The lilting notes of nomadic life

Photo exhibit

If you happen to pass by The Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre on Janpath anytime soon, do make it a point to visit their ongoing photo exhibition ‘Gypsies In Transylvania.’

Enamoured by the lifestyle and music of nomads, photographer Béla Kása has documented these communities not just in his own country – Hungary, but in Transylvania (Romania, Central Europe) and the Rann of Kutch, Gujarat as well. After travelling and enchanting people across Europe, the photo exhibition has now arrived
in Delhi.

Béla Kása was born in Pécs in 1952 and moved to Transylvania with his parents at the age of ten. His parents were working on their collection of folk music and stayed with rural friends in a village called Méra. That was Béla’s first brush with gypsies and their music, and left a lasting impression on him.

After studying art photography at the Art College of Cologne, Germany, and working for various magazines, he returned to Transylvania to be closer to his favourite Gypsy musicians. Since then, for over 20 years, he has been researching folk music in different parts of Europe, taking photographs of the musicians  in their cultural context and even illustrate them with a few stories, tales that he has preserved in his soul.

Béla’s pictures are mainly black and white portraits – the nomadic men, women and children go about their work; then there are the musicians with their faithful instruments singing away to glory. Beautiful faces stare out at you with as honest a gaze as Béla could have captured. The portraits present people living as per their traditions and culture, a way of life that is fast disappearing, though Béla’s pictures are sure to serve as a lasting document.

Béla’s photographs are mainly that of wandering gypsies in Romania: Gura Vaii in Moldavia, and Bersesti, near the Bulgarian border. The gypsies set out from their village in spring, wander across the country making copper vessels, or making Palinka (utensil in Hungarian). Another world Béla is attracted to is that of Hungarian shepherds living in the romantic landscapes of Hortobagy. In their wide, dark blue trousers and distinctive hats, they still take their cattle to the pastures to graze, as they did a hundred years ago.

The musicians are professional crooners among the gypsies well-equipped with mouth organs and violins. No event in such a community – baptism, a marriage or funeral – is complete without their music. It has an assuring countryside ring to it and reminds many people of harvest time and the hills. Béla says, “Unfortunately, step by step, this music is being pushed into marginality, taken over by a cheap, mash-produced bubble-gum music culture.”

Another community Béla has documented is that of the Rabariks in Gujarat who live in little clay houses in the desert. They are distinguished by the peculiar tattoos the women get made on their bodies and the large earrings that men don.

Béla characteristically portrays people in their own environment “to show who they are.” His subjects attract him because they are free spirits much like himself. He pursues his passion with the aim of, one day, showing to his children a way of life that is past. In a fast changing world, these are pictures to be treasured.

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