Photo above: The morning after a night of heavy drinking, a still-annebriated pimp keeps lookout over his brothel. Andhra Pradesh, India. ©Tom Pietrasik 2009
I had the misfortune of working with an alcoholic translator-fixer last week. I knew it the moment he greeted me at the airport arrival gate. The sunglasses he was wearing may have hidden the bloodshot eyes but they couldn’t mask the sickly stench that hung over him and lingered for the rest of that day. It might have been easier had I confronted him there and then and found somebody else. But this was a remote part of India and I had few alternatives. Besides, I actually liked the chap. We ended up spending all of last week working together and for the most part he was sober. He was generous, smart and worked hard on what was a challenging subject: the lives of sex-workers. He had a good grasp of my needs as a photographer and his easy-going manner meant that we were able to build a trust amongst those I photographed.
Drunk men beside a fleet of Kolkata’s ubiquitous yellow Hindustan Ambassador taxis.
Kolkata, India ©Tom Pietrasik 2009
Alcohol is a divisive issue in India. For the wealthy elite, a drink is undeniably de rigueur. And in my experience military officers would consider an evening wasted if denied the company of an Old Monk or Blue Nun. In contrast the sight of a middle-class Mrs Gupta – or Dr Seth – sipping on a shandy would raise serious doubts among the neighbours.
Members of the Delhi Wine Club gather at an exclusive restaurant for dinner and one or two glasses of Sula Red.
New Delhi, India. ©Tom Pietrasik 2008
For many working-class men – but almost no women – alcohol provides the only means to escape lives which are often harsh and monotonous. Of course for the families of those who soak themselves in the stuff it does nothing but extend their pain. I didn’t quite appreciate the significance of alcohol as an issue in India until a trip to rural Maharashtra last year. I was photographing a workshop intended to encourage the involvement of women in local decision-making. When asked by a social-worker what they might do if they were able to change one thing about their village, those in attendance were unanimous: Shut down the liquor store!