I moved to New Delhi, India in August 2008 with my husband and 6-week old baby boy. Until the birth of my son, the majority of my professional life was spent traveling for photographic work in places most people would prefer not to go. And until the day my son actually arrived, I still lived in that world. I had no idea what was coming. The emotional upheaval that came with his inevitable appearance in the world was extraordinary. My intense and immediate love for him and every single cell that he was made up of was something nobody could have prepared me for. After settling into motherhood I realized quickly that my plan to shove him in some contraption on my back and continue my photographic escapade was laughable, though not without serious consideration. His pediatrician said “no” rather bluntly when I asked if I could take him on assignment to Ladakh at 8 months of age. My daughter was born 18 months later and in the fog of sleepless delirium – potty training, play dates, activities, tantrums and pre-schools dominated my visual and emotional landscape.
In those first 3 years, every time I left our home in Delhi to drive across the city – my own children singing or crying or screaming in the back seat – without fail, I would see street kids while waiting at a traffic light. They were everywhere on every street corner and in every neighbourhood. At car windows they knocked relentlessly and if not asking directly for money then offering something in exchange – a dance, balloons, matches, plastic flowers, inflated airplanes, anything for a few rupees. It nagged at me but I had not the emotional nor physical energy to do anything but sigh and lean back into my seat. An inexplicable feeling of impossibility sat like vinegar in my stomach and started to turn me inside out so that my heart actually became visible. Friends told me I was grumpy.
So in December 2011 when I was wandering around Old Delhi – eyes wide open, conflicted heart in hand, mother of two with all the love that brings and a little less exhausted – I walked through a gate and onto a dirt field. It was a park, though not like any park I had known as a child. In front of me were dozens of street kids running around, playing, flicking marbles, doing what street kids do when they are not on the street working. Like a flock of shoeless penguins, they pounced on me and I embraced every moment. They showed me where they slept at night, where they cooked, where they washed and where they played. If they had siblings they introduced me. If they had possessions of any kind – a rupee hanging around their neck, an empty box of matches – they showed me. And as hard as it was to see them living in the environment they called home, I found myself longing to know more about them.
Over the next year I went back regularly. In sitting and talking with them cross-legged on the shelter floor time and time again, I learned about their drug addictions, their runaway stories, the deaths of their family members. I learned how strong and savvy they had become at such a young age, despite having so little. I learned that the most they ever wanted for themselves was to study and make something of their lives. What became unwaveringly disturbing to me was how unlikely it was they could ever leave this place, that they would live and die there or some other place like it.
A Walk In The Park documents a glimpse into the lives of these children.