women sweeping the long stretch of lawn, clearing the ever present eucalyptus leaves from the neat grass.

Getting closer, who did I see? That’s right, the ladies I’d been looking for. I asked if I could take pictures, and they agreed. I wasn’t certain at first that they recognized me, but soon was sure by the way they talked and smiled that they did. I was probably the only white girl who rode the bus with them with any frequency.

After I took pictures of them, they wanted a photo with me. Believe it or not, the looks on their faces in the two photos are looks of joy. We spent several minutes together, communicating as well as we could, mostly with smiles, before I left.

The photos in the photo I chose for this post are the pictures that I had printed to give them. The pictures give me a sense of joy both for the day that they were taken, and a culmination of all of the days I spent with these women, and my joy in finding that they were still around.

Sometimes it isn’t the high quality of the pictures (though I am still a fan of quality photos), but the emotions they evoke in the audience or the photographer. Or both.

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