Gypsies in India

We regularly join “photowalks” here in Chennai, and were surprised to hear we were going to visit a “gypsy colony.”  A bit of googling informed me that the “Roma” people speak a language closely related to Hindi, and are thought to originate somewhere in or near India.


Here they are not known as Roma people; they have many names, but in Tamil Nadu are often referred to as Narikuravar.  They are described as tribal forest people who were denied entry into the forests to engage in hunting, and were therefore forced to find other ways to earn a living.

Gypsy colony

Southern Chennai is home to a colony of Narikuravar people. One among our group had visited once before to take pictures, and was immediately surrounded by a group of kids when he began handing out prints from his previous visit.

Passing Out Photos

For the next half hour, anyone carrying a camera was the most popular person in the neighborhood. Many people had kittens and puppies in their homes, and many of the kids quickly figured out that the best way to guarantee someone would take their picture was to be holding the cutest kitten or puppy they could find. The kittens weren’t always happy about this…

See My Cat


Photographers like babies, too!


I was carrying a film camera, and so had to be pickier than most. I couldn’t remember what kind of film was in the camera – I thought it might be black and white. As it turned out, however, it was slide film. I actually don’t have the chemicals (or knowledge) to process slide film, and had bought it to use experimentally. I had thought maybe architecture – old buildings or sculptures would look cool, not people, necessarily. But I do think the color cast is an interesting effect.

Visit to the Tailor


Toward the end of the roll, I asked this girl for a few close-up shots. I reached the end of the roll just as her younger friends asked if I could also snap their photo, and tried to explain the difference between my camera and probably every other camera they had ever seen. Finally I had to rewind the roll, pop open the camera, and show them where the photos were “hidden.”


We’ll definitely get the photos printed and deliver them as soon as we get a chance. It’s difficult to find detailed materials online, but you can learn a bit more about the Narikurava here and here.

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