I spent a month in Singapore from mid-April to mid-May, and while back on home ground, I made a mental note to myself to see my country differently.
Inside me, there had been a growing need to view my city from a tourist viewpoint.
I yearned to get a glimpse of the side of Singapore that wasn’t often seen; I desired to look into its people’s eyes and see their shining faces; I searched for the soul of my island nation.
During a conversation with my graphic designer brother, Ronald, in which we spoke about life and pondered over art, he gave me an amazing piece of advice which I will try to paraphrase.
“As an artist, it is your job to constantly find inspiration. Look for it in things outside of your work and your comfort zone. Search for it. Travel far and wide to find it. Because your art evolves and grows with your experiences and the inspiration you get from them.”
My mind kept returning over and over again to his words. Wise words of truth from my brother, whose thinking has always been sound and grounded. I was looking for inspiration in Singapore, but to be inspired, I had to go to corners and parts of my country that I was not normally accustomed to. I needed to break out of that which I was already used to.
Together with my Argentine friend Amalia -who is currently living in Singapore because her boyfriend is working there- we decided to head to Little India, a neighborhood located on the East of the Singapore river, and which is affectionately known as “Tekka” by the local Tamil community.
The both of us being avid photographers, we wanted to snap pictures of the people who live and work in Little India.
I went with the goal of capturing faces, expressions and smiles. I didn’t know what to expect from Little India – the last time I’d been there was at least a decade ago, and I couldn’t really remember much of it. Most of all, I was afraid that the people there wouldn’t allow us to shoot pictures of them up close.
But this beautiful neighborhood and its friendly people completely threw me by surprise.
We were instantly greeted by wide, unassuming smiles when we stepped into Tekka market, from fishmongers to butchers to vegetable grocers alike. The warmth and kindness of the vendors to let us sneak a peek into their lives touched me deeply.
What was more, they did so willingly and with joy.
They were open and inquisitive, asking us if we were doing a photography class.
They wanted to see the pictures we’d taken of them, some smiling shyly and laughing when we showed them their photos.
It felt as if we were friends, and as we watched them sell their produce or read the daily paper, I felt as though I’d managed to catch glimpse of their lives.
A tiny peek but a peek anyway.
We later ventured out of Tekka market towards Serangoon Road, the main commercial stretch in Little India, where the bright, vibrant colors of the fabrics and products being sold in the stores dazzled me.
Rich hues of reds, pinks and yellows called out to us; and the store owners flashed us their bright, wide smiles.
In one case, Leela, a sweet grandmother who was born in Malaysia but has been living in Singapore for the past forty years, told us about her life, and as we stood in her shop full of beautiful fabrics, Ama and I were enchanted.
In another case, Meghal, a storekeeper whose gorgeous wares captured our attention for a full twenty minutes, told us that sometimes she’d forget how lovely the things she sold were, until tourists come around and take pictures and sing her praise.
Meghal later passed us her email address for us to send the photos to her via email, as a remembrance.
People say that everyone has a story to tell; it’s just a matter of whether you’re willing to ask and listen.
As we lingered around, exchanging stories and learning new things, I realized that human beings are all very much alike, no matter where we’ve come from, or what we’ve gone through.
We all seek connection – this special bond formed with other people.
Connection can sometimes take years or months to develop, but in certain cases, just minutes of deep conversation can make you feel right at home with someone else.
It could be the genuine smile or the twinkle in someone’s eyes that causes you to realize there is a bond, or it could be an invitation for homemade chapati that warms your soul. Either way, that is connection.
I went to Little India searching for inspiration, and while I did find inspiration, I also found something else – I found connection. I saw the hopes and dreams of the people in Little India; I heard their tales and stories; I saw their faces and looked deep into their eyes.
That afternoon, I left Little India with my heart and camera SIM card full and bursting with happiness. Till next time.